Strong fingers matter. For sure, mental and technical prowess is paramount–but strong finger (and tendons) is essential for achieving the higher levels in bouldering, roped climbing, and competitions. The top-ranked individuals in the European Zlagboard contests have all proven to be world-class climbers, some have stood on podiums, and the top few have climbed 5.15!
Numerous research studies have confirmed that elite climbers, compared with non-elites, have higher grip-strength-to-mass ratio and greater forearm endurance–these are both qualities that can be significantly improved via fingerboard training. Stronger fingers can grip smaller holds (maximum strength), endure longer on submaximal holds (i.e. resistance/endurance), and allow you to rest on smaller holds than when you were less strong. Clearly, then, targeted finger training is essential if you are serious about climbing your best.
It’s a simple test: The longer you can hang on the “contest holds” (20mm), the stronger your are! Based on recent Zlagboard Contest results, the median hang-time is about 45 seconds–a respectable time that is commonly achieved by experienced climbers who climb at a moderately high level. Hang times between 60 to 90 seconds are common among advanced climbers, typically capable of climbing 5.13. Hangs of more than 90 seconds indicate elite-level strength (often 5.14 climbers). And if you can hang more than 120 seconds….then you’re likely famous already!
Hang-time testing is fun and valuable (as a strength benchmark), but it’s not something you want to do every workout, nor every week. (Doing a series of shorter hangs with higher resistance is a more effective way to train.) Once-a-month testing or an occasional hang-time contest with your friends is great fun and extremely motivating. You can even compare your results with climbers around the world via Zlagboard’s online database. (Note: Zlagboard hang times should not be compared to hang times performed on other boards, since the unique holds and texture of other hangboards may make hanging on a 20mm edge easier or more difficult.)