Plan Length: 4-12 weeks

Weekly Sessions: 3-4

Session Duration: less than 20 minutes

Finger strength is indisputably useful in climbing and having more of it usually helps you get better. For many of us, enough finger strength can make up for a lack of technique or power. As much as we’d like to gain this strength quickly, however, it doesn’t happen. What’s worse…most climbers who have been in the sport for long enough are already close to their genetic potential for strength, so seeing improvements is even harder.

I can’t tell you the number of emails I’ve received about how this or that program didn’t work, only to find that the writer of the email didn’t really do the complete sessions and didn’t follow the program for the whole duration. Of course it didn’t work! What is the value of a training program that an athlete can’t follow? What is the value of a training program that is so intense that the athlete can’t stick with it long enough to get strong?

The major complaint I get about most of my hangboard programs is that they feel too easy. Well, I’d way rather get strong without suffering than suffer without getting strong. That’s where this plan really shines – it’s simple, progressive, and gets you strong over the long haul.

Go A Hundred is simple. You hang for 100 seconds on an edge, then progress slowly to smaller and smaller holds. This plan is dependent on using a board with multiple hold sizes, such as the Tension Climbing Grindstone Board or the Transgression/Progression Board (assuming you’ve got thick calluses on your fingertips and a thick wallet in your pocket). It works reasonably well with a campus or system board with multiple edge sizes, but I’ve found you need about 5 progressively smaller edges to make it work.

Hang sets should be between 5 and 20 seconds. At the beginning of each cycle, you’ll be using bigger holds and will trend toward the 20 second end of things. As the cycle progresses, you’ll be on the smaller holds, and will end up having to do the sets for shorter durations. If you get to where you can’t do 5-second hangs, you’re past the point of useful work and increasing your chance of injury…especially at a volume of 100 seconds per session. At this point, you should opt for a bigger series of holds.

Yes, I am aware that a 20 second load edges toward muscular endurance more than strength when it comes to muscular adaptation. I like 20 second loads, though, because we are in a safe zone for the connective tissue in the fingers and because this represents a more real-world load – when we are climbing many of us tend to hang on for longer than 5 seconds per hold. If you think this seems crazy, don’t email me about it…just stick with doing repeaters.

The sessions can be done by integrating them with other strength work, or simply as straight sets. Rest as needed. Ahh, yes… “rest as needed.” The number one worried question I get from climbers that are tied to the clock is “how much time, exactly, should I rest between sets?” It doesn’t matter much, but if you’re getting pumped as you go through the session, it’s not enough rest and if you need a meal between sets, it might be too much. If you’re honestly not sure, go for 5 minutes.

The metric should not be how tired the training makes you, but rather how strong.

One recommendation I’ll make is to do a quick set of finger extensions (I like the Expand Your Hands Band) for 10 reps per hand. There is good science behind activating antagonists to increase strength in the agonists, but honestly, I just think it makes my fingers feel better!

 

My last training cycle in the weight room was a 5×2 circuit, so I typically did 5 rounds of:

Deadlift x 2

1-Arm 1-Leg Push Up x 2 each side

Pistol Squat x 2 each side

DB Row x 2 each side

Levers x 2

Edge Hang x 20 seconds (or less!)

Extensions x 10 each side

 

If I didn’t get all 100 seconds on the hang, I’d add a few sets at the end. No big deal.

 

Yes, you’re only training one hold position. Although I don’t feel it’s necessary for most climbers, you can add supplemental positions (at significantly reduced volumes). I suggest doing 20-30 seconds of total loading on supplemental positions, in 5-10 second sets. A nice way of setting this up would be to cycle in maybe two other positions in an alternating fashion, like this:

Hang Edge 20 seconds

Hang 2F Pocket 10 sec

Hang Edge 20 seconds

Hang Pinch 10 sec

Hang Edge 20 seconds

Hang 2F Pocket 10 sec

Hang Edge 20 seconds

Hang Pinch 10 sec

Hang Edge 20 seconds

Hang 2F Pocket 10 sec

 

As always, I’ll remind you that the specifics don’t matter as much as regular loading and progression through a long cycle. Dialing in some killer session that you only do once or twice is a waste of time. Although it might make you tougher and boost your ego, it won’t make you stronger.

Cycle 1

This is the one you’ll feel like you don’t need. You’re experienced, you just sent 13c, and you’ve got a “good base” – whatever that means. If you want to get stronger and you want to avoid injury, please don’t disregard this advice. Each time you do this plan, you must do cycle 1 – it’s the part that keeps you from getting hurt.

 

Start with the largest edge on the board. On the Grindstone, this will be 35mm, and will be pretty damned easy for most relatively experienced climbers. This workout should just involve doing 5 sets of 20 second hangs. Do this for 2 sessions, which can be three days in a row if your schedule allows. Don’t add load, just do it at bodyweight, keeping it simple and easy.

 

Session 3 and 4 you will move to the next smaller edge, which is the 30mm on the Grindstone. This is a bit of a leap, but most climbers will still be able to stick with the 20 second sets. Session 5 will see you on the 25mm edge, which you’ll do for 2 sessions (sessions 5 and 6). Most climbers spread these sessions out to at least every other day, but I leave this up to the individual.

 

Sessions 7 and 8 are done on the 20mm edge, then sessions 9 and 10 on the 15mm. Many climbers will be able to stick with 20 seconds per hang straight through all 10 sessions. Good job. This is a 10-session cycle, and it doesn’t really matter if it takes you 2 weeks or 4 weeks to complete…discipline and patience are the key to getting stronger.

 

If you need to break these down to 15 second sets, 10 or even 5, that’s fine. It just shows us that you’ll move through the whole plan more quickly. Here is a review of cycle 1 in table form with some example hold sizes:

 

Session #

Edge Size

(Grindstone)

(Progression)

1 and 2 Largest 35mm Top Edge
3 and 4 Second-Largest 30mm 24mm
5 and 6 Mediumest 25mm 20mm
7 and 8 Second-Smallest 20mm 16mm
9 and 10 Smallest 15mm 12mm

 

Cycle 2

After you complete cycle 1, take 3-4 days off from the board. You can climb a little, but remember that the less you stress your fingers, the stronger you’ll get in the next cycle. Rest is an integral part of this training. If you made it through the whole progression at 20 seconds per hang, add 20% to your bodyweight for this series. If you dropped down to shorter-duration sets, but were able to stay above the 5 second mark, add 10%. If you were working at 5 second sets by the end, stick with bodyweight.

You will use the exact-same load for the whole cycle, so be conservative.

 

Performance Last Phase

Load for Cycle 2

All sessions at 20 seconds Bodyweight + 20%
All sessions at more than 5 seconds Bodyweight + 10%
Some sessions at 5 seconds Bodyweight

 

We are tempted to try to up the ante every time we do well in strength training. In this plan, though, the improvements come by progressing to smaller holds and bringing the loads up slowly. Think long term instead of next week. Think Roth IRA instead of Vegas Strip.

Cycle 2 will feature more rest between sessions. I recommend at least one day between. Again, you can put these in with other strength work, with a mobility session, or even with some bouldering or climbing. Here is a session one of our athletes did recently in cycle 2:

 

KB Swing x 10, Overhead Press x 5, Straight Leg Raise x 5, Hang 15mm (+20%) x 15 sec

KB Swing x 10, Overhead Press x 5, Straight Leg Raise x 5, Hang 15mm (+20%) x 13 sec

KB Swing x 10, Overhead Press x 5, Straight Leg Raise x 5, Hang 15mm (+20%) x 15 sec

Rack Step-Up x 5+5, Pull-Up x 5, Ab Wheel x5, Hang 15mm (+20%) x 12 sec

Rack Step-Up x 5+5, Pull-Up x 5, Ab Wheel x5, Hang 15mm (+20%) x 13 sec

Rack Step-Up x 5+5, Pull-Up x 5, Ab Wheel x5, Hang 15mm (+20%) x 12 sec

TGU x 1+1, Plank Rope Pull x 10m, Frog x 45 sec, Hang 15mm (+20%) x 12 sec

TGU x 1+1, Plank Rope Pull x 10m, Frog x 45 sec, Hang 15mm (+20%) x 8 sec

TGU x 1+1, Plank Rope Pull x 10m, Frog x 45 sec

 

You will follow the exact-same progression as Cycle 1. Typically, the first few session will go easily, with most hangs at close to 20 seconds. Later in the phase, the sessions can be real grinders. In the latter phases, you may end up with sets of 5-10 seconds, split by lots of rest, for 10-20 sets…a serious day’s work.

 

Session #

Edge Size

(Grindstone)

(Progression)

1 and 2 Largest 35mm Top Edge
3 and 4 Second-Largest 30mm 24mm
5 and 6 Mediumest 25mm 20mm
7 and 8 Second-Smallest 20mm 16mm
9 and 10 Smallest 15mm 12mm

(I wrote “mediumest” on purpose. This far into a training plan, you’ll need a laugh.)

After completing Cycle 2, there are two options. You can once again add 10% or 20% load and complete another training cycle. I recommend this only for athletes that completed Cycle 2 easily, sticking with 10 or more second hangs.

If you were getting down into the 5-10 second hang zone, go back to Cycle 1, doing all the hangs at bodyweight for 10 full sessions.

This is a finger strength plan that can be done many months per year, and can be “run in the background” with other climbing training, especially during Cycle 1.