Eric Hörst’s “7-53” finger strength training program (case study)

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Eric Hörst’s finger strength training program – quick summary

Introduction

In November 2020, I received an email from Carson – one of my blog readers. He wrote me to ask for advice regarding his hangboard training. Carson was already an accomplished young boulderer, but he wanted to amp his game by further improving his finger strength. 

He ultimately devised his own training program based on Eric Hörst’s “7-53” finger strength training program and dramatically improved his finger strength within just 8 weeks. I found his case very interesting and inspiring, so I decided to share his results with his permission.

Initial result from the Finger Strength Analyzer 2.0

First, Carson described his training situation and recent results. He used my Finger Strength Analyzer 2.0 tool to estimate his current bouldering level [1]. He entered the following input:

  • Height/Span: 6’0
  • Weight: 157 lbs
  • Training Mode 1: At least twice a week, including weighted hangs
  • Edge depth: 18 mm (wooden Metolius rung
  • Hang time: 7 seconds
  • Added load: 70 lbs (227 lbs in total)
  • Pull-ups: 3RM, +75 lbs
  • Calculated comfortable projecting level: V6 – V7

The result accurately reflected his current bouldering ability – he had just recently come back from a trip, during which he sent two V6s and two V5s. His personal best result was V7/V8, but it took him 3 months of projecting. Carson also explained that he excelled at overhanging and compression routes due to his high pull strength and underperformed on technical vertical climbs with small holds.

Previous finger strength training program

Before the pandemic, Carson did not hangboard – he only bouldered. However, when COVID struck, he began training hard, according to the following schedule:

  • Monday: 5 reps of 1 arm Recruitment Pulls – Tyler Nelson inspired, feet on the ground, maximal isometric [2]
  • Wednesday: Bouldering outside or in the gym if it was raining
  • Friday: 5 sets of 6 reps of 7/3 repeaters
  • Saturday/Sunday: Climbing once every two weekends or so

This simple self-made training program allowed him to take his bouldering level from V4/V5 to V6/V7. It is worth noticing that his training volume was relatively low, with only 2 short hangboard sessions and 1 – 2 climbing sessions in a week. Yet, it was sufficient to allow him to progress 1 – 2 V-grades.

Now Carson was ready to take his training up a notch, so he contacted me to ask which of the programs on my site would be most appropriate for him to build finger strength over the next few months. 

Choosing the hangboard training protocol

We started by discussing the hangboard training methods that Carson could use to develop his finger strength further. Usually, when an athlete has been hangboarding for less than a year, I recommend completing a few cycles of 7/3 Repeaters at 80% of the 7-second max. load [3]. The goal is to build some muscle and strengthen the connective tissues to prepare for the heavier loads. However, Carson was determined to train maximum strength immediately.

I figured that since he had already trained with Recruitment Pulls for a few months, it might be ok to continue with high intensity training. Alternatively, Eva López MaxHangs can be an excellent introduction to weighted hangs if you opt for a lighter version of the protocol [4]. You might, e.g., start with 15-second hangs at 85% intensity, which would be only slightly heavier than the standard loads used for 7/3 Repeaters.

Still, Carson chose to go for the Hörsts “7-53” protocol, which, I believe, lies close to the maximum of the intensity spectrum [5]. I need to stress here that Carson was not formally entering any of my training programs – he was merely asking for advice, so I was not in the position to categorically advise him against following an aggressive training routine.

And yet, while it was a bit risky, Carson’s approach was not unreasonable. He is a young climber, able to regenerate quickly, and he did, after all, train with added weight before. However, I think he still has a lot to gain with less aggressive protocols, and I agree with Eva López that you should strive to achieve progress with the least amount of stimulus possible. This way, you won’t hit the wall with your development. 

Details of the climbing training program

After our discussions, Carson designed the following program for himself:

  • Hangboard routine: Eric Horst’s “7-53” protocol (Table 1)
  • Program duration: 8 weeks
  • Program structure:
    • Twice a week 1 set of:
      • half crimp
      • full crimp with a thumb wrap
      • 4 fingers open hand

Each set was 3 x 7 seconds on, 53 seconds off. He would start the program at 90% of his hal crimp MVC-7, which was equal to 205 lbs. Every hangboard workout, he would attempt to increase the load by 2 lbs. Every fourth week he planned to deload and to use less weight. That meant that he would increase his half crimp training load by the end of the program by 6 x 2 = 24 lbs.

Accordingly, he used 229 lbs for the half crimp, 219 lbs for the full crimp, and 219 lbs for the 4 fingers open position in the last workout session. His predicted MVC-7 for the half crimp after the training cycle would be 229 lbs/0.96 = 239 lbs. If everything went according to plan, we would be looking at a 5% improvement of the half crimp strength in just 8 weeks – an ambitious goal!

Carson would follow up each hangboard session with weighted pull-ups, ring dips, and core/stretching.

Once a week, he would go bouldering or sport climbing.

The “7-53” protocol
Hang test time [s]10
Margin [s]3
Sets2 – 5
Positions/Set1
Hangs/Position3
Hang time [s]7
Rest [s]53
Rest betw. Sets [min]3
TUT [s]42 – 105
Total time [min]9 – 27

Table 1: The “7-53” finger strength protocol summary.

The "7-53" protocol
Hang test time [s]10
Margin [s]3
MVC-7 load92 - 97%
Sets2 - 5
Positions/set1
Hangs/position3
Hang time [s]7
Rest betw. hangs [s]53
Rest betw. sets [min]3
TUT [s]42 - 105
Total time [min]7- 23

Climbing training program results

After successfully completing the 8-week program, Carson went to test his half crimp strength on the 18 mm edge. He began the tests with his normal warm-up, and he started the test hangs at 216 lbs in the following sequence: 

Hang 1: 216 lbs – 10+ s
Hang 2: 235 lbs – 10+ s
Hang 3: 245 lbs – 9+ s
Hang 4: 255 lbs – 9.2 s !!
Hang 5: 260 lbs – 5.2 s !!

He stopped after the 260 lbs because he felt a pain in his brachioradialis after stepping down to the ground. However, as he could hold 255 lbs for over 9 seconds, he could expect to hold 262 lbs for 7-seconds.

The results represent approximately a 30-pound increase in his MVC-7! Talk about spectacular! And although he went from 157 lbs to about 161 lbs of body weight, this still represents a 17% MVC-7/BW increase in just eight weeks. I fed the new data into the Finger Strength Analyzer 2.0 as follows:

  • Height/Span: 6’0
  • Weight: 161 lbs
  • Training Mode 1: At least twice a week, including weighted hangs
  • Edge depth: 18 mm
  • Hang time: 7 seconds
  • Added load: 99 lbs (260 lbs in total)
  • Pull-ups: off
  • Calculated comfortable projecting level: V9

17% finger strength gains in just 8 weeks of training!

Photo: Carson cranking hard on one of his harder projects (photo by Andrew Child – instagram: @iamandrewchild)

Analysis of the results

The gains after completing the program seemed fantastic, and Carson was so kind that he provided his own insight. According to him, a few factors led to such a spectacular finger strength increase — the biggest being that he had not done this specific hangboard protocol before. Even though he had been climbing for five years, there was a lot of gain to be had simply from learning the movement and hand positions that are most efficient. I believe that after five years of bouldering, Carson turned out to have a pretty solid base that was ready for recruitment, and that weighted training had paid off after all.

Moreover, it was colder when he redid the tests, which may have affected the fingerboard friction, but it is hard to tell without reviewing exact data. I know from experience that there is a specific optimum range of temperatures in which the friction on wood is best. If it gets too cold, wood becomes slippery, and the measurements are negatively affected.

On top of all that, Carson admitted that he might not have been properly warming-up in the past. The warm-up is a vital element of any training session. It should also be concluded with a series of heavy recruitment hangs to ensure postactivation potentiation (PAP) of the forearm flexor muscles. If you want more about the importance of the warm-up, you may read this article [6]

Finally, Carson intentionally gained 4 lbs of weight, most of which appeared to be muscle. He believes that even a small amount of hypertrophy to the shoulders and forearms could make a significant difference. Being in a caloric surplus may have allowed him to recover faster than usual, although I have demonstrated in one of my earlier posts that it is possible to make significant strength gains even when cutting weight (8 months) [7]. The trick is to find the right time in the training macrocycle to gain and lose weight, and it seems that it is just what Carson achieved.

Transfer to rock climbing

Now, the most interesting question is how Carson’s training transferred to his performance on the rock. He started his program at the end of October 2020 with approximately V8 finger strength and ended with approximately V9 finger strength after two months of hangboarding.

Carson told me that after completing the program, it took him a bit to remember how to move on rock. What is more, with his newfound strength, he added climbing volume too quickly, which resulted in a slight A2 pulley strain in his right middle finger. This is an interesting point, which highlights one possible mechanism where becoming too strong can lead to an overuse injury. 

Fortunately, Carson used a progressive hangboard routine to heal his injury, and he recovered after about two weeks of rehab. Indeed, the hangboard can be a very effective recovery tool since it allows for precise and controlled loading of the fingers. You can find some interesting information on the topic in “The Climbing Bible” [8][9].

Despite that setback, Carson was able to notice some progress in his performance. He managed to stick all the moves on a V8 on his first session, which was a good result. He also enjoyed a fine Moonboard session, during which he flashed six benchmark V4’s and sent one other on his third attempt. Considering that many V4s on the Moonboard are like regular V6s, it is a good result. Furthermore, it was after the pulley injury, which is why he didn’t try anything very hard.

Eric Hörst’s “7-53” strength protocol conclusions

To sum up, the Hörst “7-53” routine proved an extremely effective method of increasing maximum finger strength. The program lasted eight weeks, during which Carson increased his MVC-7 on the 18 mm edge in the half crimp position from 227 lbs to 260 lbs. which is a nearly 15% improvement in absolute terms and a 16% improvement relative to bodyweight.

The program was low volume, and Carson could combine the hangboard training sessions with regular climbing and bouldering. Unfortunately, Carson could not take full advantage of his gains immediately because he injured his finger while bouldering after the program ended.

Carson devised the program all by himself. Although it was low-volume, the loads used for training exceeded 90% MVC-7, which is a pretty aggressive strategy. If you are only starting serious hangboard training, I would recommend that you begin with a few solid cycles of 70 – 80% of 7/3 Repeaters and Tyler Nelson’s density hangs. You can follow that by some light version of the Eva López MaxHangs, Bechtel’s Ladders, or the GO 30 – 100 plans [10][11][12]. There is a lot to be gained from low-intensity training before very heavy hangs are ultimately required. 

You can also enter my personalized training program. I will choose the proper hangboard routine for you, determine the training loads and edge depths, and make sure that you progress safely and steadily. For questions, please write me an email at [email protected].

References

  1. J. Banaszczyk, StrengthClimbing – Climbing Finger Strength Analyzer 2.0, June 25, 2020.(link)
  2. T. Nelson, Camp4HumanPerformance.com – The “Simplest” Finger Training Program, Oct. 16, 2019. (link)
  3. J. Banaszczyk, StrengthClimbing – Hangboard Repeaters strength endurance protocol, Apr. 8, 2019. (link)
  4. Eva López Blog – Fingerboard Training Guide (II). Maximal grip Strength and Endurance Methods and Load Training management, May 23, 2018. (link)
  5. J. Banaszczyk, StrengthClimbing – Eric Hörst’s “7-53” finger strength hangboard routine, Jan. 21, 2019. (link)
  6. J. Banaszczyk, StrengthClimbing – 9 Powerful Reasons To Warm-Up For Rock Climbers (Review), Dec. 4, 2020. (link)
  7. J. Banaszczyk, StrengthClimbing – 8-Month Hangboard Finger Strength Training Program Results, Mar. 31, 2020.(link)
  8. M. Mobråten and S. Christophersen, The Climbing Bible – Technical, physical and mental training for rock climbing, Vertebrate Publishing, 3 Sept. 2020. (link)
  9. J. Banaszczyk, StrengthClimbing – The Climbing Bible – Review, Sept. 02, 2020.(link)
  10. J. Banaszczyk, StrengthClimbing – Eva López MaxHangs hangboard routine for finger strength, Apr. 29, 2019. (link)
  11. J. Banaszczyk, StrengthClimbing – Steve Bechtel’s 3-6-9 Ladders hangboard finger strength training, May 18, 2019. (link)
  12. S. Bechtel, The Climb Strong Hangboard Manual [eBook], 2018. (link)
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