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A Guide to One-Arm Hangs

One-arm hangs have long stood as a climbing test of strength. Learning how to complete them could change your climbing

Becoming stronger can seem confusing. Climbing and its seemingly unreachable strength ceiling offer each athlete many avenues toward progression. Each seems just as useful as the last. A person could always use a stronger core or perhaps a little more power through the arms but escaping the significance of finger strength remains difficult.

Most any training plan geared to more difficult moves requires a degree of finger-strength consideration. Once again, climbers are faced with a choice: bouldering, board climbing or hangboarding. Should they decided on hangboarding, they then have to choose their protocol.

These protocols often break down into variations of two-arm minimum-edge hangs, weighted hangs, and one arm hangs. Each has value, but one-arm hangs are a benchmark for a strong climber. This can be seen in Alex Megos, Kyra Condie, Yves Gravelle, and Sean Bailey. Although they each have varying degrees of finger strength, these climbers each post incredible one-arm-hang statistics making for two questions. Why are one arm hangs important? How can a person become good at one arm hangs?

First, one handed hangs provide value due to the fact that they do not exclusively work finger strength. Hanging from a single arm requires full-body stabilization that is immediately transferable to the wall. When climbing on a board, the athlete must maintain stability through their shoulder. They must keep their elbow in and stabilize their wrist to move controlled to the next hold. Upon hitting that grip, they need to maintain cross-lateral tension from their reaching shoulder through to their opposite hip. If they do not, they will over rotate.

Many climbers have strong enough fingers to hold the move through this rotation, but eventually, even they reach a move where cross-lateral stability proves fruitful.

The more obvious reason that one-arm hangs are useful comes from the fact that it is the most difficult way to hold a grip of a certain size. As perhaps the most challenging bodyweight exercise in climbing, each hand is asked to support the climber without any aid outside of those bodily structures that maintain stability across the climberโ€™s arms and torso.

This suggests that on a given climb, in a given situation, the climber might be strong enough to continue up the climb if all other points cut. This situation is a rarity as this generally suggests a poor attempt, but it shows how the exercise might be useful. If your hands can each support your body without feet, then climbing with feet should become much easier. In this way, it is an essential strength training tool.

Becoming better at one-arm hangs takes effort. Although it takes a while to progress at hangboard generally, two-arm hangs have several more bodily supporting structures than single-arm hangs. As a result, a person can progress somewhat quickly as most every portion of their upper body becomes stronger. One-arm hangs, by comparison isolate the fingers more than two arm hangs. As such, progress comes slower.

Conversely, one-arm hangs are, in some ways easier to hang. Todayโ€™s exercise provides guidance on completing one arm hangs without exhausting fingers.

The Exercise

The greatest problem with fingerboard is finding the right load. If you donโ€™t do enough then you are missing out on strength gains. Do too much and you are too tired to climb. As bouldering should be most of our strength training, hangboarding does not need to be so exhausting that we can no longer climb near our limits.

When to Hangboard

The question of when to hangboard has long been debated. Some say at the beginning of your session because then you will have the most power. Others say at the end because then you will be the warmest. A third group might suggest hangboarding as a session all its own. Realistically, the only best answer is hangboard whenever you have the time to.

Definitely avoid hangboarding mid-session, it is not worth interrupting your climbing. The Gripped editor hangboards at the beginning of the session because it allows him to warm up in a repeatable manner. It also allows for near-max optimization of the fingers as they are rested.

One-arm hangs

Begin by warming up the fingers on the hangboard. Complete three sets of 10 second, two arm hangs separated by as much rest as required for the edge size. An example of a two-armed warm up follows:

  • 30 mm : 3 sets of 10 second hangs in open hand (20 seconds rest between hangs)
  • 25 mm : 3 sets of 10 second hangs in open hand (20 seconds rest between hangs)
  • 20 mm : 3 sets of 10 second hangs in open hand (20 seconds rest between hangs)
  • 15 mm : 3 sets of 10 second hangs in open hand (30 seconds rest between hangs)
  • 15 mm : 3 sets of 10 second hangs in half crimp (30 seconds rest between hangs)
  • 10 mm : 3 sets of 10 second hangs in open hand (60 seconds rest between hangs)
  • 10 mm : 3 sets of 10 second hangs in half crimp (60 seconds rest between hangs)

Although these values appear specific, they are only examples. Rest until you feel recovered. Also, skip edge sizes if you want to. Many will not need to do 30 mm, 25mm, 20 mm, and 15 mm just to be able to feel warm on the 10 mm. To that effect, you need not be able to hang anything smaller than 20 mm to begin one arm hangs.

Once warm, pick the largest edge size. Ensuring that your shoulders are warm, begin by trying to hang from one arm in a 120-degree lock off without rotating. Even if this is on the jugs, give it a go. As previously mentioned, one-arm hangs require more than finger strength. You will improve at the smaller edge sizes if you can hold the position on the jugs.

Once you can hold this hang for 7-10 seconds for three sets separated by 2-5 minutes of rest between sets, strive to move to a smaller edge. This process will repeat until you run out of edge sizes and have fingers as strong as Gravelle.

  • try to hang for 10 seconds (rest 2-5 minutes)
  • Repeat twice more.
    • If you can do 10 seconds three times in a row, begin working next edge size next session
    • If you are struggling to make two seconds, try your best and hang as long as possible. Repeat next session progress will occur.

At first, it will appear impossible. Strive to do your best. If you fall at three seconds, two seconds or one second, but you gave it your all, then you have induced stimulus. You have told your body that it needs to become stronger at hanging from one hand.

Once you move off the jugs, you will begin on large edge sizes. At this point you will have to decide what you wish to train open-hand one-arm hangs or half-crimp one-arm hangs. Each has their benefits.

The Gripped editor found it most difficult to complete one arm hangs in half crimp so he decided to focus on that grip type. To that effect, he figured half crimp might allow him some of the benefits of two-armed weighted hangs while completing one-arm hangs. The logic behind this thought came from his history with hangboarding. He found weighted hangs most useful when in half crimp. Beyond that, most professional climbers seem to complete one-arm hangs in half crimp. This seemed like enough of a reason to pursue that grip type. WIth that said, Gravelle appears to find open hand useful on small grips.

After hangboarding every single session for two months, the editorโ€™s half crimp on a 22 mm hold (i.e. the bottom, middle edge of the Beastmaker 2000) improved. He began by hangboarding the 25 mm hold for about 1.7 seconds. Two months later, he graduated to a 22 mm grip for 8 seconds on the left hand and 6 seconds on the right. It takes a lot of time, but the results have been dramatic. Climbing on a board becomes much easier with increased finger strength. As board climbing can translate well to outdoor climbing, this training methodology could have significant effects.

Featured Image by Jan Virt.