Everything’s a pinch. At least, it can be. Whether you are indoors or out, the thinnest crimp can be made into a pinch by pressing the thumb to the wall. Pinches provide greater mobility as they pull the climber into the wall as opposed to simply hanging an edge. Pinch training is as simple as hangboarding, but takes an active approach in training. Today we are going to progress on pinches.
Unfortunately, not every climbing gym features vertical pinches. An ideal training situation includes vertically hanging blocks bolted to wood. Ideally, some sort of hook splits the grips. This hook would hold a pulley system where a climber could optimize the amount of weight they take off their hands as they progress on the grips. Before describing why hanging vertical pinches is a best way to increase pinch strength, let’s discuss alternatives.
As with most every exercise, board climbing can replace isometric loading. Isometric loading is the static resistance of weight. The most obvious example of this is a dead hang. Isometric loading isolates the muscles in use and provides consistent resistance for your finger pulleys. In this way, it is safer than board climbing.
With that said, board climbing turns the hold you struggle with into a technical exercise. On pinches at a steep angle, a board also forces pressure through the fingers. At 40+ degrees, board climbing offers the climber technical bailouts where they can strive toward holding the grip with the use of their feet and body position. On hard problems, it also forces the climber to choose strength over beta to move upwards. Wooden pinches are the best for this type of exercise as anything less than a controlled grip will result in falling.
The problem with the board is that it loads the fingers aggressively and puts a lot of stress on the wrist. This truth is furthered if you are new to board climbing. In these scenarios, it is better load isometrically.
- Warm up
- Set projects on your home wall, standard board, or spray wall with progressively worse pinches. You can also strive to climb all the benchmarks on the MoonBoard starting at the lowest difficulty. In either case, begin with easier climbs and increase the difficulty over time.
- Climb three days a week, with one day of rest separating each day of climbing. After the third day, take two rest days.
Pinch block training
By far and away the most progressive way to increase pinch strength, this low impact, isometric approach forces the climber to add weight in the pursuit of their max. This reflects weightlifting approach to pinch training. Although it is effective, it requires a level of try-hard that can be difficult to manifest in the moment.
If, however, you can bring that level of psych to your training, this will be the safest method by which to increase strength.
- Warm up
- Find max weight through progressively heavier lifts.
- When lifting, ensure a straight lower back. Allow a slight bend in your elbow. Lift with your legs.
- Complete five sets per hand of 7-10 second lifts separated by two to five minutes rest as determined by your level of fatigue.
- Complete three days a week with one day of rest between training days. After the third day, take two days of rest.
As with weighted hangs, the sheer difficulty of dead hanging pinches forces high-level engagement. To begin, there are two grip types for this sort of hang. The first is open where the fingers stay relatively straight and the thumb squeezes to maintain grip. The second is crimped, where the fingers crimp the outside of the pinch while the thumb engages.
We recommend beginning with the first of these two styles. It is challenging enough to provide progression without stressing your pulleys. Instead, it focuses on the larger muscles of the forearm. Most will struggle to hang these pinches. For these folks, start with a resistance band threaded through the hook mentioned at the beginning of the article. You can also use weight on a pulley.
Place your foot in the resistance band to take off weight. Reduce stress until you hold the pinches for a maximum of seven seconds. Note that seven seconds is an arbitrary value. We use it because it allows space for progression. The goal will be three sets of 10 second hangs at the counterweight you described on your first session. You will strive for this value on each hang. Upon achieving three sets of 10 second hangs with 2-5 minutes rest in between hangs, you may reduce the counterweight of your aid.
Much of your initial progression will come from learning how to pinch holds hard. Although pinch training seems muscular, gripping holds often revolves around the amount of pressure we believe we can deliver. Isometric hangs, like hangboarding and pinch hanging, redefine the limits of our strengths. These exercises force us to learn how to engage on grip types at a higher resistance than climbing requires.
You should aim to hang with large flat pinches and with relatively straight arms. A slight bend in the elbows will keep them safe, but a 90-degree lock off will mean you are compressing more than dead hanging. Compression redistributes the weight of the hang from your hands to the larger muscles of the upper body.
Although it is not ideal, you can begin by hanging in a 90 degree lock off and extend the angle of your elbows as you progress.
When you can hang the pinches with the aforementioned counterweight band for three sets at 10 seconds with relatively straight arms, reduce the resistance of the band. Eventually, you will remove the band entirely. Be warry of overstressing your wrists. If you begin to lose your form, increase the resistance of your band.
The second form is much more challenging as it pushes a lot of the weight through the climber’s pulleys. You will approach this exercise in the same way as the previous pinch exercise, but you will have to reduce your hangboarding load if you wish to move pinch training into a finger-heavy training cycle.
Where the pinch blocks require only a small forearm warm up, it is beneficial to ensure fully warm fingers for hanging the crimpier pinches. A light hangboard warm up, may help you reach this point.
- Warm up
- Hang pinches without weight for diagnostic
- Add counterweight or resistance band to achieve a max hang at seven seconds
- Complete three total two handed hangs aiming for 10 seconds a hand. Upon hanging 10 seconds, reduce the resistance in the subsequent session.
- Stay at reduced resistance until you achieve three sets of 10 second hangs. Repeat until you achieve body weight.
- Begin again with the second form, repeating the above prescription.
- Complete three days a week with one day rest in between training days. Allow two days rest following third training day.
Both above exercises require an intense amount of effort. On the bright side, failure and success are obvious through hangs. This makes it easy to push yourself toward success. Give it everything to lift yourself off the ground.
Be sure to take a deload week for this exercise after two weeks of training. Persistence will see results but will also overstrain the wrist. Injury prevention is essential for this exercise. Allow yourself the space to rest and have deliberate, well-formed attempts.
Featured image of Mejdi Schalck by Jan Virt