Academy: Two-Arm Max Hangs
Part of our "Toes to Knows" Climbing Academy series--covering climbing from footwork to mental preparation.
Tags: Coaching, Hangboarding, Advanced
Using a hangboard to become a better climber.
To reduce injury risk, don’t do this exercise until you’ve climbed for at least two years. You need that much time for your tendon strength to mature before putting a lot of strain on them.
In last week’s Toes to Knows blog post, I talked about max hangs using one arm. This week, I’m going to go over max hangs again, but this time with two arms. There’s a lot of background in last week’s post, so if you’re curious about max hangs in general, please read that post.
Two-arm vs. one-arm max hangs are pretty similar, with other than the obvious difference of more pulling power when using two arms. Most folks can’t lift off the ground on smaller holds using only one arm, but they can with two arms. As a result, to achieve a max pull, you’ll likely need to add weight to your harness.
Adding weight has one distinct advantage—you can quantify your progress exactly. Adding weight does increase the risk of injury. Like any exercise, use caution when starting out or increasing your load so you don’t get hurt.
A key question with max hangs is how long to hang. I recently looked though a video recording of my wife redpointing Paleface, 13a, in Logan Canyon, UT. I counted how long she was holding onto handholds. It ranged from 5 seconds when she was grabbing a hold and quickly bumping the same hand, to 15 seconds on moves that required a lot of body motion. Her hold time during the crux sequences was about 7-10 seconds. I also watched some bouldering videos, in particular, Ryuchi Murai’s FA of United, V16. On the short end, he held onto one hold about 3 seconds. Longer holds were about 20 seconds as he shifted his body and feet around. He was typically in the same 7-10 second range on most holds.
Climbing training is very specific. As a result, you’ll want to train max hang durations in the same range as you’re trying to perform on the rock. That said, you want to make sure you stay at less than a 10-second hang, because after 10 seconds you transition from the anaerobic alactic energy system to the anaerobic lactic energy system. With max hangs, you’re targeting the former, not the latter.
Kyra Condie, U.S. Olympic athlete, has talked about doing max hangs at 6-10 seconds. Tyler Nelson, from Camp4 Human Performance, recommends training max hangs from 3-5 seconds. I do a bit of both. With one-arm hangs, I tend to go shorter. With two-arm hangs, I like the simplicity of the 6-10 second protocol as well as the wider time-based progression you can do. Going a bit longer also means you’re loading your fingers less acutely, which helps reduce risk of injury. I’ll describe the 6-10 protocol in this post. Change it up as you see fit.
Hangborad workout example
Example Two-Arm, 6-10 Second Max Hang Protocol
- Warm-up well! This exercise carries a higher risk of injury!
- Spend a good 20 minutes getting ready
- Use lower-load hangs on the hangboard
- During your warmup get to 85% RPE finger pulls
- Choose 2-4 grips
- Do each grip 3 times using both hands—each hang is one rep
- Each hang is 6-10 seconds long
- Add weight to your harness until a 6-second hang hits the 90% RPE (rate of perceived exertion) level
- Stay at that weight from session to session until you can achieve a 10-second hang with 90% RPE on all three reps for a given grip
- Once you achieve 10 seconds on all three reps, add more weight or reduce the size of your hold until you’re back down to 6 seconds at 90% RPE
- Do the hangs on 2-3 minute intervals for adequate rest between reps—you need to have max strength available for these pulls, so adequate rest is key
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. They train the anerobic alactic energy system, which is the energy system responsible for producing your highest strength and power levels.
I have mentioned this a couple of times, but I’ll say it again, max hangs carry a high risk of injury. Go slow and be careful. Don’t get too crazy on adding a lot of weight to your body. 100 lbs added is an extremely high demand on your tendons. Instead of going really big with added weight, choose to reduce the hold size.
Progression with two-arm max hangs works really well—it’s built into the fabric of the protocol. You start at 6 seconds, progress to 10 seconds at a fixed weight, then add a bit more weight or reduce the size of the hold. Chart this progression. Seeing your progress will keep you motivated.
The following chart shows a two-hang max hang data chart. Note that for the pinch, I moved up in weight in the Wednesday session. This is because I achieved 10 seconds hangs in all three reps during the Monday session. All other weights stayed the same from one session to the next.