Our mothers decried the folly of jumping off a bridge just because everyone else was doing it. Fortunately, they cast no such aspersions on hanging off a cliff. As the continuing popularity of bouldering gyms and American Ninja Warrior attests, clinging to things can be a damn good workout. And it’s one you can train for at home, via hangboard.
What Is a Hangboard?
A hangboard is pretty much what it sounds like: a board (made of wood or plastic) containing numerous holes or grooves you can grip, using a varying number of fingers. It attaches to a wall or beam so you can simulate the motions of rock climbing or engage in Buster Keaton cosplay.
As with most bodyweight exercises, hangboarding is a multifunctional workout with a ton of benefits. “The function of a hangboard is to help you work specific muscles through a variety of holds,” explains Caleb Backe, a New Jersey-based certified personal trainer. “Hangboarding is a great workout to strengthen your fingers, hands, upper body, and core.”
Tim DeBoom, two-time Hawaii Ironman world champion and member of the Ironman Hall of Fame, is a self-described hangboard fanatic. “Studies have shown that one of the determining factors in losing fitness as you age is your grip strength,” he says. “Incorporating hangboard workouts into your life can drastically increase your grip strength and overall strength-to-weight ratio.”
Hangboard Training Tips
- If you’ve never used a hangboard before, go slowly and listen to your body to avoid injury. Always warm up. You can start by jumping rope or going on a quick run, then some basic pull-ups, followed by finger and shoulder stretching.
- When using a hangboard, always grab a matching pair of holds. The basic move is a dead hang from small holds. Always use an open-handed grip, and keep your elbows slightly bent when you hang.
- Backe recommends this workout: “Use an open-handed grip to grab a pair of holds with four fingers and hang for 10 seconds,” he says. “Rest for one minute before repeating for 3 reps. You can increase the intensity by hanging for longer, increasing your reps, or using smaller holds.”
- DeBoom says he uses his hangboard daily for pull-ups and hanging sessions. “My go-to workout starts with hangboard pull-ups with a full handgrip, before I move to fingertip eccentric pull-ups (see below) and fingertip hanging. I’ve worked up to ten 20-second hangs,” he says.
- Fingertip eccentric pull-up explained: “Eccentric” refers to the lowering motion of an exercise. So grab two matching holds with your fingertips, start in the “up” phase of a pull-up and slowly lower yourself to a dead [straight-arm] hang.
- An avid runner and mountain biker, DeBoom says he likes to finish every ride or run with pull-ups on the hangboard. He incorporates full fingertip hang sessions into his strength-training routine, alternating hanging with a leg exercise. “I’ve noticed a huge increase in my grip strength and ability to do pull-ups,” he says.
- As those of us who sweated over the Presidential Physical Fitness Test in elementary school remember, hanging ain’t easy. If you can’t manage 10 seconds to start, do what you can and work up to it. You’ll be surprised how quickly you progress.
How to Buy a Hangboard
When shopping for a hangboard, don’t make aesthetics a primary criterion. Price can be, though: There are quality hangboards available for every budget.
In terms of features, here’s what you should look for: “Two of the most important things to look out for in a hangboard are that they 1.) allow for good grip, and 2.) have a symmetrical design to avoid injury,” says Backe. “Overexertion and injury can be a concern with hangboarding, as you put a lot of pressure on your fingers throughout the workout. With this in mind, symmetry to even out pressure on your fingers and good grip to reduce unnecessary exertion are important features in a hangboard.”
Advises DeBoom: “I looked for one that included lots of depths of finger holds, including a full hand hold for pull-ups. For a beginner, the more holds the better.”
Here are some good choices for hangboards, at every price point.
Tops in sales and reviews on Amazon, this is great for beginners.
This step up from the Project includes even more holds and is designed for good ergonomics, with a downward taper.
This board features several different grip sizes, with numerous depths.
This model’s sleek walnut design — incorporating holds for all skill levels — isn’t the only selling point: It connects to Mammut’s app so you can follow pros’ training regimens.