Part of our "Toes to Knows" Climbing Academy series--covering climbing from footwork to mental preparation.
Tags: Coaching, Hangboarding, Advanced, Intermediate
I was introduced to density hangs from Dr. Tyler Nelson of Camp4 Human Performance. Dr. Nelson has spent countless hours studying the physiology of climbing training and does a great job at synthesizing all of this knowledge into effective training concepts and plans.
“Density” refers to tendon and muscle density. Increasing muscle density means making muscle fibers thicker—or hypertrophy. Climbers generally don’t want thick muscles, except in our forearms. Fat forearms means stronger fingers and better connective tissue, which is something all climbers aspire to. You can train hypertrophy by doing lower intensity work for a longer period of time, which is exactly what density hangs do.
Tendon density increases when there are stronger chemical bonds between your tendon fibers. These bonds grow when you hang for long periods of time—at least 30 seconds. Stronger bonds helps lower the risk of injury as the individual fibers can act as a whole unit more readily.
Density hangs prescribe hanging for 30-40 seconds on a particular grip. As described, this length of hanging increases muscle and tendon density in your forearms, increasing muscular strength endurance and lowering your risk of tendon injury.
To do a density hang, hang for 30-40 seconds hang to near-failure—about 95% RPE (rate of perceived exertion). (Failure is 100% RPE.) Put sufficient rest between each hang to give yourself time to recover. Tyler Nelson recommends 3-5 minutes between pulls. That may be ideal, but that much time between hangs means you’re doing the workout for a long time. Instead, I speed things up a bit by hanging on 2-minute cycles—that’s 30 seconds of hang with 90 seconds rest between hangs. With that, a four-grip workout with three reps on each grip takes a total of 24 minutes.
Since density hangs help with tendon health, I like to do them once per week. If needed, you can climb and hangboard on the same day, but it’s best to separate the activities to give your tendons some time to recover. If you do climb on the same day as doing density hangs, make sure to climb an endurance-focused set. Density hangs stretch your tendons, which is counter productive to hard bouldering.
Density Hang Protocol
- Choose 2-4 holds and do 3 reps for each old
- Hang for 30-40 seconds on each rep
- If you can hang for more than 40 seconds, decrease the hold size
- Target 95% RPE
- Separate each rep by 2-5 minutes
Density Hang Benefits
- Increased forearm tendon and muscle density
- Muscle density increases because you’re growing your muscle fiber thickness (hypertrophy)
- Large, strong forearms are good for climbers
- Tendon density is increased because connective bonds between tendon fibers are increased
- Strong bonds between tendon fibers reduces risk of injury