Part of our "Toes to Knows" Climbing Academy series--covering climbing from footwork to mental preparation.
Tags: Coaching, Hangboarding, Advanced, Intermediate
Max Hangs are a great way to get stronger quickly. Typically, max hangs are done by hanging extra weight off your harness and hanging from the board two-handed, but what if you don’t have any extra weights? Maybe that’s because you’re travelling, hanging in a camper van, or perhaps you’re stuck at home due to a global pandemic. That last one feels like a long shot, but one never knows. Regardless, if you don’t have extra weight, how can you do max hangs? The simple answer is to hang using only one hand.
Max hangs can increase strength quickly because they induce in neurological adaptations such as increased muscle recruitment and synchronized fiber firing patterns. These gains can come quickly, making max hangs a quick way to add some strength. Unfortunately, these adaptations also dissipate relatively quickly relatively quickly so it’s a good idea to train for this kind of pure strength regularly.
Climbing training is very specific. If your objective is to be able to execute hard, bouldery moves, then max hangs are a great training tool since difficult bouldering demands you pull as hard as possible for a short period of time. Increasing your overall strength also has an indirect impact on your climbing endurance. If, because you’ve increased strength, you’re using a lower percentage of your max strength to execute any given set of moves, it stands to reason that you’ll be able to execute those moves for longer.
How long should your hangs be? Kyra Condie has used a max hang protocol that progresses from 6 to 10 seconds at a given weight. Once she reaches 10 seconds, she adds more weight, or shifts to a smaller hold, and starts over at 6 seconds. Tyler Nelson, from Camp4 Human Performance, recommends training max hangs from 3-5 seconds. How long do you need to hang onto the crux hold on the bouldering project you’re working on? Use that duration as a target, then put a duration window around it as your starting and ending durations. 3-5 seconds is a good starting point and I’ll use that in this discussion.
Speaking of injury risk, max hang protocols are the highest risk protocol for hangboard training. This is because you’re putting a maximum load on your muscles and tendons. This is especially true if you’re using a two-handed max hang method where you’re loading a lot of extra weight onto your harness and loading your fingers. You can reduce injury risk somewhat by taking a second or so to get full load on your fingers. Also, be sure to not hang all the way to finger failure. Stop at about 90-95% of your max effort, or rate of perceived exertion (RPE).
One-handed max hangs, for most of us, lower the injury risk because most folks can’t pull off the ground on a small edge with one hand. If you can’t, that’s perfectly acceptable. Just stand on the ground, pull to 90-95% RPE for 5 seconds, then let go. Unlike when you hang a lot of weight off your harness and dangle with feet off, this isometric feet-on-ground method limits the load on your muscles to what you’re able to pull. You’re guaranteed to not overload.
One downside of one-hand max hangs is that if you can’t pull off the ground, it’s difficult to quantify how hard you’re pulling on a hold. Generally, you’re trying really hard, but you have no idea if you’re increasing your pull strength or not. Using a pulley system with counter weights is a great method for quantifying loads.
Give yourself about 2-3 minutes rest between each pull so allow your muscles to recover. Max hangs are a great protocol to use on limit bouldering days as they promote tendon stiffness—something needed for bouldering. Do a morning session on the hangboard, then an evening session bouldering.
Example Max One-Hand Hang Protocol
- Warm up first!
- Use lower-load hangs on the hangboard, or with some climbing
- During your warmup get to 85% RPE
- Choose 2-4 grips
- Do each grip 3 times with each hand, one hand at a time
- Each hang is 3-5 seconds long
- Do the hangs on 2-3 minute intervals for adequate rest between hangs
4 grips, 3 hangs each, on 2-minute cycles will take 24 minutes, so this is a time-efficient workout
Max hangs increase strength quickly through neurological adaptations. Max hangs gain strength fast, but also lose strength quickly. Ideally, you’ll have do this kind of finger strength training on a regular basis.
One-hand max hangs reduce injury risk because they are self-limiting—you can’t exceed what you can naturally pull. They are also a great max hang protocol to use if you don’t have extra weights to add to your body (needed for two-handed max hangs). One downside of this method of max hangs is that it is hard to quantify your results.
Progression using one-hand max hangs is easy to do, though hard to quantify. You can add progression by hanging for a little longer, moving to a smaller edge. If you’re lucky enough to have a pulley system installed that lets you subtract weight, and in doing so, you can quantify your results.
It’s hard to chart data in the case where you’re just pulling to a max level without measuring the results. In the case of using a pulley system, it’s easy to quantify how much weight you’re subtracting from your harness. The following chart gives an example for two holds and three hangs for each hold. Record weight subtracted and number of seconds you can hang before you hit 95% RPE.