Digital Hangboard Platforms and Assessments

Image by Amanda Pugh | Instagram: @chalkdustphotography

Research > Technology Reviews > “Digital Hangboard Platforms”

Overview

Hangboarding is all the rage. Typically, gyms have provided a hangboarding system which uses a “pulley-system” and weight set-up. There’s nothing wrong with that system; the Andersons’ have helped climbers all over the United States using this simple set-up.

However, it shouldn’t be surprising that climbers are adding technology (beyond music and headphones) to support both a more careful assessment and individualized-focus to training. I want to introduce you to five different platforms. While there are numerous systems out there, I want to highlight the functional set-up as well as the usability of different systems.

5 Examples of Digital hangboard platforms including usability and set-up

It’s important to note that I chose my examples for each of these categorical types because 4 out of the 5 all either have research associated with them or are in the process of having a research paper completed using the system.

Do-it-yourself (DIY)

Example: Entralpi (Canada)
Innovator: Félix Bourassa-Moreau

Félix with the sick set-up: Sensor Board, Phone Mount, and Anderson HB.

Félix’s system is used with a typical hangboard set-up (sold separately). The Entralpi Sensor Board (~$102) is notable because its the only system of the three which you stand on to take measurements. It then transfers that data into an app which you can track in real time on your phone. You can track everything from the force you put into the system to the amount of time you’re hanging to the amount of rest you take.

The app keeps track of your training and provides recommendations for protocols to follow which include: aerobic endurance, maximum-strength, strength-endurance, and they even advertise training/testing for rate of force development (RFD), a form of measurement which may be similar to contact strength. The system is also consistent with other protocols you may be familiar with, which include those from Eric Hörst, Eva López-Rivera, Mike Anderson, Steve Bechtel, Beastmaker, and Lattice. Unlike the other systems on here, this one is meant to be used directly by the consumer. It’s a good low-cost option if you’re the type of climber who wants every-day hangboard feedback and likes interpreting your own results. If you use google translate (or speak German) you can read about the study comparing force and performance here: klettertraining

Check out their kickstarter or go directly to their website: www.entralpi.com

Assessor-System

Example: Camp 4 Performance Climbing Assessment (USA)
Innovator: Tyler Nelson

If you haven’t heard about Tyler yet you’re probably living with your head in the sand. He’s arguably the only human being that teaches me something with almost every social media post. Tyler uses hardware from a company called Exsurgo which created the multi-directional gStrength500 ($899), and then developed his own software and application to go with the unit. That doesn’t mean you need to buy one though. He and other testers routinely get invited to gyms to do group assessments and his company Camp 4 has testing centers for group and individual assessments in Salt Lake City, Utah (where he’s based) as well as a variety of other locations (scroll to the bottom of the page and click on each location!).

Alex Johnson yarding on a Tension Block attached to the multi-directional gStrength500 (orange/black box).

Tyler’s system is notable because it’s typically attached between a static, immovable anchor and a portable hangboard. In the pictures it’s usually a Tension Flashboard ($75-$85) or The Block ($40-$45) so I figured I’d throw in a few plugs for Will Anglin’s shop. The assessments themselves look at indicators of finger strength including peak force and RFD as well as your ability to maintain strength across multiple moves. Tyler, however, has also built his platform to understand more than just the fingers. He looks at measures of strength and power in the body as well. You can see a write-up as well as video at Camp 4 Performance Assessment.

This system is a fairly in-depth assessment system which gives Tyler and his affiliates information about you that can be translated into detailed, individualized training. Interpretation is by an assessor who is trained to look directly at the data and understand the implications. After assessment, Tyler offers resistance training and cardiovascular fitness programs. If you’re a coach inclined toward measurement, you may consider getting in contact with Tyler to provide this service at your gym.

This summary will be updated when their research paper becomes available.

Research- and citizen-science focused

Example: Lattice Training (United Kingdom)
Innovators: Tom Randall, Ollie Torr, and Dr. Dave Giles

Tom and Ollie have a system of assessments that historically have been either self-assessed remotely or required you to come in and do one of a number of non-digitally based tests. Recently, they’ve partnered with Dr. David Giles from the University of Derby to add a digital tier to their suite of assessments with the introduction of the Lattice Digital Research Rung ($1,200). Like Tyler’s system, this is not meant to be bought by your average climber.

Tom doing his best snowboarding impression as he yards on the Alien-green version of his data collection rung.

Outside of Lattice’s own use, which is an “assessor-based” system similar to Tyler’s, my sense is that this rung is being marketed to individuals who have a robust technical expertise in interpretation, assessment, (and at least some software development — though this last part may change in the near future), but not necessarily the technical means of building the hardware platform itself.

The rung is notable because it’s mountable to a wall and is standardized so its compatible with Lattice’s other assessments. It specifically will capture maximum finger force as well as continuous/intermittent tests such as Critical Force (see the Dr. Giles and Lattice research paper). While the system can measure RFD, they recommend using an ‘amplifier’ designed to increase the “sampling frequency” (measured in Hz).

The output can be used anyway the researcher wants, but because the digital rung is standardized to the broader Lattice assessment, Lattice can also provide interpretation and training services. Lattice interprets results by comparing your results with others. This “comparison system” helps you determine where you’re either strong or weak at different measurements compared to others who climb a similar grade.

Hopefully Lattice’s digital assessment system will turn into a phenomenal way for budding citizen-scientists and more traditional researchers to bypass the technical needs associated with building their own system and get right to data collection, whether they interpret on their own or use Lattice’s system.

Some Final Options

The Smart Board and the Tindeq

Image of the analysis provided by different evaluations available from the Smart Board. Note: Most of these are self-explanatory, but ‘arm energetical capacities’ refers to a repetition of pull-ups, while ‘stamina’ refers to a succession of hangs on crimps which then calculates a score based on grip type, the size of the hold, and the force applied.

Dr. Laurent Vigouroux, who I had the pleasure of climbing with in Chamonix, France (guy boulders like a madman!), has created The Smart Board. The Smart Board, a product from France, falls into the same category as the Lattice Digital Testing Rung in that it is a dedicated hangboard which takes force measurements. Slightly more dynamic (more holds) than the Lattice version, it also includes testing protocols and an optional tablet. At $3,293 for the starting package, it’s certainly the most expensive of the options but also arguably the most complete as it strays onto the “Do-It-Yourself” side — making it a potential investment option for gyms.

The Tindeq Progressor ($90) is a force unit made by a company in Norway that has a similar set-up as the gStrength500 but is more similar to Entralpi’s Sensor Board in that it is an inexpensive DIY system that appears to be rather easily set-up on the fly. It pairs with the Tindeq Progressor App for testing which include endurance, peak force, and even RFD.

A note about Rate of Force Development (RFD) Testing

Entralpi, Tindeq, the gStrength500, and The Smart Board all note that they can measure RFD with their systems, and each has a sampling frequency between 50hz and 200hz. Lattice is the only option recommending a higher sampling frequency than what is capable of being generated by their system in order to produce “detailed” RFD measurements. The Lattice folks note that their system runs at 80hz, which they say should show you a generic slope, and may be acceptable for athlete monitoring, but in their opinion won’t provide much detailed analysis.

One researcher we’ve spoken with recommends a sampling frequency of 1000hz or higher, but also suggested 200hz may be enough. A higher sampling frequency would be ideal, but a certain threshold sampling frequency which can adequately measure at 200-250ms should be fine for the current suite of RFD protocols. Whether this will hold true for protocols that are more goal-oriented (e.g. firing for and *latching* a hold) has no research to date.