Fingerboard Training 101

I admit, I am not a very religious trainer.

Recently I have developed a bit of a base jumping problem. Which though it does seem to make you extra brave (and, you can fly which is obviously awesome!) not very surprisingly, does ZERO for the finger strength. Hmmm.

Luckily I have a wonderful climbing wall in my backyard, and climbing on it is so much fun that I end up “training.” I like to set very long problems, which are a lot like routes at Rifle, and mark the moves with tape. This way I have lots of climbing projects, and keeps it entertaining when I am the only one out on the wall, which is usually. I have about 15 or 20 problems on the wall right now. The longest one has 54 moves. The pink problem is kind of my top project right now–I usually use pink or purple duct tape for the hardest problems to make sure people like them.
When I start to get really motivated about training, kind of like now, I start lifting weights at the gym, along with climbing on my wall and climbing outside, and I add in a very elementary fingerboard workout. I am amazed at how doing basically not very much on the fingerboard always leads to significant results, fast.

I feel totally confident that my fingerboard workout is safe and noninjurious for all, since I am not a huge training fiend myself. It is definitely a beginner/intermediate workout, but like I say, yields noticeable benefits πŸ™‚
Usually I warm up on my easy problems on the wall, work on my projects for a while, and then eventually my skin starts to hurt, and I am suddenly unmotivated to do any more climbing. When this happens, it’s time for the fingerboard workout. Usually I do this on day 2 of my climbing/lifting days, so it’s the last climbing/upper body thing before a rest day (“rest day” means running, base jumping and skydiving).
I happen to have a nice So Ill fingerboard which I like very much, but I imagine they are all good. The workout is simple. Start on the biggest hold (on mine, it’s the sloper on the top), and do a reasonable amount of pullups. This amount could be 3, it could be 10. It’s up to you. Make sure you do them well, slowly, with no thrutching. Quality is more important than quantity.

Then move down to the next smallest hold (on mine, it’s the big edge below the top sloper). Do one less pullup than you started with–could be 2, could be 9. Then move to the next smallest hold, and do one less pullup. If you started with 3, this is it. Whenever you get down to one, it’s time to start going back up your pyramid, back to where you started. And that’s it. It hardly takes any time at all!

At the moment, I do 6 pullups on the sloper, take it down to 1 pullup on the tiny pockets, and go back up to 6 on the sloper. I make sure to rest for a couple of minutes between sets (usually a good opportunity to weed or rake leaves out of my cactus gardens). So the whole workout doesn’t take more than 15 or 20 minutes. In a week or so, I’ll probably start at 7.

I did this last winter when I kept hurting my legs BASE jumping, and I couldn’t believe how much stronger I got after just a few weeks. I went from being injured and not climbing for months, to being able to do one of my hardest redpoints. And I’m pretty sure it was all because of my fairly non-impressive fingerboard workout. At the time I thought, “geez, I’d better do this all the time!” Naturally, I didn’t. Suddenly I have the fingerboard motivation again, and after only a week and a half (this means a grand total of 3 fingerboard workouts), I am noticing instant finger strength improvement again! It really does work.

Geez, I’d better do this all the time!

  • Thanks for this workout. I like the fact that it is do-able for a beginner like me, but will also be beneficial as I get stronger.

  • Steph Davis

    You’re welcome! Let me know how it goes!
    πŸ™‚ S

  • That wall is AWESOME! You have a better bouldering wall in your backyard then most gyms do! Great post too. It is amazing the lengths we are willing to go to get strong, especially if we have been in that position before. Fingerboard, campus board and system board workouts can be just as mentally challenging as they are physically. Motivating yourself to push through those boring workouts is key. Partners, music, a comfortable workout area (weeding the garden on rest time is genius!) and projects fresh in your mind are all ingredients that help trudge through those laborious workout regiments.

  • I love the pink and purple duct tape to “make sure people like them”! Does that mean they are the climbing population’s most liked colors? is that your personal wall? Awesome!

  • Weights?

    Can you elaborate on the type of exercises you do with weights that you find benefit your climbing?

  • Ooh! New post.
    Did you build your wall very much all at once or a little bit at a time?
    Also, good to know I’m not the only one who fixates on a favorite activity or color tape or what have you. πŸ™‚

  • Steph Davis

    I think I will do another post about weight lifting for climbing πŸ™‚

    I had two friends build my wall for me, about seven years ago. Originally the landing area was made of old mattresses, which was pretty ghetto.

    About five years ago, I had the gravel project. We laid down old railroad ties (bought from the local hardware store) as the frame, and then used a wheelbarrow to cart in 16 tons of pea gravel. Believe it or not, the pea gravel moving was done by two climbers in one afternoon and one night. They had some additional, um, motivation to help them work, and lights. πŸ™‚ It can be hard to get climbers working, but boy, when they do….

    Pink and purple duct tape are the prettiest, of course, and that’s why I like them the best!!
    πŸ™‚ S

  • Also, regarding climbers: good part about hanging out with a lot of really strong guys is knowing that if anyone messes with you they have a group of climbers to contend with.

  • nice post πŸ™‚ Simple and to the point.
    you seem to have come across the secret trick to fingerboarding – less is more.
    Brilliant photos also – it’s what made the difference to the post.
    Neal (aka @theusualsuspect πŸ™‚

  • Steph Davis

    You are so right Neal, less always does seem to be more, doesn’t it! I’m glad you like the pictures!

  • Can’t wait to try this out! I’ll do anything to speed up my progress. Looking forward to the weight training workout – I’ve lifted for swimming, adventure racing, and figure competitions, but never climbing!

  • l0k1

    you must be a mind-reader, because questions regarding this very activity have been rolling around my brain for the past week or two. thank you for the post.

  • Steph Davis

    Let me know how it goes!

  • l0k1

    like Katie, i’m also looking forward to your future post on weight training. back to the post at hand, though … as a noodly-armed weakling, pullups are pretty much a not-happening thing for me. i could modify the routine to include weight-assisted pullups (say, stand on a stool) and i’d assume that to be at least somewhat effective. what about plain, old dead hangs? is there a place for those?

  • Steph Davis

    Can you do one pullup? If so, start with that. Your pyramid can start with one on the jug, and go down through two or three more sets of one down the different holds, then back “up.” If you need a foot on a stool, sure, why not? If you do whatever you can, and keep doing it, you will see progress. I know it doesn’t seem like much, but if you do 6 sets of one, you’ve done 6 pullups. You will be surprised at the improvement after a week or two.

    Just use this workout as a template, and step back as much as you need, while still following the concept…pretty much, whatever you can do is the right place to start. πŸ™‚ As with everything, just get started, no matter how small, and you will definitely get stronger.

  • Pingback: Weight Training for Climbing 102 | High Places()

  • Lee Bennett

    I’ve just got back into climbing after a 12 year break. I’ve bought myself a new finger board and have been trying your workout routine. It works. Thanks for the advice. I wish my local clibing wall had a bouldering section that looked as good as yours. I also wish I could put a decent wall in my garden but I live in rainy Britain so even if I did, I wouldn’t be able to use it that often. πŸ™

  • Steph Davis

    It is pretty unique to live in the desert, and be able to have an outdoor climbing wall! Unfortunately it is pretty much out of season and unclimbable for all of the summer months, so we do have our price to pay πŸ™‚ But for the winter, it is absolutely perfect.

  • Pingback: Training By Climbing 103 | High Places()

  • Brian

    Steph, do you rest at the end of each pyramid, or between the pull-ups on each hold?

  • Steph Davis

    Hi Brian! I take a rest at the end of each set of pull-ups. This is a good opportunity for gardening. πŸ™‚

  • Pingback: Grip Strength and Stoves | High Places()

  • Rob Scott

    i am interested in building a 24 foot high by 8 wide outdoor plywood climbing gym. Any feedback or plan connections, hints, hard lessons learned? How did you support yours?


  • Steph Davis

    Hi Rob,
    It is 2×6 construction, with 4×4 posts coming down in the front and also in the center, with a top beam for support. Mine is built directly on the dirt, which was probably not the smartest thing. In retrospect, it would be worth the extra time to do some kind of footer/foundation–whether actually pouring cement, or perhaps digging in cinderblocks.
    Good luck, I hope it turns out great!!
    πŸ™‚ Steph

  • Tammo

    Hi Steph,

    I was just planing my fingerboard workout for tonight and found your page while looking for some more ideas online. It’s incredible that a world famous climber like you takes the time to share her workout experiences with everyone who wants to read about it. While your name is know to me only from climbing videos and impressive stories, your wonderfully personable responses show genuine caring and your down to earth attitude.

    I planed to periodize my own fingerboard workout into a 2-3 week hypertrophy phase, a 2-3 week power phase and possibly 2 weeks of endurance at the end. Practically that will result for hypertrophy in 3-6sets of 10 reps (always 7second hangs and 3 second breaks for 1min and 40sec.) Only in the power phase I was planing to do pull ups and catches on the fingerboard. What do you think about splitting up power, strength, and endurance training for climbing?

    Thank you very much for making climbing a sport where it is possible to read about the workout routines of the best not only in a book.

    Your site made my day.

  • Michael Moore(the climber-not the director)

    Hey guys, If you’re really curious about weight training for climbing, the most important word you can learn is “antagonist.” It’s most important to work your push muscles(chest/tri’s) to stabalize your pull muscles(back/bi’s) and prevent injury. This can be accomplished by doing light weight with high repititions.But bodyweight excercises such as pushups and dips are the best for climbing. 3 sets of 10-12 reps is optimal. Compliments of Eric Horst πŸ™‚

    P.S. Great post Steph. I too have noticed huge contact strength gains on my fingerboard.

  • Pingback: Twittercited To Be A Tpup « Everyfrog’s Blog()

  • Pingback: Plateaus, Peaks and Valleys | Steph Davis - High Places()

  • Pingback: Questions from Russia | Steph Davis - High Places()

  • Pingback: Training and Injury | Steph Davis - High Places()

  • Pingback: Gymless Training | Steph Davis - High Places()

  • Jake

    I love this post.Β  I don’t get a chance to climb much because of conflicting schedules with my partner(s) (I work nights, blah) but I don’t want to lose what I’ve gained as far as finger and grip strength so I work out twice a week on my fingerboard.Β  I tweaked one of my fingers pretty good a few months ago trying to do too much too fast and using holds too small for my current strength level at the time.Β  When your body tells you something’s wrong, listen.Β  I never thought about going this simple.Β  I usually do static hangs in between my pullups sets.Β  I’m going to give this a try.Β  Thanks!

  • Anonymous

    let me know if it works πŸ™‚

  • Carl

    I am in total agreement, the simple fingerboard workouts really do offer massive reward. I am fortunate enough to be able to exercise at work and between a few of us guys we have a healthy competition that keeps us motivated. We recently added your workout to the schedule and already we have noticed finger strength gains….Thanks!

  • Aly Denk

    Hiya Steph! well, flying..for me, no. You, I think you are crazy. LOL. But who am i to say…besides all the catching up, I am building an outdoor woody, about 32′ x 10′ h. and I would love to model exactly what you have set-up. its what Β had in my mind’s eye. I was wondering if you could snap some shots of the framing in the back, as I will not attach it to anything, and it will be free standing along one of my backyard fencelines, here in Bishop. The only difference is I will set some on the panels on hinges. Thanks! and happy safe flying! ..oh my email is (Aly Denk)

  • I’m really glad to hear that, thanks for writing πŸ™‚

  • Hi Aly! It’s hard to wriggle in back there, but I’m going to go out and try to get some shots for you πŸ™‚

  • Aly Denk

    Thanks Steph! Β For getting those bouldering wall squeeze chimney pics. lol…I am pretty sure I am goign to go with 6×6 posts- 3 in the back, and put them in the ground at least 30″ each…probably cement them in..and then the center beam, as you have and the 4×4’s at angles from each side. I am resisting getting pea gravel…expense/dust…I never liked it in the gyms..but it may be the best alternative. I was gong to just do bouldering pads and Asana’s Big fillable foam mats…but not sure yet.. I am also planning on making the left side of my wall, like yours, adjustable angle..and have a 1′ foot board at the base. This is the engineering challenge right now, but I think I have it pretty well sorted. And I am going to have a winch to raise and lower the angles. Its quite the project but super fun. I can’t wait to have my own wall again!!


  • i have no doubt your wall is going to be sick…

  • Mike Crandall

    Thanks for posting! I have a few questions, how many days per week do you finger board train? Do you ever add weights in a pack?
    BTW – U’r wall is pretty sic! I’m too lazy to build and maintain a wall anymore πŸ˜›

  • Hi Mike,
    I don’t use a fingerboard all the time–often it’s for a few winter months. I’ve never added weights: I’d be very careful if I did, because it’s easy to do too much with finger training.

  • CN

    Hi! I’m a new climber and was wondering if this is a good training for me? I currently climb 5.8s/v2. Some say I should do finger training and others not. Advice?

  • hello CN, I would recommend starting with the bigger muscle group training: I have a post called fingerboard training 101 which is primarily a pullup workout, but will get you familiar with owning and using a hangboard, albeit on the big jugs. I would not recommend diving into the more finger specific training until you are plateau-ing out around 5.11 to 5.12. remember, the most important part of training is to stay injury free!!! πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚

  • CN

    Okay! So I should start using the finger pockets only when I’m plateau-ing, right?

  • Thomas Isaksen

    Thanks this is good advice! πŸ™‚


These are my sponsors. THEY ARE FABULOUS!