Monday, February 27, 2012

Frequently Asked Questions about Progression and Finger Strength Training (II)

Question about Finger Training Methodology
November the 22nd, 2011
By Joaquín

Hi Eva,

I will tell you some details of my experience... Some time ago I started with sport climbing, but I didn't feel committed enough and so I ended up retreating into the gym, without the need of a specific training. A year ago I discovered that I was more comfortable bouldering, and I wanted to make progress... The online-guinea-pig thing looks interesting, so I'll tell you about my training and you'll see what you make of it.
Mi height is 167 cm and my weight 67 kg with 13% body fat. I own an old top30 fingerboard, on which I do the following training:

Sets an rest period: I do 3 sets to exhaustion without added weight: 2 on a 20 mm edge and 1 on a 15 mm edge; the rest between sets is 3'.
Effort duration: on the 20 mm edge I usually reach failure at 30-35'', and 25-30'' for the 15mm one depending on the day.

I also distribute the other weekly contents like this:
Monday: training with weights
Tuesday: at the climbing gym, 4 boulder problems that I am able to do and 2 or 3 that I'm not
Wednesday: the finger training session I described previously
Thursday: gym, similar to Tuesday
Friday: training with weights
Weekend: go out bouldering if I can...

Well, I know that's a handful, thank in advance.

Well, Joaquín, thank you for your confidence in my opinion.

Let's take one aspect of your plan at a time:

Firstly it's been proven that training to "muscular failure" has a similar effect on increasing maximum strength than stopping 1 or more repetitions before total exhaustion (this margin I will expand on later is called Effort Level (EL).
Failure is something we seek when training strength-endurance, but only if we have enough experience with it.

Secondly, using those exertion lengths (15'' or more) has an effect on finger endurance, but not on maximum strength. Furthermore, and according to my research, you will improve your endurance for those edge depths but not for the smaller ones.

So, given your mark of 35'' on 20 mm, I suggest you perform twice a week for 8 weeks (resting at least 48 hours between sessions) the following periodization or combination of methods:

    a) 4 weeks of 3-4-5-5 sets (i.e. 1st week 3 sets,2st week 4 sets... last week 5 sets) of 10-second repetitions with 3' rest between them; the edge depth would be 20 mm and the Effort Level (EL) 3, meaning that you would choose the amount of added weight that would permit you to hang for 13 (10+3) seconds but you hang only for 10 seconds; this is written 10''(3).

    b) 4 weeks of 3-4-5-5 sets of dead hangs on the smallest edge that you can hold for 10''(3) (effort level of 3) and resting 3' between sets. By the way, for the second week this would be expressed like this: 4 x 10''(3) :3'. The figure after the colon denotes the resting time.

The key aspect with the training is controlling and adjusting the training load. This is completely individual and you may have to adjust the training load every day or even set if you wish to progress. I recommend to keep the same EL throughout a period, and to increase/decrease the amount of weight/edge size every day and even every set as your strength and performance changes.
Endless progression in "Convex and Concave" by M. C. Escher

With this methodology, based on the conclusions of my research, you will be able to:

-Increase your maximum time on the 20 mm edge
-Hold from smaller edges than before
-Hold longer to medium (20-15 mm) and small (11 mm or less) edges
-Decrease the delay between grabbing a hold and applying the maximum force on it (to shorten time to peak force), therefore saving on power and duration of the grip, delaying fatigue

The description of this periodization and the study it's based on are in the following (soon to be translated into English) blog entry:

If later on you want to improve your power-endurance over small edges, you could use the intermittent dead hangs method, that can be found in the training guidelines that are included with each Progression or Transgression fingerboard; or in the following video:

Question about Managing the Effort Duration when preparing a Finger Training Periodization
December the 2nd, 2011
By Tato

Hi Eva, how's everything going?
I have the following question:

Why 10 seconds? Wouldn't it be advisable to modify the "time" parameter so you can vary the "edge size" parameter accordingly?

To make myself clear: currently, when performing dead hangs, I only use small edges. I feels it helps me to avoid injuries and the smaller edges are one of my weak points. Changing the edge even in 1 mm steps doesn't look like much, but they are big leaps for me and the process requires time, adaptation and effort.

I can't do 10'' repetitions on 8 mm but I'm able to do 5'' repetitions. I have noticed that, while I was getting better on a given edge, I barely improved on the smaller ones. But in few sessions I have experienced gains in strength by varying the time and size parameters and the number of sets.

I wait for your opinion, and wish you good luck in everything.

Hi Tato,

It's true that the time parameter can be adjusted, it is the equivalent of doing more or less repetitions in other exercises like weight lifting or pull-ups.
Remember that the first periodization that I proposed time ago, consisted of just 8 weeks doing 10-second repetitions, and that is fine to begin. But clearly we don't want to keep repeating that kind of load time and again because we wouldn't progress.
Of course, the parameters have to be changed. And after playing with the EL (explained above) we can vary the duration of the effort. Congratulations, you have worked out by yourself the appropriate planning strategy ;)

The type of periodization that you have chosen, with shorter effort duration on smaller edges (or with more added weight) is precisely the one that I propose in the training guidelines for the Transgression fingerboard. I will give more details about it in a future entry.

Anyway, if you look at the poster that comes with Progression, in the suggested training plan I first advise to lower the EL from (5) to (3), and gradually go from 15 to 12 and finally 10'' because this is the most advisable path for the potential users of Progression or those who start training in a systematic way.

Progression in our gym. And besides it the poster with the training guidelines
In the poster that accompanies Transgression, I show periodizations where the EL goes from (3) to (1), and the effort duration from 10" to 8" and then 5''. There's also mention of an advanced variant that would consist of 3-second repetitions, for short periods of 2-4 weeks maximum.

The same goes for intermittent dead hangs for developing strength-endurance, where I even give the possibility of using added weight (3-5x4-6x10"-5":3"-5"/1').

Now regarding the use of methods without added weight: they are indicated for lower and medium level climbers, and I guess for you too, because you still don't reach the 8-second mark on a 10 mm edge. With them you can certainly improve a lot, and they are what's used during the first phases of training on Progression.

My pupil Nacho Sánchez in Entropía, 8C. Castillo de Bayuela (Toledo). Photo by Raúl Santano
But once you have consolidated the basics (more than 35-40'' on 20 mm or 15-20'' on 10 mm), I suggest you use added weight and edges of 20 or 18 mm, because according to my investigations this is more effective and has less danger of injuries, allowing you to hold smaller edges for longer, and to apply the maximum force faster. A possible explanation of this being more effective than training without added weight on small edges is that with the added weight the muscular activation is greater. It would be interesting to test whether hanging from really small edges is associated to improvements in maximum strength through an increased coordination, or if there are neural developments that allow us to maintain the level of precision needed to optimize the small contact area of the fingers with the edge, apart from others that are mentioned in the study by Bourne et col. (2011).

My pupil Luis Alfonso Félix sending Black Block, 9a+ . Cuenca. Photo by Javipec
To summarize, if your 10-second training edge is 10-9 mm and you feel you have a lot of room for improvement, keep using the small edges method, because your body weight and the edge depth are still enough to produce enough muscular activation and hence gains in strength. You can try this:

-10 seconds for 4 to 8 weeks
-8 seconds in a 4-week cycle
-a last cycle of 5 seconds for 2 to 4 weeks

Once you have achieved a certain level, though, training first with added weight and then without it is more effective regarding my research. Both for developing maximum strength and strength-endurance on small edges.
More articles here 

Monday, February 20, 2012

Frequently Asked Questions about Progression® and Finger Strength Training (I)

Progression and other fingerboards that we are releasing have a drawback with respect to other boards, or other climbing training gear:

To make the most of these boards, the user must play an active role and invest lots of time and effort:
-To understand and master the supplied documentation
-To be persistent and systematic about the practice of the methodology that is offered along witn the fingerboard
These boards won't work without your involvement. You are part of your own process of improvement
This no doubt will be a worthwhile task for some, when they reach their expected goals or get to manage and enjoy their gains.
They will be proud of their efforts and determination, and of being responsible for their own achievements.

For others, though, this will be an inconvenience that they will have to weigh up when deciding wether to purchase or not this product. Work and daily chores are tiring enough, to go and feel like "working" in your free time... so think about it carefully.

While you make up your mind, and given that a nice way of learning is, once you master the basics, try to adapt them to your personal needs with the help of someone who can oversee the process and solve the doubts, you can read this entry. In it I have tried to compile some of the most frequent questions that are arising on the topic of Progression and training on it.

If you come up with more questions you can add it as a comment and we will do our best to answer them so you learn more about using this fingerboard.

Question about training load evolution and periodization.
september the 13th, 2011
By Carlos

Hi Eva,
I have a question regarding the training program that comes with Progression: In the method for Phase 1, you say that the first week you have to perform 2 sets of dead hangs on a small edge.
If, as is the case, I would rather begin doing a bit more, would there be a problem? am I doing it right?
I have started doing 3 sets of dead hangs on the 22 mm edge without added weight instead of the 2 you recommend for Phase 1. I would like you to tell me whether this is correct or not.
Thank you.

Hi Carlos,

What you have decided to do with your training periodization is something a lot of people tells me, or even ask for my "permission" to do in the first weeks they begin training with me... in part because they are highly motivated; in part because the are convinced that they can do "a lot more" than they are told to.

This is an example of the so called "Lake Wobegon effect"; according to it, 9 out of 10 people believe they are 1 out of 10 :). That is, they overrate themselves and think they are above average.
Alberto Montt:En dosis diarias

The planning guidelines that I propose in the guide have been designed attending to something that is really important and a lot of people ignores:

-It is desirable to use the easiest possible intensity, volume, rest periods and method that are enough to yield gains.

-It is more effective to slowly increase the difficulty of methods and intensity level than to progress by leaps or very fast, because the long term progress will be greater and it will be safer when it comes to avoiding injuries.

So, even if 2 sets seem too few, it's in your interest to go slowly so that you can adapt to the exercise, the method and the sensations. Keep in mind that this first Phase has the goal of preparing you for the "proper" training that comes after.

Question about the advisability of training with Progression for beginners.
august the 29, 2011
By Agustín

Hi Eva,
I wanted yo ask you about Progression. I am currently following a training plan and I wonder if the fingerboard had a place in it.
I have been climbing for 8 months now, 3 of them training systematically.
I can onsight 6c+ and have redpointed 7a on the second try.
Some friends tell me that with my current level I don't need to use a fingerboard, but others disagree... so I need to ask you.
Thank you very much.


Hi Agustín,
I don't recommend to start training with this board to those who have been climbing and/or training regularly less than 2 years. And you say yo have been for only 8 months...

The reason is that muscles take short time to adapt, in the order of weeks of months.
But other tissues like tendons, capsules, cartilages and ligaments get the needed adaptations (like increased thickness and tensile strength) only after years of systematic and progressive practice. Roughly 2 years is the minimum.

So it is the duration of systematic practice along -possibly- with genetic factors, and not the climbing grade, what enables us to believe that those adaptations have already taken place.
Half-crimp grip
Damage that the tendon can sustain due to overload or incomplete adaptation to load.
So, for the time being focus on doing a lot of rock climbing and train judiciously, using the easiest methods while gradually increasing volume, intensity and specificity.
With time, if you still are into this and have the drive to keep evolving, then purchase a board and enjoy it.

Have luck sending those routes!

Question about mixing in the same microcycle fingerboard training and rock bouldering.
October the 3rd, 2011
By Carlo:

Hi there and congratulations for your priceless work.
My question: how do you combine training on Progression and going to the crag to do some bouldering?
If you need to rest for 48 h after training on Progression:
-When is it most effective to train so it WORKS, going out bouldering the day before or the day after the dead hangs?
-If I just go bouldering and use the fingerboard (no gym), would it be correct to do dead hangs twice a week?
-Would it be possible to fit 3 days of outdoor bouldering or would it be better to just climb 2 days to meet the required resting periods?
Pavi Casas -  Belmez Face Team - Photo: Guntram Jorg - Source:
My Answer:

Thank you for your compliments!
Regarding your question, hmmm... it's really interesting, because it allows us to discuss an important physiological effect when preparing a training plan, and the short term effects of ONE training session. When the energy sources have been replenished and the structures involved in the session have recovered... or even better have surpassed their initial level thanks to the effects of supercompensation (graph B of the figure below).
Zatsiorsky, V., & Kraemer, W.J. (2006). Science and practice of strength training. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
It also gives us an opportunity to review the mid- and long-term effects of the sum of several training sessions, which are even more interesting and so we will seek them.
As you can see on graph B of the figure above, the absolute gains of a series of sessions will be greater than those of one session, because they are the sum of several chained supercompensations, and what's more important, they will last longer.

In the PROGRESSION Training Guidelines there is the recommendation of a 48-72 hour rest period between finger maximum strength sessions. This is to ensure an adequate recovery.
And, in many cases, this will lead to a small supercompensation that will improve the quality of your next session. That is, you will be able to hang from a smaller edge or to add a bit more weight using the 20 mm edge.

So back to your original questions:

1- Is it better to go out bouldering the day before training?
  • If you did not exceeded yourself at the crag you will be able to do a goog training, because it is fundamental to be as fresh as possible when training maximum strength.
  • If you had a really hard climbing day, the next day you won't be able to cross the intensity threshold that is needed to improve maximum strength.
   2-Is it better to go bouldering the day after training?
  • That is more advisable.

To conclude, if in your microcycle or training week your as so lucky as to being able to both train and climb on rock, you can try to do it this way:
  • Saturday, Sunday and Wednesday: Rock Bouldering
  • Monday and Thursday: rest
  • Tuesday and Friday: fingerboard training
But keep in mind that perhaps sometime you will need to prioritize one content over the other.
  • If you feel like doing the most effective finger training you will have to reduce the load in one of the three climbing days, or climb for two days only.
  • If, by the contrary, you want to send your project, delay the board session so you can get to the crag fully rested.
Regarding this last statement, however, you must be aware of something:
You can't sow and reap the fruits at the same time.
Thank you for your trust on me.

Question about choosing a board model.
October the 11th, 2011
By Kur:

Hi Eva, I'm enjoying your blog a lot.
Can you give me some advice?
I wanted to try Progression, but from what I've read perhaps it's not for me: I can hang for more than 10 seconds from a 10 mm edge (around 13'', open crimp), and can climb 7B boulders fairly quickly.
Maybe I can train on Progression, and by using added weight it will still be a good match for me in the future, or perhaps I should go directly with Transgression.
What do you think?

My answer:
Thank you, Kur!
And thank you for your question. I'm sure there are a lot of people in a similar situation.

Your 10 mm edge time comes a little short of the time I defined as minimum to choose Transgression, the higher level board, which is 15''. So with a bit of training your profile would match this board's. Another thing is if you are systematic training and climbing.

Bouldering grade is not as representative as a specific dead hang test. What is your time for 20 mm?

For your case, my proposal is the following: Do you have access to any gyms that already have the board?
Have your gym any PROGRESSION yet? Send me the logo or name and I'll put it on this photo
In that case choose one and train on it. Do the two first phases of the training guidelines (2 cycles of 4 and 8 weeks) and check your progress. If after those phases you are able to meet the 15'' mark on 10 mm and the 40'' one on 20 mm... congratulations, you can get the Transgression fingerboard.

Well... anything else?

Then wait for future blog entries where we will try to clear up things a bit further.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Why progression®?

I am going to keep on informing you about the fingerboard that I presented in the previous post, for those of you who are interested or have questions about it.

As I do it, I will provide background about the process that ended with the creation of this hangboard and its associated methodology.

Justification of  progression®

This fingerboard, and the training methodology I propose for it, have their origin in the following facts:

o The key physical performance factor in sport climbing is maximum finger strength

o The specific exercise for improving finger strength and endurance is the dead hang.

o The most representative grip used in sport climbing is the half-crimp, because is the most common on the small holds frequently found on difficult climbs; and the representative hold is the edge.

o We measure maximum finger strength with two related methods:
  • By the maximum added weight that we can hold for 5 seconds when hanging from an edge of a certain depth.
  • By the smallest edge that we can hold our body weight from for 5 seconds.
o We measure finger endurance by the maximum time we can hang off an edge of a certain depth.

o In my research, I found that increasing maximum finger strength also increases finger endurance without performing finger endurance training. Also, that this gain is bigger than the one obtained by training only finger endurance without previously having developed a high enough level of maximum finger strength.  Also, for climbers with a lower level of maximum strength who want to train specifically their finger strength-endurance, the gains in the latter -as measured by a test of maximum time on an 11 mm edge- will be greater if they first improve their finger maximum strength than if they start training their finger strength-endurance right away (unpublished data, manuscript in preparation). (Edited 2012-07-26 because previous paragraph was incomplete and ambiguous-->Thank you very much to my attentive readers ;-))

o An effective training is the one that meets the principles of specificity, overload and individuality, and to achieve these it's fundamental to control and adjust the training load.

o The most important variables for the training load that we need to control in order to develop maximum finger strength are, for a given duration of the effort:
  • The Size or depth of the edge
  • The % of Body Mass or amount of Added Weight when hanging from a given edge
o Climbers with a low or medium level of finger strength, and/or those who haven't previously undergone intensive finger training, get significant results using medium intensity methods without the need of using added weight, because their body weight is enough to provide the load needed to induce positive adaptation.

o Persistence and motivation are key for improving performance in the long run, and they stem from enjoying what you do, choosing when to do it, and working day by day focusing on self-improvement, effort and continuous learning.
These scientifically tested facts mean that a reliable and consistent fingerboard needs to have a set of characteristics, like precision. The maximum error in edge depth is ±0.3 mm, in order to make the training experience consistent across boards.

In the meantime I will try to answer your questions in this blog or in FAQ entries that will be available soon.

Thank you for your interest.
More articles here 

Sunday, February 12, 2012

A New Tool for Training your Fingers: The PROGRESSION Fingerboard

When you first see it probably you will wonder why nobody came up with it before. It was so self-evident...

A fingerboard with progressively smaller edges to improve maximum strength and endurance... of course!

If I always try to use a bigger dumbbell when doing biceps curl, why shouldn't I try to use ever smaller edges when doing dead hangs?

Controlling and stepping up the training load, realizing the importance of personalization, basing your motivation on effort and improvement, and the application of the scientific method are fundamental for my vision of development; they have also inspired the design of this board.

Back in 2003 I thought of a prototype that would fill the needs for my first research on finger strength training: the 'regletómetro'.

The "Regletómetro"
Thanks to this device, to Dafnis who helped me in designing and building it, and to the collaborarion of more than 100 climbers that voluntarily have served as guinea pigs for my studies up to now, I have obtained new and valuable information about finger strength and endurance training, the research topic for my doctoral thesis.

Thank you, guinea pigs!
Now, to fill an available niche in the market, and after several months of development during which numerous prototypes, tests, and data sampling were carried out, and a lot of thought was put into; thanks to the design insights of Dafnis, and to the long and meticulous production process developed by Joan Machado and JM Climbing Surfaces, looking for vital precision and strength, here comes:
Progression by Eva López
progression® has 8 edges of different depth, that are scientifically selected as ideal for climbers with a medium level of finger strength, so that they can take their first steps in intensive finger training.

How do I know if  progression®   is the ideal fingerboard for me?

It will be if you want to begin serious finger training and you meet the following prerequisites:

  • You have been climbing for more than 2 years, on a weekly basis, and without major interruptions;
  • You are older than 16 (Morrison and Schöffl, 2007);
  • You have a low or medium level of finger strength as measured by the following tests:
    • Being able to hang
      • more than 15 seconds from a 24mm-deep edge.
      • and less than 10 seconds from a 10mm edge.

If you find these requisites too easy for you, congratulations, and don't worry because there is another fingerboard that will meet your needs; its name is  transgression® .

How do I train with progression® ?

Guidelines for methodology, management, training load control and scheduling of your training, are included with every fingerboard so that you can tailor and manage your own training, with the ultimate goal of making you into the master of your own process of improvement.
The products associated to this seal have been scientifically developed and evaluated 
Because maximum finger strength is a key factor for physical performance in sport climbing,
because now you will have access to up to date knowledge in training science,
and because now it's up to you to reach your goals... here there is this board.

Now it's in your hands
There's a long way to go
Enjoy the journey!

Orders and Info for Buyers: JM Climbing Surfaces
More articles here