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Mountaineering: Freedom of the Hills Ed. 7 2003



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More Training Info > Smart Hand, Grip, and Finger Training

Smart Hand, Grip, and Finger Training

A few common questions

Q: How do you suggest novices start their climbing training in order to prevent finger tendon injuries that commonly occur in overzealous beginners?

A: People who are first beginning to learn how to climb will often go with friends who have some knowledge about technique, knots, rope management and body maneuvers unique to climbing -- enough to get a novice up several pitches safely, or some beginning to intermediate sport routes at the crags or local gym. It's tempting and quite common for beginners to try progressively more and more challenging routes until they realize, too late, that perhaps this is NOT the best way to go about climbing. But just like you wouldn't jump to heavier and heavier weight in your very first strength workout, you need to ease into climbing the same way: progressively -- in order to let your muscles, tendons, and ligaments adapt to the new stresses put on your body.  By all means, do not jump right into campus board training until you have significant climbing experience -- up to several years' worth!

We recommend that you enlist the help of a qualified climbing instructor who can teach you some basic techniques, including how to find rest positions and shake out your arms so your body builds endurance gradually. Within the first few visits to the climbing gym or crags, try to find a level at which you can comfortably climb all the way to the top without stopping, and practice resting positions so you can shake out your hands and fingers to avoid getting pumped out. Once you have the endurance to be able to climb continuously for 10 minutes or so without getting excessively pumped, then move up to the next level. If you try harder and harder routes too quickly, before you've built up your hand, forearm, and finger endurance and strength, you run a greater risk of finger, elbow, and even shoulder tendinitis or strain.

Finally, try to remember that just like with strength training, you want to try to put 48 hours between climbing sessions to allow the pulling muscles in your back, arms and fingers recover.  As you get more and more accustomed to climbing, you may be able to increase to 2-3 days in a row, especially if you go on a cragging road trip for an extended weekend, but even then it's a good idea to alternate hard climbing with really easy endurance climbing. START SLOWLY so your body can adapt. Check out our other climbing training pages: Endurance training Power training Power Endurance training Recovery.

Q: What exercises can I do to strengthen my fingers?

The best way to strengthen your fingers specifically for climbing is ... by climbing, certainly, but how to go about it without injury is another issue entirely.  Try some of the grip and finger strengthening exercises on these other Body Results pages, and find out what to do if you strain any of your pulleys or finger tendons:

Finger Tendons

Grip Training: Supporting Grip, Pinch Grip

Finger Extensor Training -- Cheap!

A good resource for training (once you have made reasonable technical gains and have built up a solid base of endurance, at least 6-9 months' worth of climbing) is the 75 minute video, Fingers of Steel.

Q: Should I tape my fingers to climb?

Normally, we'd say no, especially when you're first starting out, as you want your body to develop its own natural strength in the fingers and hands. Certainly there will be times when you want the added support of tape (when you get to the point where you're using single digit holds, for example) but if you start off taping, the fingers will come to rely on the tape.  It's similar to lifting weights with a weight belt; the first time you try to do your strength workout WITHOUT the support of a belt, you may strain your lower back because you haven't trained it to deal with the "normal" workout load.  Taping fingers that are a little strained will allow you to train harder than without tape, but then you run the risk of exacerbating a strain -- best to back off for as long as a month, let the fingers heal completely, then get back into it slowly. Tendons take an agonizingly long time to recover once you've strained them -- best not to go there at all.

However, as you return to climbing following an injury, you might want to reinforce the injured finger with tape around the base of the finger (in rings, or "x" fashion under the knuckles) to help support the tendon and decrease the chance of reinjury. Ice, ibuprofen, and rest to help decrease any swelling.



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