• COMPARING finger training protocols
Ask Matt :: Comparing Finger Training Protocols 2018-03-26T11:42:58+00:00

Project Description

Date: March 7th, 2018

trainingbeta podcast


About Matt Pincus

This is the first installment of the Ask Matt: Mini Podcast, which is a 25-minute monthly talk with Matt Pincus about a specific training topic.

Matt Pincus is a good friend of mine and he’s my right hand man at TrainingBeta. He’s basically the person who keeps this website running. He manages and writes the blog, he manages our social media presence, and he’s added Online Climbing Trainer to his resume.

Matt is a boulderer and a sport climber based out of Jackson, Wyoming, and currently living in his van on the road. He’s climbed up to 5.14a and V12 and is constantly changing and tweaking the ways he trains as he learns new things. Because of his success with his own training and climbing, he began training others. Matt’s ability to listen to people’s needs, his attention to detail, and his keen interest in all things training contribute to his ability to create effective training plans for his clients.

I wanted to talk with him about his recent article called “Comparing HangBoard Protocols”, so we dedicated this Ask Matt: Mini Podcast episode to just that. He has a lot to say about finger training, so hopefully this will clear up some of the questions you might have about your own finger training protocol.

Matt Pincus Interview Details

  • Basic breakdown of the most popular protocols out there
  • Which protocol to follow based on your goals
  • What you should focus on with a protocol
  • What he recommends for almost all of his clients
  • 3 main takeaways

Matt Pincus Links 

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Neely Quinn: Welcome to the Training Beta Podcast, where I talk with climbers and trainers about how we can all get a little better at our favorite sport. I’m your host, Neely Quinn, and today we are doing a different kind of episode. It’s a mini episode, which means we are just going to talk with a trainer about a really specific topic for about twenty minutes. I’m going to do this off and on with Matt Pincus, who is our in-house trainer over here at TrainingBeta.

Today we are talking about finger strength training protocols. First of all, how confusing they can be to figure out what you need to be doing for your goals, and why the subtle differences between the different protocols out there even matter, and what you should be focusing on. He wrote an article for us about just that topic on TrainingBeta, and I’ll put a link to that article in the show notes for this episode. I thought it would be good to have him on the show, to actually speak his mind a little bit more about it.

I think that’s all I’ve got for you, so I’m just going to let Matt get right into this, and I hope you enjoy it- I hope it’s helpful.

Neely Quinn: Okay, welcome to the show again Matt, thanks for talking with me today.

Matt Pincus: Thanks for having me back.

Neely Quinn: How are things going in the van?

Matt Pincus: Things are going well in the van, it’s been a good couple of months on the road. We were sport climbing in the VRG for a couple of months, and now we’ve moved down to Hueco Tanks, and are enjoying mixing it up going bouldering, and some relaxing time in the desert.

Neely Quinn: Cool. Today we are going to be talking about fingerboarding. You wrote an article for TrainingBeta comparing different protocols, what to pay attention to, what not to. We thought it would be a good idea to talk about it for just a short time, and explain in more detail what you were talking about in the post. Do you want to start off with your main thoughts on that?

Matt Pincus: Sure. My motivation for writing the article and then for doing this episode is that I think within climbing training, it’s sort of an accepted norm at this point that fingerboarding is a really valuable tool. However, I think that there is still misunderstanding about what a fingerboard is actually for, and how to use them properly, but also about what we should obsess over in our fingerboard training. I just wanted to kind of clarify all that, and maybe give some people some tools or ideas to help them choose a protocol, and to be more efficient in their fingerboard training.

Neely Quinn: Cool. Can you give an overview of basically what’s out there for fingerboard protocols?

Matt Pincus: Sure. I guess the two most common fingerboard protocols- and you can sort of use them as headings and for all the different smaller variations. One would be like a ten second max weight protocol, where you are hanging for ten seconds on a given hold, with the maximum amount of weight that you can hold. Whether that is hanging that off of your harness, or bodyweight, or even subtracting weight if the hold is too difficult for you to hang at bodyweight. In that max weight protocol, you are taking as much rest as you need in between each hang, to make sure that each one is a quality maximal effort. The other main protocol would be the repeater. That was sort of popularized by the Anderson Brothers. In it’s most classic form, it’s a seven second hang with three seconds off for seven reps, on a given hold.

Neely Quinn: Okay. Do you want to go from there and talk about what they are both good for, and explain more about that?

Matt Pincus: Sure. I think maybe before we jump into that completely, I just want to put out there that it’s really important that we think of hangboarding as a strength training tool. When you are hangboarding, you’re not concerned with training endurance. You’re not concerned with training power, you’re not doing pull-ups. In it’s purest form, it’s just for targeting finger strength. So if we take those two protocols, maybe the best way to differentiate between them is to think of them laying on a spectrum, with pure strength training on one side, and strength or more commonly known as power endurance on the other side. What that means is when we talk about a pure strength training protocol, we are talking about high intensity, low repetition, and we are not concerned with the amount of rest. That’s sort of what we talked about in that max weight protocol. You are doing the highest amount of weight that you can hang on a given hold for a short amount of time. So that’s a high load, short time, and then we are not concerned with a short rest period. I always suggest that people take at least three minutes off, but that’s more of a loose guideline. If you need five minutes, then five minutes is fine also.

The repeater protocol would be more on the strength endurance side of that spectrum. It’s going to be a lower load because you are reduced and restricting the amount of rest for three seconds. You are not going to be able to hang as much weight as you would with a ten second hang. So it’s a lower load, or lower intensity. You are doing more repetitions since you are doing seven in a given set, instead of one in a given set with a max weight dead hang. So you are introducing fatigue into the equation.

Neely Quinn: Okay, alright, got it. So one is strength, one is strength endurance. Power endurance.

Matt Pincus: Yeah, and I think that maybe over simplifies slightly, in that both of those protocols will help your fingers get stronger. It’s really just a question from a technical perspective, what you are actually training. Are you training pure finger strength? Are you working on more finger strength endurance? You are going to see finger strength gains either way, but when you are building out your greater training program, being really specific in terms of what you are actually training will let you make a more educated decision about which protocol fits better with the rest of your training and your goals.

Neely Quinn: Right. That’s my next question. With your clients, when do you tell people to do max weight hangs, and when do you tell them to do repeaters? What kinds of climbers should be doing those things?

Matt Pincus: Personally, I prefer the max weight protocol. As I said, I consider the hangboard a pure strength training tool. Picking a protocol that is more of a strict strength training protocol makes more sense to me most of the time. I have the majority of my athletes on some sort of max weight protocol. However, I think there are some specific situations in which repeaters are really valuable, and I’ve seen that both with my athletes and in my own training. Maybe the best example of that is a boulderer who is trying to move towards sport climbing.

Neely Quinn: Can you say more about that?

Matt Pincus: So the reason for that is a boulderer is going to be able to do harder moves than are required on their given route grade. The energy system side of the equation is going to be less developed, so they are going to have lower power endurance, lower general endurance also. You are going to address that in other parts of your training, but I think moving your fingerboard training towards that strength endurance side of the system, if you are switching from bouldering to routes, is a really valuable way to simulate the sort of metabolic demand of route climbing in your fingerboard training.

Neely Quinn: It seems like the repeaters could also be used for route climbers, if they don’t have any climbing access.

Matt Pincus: Totally. Like I said, people shouldn’t think of this as a completely black and white equation. There’s lots of protocols that blur the line, whether it’s a repeater that’s a ten second hang and five seconds off, or eight seconds off. Sort of whatever. There’s nothing that says seven seconds on three seconds off is the golden rule, and that’s just what you have to do.

I think using repeaters, you just need to be aware of the fact that you are introducing a restricted rest period into the equation, so you are training less pure strength. If that’s in line with your training goals, then that is really valuable. If you are after pure strength, then doing a max weight protocol would be more valuable.

Neely Quinn: It seems like there are so many different protocols besides the ones that you are talking about. In our finger training programs that Kris Peters created, sometimes he’ll have people do five seconds on, five seconds off. What’s the different between that and these other ones?

Matt Pincus: Again, it’s best to think about it on the spectrum. The longer the rest, the more you are moving towards pure strength. The longer the rest and the higher the load, and the lower the reps. It’s just moving along the spectrum, and being able to locate that, and just knowing what your training goals are is going to better- you’ll be able to make more informed decisions.

I guess maybe that is a good segue into that one of the major misconceptions or misguided approaches to fingerboarding is that people really obsess over the minutia over how long should I hang, how many grips, how many holds, how long is the rest. I don’t really think those are the things we should be most concerned with in our fingerboarding.

Neely Quinn: I was just in Vegas and I was talking to Jonathan Siegrist. He has been training with Steve Bechtel. One of the things that he took from him is that he’s been kind of plateauing with his finger training, and he finger trains a lot. What Steve had him do to actually make him improve was doing seven seconds on, thirteen seconds off. So he was doing repeaters, but with way more rest than he normally does because he’s usually doing seven seconds on three seconds off. So just focusing on the minutia, he said that he was PRing every time on the hangboard now. What do you think about that?

Matt Pincus: I think that’s a really concrete example of moving along that strength to strength endurance spectrum. Most of Jonathan’s fingerboarding, or almost all of it, has been on a seven second on three seconds off format. By adding an extra ten seconds of rest, he is moving along that spectrum to the strength side of the equation. It makes sense that with more rest, he is removing some of the fatigue in the equation, and that his PRs would go up. I would guess that if Jonathan moved to ten seconds on, three minutes off, he would see his numbers go up even more.

Neely Quinn: Yeah, you should chat with him about that then [laughs].

Matt Pincus: But Jonathan’s goals are in route climbing, so it also makes sense that he’s keeping some of that restricted rest period in there, because I know he finds value in sort of simulating the metabolic demand of route climbing in his fingerboard training.

Neely Quinn: Right, where you are going from hold to hold with a little bit of rest in between, and you are sitting on the holds for five to ten seconds.

Matt Pincus: Exactly.

Neely Quinn: Yeah. Okay so I wanted to touch also on beginners. In the TrainingBeta Facebook group- which everybody is invited to- I’ve been seeing a lot of comments from beginner fingerboarders, and a lot of the advice is given out there is directed more towards advanced climbers, advanced fingerboarders, and they are kind of having to figure things out on their own. What can you say to people who are like 5.10 to 5.11 climbers, they’re just beginning to train, what are your words of wisdom?

Matt Pincus: First and foremost, a little bit goes a long way on the fingerboard, especially when you are starting off. Jumping into a program that is too advanced for you is a quick way to get injured, and just isn’t necessary. You are going to see major gains- if you’ve never fingerboarded before, you’re probably going to see some major gains n your climbing just by doing a little bit of it. Ease into it, be careful, and err on the side of doing less, not too much.

Neely Quinn: So, like once a week?

Matt Pincus: Yeah, once a week I think would be plenty if you’ve never fingerboarded before.

Neely Quinn: Okay. What kinds of alterations would people make to fingerboard protocols that they hear about all over the place?

Matt Pincus: I think a beginner could use… a repeater protocol is nice in that you are hanging in less of a maximal effort for your fingers, so it’s going to reduce the risk of injury. I think that more than which protocol you pick, it’s important to know for beginners that a hangboard is a great tool because how customizable intensity is. You can really adjust that. If a hold you are hanging from is too small to hang effectively, you can move to a bigger hold, or you can use a pulley system to take weight off. Maybe the only thing to note there is that if you are moving to a bigger hold, you can move to a bigger hold that doesn’t change the grip position. So if you are trying to train a half crimp, you can move to a bigger edge to train a half crimp. But if you move to a hold that is so big that you are no longer putting your fingers in that half crimp position, then you are obviously not training a half crimp.

Neely Quinn: Right, okay. Right. So just use different holds, and less weight on your body. Or take body weight off. Or, don’t fingerboard if you- I like to stress to people that maybe fingerboarding isn’t quite right for you yet, if you are climbing 5.10. I mean, what are your thoughts on that?

Matt Pincus: I think climbing is a skill sport first and foremost. Just climbing, being focused in your climbing on improving your movement, improving your tactics, and making sure you are trying hard while you are climbing will get you a really long way. Moving into more structured training is something that you only really want to do once you need to. The benefit of that is obviously going climbing is more fun that fingerboarding, so it’s not something that people feel like they need to rush into. It’s really a tool for once you need the specific adaptations.

Neely Quinn: Okay, what are we missing? What did we not talk about? Or any last thoughts?

Matt Pincus: I wanted to cover quickly what I think people should be really concerned with when they are fingerboarding, more than the specific protocol that they use. It’s three things. Your fingerboarding should be repeatable and trackable. You should be concerned with achieving progressive overload. And, you should be concerned with doing it consistently over time. What that means is you don’t want to be going based on feel. You want to pick a workout that you are going to do, track your results in a training journal so that it’s consistent over time. The reason for that is that you want to achieve progressive overload, which means that as your body and your fingers adapt to the fingerboard training that you are going to do, if you don’t increase that intensity periodically- and that’s not every session, but cycle to cycle- then you are no longer going to make gains. You are going to plateau off, because you aren’t giving your fingers the necessary training stimulus to continue producing strength gains.

The final part of that is consistency over time, which means that the hangboarding you are doing on a Tuesday isn’t to help you send your project on Saturday. We need to think of this as hangboarding for the long term. You are looking to get stronger fingers for months from now, next year, and the duration of your climbing career. Tendon strength is really slow to develop, so it’s something you want to be doing consistently over time. Take the long view, and that will get you a lot farther than trying to overdo it quickly, and potentially getting injured.

Neely Quinn: Nice, that’s a good sum up. I like those three things. Thank you for your wisdom and your knowledge. People can always contact you at matt@trainingbeta.com, if you guy shave questions or want to train with Matt. We will be down these short episodes pretty regularly, wouldn’t you say? Every month, or every couple of months?

Matt Pincus: Yeah, I think ideally, every month.

Neely Quinn: Cool. Well thank you very much.

Matt Pincus: Thank you for having me.

Neely Quinn: Alright, I hope you enjoyed that interview with Matt Pincus. Like we said, you can e-mail him with any further questions at matt@trainingbeta.com, or you can e-mail both of us at info@trainingbeta.com, if you ever have questions for both of us. If you want to train with him, you can go to trainingbeta.com/matt. We do actually have finger programs if you don’t want to have a personal trainer, but you do want to have a program in front of you telling you exactly what to do, you can go to trainingbeta.com/fingers. Now, for the last URL I’m going to give you, we have a new Facebook group. If you have questions that you just want to ask the community, there are around, I don’t know, 16 or 1700 people in this new Facebook group, and there’s a lot of really intelligent conversations going on over there. If you want to join that conversation, you can go to trainingbeta.com/community. That will take you straight over to the Facebook group, and you can request to be a part of it, and I will grant you access, and then you can start the conversation.

I think that’s all I’ve got for you today. Stay tuned for an episode next week with Tyler Nelson, or maybe Jared Vagy, I havent’ decided which one I’m going to publish yet. One of those guys will be on next week, and more good stuff coming up this month and next month, and I’ll be on the podcast weekly train for a while. Thank you so much for listening all the way to the end, I really appreciate your support, and I’ll talk to you soon.

TrainingBeta is a site dedicated to training for rock climbing. We provide resources and information about training for routes, bouldering, finger strength, mental training, nutrition for climbers, and everything in between. We offer climbing training programs, a blog, interviews on the TrainingBeta Podcast, personal training for climbing, and nutrition for climbers.

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