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Fingerboard Training in Beginner Climbers: To do, or not to do?

Many of us, myself included, became obsessed with climbing when we first started the sport. My friends and I would go to the gym 4-6 days a week for 2-3 hours at a time. There were so many routes to try and we could feel ourselves progressing so quickly. Our first day there, we would struggle to get up a 5.7, but by the end of a few months we were climbing 5.10.

The climbing gym became our get away. Our nightly obsession where we could work hard, but have fun doing it. We became enthralled with the sport and started to try to find ways we could get better faster. So we asked our experienced climbing friend if they thought we should start fingerboarding.

When you ask more experienced climbers about fingerboarding and explain your current experience level, you often get mixed responses. Some will say “go for it, it couldn’t hurt,” and others will tell you to focus on improving your technique and strength before worrying about more “advanced” training like finger boarding.

Today, I would like to address the benefits and possible drawbacks of finger training in beginner climbers.


If you’re trying to progress quickly at climbing, there are things you can dial in to help you get better faster than just fingerboarding. Working on technique, general strength, and overall confidence/mindset while on the wall goes a farther way towards helping beginner climbers reach higher grades quickly as compared to making their fingers strong.

Arguments have been made for beginner climbers to wait to fingerboard until after they’ve been climbing for 1-2 years, or after they reach a certain (5.11) grade, or after they’ve hit a plateau in their climbing.

It can be argued that beginner climbers will naturally increase their finger strength and that actually climbing and training to improve body awareness on the wall is more important in the beginning stages of climbing than fingerboarding is.

If you’re a few months into the sport, have a limited amount of time for training, and want to focus on progressing your grades as quickly, there are definitely better things to do than finger training. However, if you have spare time in your day, you are progressing rapidly, are beginning to climb harder routes and smaller holds, and think about it from a longevity standpoint, finger training is something to consider, even in beginner climbers.


Although improving your technique, strength, and confidence on the wall will likely increase your redpoint grade faster than fingerboarding, fingerboarding and training your tendons can play a crucial role in improving the longevity of your climbing career and preventing yourself from getting injured on the wall.

With the rise in popularity of the sport, we are seeing more and more climbing injuries develop. Possibly contrary to popular thought, these injuries are not all in elite climbers crimping on tiny holds. Injury incidence among recreational and intermediate boulders is rising and is actually quite similar to that of elite climbers.(1)

I’ve addressed the issue of overuse in previous blog posts, so I won’t go into it too much today. But the best way to reduce your risk of injury is through volume management and properly readying your tissues for the amount of stress that will be required of them during the sport.

To do this, we have to think about the actual demands of the sport. The sport of climbing requires a high amount of muscle strength, power, and coordination. How it differs from other sports is the amount of sustained load and strength requirements placed through the tendons of the upper extremity. Specifically, our finger flexor tendons take a lot of load while climbing.

If you haven’t climbed much previously or spent a lot of time exercising in a way that consistently is loading your finger flexor tendons the way that climbing does, chances are your fingers are not yet adapted to all the possible demands that they may undergo as you begin progressing in the sport.

Many beginner climbers progress rapidly once they start going to the gym. They start off doing low grades, but soon their technique, coordination, and upper body strength improve rapidly, allowing many to climb moderates within a few months of beginning the sport. Of course, in the meantime, their fingers are adapting as well. However, are they adapting as fast as the climber is progressing in grades?

When first beginning a sport we will usually see improvements in neuromuscular activation, coordination, and motor unit recruitment before actual connective tissue and muscle adaptations begin.(2) In other words, our brain-to-body connection helps improve our strength before our actual muscles hypertrophy and our tendons get stronger.

This is a natural part of the process when beginning any new and physically demanding task. However if these increases in strength are not accompanied by a proper amount of actual histological/tissue adaptation, we may leave ourselves more vulnerable to possible injury.

This is not to say that beginner climbers are going to injure themselves just by climbing hard and not doing specific training for their fingers. Many beginner climbers do just fine with a natural climbing progression without supplementing strength or finger training protocols.

However, if finger training can help those tissues adapt and keep up with the neuromuscular adaptations happening in beginner climbers, and if you’re going to suggest they fingerboard after they get more “experience” or hit a “plateau,” why wouldn’t we recommend it right away?

Fingerboarding is a relatively low risk activity for beginner climbers to engage in. It can easily be performed in static, controlled conditions and requires far less load and tissue demand that more dynamic moves require when actually climbing. In fact, isometric exercises (like hangboarding) have been associated with muscle hypertrophy, increased max force production, and improved pain inhibition (in patients with tendinopathy).(3,4)

(Isometric contractions are where the muscle stays the same length while contracting. Whereas concentric contractions the muscle is shortening and eccentric contractions the muscle is lengthening.)

This is not to say that your friend who has been climbing for 6 weeks should immediately try crimping on 5mm holds on a fingerboard. Like any other type of training, you must gradually progress. But overall, fingerboarding is a relatively safe activity to engage in. So if there is a safe way to help your tendons improve in overall density and strength and better prepare them to take the load required on the wall, then why would we discourage someone away from it?

Finger training is currently a largely accepted training method among more experienced climbers. Many climbers turn to fingerboarding when they feel as if they’ve plateaued in their climbing. They use it as a training method to help them reach their next grade. However, instead of just thinking about fingerboarding as a training method, what if we also began to think of it as a way to prevent injuries and possibly even avoid a “plateau” to begin with?

As rehab professionals focusing primarily on climbers, we tend to see many finger injuries coming from patients of all different experience levels. And with every one of these patients we will implement some sort of finger training exercises– even if it is just isometric pulling with your feet still on the ground and not full “hangboarding.” In a similar fashion we can introduce someone’s fingers to the load required when holding smaller edges on some 5.11 or 5.12 climb, before they even reach that grade. Hypothetically, preparing your fingers to take this load before actually getting on climbs that require it could help us avoid potential injury and maybe even help avoid a plateau at that level to begin with.


In summary, yes, there are more effective ways to help beginners climb harder grades than finger training. Beginner climbers will likely get the “best bang for their buck” (aka: make the most progress with the least amount of training time) by simply focusing on climbing and improving body awareness/technique. However, if time allows, fingerboarding can be an effective tool to help strengthen the finger tendons and thereby (hopefully) prevent injuries in the future.

I’m not saying every beginner climber should begin fingerboarding ASAP, or that it will make them a better climber or keep them injury-free forever, but I am asking the question: “why do so many experienced climbers warn beginners away from it”? When we really take into account the benefits vs risks of finger training for beginners, it is a quite safe and effective technique to help improve tendon strength and health without the risks that come with actual climbing.

So the next time a beginner climber asks you if you think fingerboarding is a good idea, you now have some food for thought before you give a recommendation.

Please feel free to comment, share, and reach out with any questions.

Climb on,

Peak Pursuit Team


Dr. Drake Griggs

Peak Pursuit Performance & Rehab

We Help Active Adults In The Salt Lake Area Overcome Injury And Reach Peak Performance, Avoid Unnecessary Time Off, All Without Medications, Injections, Or Surgery.