Grip strength is one of the most critical aspects that differentiates a mediocre climber from an experienced one. Climbing is a mental and technical skill sport that requires regular practice and devotion, and paying attention to your finger strength is crucial if you want to climb safely. This is why training to strengthen your fingers is crucial if you want to take your climbing skills to the next level.
In this article, we’ll explain the importance of finger strength and we’ll also suggest a few exercises that can help you improve your grip strength. Keep on reading to learn more about this topic.
In this guide you will find:
- What is Finger Strength?
- Why Does Finger Strength Matter?
- How to Improve your Finger Strength
- Using Finger Strength Specific Exercise Equipment
What is Finger Strength?
This refers to your fingers’ ability to grab onto different objects when you’re climbing. Finger strength is a key component in your success as a climber.
Climbers are usually concerned with incorporating resistance training to train the muscles in their arms, legs, and backs. However, things can be a little different for fingers because they don’t have any muscles. Static stretching can actually increase the risk of tears in fingers because they’re made of tendons.
Why Does Finger Strength Matter?
Stronger fingers matter when you’re rock climbing because they allow you to hold on to the wall! Here are some reasons why finger strength training should be part of your rock climbing training.
- In order to climb harder, your fingers should be strong enough to grab smaller holds.
- When you’re trying to hold onto objects while climbing, the blood flow in your forearm will be jeopardized, affecting your arm’s overall ability to pull your body up. Having stronger fingers will improve your performance in resistance climbing as they help support your body weight or any part of your body that is not supported by your feet.
- More experienced climbers use their fingers to support their bodies during short breaks. In the middle of steep climbing, climbers can rest on their fingers to allow their bodies to rest so they can continue pushing forward.
- Having stronger fingers will provide more stamina. You will be able to do more climbs per day without feeling too tired. As a result, if you’re going on a multi-day climbing trip, you’ll be having more fun with your fellow climbers.
How to Improve your Finger Strength
Traditionally, finger strength was measured at a doctor’s office. This can still be done, but for a rock climbing purpose, this isn’t very relevant, as very few doctors will understand the specific muscles and strength needed for rock climbing.
The only way to improve your finger strength is to train.
“There are no secrets to becoming strong. It’s all about hard work. Beer and women will be the ruin of you” – Ben Moon
Finger Strength Specific Exercises
There are several exercises and tools that you can use to help make your fingers stronger and more capable of holding onto holds while you’re climbing. Here are some of the easiest and most basic finger strengthening exercises.
Many of these are also restorative exercises as well, which can be used in conjunction with hangboard training to prevent injuries.
Squeezing a soft foam ball is an excellent way to strengthen the muscles and tendons in your hand and fingers. You can go for a denser and harder ball if you feel that you can squeeze the soft one too easily.
By squeezing harder balls, you’ll be increasing the strength of your grip. Increase the resistance by switching from soft foam balls to inflated rubber balls and tennis balls.
It’s also an excellent way to release tension.
- Put the ball in your palm and pinch it with your fingers and the thumb.
- Hold this position for 30 to 60 seconds.
- Repeat this exercise 10 times, and do it about 3 or 4 times a week. Don’t overdo it, as you might overstrain your tendons.
This exercise can be done without any tools, and it helps strengthen the tendons in your fingers. It also works if you have a particular finger that you need to pay attention to, for example, after an injury.
- Keep your hand flat, palm down, on a table.
- Gently lift each finger up and hold for a couple of seconds, then put it down slowly. Do this for every finger, one at a time.
- You can also lift all the fingers up at once. Don’t forget to lift the thumb up, too.
- Repeat this exercise 10 times, then move to the other hand.
Bend and Fold
By regularly doing this exercise, you’ll be training your fingers to handle higher resistances, which is similar to what your fingers have to endure when you’re rock climbing. Moreover, this exercise will help you develop finger independence, which is a crucial skill in rock climbing.
- Hold your hands straight and keep your palms facing up.
- Bend each finger at the second knuckle using the fingers of the other hand.
- Make sure that all the other fingers are still while you’re bending one finger at a time.
- Hold this position for 10 seconds, then release and move onto the other finger.
Doing a Fist
Doing a fist is a potent way to increase your finger strength and improve flexibility. Moreover, you don’t need any tools to complete this strengthening exercise. You can do this exercise between climbs to help relieve tension.
- Hold out your hand and extend your fingers.
- Slowly bend your fingers into a fist, keeping the thumb out.
- Release the fingers and return to the starting position.
- Repeat the exercise 10 times and move to the next hand.
You can do this exercise regularly to increase the range of motion of your fingers and thumb, as well as increase their flexibility.
- Hold your hand straight in front of you.
- Gently touch the tip of your thumb with the tip of your index finger, making the shape of an O. Hold this position for 30 seconds.
- Move onto the next finger.
- Repeat the exercise 4 times for each hand.
This exercise is done to improve your grip as you can practice grabbing various objects. It will also increase the blood flow to the fingers. For this exercise, you need to use a pen.
- Put a pen on a table and place it under your first knuckle.
- Use your 4 fingers to try to roll the pen up to the crease of your hand.
- Do this for 1 minute, then move to the next hand. Don’t be surprised if you feel that one hand is a lot weaker than the other.
Using Finger Strength Specific Exercise Equipment
In addition to finger strength exercises, there is a myriad of equipment that you can use to improve the blood flow and keep your fingers strong to keep conquering your projects!
You can buy a grip strengthener at home or use one at the gym to make your fingers stronger.
Grip strengtheners will greatly speed up the rate in which you increase finger strength when compared to the exercises above.
Finger grip strengtheners target specific hand and forearm muscles, which are both crucial for successful rock climbing. If you’re a beginner rock climber, you should invest in a high-quality grip strengthener to improve your finger strength.
There are 2 types of grip strengtheners; compression and expansion grip strengtheners. The difference is related to the way your hand will move while you’re using the tool. A compression strengthener will increase the strength of your finger when you close your hand, while an expansion strengthener will improve your finger strength when you open your hand.
Compression grip strengtheners will help you grab onto more objects, while expansion grip strengtheners help prevent the risk of injuries. These tools have several benefits.
- Using a grip strengthener regularly is a potent way of improving your finger strength and will also help relieve stress.
- Grip strengtheners increase your hands’ endurance and help your hands get ready for strengthening exercises.
- Regular practice using a grip strengthener will help build your muscle memory.
- Your resistance to pain will increase, which will give you more stamina when you’re rock climbing.
- Although grip strengtheners mainly increase your fingers’ strength, they’re also beneficial for your wrist and forearm muscles.
Every serious climber understands the importance of hang boards. They provide direct and intense finger strengthening exercises with a variety of open-hand and closed-hand grips to train different muscles and stretch various tendons.
Hangboards are generally considered the fastest, most effective and most rock climbing specific form to increase finger strength.
Warm-up is crucial before using a hang board to make sure that your body is ready for this intense training. Bodyweight and weight exercises are usually enough to get your muscles and tendons ready. You should also avoid arching your back when you’re hanging.
Your training’s intensity can be increased by decreasing the hold size, adding weight to your body, or using only one hand. You can reduce the training’s intensity by supporting your feet on a chair or using a counterweight system.
Here’s an example of a very basic hangboard workout to get you going.
- Warm up, 30-40min minimum.
- Choose 5-7 different hand holds of various configurations and difficulty.
- Usually choose at least one of every type of hold: jug, full crimp, slopper, pocket etc.
- Starting with the first set of holds, do six reps for 10 seconds, then rest for 5 seconds.
- Rest 3 minutes
- Continue to the next configuration doing the same 10 seconds of hanging, 5 seconds of resting.
- Do 10 sets of 5 hangs on different holds.
- For added difficulty, repeat the same hold for every position.
- Use the hang board 2 times a week until you’re comfortable enough to use it more often.
- With time, you can make the holds more difficult, or add weight via a weight belt or your harness.
Improving your finger strength is crucial for successful and safe climbing. Use a variety of exercises and tools to build your finger strength gradually. Don’t forget to take breaks, as overstraining your fingers will lead to undesirable results and will increase the risk of injuries.
For further reading see: “What Is Trad Climbing? Start Here (if You’re New to Trad)” and “The Most Awesome Introduction to Aid Climbing!”
Editorial staff for The Wandering Climber. An expert roundup of climbing nerds from across the world!