- 8-month finger strength training program – Abstract
- Hangboard finger strength training – Introduction
- Steve Bechtel’s 3-6-9 Ladders finger strength training cycle details
- Grip position details: FC 14 mm, HC 14 mm, 3-p 20 mm
- MVC-7 and MVC-12 tests
- My 3-6-9 Ladders protocol finger strength training progress – training Cycle 1
- Sixteen sessions over three months
- Average absolute finger strength gain: +4.9%
- Finger strength gain relative to BW: +2.0%
- Results demonstration video
- My 3-6-9 Ladders protocol finger strength training progress – training Cycle 2
- Thirteen sessions over two months
- Average absolute finger strength gain: +3.5%
- Finger strength gain relative to BW: +7.1%
- My 3-6-9 Ladders protocol finger strength training progress – training Cycle 3
- Fourteen sessions over two months
- Average absolute finger strength gain: +2.1%
- Finger strength gain relative to BW: +17.4%
- Bechtel’s 3-6-9 Ladders volume progression
- Continuous Energy Restriction
- Intermittent Fasting, Keto Diet and Low Carb Diets
- Details of the dietary regimen
- Combination of Intermittent Fasting, Low Carb and Ketogenic Diet
- Result: -6.9% weight loss in seven weeks
- Adverse effects of sleep deficit on strength gains
- Summary of absolute finger strength hangboard training gains
- Summary of relative finger strength hangboard training gains
- Moonboard bouldering progress summary
- My 3-6-9 Ladders finger strength training program final conclusions
- Gained absolute strength while losing weight
- Total average absolute finger strength improvement: +11.0%
- Total finger strength gain relative to BW: 26.5%
- Improved Moonboard benchmark grade from 7A to 7B
- Sent many long-time projects and new hard boulders
- Make sure to follow the protocol through!
8-month finger strength training program – Abstract
Background: Running a full-time professional career, a family, and a blog leave me with little time do train and sleep for recovery. I can rarely afford to go to the gym, let alone climb outdoors. The bulk of my training consists of hangboarding. In this post, I describe the results of my eight-month hangboard finger strength training program with Steve Bechtel’s 3-6-9 Ladders routine.
Objective: To verify how much I can progress my absolute and relative finger strength while undergoing a weight loss intervention, and under conditions of chronic sleep deprivation.
Design: The hangboard training program consisted of three training cycles. After each cycle, I increased the hang loads. I trained three hold positions, the 14 mm edge full crimp, 14 mm half crimp, and 20 mm 3-finger pocket. I tested my maximum finger strength with 7-second hangs on a 20 mm edge in half crimp position (MVC-7 HC 20).
Results: With the program, I increased my MVC-7 HC 20 absolute strength from 108 kg to 116 kg. During the last training cycle, I managed to reduce my body weight from 65.5 kg to 61 kg through Intermittent Fasting and Low Carbohydrate/Keto Diet. As a result, I increased my relative finger strength from 163.5% to 190%, allowing me to improve from the 7A benchmark to 7B benchmark level on the Moonboard Masters 2017 hold setup.
Conclusions: Hangboard training is an effective and efficient method of improving maximum finger strength. Satisfactory gains can be expected despite inadequate sleep and undergoing a weight loss intervention. Losing weight contributed to the increase of my relative finger strength and allowed me to progress my Moonboard bouldering level significantly.
Hangboard finger strength training – IntroductionFinger strength is one of the most important, if not the most important aspect of sport climbing and bouldering. I found on multiple occasions that a thoroughly executed finger strength cycle on a hangboard allowed me to send projects, on which I’d been stuck for months. I’ve been hangboarding practically ever since I started climbing, back in 2005. The first hangboard workout I ever tried was the fingerboard moving hangs, described by Eric Hörst in his book “Training for Climbing” . It’s basically a strength endurance training routine, and the good thing about it was that it was safe, a significant factor for a beginner climber I was at the time. Still, it was not until 2010 that I became serious about hangboarding and made it the cornerstone of my rock climbing training. I began experimenting with Hangboard Repeaters, and for a long while, it became the only hangboard exercise I did . But in 2018, I noticed that I wasn’t able to add more weight to the hangs any more and that my strength had plateaued. I went out on a search for purely strength-oriented hangboard training methods, and I started with the Eva López MaxHangs . The results were pretty impressive, and I began to gain strength quickly. At that point, I read “Logical Progression” by Steve Bechtel, and I became immediately interested in his new approach to rock climbing training . If you don’t know who Steve Bechtel is, you can listen to one of his interviews at .
Steve Bechtel’s 3-6-9 Ladders finger strength training Cycle 1
According to the protocol instructions, the first thing you should do is to find the load at which you can hang for precisely 12 seconds maximum on each of the grip positions that you want to train . To execute the protocol, I chose the Zlagboard Pro wooden hangboard, because it has a large variety of edges and pockets that are easy to adjust . I followed Steve’s advice for people who are not yet familiar with the 3-6-9 Ladders finger strength training routine, and I selected only three grip positions to train, namely:
- Full crimp on a 14 mm edge (FC 14)
- Half crimp on the 14 mm edge (HC 14)
- 3-finger pocket, 20 mm deep (3-p 20)
You can see the Zlagboard Pro with the grip positions I used in Figure 1 below.
Figure 1: Three grip positions I trained during the Steve Bechtel’s 3-6-9 Ladders training cycles.
For each grip position, I performed a 12-second maximum load assessment (MVC-12). The results were (July 2019):
- FC 14: 90 kg (92% MVC-7)
- 3-p 20: 86 kg (91% MVC-7)
- HC 14: 88 kg (94% MVC-7)
However, when I started training with the protocol, I wasn’t able to complete the final 9-second hangs on the HC 14 grip position. The accumulated fatigue at the end of the protocol impacted my performance. You can also notice that the 12-second hang time loads are relatively heavy, above 90% MVC-7. In particular, the hangs in the HC 14 grip position were quite intense. Based on the models found in the literature, we can state that the correct hang intensity for the Steve Bechtel’s 3-6-9 Ladders protocol should lie between 88 – 95%, so my loads were actually at the high end of the intensity spectrum . You can also see that in contrast to the common belief, the loads used in the 3-6-9 Ladders protocol are quite high and sufficient to trigger neural adaptations required to gain finger strength .
For this reason, I decided to reduce the loads slightly to be able to execute the entire protocol. In particular, in the later stages, the protocol involved 12-second hangs, and I couldn’t even pull off all the 9-second hangs . I also modified the order of the grip positions in the training sequence, because it felt like the hangs in the 3-p grip position were ultimately a little easier than the crimps. After a few trials, I settled for the hang sequence below, and I stuck to it throughout the entire finger strength training Cycle 1:
- FC 14: 89 kg (91% MVC-7)
- HC 14: 86 kg (92% MVC-7)
- 3-p 20: 86 kg (91% MVC-7)
- 3-second hang, rest 30 seconds,
- 6-second hang, rest 60 seconds,
- 9-second hang, rest 3-4 minutes, depending on how hard the sequence felt.
For the 3-6-9-12 sequence, the hang and rest times were the following:
- 3-second hang, rest 30 seconds,
- 6-second hang, rest 60 seconds,
- 9-second hang, rest 60 seconds,
- 12-second hang, rest 3-4 minutes, depending on how hard the sequence felt.
I carried out the protocol over a total of eighteen finger strength climbing training sessions. Ten sessions took place between 15.07 – 21.08, and eight sessions were done between 10.09 – 15.10 because I had a two-week holiday break in between. A photo of my training log is shown in Figure 2.
Figure 2: My finger strength training Cycle 1 training log (July – October 2019).
After completing the protocol, I measured my MVC-7 and MVC-12 loads for the trained grip positions. Below you can see the video from the MCV-7 tests after the first cycle. The complete MVC-7 and MVC-12 test results for the training Cycle 1 are summarized in Table 1 below. You can also see how my MVC-7 changed for the HC 20 and HC 10 grip positions, which I didn’t include in the Bechtel’s Ladders protocol.
Video 1: Demonstration of the MVC-7 tests on the trained grip positions after Cycle 1.
Table 1: My Steve Bechtel’s 3-6-9 Ladders Cycle 1 progress (July – October 2019).
|FC 14 (7s)||98 kg||103 kg||5.3%|
|HC 14 (7s)||94.5 kg||99 kg||4.8%|
|3-p 20 (7s)||93 kg||98 kg||5.3%|
|FC 14 (12s)||91 kg||96 kg||5.5%|
|HC 14 (12s)||88 kg||94 kg||6.9%|
|3-p 20 (12s)||86 kg||95 kg||10.5%|
|HC 20 (7s)||108 kg||111 kg||2.8%|
|HC 10 (7s)||88 kg||91 kg||3.4%|
|HC 20 (12s)||102 kg||105 kg||2.9%|
|HC 10 (12s)||82 kg||84 kg||2.4%|
|Average||93.0 kg||98 kg||4.9%|
My 3-6-9 Ladders protocol finger strength training progress – training Cycle 2
I found the results of the 3-6-9 Ladders climbing training Cycle 1 to be surprisingly good, taking into account that the protocol didn’t feel very straining and that I’d taken a two-week break in-between. Therefore, I decided to execute a second cycle of the Ladders protocol, with loads increased to:
- FC 14: 93 kg (90% MVC-7)
- HC 14: 90 kg (91% MVC-7)
- 3-p 20: 90 kg (92% MVC-7)
The training loads in the second training cycle were about 4.6% higher than those in July, but they still lied between 90 – 92% MVC-7, which at that point seemed to be the optimum for me. I carried out the second 3-6-9 Ladders finger strength climbing training protocol in thirteen sessions between the 23.10 – 20.12. A photo of my second finger strength training cycle log is shown in Figure 3.
You can see that I used a little trick during the last training session (20.12), which involved 12-second hangs. Namely, I increased the loads by 2 kg for each grip position, to maximize the gains from the protocol. I assumed that this approach would allow me to start the next training cycle with a higher load increase.
Figure 3: My finger strength training Cycle 2 training log (October – December 2019).
After completing the second cycle of the protocol, I measured my MVC-7 and MVC-12 loads for the trained grip positions. The complete MVC-7 and MVC-12 test results from the training cycle 2 are summarized in Table 2 below. You can also see my MVC-7 changes for the HC 20 and HC 10 grip positions, which I didn’t include in the Bechtel’s Ladders protocol.
Table 2: My Steve Bechtel’s 3-6-9 Ladders Cycle 2 progress (October – December 2019).
|FC 14 (7s)||103 kg||106 kg||2.9%|
|HC 14 (7s)||99 kg||104 kg||5.1%|
|3-p 20 (7s)||98 kg||103 kg||5.1%|
|FC 14 (12s)||96 kg||100 kg||4.2%|
|HC 14 (12s)||94 kg||100 kg||6.3%|
|3-p 20 (12s)||95 kg||98 kg||3.2%|
|HC 20 (7s)||111 kg||114 kg||2.7%|
|HC 10 (7s)||91 kg||93 kg||2.2%|
|HC 20 (12s)||105 kg||107 kg||1.9%|
|HC 10 (12s)||98 kg||101 kg||1.8%|
|Average||97.6 kg||101.1 kg||3.5%|
My 3-6-9 Ladders protocol finger strength training progress – training Cycle 3
I was excited about the progress achieved after the second Bechtel’s Ladders training cycle, and I wanted to see how much further I could push it before I would start to plateau. I decided to execute a third Ladders training cycle, with the loads listed below:
- FC 14: 98 kg (92% MVC-7)
- HC 14: 95 kg (91% MVC-7)
- 3-p 20: 95 kg (92% MVC-7)
The training loads in the third training cycle were about 5.5% higher than in October, but they still lied in the 90 – 92% MVC-7 range. I carried out the third 3-6-9 Ladders climbing finger strength training protocol in fourteen sessions between the 28.12.2019 and the 25.02.2020. A photo of my third finger strength training cycle progress log is shown in Figure 4.
Figure 4: My finger strength training Cycle 3 training log (December 2019 – February 2020).
I must admit that the last phase of the third training cycle became very hard for me. It was much more difficult to complete the 12-second hangs. In particular, it seemed like I hit a plateau with the full crimp grip position on the 14 mm edge. In the end, I had to extend the rest duration between hangs and sets significantly. I also reversed the hangs order, and I started with the 12-second hangs, and finished with the 3-second hangs, to minimize the effect of fatigue.
I was surprised to find that despite my struggle, after the third hangboard training cycle, I also managed to reach a significant absolute finger strength gain. The complete MVC-7 and MVC-12 test results after finishing the training Cycle 3 are summarized in Table 3 below. You can also see my MVC-7 changes for the HC 20 and HC 10 grip positions, which I didn’t include in the Bechtel’s Ladders protocol.
Table 3: My Steve Bechtel’s 3-6-9 Ladders cycle 3 progress (December 2019 – February 2020).
|FC 14 (7s)||106 kg||107 kg||0.9%|
|HC 14 (7s)||104 kg||107 kg||2.9%|
|3-p 20 (7s)||103 kg||107 kg||3.9%|
|FC 14 (12s)||100 kg||100 kg||0.0%|
|HC 14 (12s)||100 kg||102 kg||2.0%|
|3-p 20 (12s)||98 kg||100 kg||2.0%|
|HC 20 (7s)||114 kg||116 kg||1.8%|
|HC 10 (7s)||93 kg||96 kg||2.9%|
|HC 20 (12s)||107 kg||109 kg||1.9%|
|HC 10 (12s)||85.5 kg||88 kg||2.9%|
|Average||101.1 kg||103.2 kg||2.1%|
Bechtel’s 3-6-9 Ladders volume progressionThe main idea behind Steve Bechtel’s 3-6-9 Ladders program is to reduce the loads to the necessary minimum and progress the volume, leading to increased time under tension (TUT) . That means that every three sessions, the total hang time of your sessions should become longer. I figured that it also makes sense to multiply the TUT by the hang loads, to see how the total training load increased in subsequent training cycles. The product of the total hang times and respective hang loads for each training session is plotted in Figure 5.
Figure 5: My Bechtel’s 3-6-9 Ladders volume progression plot, Cycle 1 – Cycle 3.
Continuous Energy Restriction
During the third training cycle, I decided to turn things up a notch and to combine my finger strength training with simultaneous weight loss. After all, the goal of strength training for climbing is to improve finger strength relative to body weight. I was curious if weight loss would compromise my gains, and whether it would be possible for me to improve despite being on a dietary regimen.
The most commonly implemented weight loss strategy is continuous energy restriction (CER) . CER is based on keeping the daily energy intake below the weight maintenance requirements . Still, athletes who undergo continuous energy restriction and are subjected to high training loads are running the risk of losing fat-free mass, leading to lowered performance because of reduced muscle strength and glycogen stores, impaired reflexes, and increased irritability . Because of these potentially adverse effects I was motivated to look for alternative weight loss strategies.
Intermittent Fasting, Keto Diet and Low Carb Diets
Recently intermittent fasting started to receive a lot of attention as an alternative to conventional dietary weight loss strategies . One of the most notable advantages of Intermittent Fasting over uniform caloric restriction from the athletes’ point of view is that unlike the uniform caloric restriction, which produces loss of both muscle mass and fat tissue, Intermittent Fasting reduces the fat tissue, but preserves the muscle mass .
The Ketogenic Diet (KD), which is a stricter version of what is generally known as the Low Carb Diets (LChD) is another weight loss strategy that is recently very popular. I first heard of the Keto Diet when I listened to the Trainingbeta podcast with Neil Gresham. In the interview, Neil claimed that a temporary reduction of carbohydrate intake helped him lose weight without feeling hungry while maintaining high energy levels. He also said that his recovery was significantly enhanced and that “no single thing has ever made such a big difference in his climbing as this diet” .
That sounded almost too good to be true, so it immediately caught my attention, and I decided to learn more about this unorthodox nutrition strategy. It was only later that I learned Dave MacLeod also practiced fasting and Keto Diet to achieve weight loss when preparing for his projects . The LChD diet and Intermittent Fasting, in particular, became the cornerstone of my weight loss strategy.
Details of the dietary regimen
Before Cycle 3, I did not make any conscious effort to reduce my body weight. I ate a regular western diet, based on a mix of fats, protein, and carbohydrates. I also did not take any additional protein in the form of whey during any of the cycles. In Cycle 3, I started to reduce my daily caloric intake through Intermittent Fasting. I ate two meals a day, one at 10 a.m. and the other one at around 4 – 6 p.m. I did not calculate the exact calorific value of each meal, but on average, it was probably around 700 kcal.
The good thing about IF is that you can limit the energy intake naturally, without the need to count calories. After about a week I started to reduce the amount of carbohydrates in my diet in favor of fats and proteins and followed up with a two-week period of pure Ketogenic Diet. I subsequently returned to a regular diet and the Intermittent Fasting two meals a day plan, which has since been my daily food regimen.
Figure 5: Example Keto lunch: Fat cheese (cheddar) 80 g (320 kcal), pure peanut butter 50 g (300 kcal), and chicory 200 g (50 kcal). About 700 kcal altogether.
Figure 6: Plot of my weight loss during Cycle 3.
Figure 7: Example Regular Diet dinner: Roasted duck breast 100 g (350 kcal), boiled pearl barley 100 g (150 kcal), brussel sprouts 150 g (70 kcal), and cabbage salad with yoghurt dressing 100 g (50 kcal). About 650 kcal altogether.
To sum up, in seven weeks, I lost 4.5 kg body weight, 2 kg of which was fat, and 2.5 kg was water. You could argue that my effective weight loss was only 2 kg, but on the other hand, as long as I stayed on the Keto Diet, my absolute weight was indeed 4.5 kilograms less than at the beginning of the Cycle 3. I did not notice any deterioration of performance while being low on glycogen, nor any improvement after glycogen restoration. That goes both for strength and endurance (I will publish these results in separate posts). Therefore, it seems that losing water weight by carbohydrate restriction might be an effective tactic for climbers who want to become lighter before a competition. Weight loss strategies for athletes and climbers are a very vast topic in itself, and I am planning to explore and cover this field in more detail soon.
Adverse effects of sleep deficit on strength gainsSufficient sleep is a critical factor when it comes to cognitive function, development of the central nervous system (CNS), and physical recovery . Sleep deprivation was shown to lead to unhealthy food cravings and impairments in glucose sensitivity. On top of that, insufficient sleep also negatively affects growth hormone and cortisol secretion . Therefore, lack of adequate sleep could hamper glycogen repletion and potentially affect appetite, food intake, and protein synthesis . One of the pioneers of sleep research, Allan Rechtschaffen, stated that ‘If sleep does not serve an absolute vital function, then it is the biggest mistake the evolutionary process ever made.’ .
So how can lack of sleep impact your training gains? In humans, sleep restriction leads to two outcomes: it increases the secretion of catabolic hormones such as cortisol, and it changes the pattern of rhythmic secretion of anabolic hormones, including testosterone . Let’s have a closer look at the potential negative consequences that these effects can lead to.
Impaired testosterone production leads to sub-optimal muscle regeneration
Testosterone is key to skeletal muscle mass regulation and muscle protein synthesis production . It is also responsible for the repression of genes that activate protein breakdown . Testosterone levels increase as sleep begins and reach their highest point after the first REM sleep cycle. You need at least three hours of normal sleep to experience this rise . Testosterone concentrations remain high until waking and decrease gradually during the day.
Total sleep deprivation and partial sleep restriction were shown to lower testosterone levels and delay the blood testosterone rise during the night . The nocturnal rise in testosterone depends on REM sleep, and it is significantly lower in those who did not have any REM sleep .
Sleep debt triggers a protein degradation mechanismIt turns out that the production of other anabolic hormones is also negatively impacted by inadequate sleep. Research results show that concentrations of Insulin-like Growth Factor 1 (IGF-1) drop rapidly under conditions of sleep deprivation. IGF-1 is secreted predominantly by the liver in response to growth hormone (GH), the production of which also becomes suppressed . This is particularly important as IGF-1 is crucial to the stimulation of muscle protein synthesis, which is necessary for growth and adaptive processes in skeletal muscles . The decrease of plasma testosterone and IGF-1 concentrations results in diminishing the signal inhibition for myostatin expression. In turn, elevated concentrations of myostatin lead to muscle atrophy by promoting protein degradation. The combined negative impact on muscle regeneration of all the mechanisms described above is schematically shown in Figure 8 .
Figure 8: Schematic representation of the effects of sleep debt on skeletal muscle metabolism .
Lack of sleep may undermine your weight loss program
In a fascinating experiment, Nedeltcheva et al. investigated the effect sleep deprivation can have on weight loss . The participants were subjected to two separate 14-day dietary intervention periods at least three months apart. During each period, they consumed the same personalized diet with caloric content restricted to 90% of their resting metabolic rate. However, during one of the interventions, they slept 8.5 hours/night, while during the other period, their sleep was restricted to only 5.5 hours/night.
The order of the treatments was determined randomly for each participant. It turned out that the calorie-restricted diet resulted in comparable reductions in body mass in people who slept either 5.5 hours or 8.5 hours. Still, under the conditions of sleep restriction, the decrease in fat mass was 55% lower, and the loss of muscle mass was 60% higher, compared to the results reported for 8.5 hours of sleep per night.
The role of sleep in sports training – conclusionMany athletes and coaches prioritize exercise above sleep, in their quest to reach high levels of fitness. However, good quality sleep should be an integral part of an elite athlete’s training routine . Alas, my busy schedule does not currently permit me to regularly get six, let alone eight hours of sleep. Most of the time, I need to settle for five, and sometimes even four hours per night. This is, of course, not enough to fully recover after a strenuous evening hangboarding session. Still, it is what I currently have to work with, and I thought that it would be interesting to take the opportunity to see how much I could improve my finger strength despite being chronically sleep-deprived. Even though I was able to reach satisfactory results, I firmly believe that sleep is an essential part of sports training, weight loss, and general every day well being.
Summary of absolute finger strength hangboard training gains
Execution of three consecutive cycles of the Ladders hangboard training protocol yielded significant gains in terms of my absolute finger strength. Over eight months was able to increase my average MVC-7 and MVC-12 by over 10%. I also observed that the finger strength gains for the HC 20 and the HC 10 grip positions, which I didn’t include in the protocol, were a little lower than the gains for the trained positions.You can see my complete absolute MVC-7 finger strength progress for all targetted grip positions in the plot in Figure 9. I think that the most important result is that despite the loss of 6% of my body weight in Cycle 3, I was still able to make absolute strength gains. Under such circumstances keeping a constant strength level could already be considered an excellent result. The increases in Cycle 3 were not as high as those in Cycle 1 and Cycle 2, but this can also be related to the effect of reaching a plateau.
Figure 9: My Steve Bechtel’s 3-6-9 Ladders Cycles 1 – 3: MVC-7 absolute finger strength progress plot for all targetted grip positions (July 2019 – February 2020).
Figure 10: My Steve Bechtel’s 3-6-9 Ladders Cycles 1 – 3: MVC-12 absolute finger strength progress plot for all targetted grip positions (July 2019 – February 2020).
Summary of relative finger strength hangboard training gainsIn climbing, it is not the absolute finger strength, but strength related to bodyweight that is essential . That’s why in Cycle 3 I decided to test some dietary regimens, to see if I could give my relative strength an additional boost. My primary concern was that if I lost weight, I would also lose muscle mass and become weaker. I plotted my average absolute strength, my weight and my average finger strength relative to body weight in Figure 11.
Figure 11: My Steve Bechtel’s 3-6-9 Ladders Cycles 1 – 3: HC 20 mm absolute finger strength, body weight and HC 20 mm/BW relative strength (July 2019 – February 2020).
Moonboard bouldering progress summaryThe finger strength I gained with my first 3-6-9 Ladders training program allowed me to send some of my long-term Moonboard projects and progress from the 7A benchmark level to the 7B benchmark level on the Moonboard Masters 2017 hold setup . The most interesting problems I sent during each training cycle are listed below.
- CHERRY BOY 7A/V6 BM
- SCORPION’S TAIL 7A+/V7
- SUMMIT FEVER 7A/V6 BM
- MOUNTAIN GOAT HARD 6C+/V5 BM
- WHITE WARRIOR 6C+/V5
- THROWN TO THE WOLVES 7A
Cycle 2After the second training cycle, I noticed further gains. I managed to tick off five of my long term projects during a single training session! Some of those I’d been battling with for months:
- DARK SIDE OF THE MOON 7A/V6 BM
- THE TURKEY’S REVENGE 7A+/V7 BM
- BULL CRAP 7A/V6
- LINEA 7A/V6
- R2-D2 7A/V6
Cycle 3During the third training cycle I continued to send old projects, and also managed to quickly tick off some new hard boulder problems, including some V8s:
My 3-6-9 Ladders finger strength training program final conclusionsDuring eight months of finger strength hangboard training following Steve Bechtel’s 3-6-9 Ladders protocol I was able to significantly improve my absolute finger strength. At the same time, during the last training cycle, I was also able to reduce my body weight, which altogether yielded high gains in terms of my relative finger strength. Completion of the training program allowed me to ultimately progress from the Moonboard 7A benchmark level to the 7B benchmark level, which proves the fact that relative finger strength is crucial to climbing steep boulders on small holds. A short summary of my eigth-month program is given in Table 4.
Table 4: My Steve Bechtel’s 3-6-9 Ladders hangboard finger strength training program summary (July 2019 – February 2020).
|Bechtel's 3-6-9 Ladders Cycles 1 - 3|
|Positions||FC 14 mm/HC 14mm/3-p 20 mm|
|Load||90 - 92% MVC-7|
|Sleep||4 - 6 hours|
|Time frame||Jul. 2019||Mar. 2020||8 months|
|MVC-7 (HC 20 mm)||108 kg||116 kg||+7.4%|
|Avg. MVC (all pos.)||93 kg||103 kg||+11.0%|
|MVC-7/BW (HC 20 mm)||163.5%||190%||+26.5%|
|Max. Moon BM||7A/V6||7B/V8||+2 V|
|Body Weight||66 kg||61 kg||-7.6%|
My main takeaways from the whole eight-month finger strength training program are summarized below.
Finger strength training
- It’s enough to train 2 – 3 times a week on a hangboard to progress on the Moonboard.
- Improving relative finger strength brings instant and significant progress in terms of maximum climbed bouldering grade.
- With Steve Bechtel’s 3-6-9 Ladders protocol, it’s possible to increase finger strength over many months without hitting a plateau, albeit the rate of progress will decrease over time.
- The Bechtel’s 3-6-9 Ladders protocol is much harder and intensive than it is generally perceived.
- For the 3-6-9 Ladders protocol, it’s better to use loads that permit you to hang for 14 – 17 seconds instead of the 12 seconds prescribed by Steve.
- Using loads that are too high does not bring the expected improvement and may lead to a plateau.
- It’s necessary to train the half crimp and the full crimp positions separately.
- The half crimp can become stronger than the full crimp.
Weight loss and training
- It’s possible to gain strength and lose weight at the same time.
- Being on Keto Diet and depleting the glycogen stores does not seem to impact finger strength nor forearm endurance adversely.
- Intermittent Fasting is a powerful weight loss strategy.
- It makes it more difficult to overeat.
- You don’t need to calculate calories that accurately.
- It helps preserve muscle mass while burning fat.
- Losing weight during a climbing program did not lead to injury, but you should always be careful and stop the session at any onset of pain in your fingers or shoulders.
- It’s possible to sleep only 4 – 6 hours/night and still get stronger.
- I firmly advise against it, but if there’s no other possibility, then training can still be worthwhile.
- Gains are likely to be significantly compromised.
- Regeneration may take longer.
- Inadequate sleep causes burning less fat and losing more muscle.
- Chronic sleep deprivation during a climbing program did not lead to injury, but I was careful and I did little training aside from hangboarding.
I’ve been actively hangboarding for over ten years, and I find it encouraging that I’m still able to get stronger and keep sending harder. After three finger strength training cycles with the 3-6-9 Ladders protocol, my MVC-7 on a 20 mm edge increased from 108 kg to 116 kg. What is interesting is that at the same time I was able to lose 5 kg of weight, from 66 kg down to 61 kg. My relative strength on a 20 mm edge increased from 163.5% to 190% in just eight months! Based on generally available statistical data, I should now be able to boulder as hard as V10 . Maybe that’s possible if I found a boulder particularly suiting by style, but my current consistent level is V8 benchmark on the Moonboard.
And what is your experience with hangboard training? What is your favorite protocol? Let me know in the comments! Please subscribe to the blog to keep up to date with the upcoming posts on cutting edge methods of climbing training!
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- S. Bechtel, Climb Strong – Logical Progression, Using Nonlinear Periodization for Year-Round Climbing Performance, Feb. 23, 2017. (link)
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