Five reasons why finger power is important

Even though the technique and the mental aspect are very important in climbing, you are finally holding your fingers on the rock. And for that you need a good deal of strength. In today's post, Eric Hörst explains why fingertip is central to five reasons.

A guest contribution Christoph Völker, target10a

Numerous studies have confirmed that elite climbers have a greater grip-to-body weight ratio, higher forearm endurance, and higher finger flexor strength compared to others. The following five reasons speak for building your finger power.

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1. Stronger fingers hold smaller handles

Wow! Seriously: A long-term improvement in holding smaller and smaller holds - which is a prerequisite for harder climbing - depends on the development of your absolute grip strength. Fingerboard training (with the correct training protocol) is undoubtedly the best way to improve maximum grip strength, while the campus board helps in training "contact strength" (ie, higher rate of strength development in the finger flexors).

2. Stronger fingers increase your stamina on submaximal handles

For an explanation, we need a little exercise physiology. So I'm sorry for your patience! If your fingers only use 20% of Maximum Voluntary Contraction (MVC), blood flow through your forearm flexor muscles will begin to slow down. With a contraction force of about 50% of the MVC (and higher), blood flow is completely paralyzed. If the blood flow slows down - or stops - your performance drops abruptly after about 10 seconds and, depending on the relative difficulty of the grip being held (% MVC), muscle failure will occur in a matter of seconds. At best, even in a minute or two, if the finger flexors have to apply a force far less than 50% of the MVC.

Cam Hörst works on Wall Street, Frankenjura, Germany. (Photo credit: Claudia Zeigler / The Young Savages)
Cam Hörst works on Wall Street, Frankenjura, Germany. (Photo credit: Claudia Zeigler / The Young Savages)

Anyway, the sticking point is the disruption of circulation and oxygenation. Oxygen is required for creatine phosphate synthesis (KP is an important intracellular energy source). The circulation is needed to remove the metabolic byproducts that have arisen after anaerobic energy production. Thus, for sustained climbing a long, relatively difficult sequence, but still only submaximal heavy handles: the better the blood flow is (delivery of blood to the capillary bed), the higher your strength endurance. In view of the above-mentioned interruption of blood flow as a result of Maximum Elaborate Contraction (MVC), it is now easy to understand that a higher level of maximum gripping force (a larger MVC) will help you maintain your body weight (or the part your Feet just do not wear) with a smaller percentage of MVC to wear. This is an important concept and a crucial guiding principle for effective training!

In summary: An increase in the MVC of the finger flexors enables the muscles to contract with a smaller proportion of your old maximum - compared to the weaker fingers of your "old you". So in comparison to climbing a similarly difficult, submaximal sequence. The increased maximum strength allows you an increased blood flow, greater use of the aerobic energy system and thus improved forearm endurance.

3. Stronger fingers can rest on small handles and recover

I'm sure you've already seen videos of rock stars like Chris Sharma and Adam Ondra shaking off in the middle of a long, steep and outrageously hard tour and somehow resting on a small "mini handle", which is what most climbers do never be a calm grip. Somehow these guys can even stop at such a place, catch their breath and mobilize enough power reserves to even go through their tour. What's her secret to resting on these mini handles that would pump out an average climber? Strong fingers, of course!

As explained in point 2, blood flow is the key to creatine phosphate synthesis (important for short, maximum strength movements) and to the removal of the metabolic by-product lactate, which was formed through anaerobic energy metabolism. The anaerobic energy metabolism is the predominant energy system when climbing hard, enduring sequences between 12 seconds and one to two minutes. For a break, the grip must be good enough to be able to hang on for a fairly long time in order to really recover (around fifteen to thirty seconds or more). To do this, you have to be able to hold the grip with less than 50% of your maximum contraction MVC - only then will it be enough to increase the blood flow in the arm to be shaken and the arm that is grasping. Therefore, a climber with "average" grip strength may need a 10 cm deep grip to recover (the smallest grip he can hold at <50% of his maximum contraction / MVC for an extended period of time on an overhanging route with hardly any kicks), whereas a 9a climber can probably shake a 2,5 cm deep grip thanks to its high relative grip strength, which allows him to hold the grip with less than 50% of his MVC (with the help of proper footwork and center of gravity, of course).

Just hang out. The British climber Shauna Coxsey. (Picture Leighton Vans)

4. Stronger fingers are more resilient

Occasionally one hears in the media mad reports from some professional climbers, the different routes in the 8. and 9. Repeat French onsight or red dot and repeat it the next day and maybe even a third day in a row. How is that possible?

Let me tell you a story about a climber named Alex, who does just that regularly. I climbed Alex several times in the last few years, and last October I was with him on the New River Gorge. After being there on some routes in the 8. Degree, he continued with the first ascent of a tour, which was rated 8c. Immediately thereafter, he managed to repeat another tour of this difficulty in the second round. All during less hours. Sounds like an exhausting day of climbing, right? Not for Alex. In fact, he climbed both the day before and the day after more routes in the 9. Degree.

How is that possible? Before I stress again the meaning of "getting stronger", I must admit that Alex of course has a world-class technique and a very strong psyche. The key factor is that Alex is really strong. We'll see where his true limit is when climbing. It will be fun to see him in the coming years.

Conclusion: If you increase your limit in terms of finger strength and level of difficulty, your climbing ability below this top range will also improve. So the level at which you climb with relative ease and confidence increases. Therefore, the long-term goal of getting stronger - and improving your mental and technical skills - may one day mean that you will find your current climbing level to be relatively moderate. And also that you can significantly increase the number of routes at this level.

Adam Ondra at the Boulder World Cup in Munich. (Picture Lukas Biba)

5. Climbing is more fun with strong fingers

Pulling up smaller and smaller handles and climbing more easily through difficult terrain will delight every choker's heart. And of course it's about breaking through a new level of difficulty and counting one of the toughest routes to its success, a rare experience and experience that can save your entire climbing season and remain an ingenious memory for life!

Closing words

Striving for stronger fingers has to be seen as a gradual, long-term venture that will improve you year after year, over a decade, or more, provided you have a properly balanced training program. An aimless hauruck approach to finger training (in the sense of much helps a lot) will at most act marginal ... and may even lead to injury. Long-term and sustained strength gains come from an intelligently designed, appropriate program (tailored to your ability and climbing experience), where the right training stimuli alternate with sufficient rest periods (between the exercises and the workouts). I will be presenting these important details in the upcoming articles, or you can immerse yourself fully in the science of heavier climbing through the latest edition of Training for Climbing (see below).

If this article has made you think, or is reasonable, then we recommend the new 3. Issue of Training for Climbing.

You want to know more about the training?

Other Training tips can be found here.

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You can find articles for your personal training www.target10a.com

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Credits: Original article by Eric Hörst published on 10.06.2016 trainingforclimbing.com, Translation by Christoph Völker, target10a.com, Cover picture Petr Pavlicek

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