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Training Tips: Hangboarding

Training Tips is a series written by the climbing coaches from Redpoint Training. If you’re looking to improve your climbing, check out the Redpoint Assessment. You’ll walk away from your Assessment with the knowledge of your opportunities for growth and a personalized plan to help you make gains.

Strengthening Those Digits

Finger strength is something everybody wants in the climbing community, but few want to do the work to get develop it. Why? Well, finger strength is probably the most grueling thing to train. If you want it, you’ll have to bust out that darn hangboard!

Increasing your finger strength as a climber provides massive benefits, not only in how hard you can crank on a hold, but how small of a hold can you rest on and how static you can move from crimp to crimp. Generally you will see the most benefit from training finger strength once you’ve mastered the climbing technique needed for the grades you currently “project” (work multiple times to figure out) but lack the finger strength to pull through moves or recover enough to finish the climb before falling.

When your finger strength is higher, your forearms take longer before entering “endurance mode”, when you start to feel that “pumpy”, swollen feeling.IMG_0892 So it really is a win-win for your climbing ability as a whole.

The best way to develop finger strength is with a hangboard, a board that features a variety of hold sizes and types. There are many different styles of hangboards out there, and each First Ascent facility features multiple hangboards so you can find the type that will support the hangboard workout you would like to do.

How To Hangboard

Important Disclaimer: hangboarding is for intermediate and advanced climbers who have been climbing for 2 years or longer. Hangboarding puts significant strain on your finger tendons, and unless your tendons have been developed by significant climbing experience, they will be prone to injury from hangboard workouts. If you’ve been climbing less than 2 years, there are other training methods that can increase your finger strength more safely. Only add hangboarding to your climbing training routine if you know you’re ready for it. If you’re unsure, seek qualified instruction.

There is no sugar coating it: hangboarding is not the most fun workout. In fact, it can be difficult and mundane. But it arguably will give you  the most benefits of any climbing workout. You’re going to have to learn to become a sort of masochist, but the gains will make it all worth it.

I want to help you get started, so I’m going to share 4 things that I do to stay the course for my 3-4 weeks of hangboarding 3-4 times a year.  Then, I’ll share the most popular workout that I use to train myself and teach my clients to use.

Four Tips For Successful Hangboarding 

Tip 1: make sure to have a clear goal for your training plan, whether it’s a grade, a trip, or a general level of fitness. Define what that goal means to you. Really drill in and define it. You will need this goal when all of the excuses for not following through with your training plan pile up – and believe me, they will. Have a picture of your goal climb as the wallpaper on your phone or on your mirror in your bathroom.

Tip 2: have a great go-get-it playlist. Something that gets you pumped up and excited to try hard. I personally like hip hop or rap music. Turn the music up and get focused.

Tip 3: follow a really solid warm up routine. Listen to that music, and slowly get yourself amped and focused. I like to use a 20 minute ARCing session to warm up (see my last post for more on ARCing).

Tip 4: do the workout in it’s entirety. It’s easy to call it a quits 3/4 ‘s of the way and say you’ve done enough. The people who are getting the most out of their sport are the ones who stick it out until the end.

Now for the workout!

The Workout

Below I’ll describe a basic “how to” for hangboarding, but I recommend scheduling a session with a Redpoint Coach to make sure you are hangboarding with proper form to protect your finger tendons, shoulders, and other joints.

Pick 6 to 8 Holds on your hangboard. Make sure two are crimps, one is a larger edge, and one a smaller edge. Try and pick holds that are on your goal route or in your goal area. The first hold you use should be the big jugs on the hangboard for a warm up hang.

IMG_7821Hold on to each hold to test them out. For holds that feel very difficult, start with negative weight on a pulley system, especially if you are in your first season of hangboard training. Injury prevention is the goal here. You can take weight off by wearing a harness and clipping weight into the pulley system on the hangboard stations. Take off 20lbs to start, then work up to body weight from there. 

For each hang rep, slowly sink into each hold and take the weight onto your shoulders, then remove your feet from the ground. Keep your elbows slightly bent, not locked, and keep the shoulders engaged to prevent injury.

Here are your sets:

Warm up jugs

7 reps of 7 Seconds on 3 seconds off 

3 minutes rest

Set 1: 6-8 hold types

7 reps of 7 seconds on 3 seconds off

3 minutes rest

Switch holds

Set 2: 6-8 hold types

Option to add 5 lbs if you did not fail on the 7th rep of Set 1

6 reps of 6 seconds on 3 seconds off

3 minutes rest

Switch holds

Lastly, hangboarding is very hard on your fingers, so make sure to take 2 days off between each workout for adequate rest. Hangboard every 3 days for 3-4 weeks. Remember to find ways to enjoy it, make your goals clear, and stay consistent. After 4 weeks, you’re ready to move on to training for power.

Until next time, enjoy your gains!

-Branden LaCour

Learn more about Branden and his tips for training at

Building Better Boulders

FA Setters Head West

Mike burst into the gym even more psyched than usual. Now, if you know Mike this is a mildly terrifying concept. Before anyone could inquire about the why of it, he giddily told us that he had signed up for a 3-day routesetting clinic in San Diego with Tonde Katiyo. IMG_9035If you don’t know who Tonde is here’s a brief primer: 20+ years of routesetting experience, innumerable World Cups under his setting belt, several head routesetting stints at gyms around the globe, you get the picture. Similarly feeling the stoke, Jack and Ryan from the team likewise enrolled.

Over the past 13 years of routesetting, I’ve found that my creativity periodically waxes and wanes. Feeling like I was in an ebb-state, I needed a kick in the pants and this clinic was exactly the ticket. Next stop for the four of us: California!

Trading Trade Secrets

Upon arrival at the excellent host gym Mesa Rim, one of the owners (and a highly-regarded setter himself), Ian, welcomed us and we met the other participants. IMG_9032Besides the troupe from First Ascent there were five other talented and experienced setters from as near as up the coast to as far as Chattanooga, and then there was Tonde. Equal parts friendly and knowledgeable, he ushered us into a conference room to begin our instruction.

For the next three days from the classroom to the climbing walls, the nine of us tried to absorb as much of Tonde’s tutelage as we could. The lessons covered everything from overarching concepts to nuanced philosophy, a steady supply of donuts and coffee keeping us amped to soak it all up and put it into action. Each evening when the impact-drivers were set down, notes were traded and friendships made as the discussion continued over burgers and beers at the nearby Green Flash Brewery. IMG_9030When the end of the third day rolled around, everyone was weary in body but topped-up on knowledge. Goodbyes were said and contact information exchanged as we all scattered back to our various home gyms around the country.

Bringing It Home To FA

You may be thinking at this point, “well, that was pleasant enough and all but what does this mean for me?” Worry not! Back home at First Ascent, I’m excited to be rolling out some changes soon that I hope will lead to a refined experience for our members and visitors. First among these will be an update to how we reset our bouldering area at our Avondale facility. Currently, all problems are reset purely based on their age and regardless of their location. Problems have a 6-week shelf-life, and when the last grain of sand drops on that span the problems are reset. In the hopes of giving you a more structured and cohesive experience, we’ll be switching to a turnover system based on zones.IMG_9036What this means is that each week instead of having things done piecemeal, we’ll instead select two sections of wall to entirely strip clean and reset. These areas will be geographically offset to make sure that things don’t get too crowded, but still cozy enough in case you want to share beta or session a problem with some new friends. Each zone will still have the same 6-week lifespan, so you’ll still have plenty of time to work on your projects. While we’re making this change some problems will get taken down before their 6 weeks is up, so please bear with us during the transition.

As always, if you see me around the gym feel free to pull me aside to chat. Good or bad, I want to know what you’re thinking so we can keep improving your time spent with us at First Ascent.

Climb on!

Cheech Lin

FA Head Routesetter

The FAmily Goes to Cuba

Whether locally or abroad, we love when our community goes on climbing trips. We love it even more when the FAmily comes back with stories of their adventures at the crag(s) they traveled to and are willing to share their experiences with others. Here, Grace Romanelli heads down to the land of hand-rolled cigars and a former haunt of Ernest Hemingway. Do you have a climbing story/adventure you’d like to pitch/write for the FA blog? Email us at: if you’re interested. 

“Cuba On My Mind”

We landed at Jose Martì airport. We stepped off the plane straight into a tropical heat, the sound of Latin music, and an hour and a half long line to exchange dollars to convertible pesos (CUC). We were in Cuba. Irreverent, audacious, survivalist, sensual, proud and defiant Cuba; a prince in a poor man’s coat, as some have said.en route to Vignales

A jovial cabby took us to our Airbnb in the center of Havana. After a brief exchange with the host, we set out to explore the city. Malecon, often called the Lake Shore Drive of Havana was nearby, and so we walked along the path taking in the scene; the spray from waves breaking along the seawall greeted us as did the locals, couples danced, fishermen cast their lines. We were dazed by the ever-present remnants of the “Revolucìon,” admiring the old and the new living in perfect harmony. A myriad of old, colorful Chevrolets, Buicks and Fords honked at us as they raced up and down the boulevard, until everyone disappeared with that evening’s hauntingly beautiful sunset.

For the next two days, the city shared with us some its scars from the turbulent past, and boasted signs of promising future.  Our Havana nights belonged to local music venues, providing us with a true feast of Latin sound and dance.

Cuba Libre

Day three…

On day 3 – in a fire-engine red 1955 Chevy – we set out to Los Viñales, which would be our climbing destination for the next four days. Valle de Viñales located the western, mountainous province of Pinar del Río, offers climbers overhanging limestone faces called “mogotes” that rise above local fincas (farms), red-soiled tobacco fields and lush palm trees. The climbing was phenomenal: pulling on jugs and pockets on stupendous overhangs of stalactites and tufas.

Viñales was a cozy town that greeted us with its clean, colorful bungalows, open air spaces and comfortable accommodations. As we woke up to a blue sky and a delicious breakfast, we soon realized that the only comfortable climbing needed to be in the shade. We set out to Cueva Larga, a very narrow, canyon-like crag, with gritty limestone walls and a variety of routes ranging between 5.9 and 5.12+.  The rock seemed super sharp at the first touch, which did not matter that much. We were starved for climbing and adventure. smoking a home made cigar

On the way back, a local farmer (guajiro) invited us over to his humble house, where his mother-in-law greeted us with a tasty coffee, a hand made cigar and a bottle of rum. The family insisted that, next time we come around, we stop for dinner. So we did, mostly out of curiosity, and the hosts prepared a delicious yucca meal, garnished with small green peppers and spices.  Do not ask for a recipe. Such treats when traveling abroad can never be replicated at home, because they are seasoned with local love and generosity.

More Cuban crags:

For the next 4 days, we ventured into a few other local climbing spots. El Palenque located four kilometers north of town was the hub of the first routes put up in Cuba. Besides climbing, El Palenque offers a bar by day, located in an impressive cave with hanging stalactites. The bar changes into a disco on Saturday night, where you can dance to your heart’s content to sensual salsa rhythms.Paredon de Josue

Vinales’ most popular crag, Cueva Cabeza de la Vaca, forms an impressive 30-metre overhanging wall and it has become a ‘’local gym.’’ Getting to the cave is easy, passing through la Finca de Raul (Raul’s farm), where you can buy some of his juice, fruit, or tobacco. The crag, despite its intimidating look, offers some fun moderate routes, in addition to its classics, such as Wasp factory, named for the wasp nests claiming the line.

On our rest day, a local driver took us to a nearby beach, Cayo Jutìa, where the tropical sun, exquisite sands and easy-to-swim-to-reef turned out to be the perfect paradise-balm for our tired muscles.

Cuba makes you commit. As we drove back to the Jose Martì airport, we pondered the Cuban Revolution and how a country so small and vulnerable could resist its omni-powerful neighbor for so long… these are some questions for which we’ll have to go back to Cuba to answer; while we’re at it, we’ll bring some climbing gear along, just in case!


By: Grace Romanelli

Member Spotlight: Henry Chan

Henry is a friendly community fixture at the Avondale gym. Always ready to tell you about his projects and latest sends, it seems like when he’s not working, he’s climbing and he’s always really excited about it. He recently accepted a teaching position out-of-state, and while he’ll be with us for most of the summer, the community will be sad to see him go. Get to know him a bit better with this FA Member Spotlight and say hi next time you cross paths at the gym and if you’ve an Instagram account follow him there (and us, too)


  1. How did you get into climbing? About three years ago, I wanted to find a new hobby, so I went to FFC Old Town to try out rock climbing. Originally it was just a once-a-week thing, but then I had a huge crush on someone who worked there. Even though nothing ever happened between us, I’ve been an avid climber since.

  1. What do you love about climbing? Before I started climbing, I hadn’t done anything remotely “wild.” The thrill of being on the edge (pun intended) all the time is what I love about rock climbing. Also, when you’re outdoors and get to a summit at sunset, the view and experience are just exhilarating.

  1. Bouldering or sport climbing? Bouldering. I really enjoy the process of figuring out the beta of bouldering problems with other climbers. Even though I’m working on technical climbing, dynamic moves can also be fun. Plus, when I climb on lead, I start freaking out whenever I’m heading horizontally away from the last draw I clipped.

  1. What is your favorite place to climb outdoors? Last Thanksgiving my friends took me to Stone Fort (Little Rock City), and I immediately fell in love with it. It’s got all types and levels of bouldering for everyone, and the rock texture is amazing. I’d never liked heel hooks until I went there, where every time you set your heel it feels so natural and secure. And if you climb sport or trad, Foster Falls and T Walls are just an hour away from Stone Fort!

  1. Do you have any particular climbing goals or projects for this year? Indoor-wise, I want to start climbing V7’s. Outdoor-wise, I want to send The Wave (V6) and Red House (V7) in Stone Fort in my next trip there.

Mystery Groove
  1. What keeps you busy when you’re not climbing? At the moment, I’m finishing up my Ph.D. thesis and figuring out my next step after graduating. I’m also involved in a state math enrichment program (SESAME) for middle school teachers. Most of my hobbies are pretty nerdy. I spend my free time playing board games, solving New York Times Crossword puzzles and reading Russian mystery novels.

  1. What do you love about Chicago? I’m a big fan of Broadway musicals and operas. Chicago is undoubtedly a perfect city for these kind of things. The city offers a special program for musical casts to perform in Chicago before officially going onto Broadway in New York, so you get to watch the original Broadway cast without having to fly to New York and pay a hefty amount of money. 

  1. What is your favorite Chicago spot for food, music, art, or culture? The Lyric Opera and the Chicago Theatre are my favorite spots. Besides the musical performances, the architecture inside is just as magnificent as the rest of Chicago. FB_IMG_1486435959066

  1. What is something about you most people don’t know? Well, I’m openly gay. To be honest, I feel intimidated in most sport events or gyms. However, First Ascent has always make me feel comfortable and safe. It is the most diverse gym, by all means, I’ve ever been to.

  1. Anything else you want to say to the FA Community? Bouldering can be fun and intimidating at the same time. Just remember, you’re never too short or too weak to boulder :-). If you need betas or tips, I always have some to share.HenrySwingers