I am continuing my collaboration with Tom Randall from Lattice Coaching and Training.  Below is a post on finger strength research which we collaborated on, as well as some of the practical input and considerations which the Lattice Climbing community discussed.

From Tom:

After the great feedback we received from our recent community discussion on the Rate of Force Development (i.e. contact strength) with Taylor Reed from The Beta Angel Project, we thought we should do another one!

This time we wanted to discuss a specific piece of research from the most extensive finger strength researcher in the field: Eva Lopez-Rivera.

Key finding from the Research:

  • The value of maximal strength training may vary depending on the climber’s starting strength levels.

Eva Lopez and her collaborator, J.J. Gonzalez-Badillo, were interested in how hangboarding affected 22 climbers of different finger strength abilities who averaged an 8a redpoint ability level.  The climbers were tested for finger strength on a 15 mm edge for maximum added weight at 5 seconds, and also tested for endurance strength on an 11 mm edge hang to failure.  Climbers were tested both before and after a 4-week intervention.

Method:

  • 3-5 sets of 10-second maximum dead hangs with 3-minute rests.
  • The climbers were divided into a Low Strength (LS) group and a High Strength (HS) group.
  • Results are as follows:

The low strength (LS) group started at 22.71 (+/- 7.72) kg of added weight and saw a 35.78% statistically significant strength increase, and started at 24.95 (+/- 11.99) seconds of hanging and saw a 35.59% statistically significant endurance increase.  The high strength (HS) group started at 41.95 (+/-7.71) kg of added weight and saw a 3.69% non-statistically significant strength increase, and started at 50.35 (+/-18.04) seconds of hanging and saw a 4.22% non-statistically significant endurance decrease.

Two potential points of discussion:

  1. When you start from a lower strength level you’re more likely to make greater gains when doing maximal finger-strength training.
  2. The authors spend some discussion time on the findings related to endurance.

While maximal strength training had a statistically significant positive impact on endurance for the LS group, it had a non-statistically significant negative impact on the HS group.  The authors suggest there may be a physiological reason for the decrease having to do with muscle fiber composition – a “greater fatigability, or that they may need a stronger stimulus or an extended training period.”

Taylor noted that he had a section of his research inventory dedicated to finger strength.  He also had a few questions he thought could get us started!

  • Would the findings above affect your prioritization of training techniques if you’ve already seen significant strength gains from hangboarding?
  • Taylor was also curious about how the community saw the use of the hangboard for endurance vs. other tools.
  • Do some training protocols have unintended training consequences? He’s observed this in his successful motor learning interventions and was curious what the community thought about the concept of “unintended consequence.”

From Taylor:

The Lattice Community engaged!  Here are some brief notes from the discussion:

  • Naturally, the community was impressed by the gains in both strength and endurance and wanted to know the exact protocol that was used:
    • 3-4 progressive sets at 50%-90% of the previous session’s maximum.
    • Use the half-crimp on an 18mm edge.
    • 3-5 sets of 10-second maximum dead hangs with 3-minute rests, two times a week for 4 weeks.
      • the participants were instructed not to go to failure, but rather to keep a 3-second “reserve”.
      • Each subsequent set was varied by 2-5 kg (depending on body weight) depending on how they felt about their perceived effort regarding the reserve.
    • 30 minute cool-down between this training and other workouts.
    • Note: these were climbers who averaged French 8a Redpoint level, were 31.5 years old with 12.2 years of climbing experience.  The “Low Strength” Climbers tested at 22.71 kg +- 7.72, which is the maximum weight a climber could hold off a 15mm edge for 5 seconds.
  • One community member noted that a small decrease in muscular endurance as a result of strength has been observed in the general, non-climbing literature.  He suggested that he wouldn’t be surprised if the effect was accurate (perhaps in a larger population) even though the effect in this population wasn’t significant.
    • No community members mentioned that they had changed up their hangboard protocol as a result of knowing this beforehand and having endurance-related goals.
  • Eric Hörst was listening in and noted that his own take on this research was available at his website.  Click here for a link to the relevant podcast.