Endurance local to the forearm muscles, physiologically known as anaerobic endurance, is what enables you to hang on and pull through many hard moves in a row. (Some climbers refer to anaerobic endurance with the pseudo-scientific term “power endurance.”) Your ability to persevere through a long sequence of strenuous moves, despite a growing forearm pump, is a function of several attributes including your limit strength, your body’s ability to remove blood lactate, and the mind and body’s tolerance to the fatiguing effects of lactic acid. Central to the removal of lactic acid is the density of the capillary network that innervates the forearm muscles–the more capillaries present and the larger their diameter the faster lactic acid can be cleared from the muscle. Interestingly, increasing your limit strength will also yield a modest increase in local endurance. Therefore, a well-designed program will include training exercises for both limit strength and local endurance; or cycle back and forth between these two different, but important, types of training.
As stated earlier, simply climbing a few days per week is moderately effective for building local endurance. A few of the more popular strategies are climbing laps on routes, interval training on boulder problems, and performing long traverses. As long as your climbing activities are producing a muscular burn and “pump”, you can rest assured that your body will adapt favorably to your training. This article will detail two fingerboard exercises to train the forearm muscles for greater anaerobic endurance. Next month I’ll presen two more exercises.
Moving hangs involve working your hands around the board continuously for several minutes, much like climbing a long, sustained sequence on the rock. Doing this requires somewhere to place your feet while your hands switch holds on the board. The best way to do this is to mount your fingerboard so that it’s set a foot or two out from a wall, and then to mount a few small footholds or a wooden strip onto which you can place your feet (see photo). Another possibility is to mount the board above a doorway and then position a chair or stool a couple feet behind the board. Either way, you will be able to use your toes for support as you circulate your hands around the fingerboard.
1. Perform a twenty to thirty-minute warm up comprised of some aerobic activity, stretching, and some pull-ups and easy hangs on the fingerboard. You should break a light sweat and feel a slight pump in your arms.
2. Mount the board and then place your feet on footholds or on the edge of a chair.
3. Begin moving your hands around the fingerboard changing hand positions every three to five seconds.
4. After a minute or two, you will begin to develop a pump in your forearms. Move both hands on to the largest handholds on the board, and shake out each arm for about thirty seconds in an attempt to recovery a little.
5. After this brief shakeout, continue moving your hands around the board for another minute or two. Once again, move to the large holds if you need to shakeout and rest your muscles a little.
6. Continue in this fashion with the goal of staying on the board for a total of five to ten minutes.
7. Dismount the board, and take a rest of about ten minutes before proceeding with a second and third set.
Pyramid training simulates the way your forearm muscles might work in climbing a medium-length route. One run through the Fingerboard Training Pyramid involves seven hangs on the same pair of holds. After a brief rest, you will perform another pyramid cycle on a different set of hold. Continuing in this interval training fashion you can work all the primary grip positions over the course of seven to fifteen total sets. This is an excellent routine for developing local forearm endurance.
1. As with all finger training exercises, it’s vital that you engage in a progress warm-up of light exercise, stretching, and then moderate climbing or a few sets of hangs and pull-ups.
2. Begin your pyramid training by targeting your weakest grip position. For many people this will be the sloper or pinch grip.
3. Follow the pyramid exactly with only a five-second rest between each hang. It’s best to subvocalize a slow count of one, one-thousand; two, one-thousand and so on. The first full pyramid will take just under one and one-half minutes.
4. Take a one-minute rest before performing another pyramid cycle on a different set of holds.
5. Repeat this cycle for a total of seven to fifteen total sets. Work a different grip position with each set; however, do stick to a single grip for each pass through the pyramid cycle.
6. Safety note: Consider taping your middle fingers with the A2 method. Terminate your pyramid training early if you feel any pain in your tendons or joints.
Copyright 2007 Eric J. Hörst. All rights reserved.