A hangboard offers a multitude of the features you'll find at a rock gym. Photo via Shutterstock

A hangboard offers a multitude of the features you’ll find at a rock gym. Photo: Shutterstock

Unless you live near a rock-climbing gym (lucky!) or, better yet, a naturally occurring rock-climbing wall (luckier!), at some point you'll probably consider buying a hangboard — but what the heck do you do with it after you've nailed it to a beam in the basement? There's a lot — I repeat, a lot — of information about how to use the at-home climbing trainer, but how you train with it really depends on your athletic goals.

What is it?

A hangboard is one of a few basic home-training tools for rock climbers. It looks like the rock holds you'd find at a climbing gym, but it's typically long and thin and offers a variety of different features, from big jugs you can paw with your entire hand to thin ledges to tiny pockets you can barely fit a knuckle into.

Why do people use one?

Hangboard training is one of the best ways to build finger, hand, arm, shoulder and back strength. They are an effective and cost-efficient alternative to a gym membership or daily drives to a real rock wall.

Where does it go?

Some rock climbing hangboards fit to a doorframe, eliminating the need to drill holes in the wall. Photo courtesy Blank Slate Climbing

Some rock climbing hangboards fit to a door frame, eliminating the need to drill holes in the wall. Photo: Courtesy of Blank Slate Climbing

You can attach your hangboard to any solid doorway or support beam in your house; just make sure you have plenty of space on all sides of your body when you hang on the board. (That includes space for swinging legs, which is why a flat wall is not a good place for your board.) There are even systems that attach to a door frame like a pull-up bar, meaning there's no drilling necessary (your landlord thanks you).

What are the risks?

Using a hangboard puts a lot of stress and tension on small muscles and delicate tendons; that's the point, but it's also the danger. You have to learn to pace yourself, know when to stop training and take a week off sometimes to avoid injury.

What does a training program look like?

That depends on your goals. If you can't pull yourself over an overhang, you'll want to focus on doing different versions of the basic pull-up until you build shoulder and back strength. If you have weak fingers, hanging from tiny pockets and ledges can improve your form. If you're a beginner climber, a workout might consist of a 10-minute session that includes one pull-up on the jug, a 15-second hang from the sloper, a pocket hang with three shoulder shrugs and three pull-ups from the larger edge. (You can find each type of feature in your owner's manual.)

If you're more advanced, you can probably handle 20 minutes or more, with a more difficult series of tasks. The best way to figure out the training routine that's right for you is to train with an experienced climber or staff member at your gym until you get the hang of it. We like Metolius' 10-minute sequences; download a free interval-timer app on your phone (make sure the app makes an audible "beep" for each interval) and set your interval lengths so you'll know when to stop each exercise and rest.

So, should I think about getting one?

One of the more common types of hangboard for rock climbing; photo courtesy Metolius Climbing

One of the more common types of hangboard for rock climbing. Photo: Courtesy of Metolius Climbing

Yes … and no. If your hope is that hangboard training will make you a better climber, you could be disappointed. Hangboard training is meant to be supplemental, meaning you'll still need to practice technique, endurance and the mental game on real routes and in the gym.

What hangboard training does is make you a stronger climber — but over a long period of time. Understand and appreciate that, and it's going to become a necessary part of your rock climbing training.

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