Overview of H.I.T. Strip™ System Workouts for Building Maximum Grip Strength

The author training two-finger pocket strength (with 20-pund weight belt) on Nicros H.I.T. Strips.

The author training two-finger pocket strength (with 20-pound weight belt) on Nicros H.I.T. Strips™.

One of the greatest training-for-climbing hits is Hypergravity Isolation Training (aka H.I.T.), an advanced protocol for training maximum grip strength. Not to be confused with the “HIT” program performed by body builders, this highly specific grip training method involves climbing with weight added to your body (simulates “hypergravity”) and on identical finger holds (grip isolation).

It’s now been more than 20 years since I developed this Nicros training system and protocol, and H.I.T. workouts are now used by thousands of climbers across the U.S., Europe, Asia, Australia, and South America as part of their training program. In this article I’ll introduce you to the basics of H.I.T. Strip™ System training.

Why is H.I.T. so Effective?
Hypergravity Isolation Training meets the four fundamental requisites for training maximum grip strength for climbing: 1. high intensity contractions for the duration of the exercise, 2. muscular failure in less than 30 seconds (ideally in less than 20 seconds), 3. the grip is trained with the body in climbing-specific positions (and movement), and 4. a specific grip position is isolated and used until failure (or near failure). While many other grip-strength exercises meet one, two or three of these requirements, only H.I.T. meets all four.

In top photo shows me training on 3rd generation H.I.T. Strips™, a unique platform I develop for optimal H.I.T. workouts. Notice the 20-pound weight belts around my waist, as well as key factor that both hands are in the two-finger pocket grip position. The Nicros’ H.I.T. Strip™ System provides identical pocket, crimp, and pinch grip holds on which I can “ladder” up and down on using climbing movements.

Most important is to add weight to produce failure of each grip position in 10 to 20 total hand movements (which should take just 15 to 30 seconds). Wall angle is critical—I suggest 50-degrees past vertical, although you can use angles between 45 and 55 degrees past vert. Feet simply step on resident holds on the wall and your body can turn as it would while climbing steep rock. Obviously this exercise is very climbing specific, and it targets—actually hammers!—specific grip positions in a way they rarely, if ever, get worked in normal climbing activities (i.e. in doing a climb you are typically grabbing holds of varying shape and size). For intermediate and advanced climbers, there is simply no better way to train grip strength.

Two-finger pocket grip on a HIT Strip with HIT Pinches above.

Two-finger pocket grip on a H.I.T. Strip™ with H.I.T. Pinches™ above.

H.I.T. Strip™ and Pinch Details
Nicros H.I.T. Strips™ feature incut rounded first-pad crimp holds on each side, one-and-a-half pad rounded pockets (fingers on), and a rounded two-pad bucket hold in the middle. The two H.I.T. Pinch holds (mounted just above the strips) are medium-sized, slightly positive, and angle inward to make for a natural wrist position while gripping. The strips come with a moderate texture (ideal for commercial gyms), though, I advise home users to sand down the edge texture a bit.

While owning a H.I.T. Strip™ System provides you with the ideal platform for hypergravity training, you can also perform H.I.T. Workouts without the specially designed H.I.T. Strips™. You simply need to arrange 10 identical crimp holds, 10 identical two-finger pocket holds, 8 or 10 identical pinch holds, and 5 identical rounded buckets. Of course, purchasing these holds may cost a lot more than the H.I.T. Strip™ System. Furthermore, I find the obvious nature of the H.I.T. Strips™ makes the laddering more straight forward and discourages you from cheating by grabbing other holds on the wall. Learn much more about the H.I.T. Strip™ System and Hypergravity Isolate Training by following the links below.



H.I.T. Workout Details and H.I.T. Theory

The H.I.T. System is comprised of 5 H.I.T. Strips and 8 H.I.T. Pinches.

The H.I.T. System is comprised of 5 H.I.T. Strips and 8 H.I.T. Pinches.

The HIT workout trains six basic grip positions for maximum finger strength. The grips trained are crimp, pinch, open hand, and the three “teams” of two-finger grips. There will be enough near transfer from these fundamental positions to make your fingers stronger in any configuration on the rock. Perform one or three sets for each grip position—those new to the HIT workout should begin with one set—beginning with the most difficult grip position for you. Most people work through the grips in this order: pinch, two-finger “third team” or outside pair (pinky and ring finger), two-finger “second team” or inside pair (index and middle finger), two-finger “first team” or middle pair (middle and ring finger),  crimp, and open hand. The entire HIT Workout is done with “open feet”, meaning that you can place your feet on any holds on the wall.

Here’s how you would perform a H.I.T. set on the pinch holds. Sitting below the first HIT Strip, begin by gripping the first set of right and left hand pinch holds, then pull-up and grab the next higher left hand pinch hold. Continue climbing with the next higher right hand pinch hold and the next higher left hand pinch hold until both hands are on the top two pinch holds.

Begin descending immediately alternating left and right pinch holds back down until you are holding the bottom two pinch holds. You’ve just made about nice hand movements, but continue moving back up the pinch holds if you are able. Ideally, you will near pinch grip failure in 10 to 16 hand moves (5 to 8 pinch grips with each hand). If you can do more than 16 to 20 hand movements, then you must add weight for the next pinch set. Upon stepping off the wall, use a stop watch to time a rest of exactly three minutes before beginning the next set. Meanwhile, record the total number of “reps” (hand movements) into your training notebook.

If you did more than 20 reps, you must add weight when training the pinch grip in the future. It’s important to remember that doing more than 20 reps (10 hand movements per hand) trains anaerobic endurance, while training maximum grip strength requires adding weight to produce failure in 10 or fewer reps per hand. Add five pounds around your waist if you failed at between 20 and 25 total reps. Otherwise, add 10 pounds around your waist for the next set on the pinch grips. To add weight, use weight belts available from a variety of Internet sites. (Use a weight belt—rather than a weight vest—for  hypergravity climbing, since having the extra weight near your center of gravity will have the least impact on your climbing technique.)

After your three-minute rest, proceed immediately with a second set of pinch grip—elite climbers may want to do a third set. Climb up-and-down on the pinch holds in the same fashion as the first set. Upon failure, time another three-minute rest; then move on to the next grip position—probably the two-finger pocket “third team”.

Begin the next set by using the two-finger “third team” (outside pair) to grab the two pocket holds on the bottom HIT Strip. As with the pinch grip, climb the pocket holds up and down using exclusively this two-finger pocket teams on alternating HIT Strips (or on identically sized and spaced two-finger pocket holds). Continue to failure, then rest for exactly three-minutes before performing the second set with this grip. Record the total number of hand movements as well as the amount of weight added, if any. Again, the ideal weight added will allow just 10 to 16 hand moves. If you are able to more than 16 to 20 hand moves, then you must add weight for your next set with this grip.

After completing the second set of this two-finger team, move onto the next grip position. Continue executing the HIT Workout through the remaining grip positions, while taking just three minutes of rest between each set. It’s vital that you limit the rest to exactly three minutes, and record the number of hand movements and the weight used (if any) for each grip and set. Recording this information will guide your next HIT Workout, and I guarantee the records will quantify definitive gains in your grip strength in the sessions that follow!

This completes your HIT workout, though, you may wish to do a few sets of weighted pull-ups or some lock-off exercises to complete your strength training of the upper body.  As a cool-down, do 10 minutes of light bouldering. You will likely need two or three days of quality rest (and sound nutrition) in order to supercompensate to a newfound level of maximum finger strength!

H.I.T. Workout Guidelines H.I.T. “Novice” HIT “Expert”    
Grip Position and set * Weight to add * Weight to add Reps/set Rest btwn. sets **
2-Finger “3rd team” – set 1 none 20 lbs. 10 – 20 reps 3 mins.
2-Finger “3rd team” – set 2 none 20 lbs. 10 – 20 reps 3 mins.
Pinch – set 1 none 20 lbs. 10 – 20 reps 3 mins.
Pinch – set 2 none 20 lbs. 10 – 20 reps 3 mins.
2-Finger “2nd team” – set 1 6 lbs 40 lbs. 10 – 20 reps 3 mins.
2-Finger “2nd team” – set 2 6 lbs 40 lbs. 10 – 20 reps 3 mins.
2-Finger “1st team” – set 1 8 lbs 40 lbs. 10 – 20 reps 3 mins.
2-Finger “1st team” – set 2 8 lbs 40 lbs. 10 – 20 reps 3 mins.
Crimp – set 1 10 lbs 40 lbs. 10 – 20 reps 3 mins.
Crimp – set 2 10 lbs 40 lbs. 10 – 20 reps 3 mins.
open hand (optional) 10 lbs 40 lbs. 10 – 20 reps 3 mins.
* Weights are approximations for a 160lb climber. Use similar percentages of your bodyweight.