5/3/1 for Hangboarding

I’ve just started another 10 week round of training with Team of 2. When I posted my initial review, someone asked me to post updates as I continued working with them so look for that at the end of this round. I’m also trying a new hangboarding regimen as part of the training which is in 5 week cycles so I’ll post halfway through the full 10 week round with an outcome assessment of the regimen.

The hangboarding I will be doing is adapted from a weightlifting system developed by Jim Wendler called 5/3/1. In 2012, I used this system with weighted pull ups with phenomenal results. I weighed 135 lbs at the time and was able to do a single pull up with my full body weight added. That’s a total of 270 lbs!

Jim’s article is pretty long so I’ll summarize. 5/3/1 uses percentages of a one rep max and progresses over 4 weeks with a specific rep pattern. Here’s what it looks like:

Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4 (deload)
 65% x 5 reps 70% x 3 75% x 5  40% x 5
 75% x 5  80% x 3  85% x 3  50% x 5
 85% x 5  90% x 3  95% x 1+  60% x 5

Now there’s one more thing, just to make it more confusing. You’re actually supposed to use a “training max” which is 90% of your actual max. So lets say your actual one rep max squat is 300 lbs. You’re training max would then be 270 lbs and the weights for your first week would be 175 lbs, ~200 lbs, ~230 lbs.

This is typically used for the four major lifts: bench, squat, military press, and deadlift, and following this protocol you perform each exercise once a week. So following in that vein and keeping to the typical protocol of only hangboarding twice a week, in addition to climbing and other training, I’ll be doing hangs on an edge once a week, and hangs on pinches once a week. The trickiest part of translating this to hangboarding is that hangs are isometric contractions for time, so it’s kind of a shot in the dark as to how long to hang, how long to rest between reps, etc. Since these are maximal effort, I think the standard 7-10 sec hangs should be perfect. Actually, if you haven’t listened to Training Beta’s latest podcast with Steve Maisch (I randomly got to climb with him one day in Leavenworth; super nice guy) he has an argument for going for the full 10 seconds. His reasoning is 7 seconds is about how long you’d be gripping a hold while climbing so extending the duration will force recruitment of muscle fibers that normally wouldn’t be used. Anyways, 7-10 sec on, and I’ve arbitrarily chosen 10-15 sec off. As I start going through the program I’ll finalize those numbers. Leaning towards 10/10; we’ll see. Also, a significant rest between sets: 3-4 minutes.

Yesterday I tested my one rep max 7 sec hold for single hand pinches (hard to explain but you can see the video on my instagram) and did 50 lbs, which would then be a training max of 45 lbs. Here’s what my next four weeks for pinches will look like:

 30# x 5 32.5 x 3 32.5 x 5  17.5 x 5
 32.5# x 5  35 x 3  37.5 x 3  22.5 x 5
 37.5# x 5  40 x 3  42.5 x 1+  27.5 x 5

I had to do a fair bit of rounding for those numbers so we’ll see how it works out, and it looks like I’ll be taking advantage of the 2.5 lbs plates quite a lot!

After the first cycle, Jim recommends bumping all the weights by 5 lbs for upper body lifts, but I think that will be excessive for hangs so instead I’ll just remove the 90% “training max” restriction and recalculate with my actual 1rm.

I hope that all made sense and rather than have this drag on too long I’ll leave you with an explicit step by step example for the week 2 pinch training

With 32.5 lbs attached to pinch block:

  • hang 10 sec
  • rest 10 sec
  • hang 10 sec
  • rest 10 sec
  • hang 10 sec
  • rest 4 minutes

then repeat with next weights: 35 lbs & 40 lbs.

One last note, when doing these heavy weighted hangs, it’s safer and has been shown* to actually produce greater strength gains to use an easier hold and heavier weight rather than a smaller hold and less weight.

At the end of this cycle I plan on retesting my one rep max and I’ll follow up with my results. Feel free to try it along with me; I’d love to hear how you do!

*yes both groups performed both types, but the MAW-MED group showed greater increase after just MAW. I might switch to MED after the first cycle even though small holds scare me :).


5 thoughts on “5/3/1 for Hangboarding

    1. I personally based everything off of added weight alone. So my 1RM now is about 115 lbs added weight. I weigh about 145 lbs so my total load is 260 lbs. Although I didn’t do so, I’d recommend basing the protocol on the total load and I will be doing so in the future.


  1. Thank you for your answer and compliments fro yout 1RM!
    Yesterday I tried your protocol based only on added weight. My 1RM is 67 lbs. For the first set at 65% I tried 5x 10hang +10rest with 38 lbs. After the second set my hangs where 6sec, 4sec, 4sec.

    Considering total load I must download 15lbs from my weight (165 lbs). But I can do 10 set of 1rm hang (67lbs) with 3min of rest.

    Have you same suggestion for me (i.e. more rest…)?
    In your experience do you think thet 5/3/1 is the best method?

    Sorry for my english.. thanks very much.
    Stefano (an italian boy 47 years old)


    1. You can definitely increase the rest. This hangboard method is all about strength so there’s no reason to try to push through a short rest. Sometimes I’ll rest for like 25 sec between reps if I don’t feel like I’ll be able to do the full 7 sec. Also for me the 5/5/5 week is the hardest for me. Once I start decreasing reps and increasing weight I never have trouble finishing a set.

      The only thing I’ve done that I think is better than 5/3/1 was single arm hangs, but they can be hard if you don’t have really strong shoulders (I basically had to do a one arm lock off). Also the way I was doing them was tricky to qualitatively track progress. Once my gym puts in a pulley system for the hangboards I might switch back to that.


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