5/3/1 Midpoint Review

I’ve finished one cycle of trying the 5/3/1 hangboarding protocol I described in my last post. Results are… inconclusive. So to refresh your memory the idea was to apply the 5/3/1 weightlifting program in which you do progressive reps at a percentage of your one rep max over a four week period. I did 18 mm edge two arm hangs with a half crimp once a week and 3.5″ pinch block one arm deadlifts once a week. Both for 7 sec reps. My one rep max stats 4 weeks ago were bodyweight + 55 lbs for the edge and 50 lbs for the pinch block.

Last week I retested both. For the edge I did bodyweight + 95 lbs and for the pinch I did 52.5 lbs. I’m sure you’re thinking I hit the holy grail of hangboarding with an increase of 40 lbs on the edges! However, I’m not sure I believe it as I haven’t noticed a marked improvement in my crimp strength while climbing. I think when I tested at +55 lbs I was tired from likely doing a long session beforehand. The slight improvement with the pinch block is likely accurate and I feel is negligible. I’m deeming 5/3/1 a fairly on this front. I’m going to drop the pinch hangs and focus on following the protocol properly on the edges with my now accurate one rep max. I’ll report how that goes in another 4 weeks!

Are you hanging too long?

Steve Maisch is quickly becoming my favorite training guru. If you haven’t been to his site yet, I highly recommend it (I’ve added a link in the sidebar). There aren’t too many articles, but they’re all gold.

One thing I’ve always noticed in people’s training is so many do really long hangboard sessions. I mean, they have so many holds. That means you have to hang on all of them in a session, right? Not necessarily. For hangboarding (campus boarding too) less is definitely more. Those tools are for developing raw strength. Think of a power lifter. They do low reps with high load with truly remarkable results. No lifter is going to set a record after doing 5 sets of 20 reps with 30% of their max! Anyways, my rule of thumb for hangboarding has always been the session should be no more than 30 min and that includes all the 3-5 minute rests between sets. Now Steve is rocking even my world with his evidence based claim of a total hanging time of 36-150 seconds! I highly recommend reading the full article.

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 :).

Quick Tip: Finger Stretch

Ah, the quarter is over! I’ll be starting my thesis research next week however, so back to being busy soon enough. I’m working with my friend, chiropractor, and personal savior on a new series of posts outlining injury prevention workouts. While we (slowly) churn that out, here’s a quick tip I picked up about a year ago.

0613151323Last year I partially ruptured a pulley and went to a hand specialist. While there I asked about some pain in my other fingers (middle finger to be specific), which I assumed to be a different pulley issue. After some inspection he asked me to bend my finger so that the tip of the finger touches the base. Like in the image to the left. At the time, I couldn’t even get close. Now here is where you’ll just have to trust me because he didn’t explain why this helps and I’ve tried to figure it out and can’t, but he told me it is important to stretch my fingers until I could easily hold that position. Now every time my fingers start to get achy I test this and at least 85% of the time I find that I have limited range of motion. Then once I start stretching again, the pain subsides very rapidly.

I was told to hold this stretch for about a minute, which I believe is the length necessary to properly stretch connective tissue, so this is probably stretching some of the ligaments in the fingers. So when you perform this stretch you can either hold your finger with your other hand for a minute, or what I figured out to do was to wrap a rubber band around your finger like this


I used the band that comes with the armaid. Man that thing sure is useful! I find using a band instead of pushing with your other hand not only (obviously) frees up your hands, but the tension is more gradual so you’re not overstretching if your range of motion is very limited. I’ll usually wrap whatever finger feels stiff after a climbing session and keep it on while I drive home from the gym.

So if you have finger pain and limited range of motion, give this a try and hopefully it works as well for you as it does for me!

Review: Power Fingers

Well who knew being a grad student would be so time consuming! I’ve been extremely busy so far this year, but I have a lot of posts lined up and you can expect a lot in the summer. For now I’ll be doing short posts with brief reviews or quick tips.

First up is a review for Power Fingers. Power Fingers is an elastic disk used to work the antagonist muscles in your forearm. Place your fingers in the five holes and open your hand. Simple and effective. They’re sold in a set of 5 disks of varying difficulty so you can find the one of perfect resistance.

Just in case some of you haven’t hear, (for those who have, it’s worth repeating) antagonist exercises are extremely helpful in keeping a muscular balance and preventing injury. For the extensors in the forearm, it’s pretty typical to just use a rubber band around all your fingers and open your hand.


It can be difficult to be sure each finger is feeling equal resistance using this method, though. The Power Fingers is very nice, in this respect, as each finger is in a separate loop which ensures each finger is actually doing work.

Although Power Fingers is an effective tool, it is only sold in a set of 5. Once you figure out which one is best for you, the rest are basically useless. You could argue that if you’re starting with a lower resistance, you have the full set to work your way through as you progress. I, however, found the heaviest one to be just right. It also costs $25 for the set, so I’ve basically spent an extra $20 just to figure out which one works for me…

All in all, I’d say stick with a rubber band. They’re cheap and you can keep them on your wrist so you’ll always be reminded to do your antagonist work. Tip: If you have an armaid, I’ve found the black elastic band that comes with it to be a really good resistance.

P.S. On an unrelated note, I’ve had a really fun season in Leavenworth so far. You can check out my latest video from last weekend here.

Injury Analysis: Shoulder Bursitis

Phew, it’s been a crazy few weeks at school since my last post. Midterms are over so time for the second installment of the injury analysis posts. Today I want to discuss one of the most injury prone parts of the body for climbing: the shoulder. The reason the shoulder is so prone to injury is because of how useful it is! Think about the range of motion you have in your shoulder; it’s really pretty impressive mechanically. To allow for that range of motion, the shoulder joint is not very sturdy, like say a knee or elbow. So unlike the simple hinge joint of the knee or elbow, the shoulder requires much more musculature to create stability. The muscles of the shoulder are known as the rotator cuff, which consists of four different muscles seen below.

Muscles of the Rotator Cuff

This is something that I, as an engineer, really love to do when looking at anatomy. If you look at the attachments of the muscles you can start to see how they each function. The infraspinatus and teres minor connect at the outside of the shoulder and the back edge of the shoulder blade, so when these contract, the humerus is rotated externally. The supraspinatus connects at the top of the humurus and the upper edge of the shoulder blade. When this muscle contracts, it creates torque at the top of the humurus and raises the arm out to the side. Finally, the subscapularis connects on the inside of the shoulder blade and wraps forward following the rib cages then curves back out to attach to the front of the humurus. Here’s a better picture:


This one is in opposition to the external rotators. Pretty cool right? All these muscles working in harmony to create an extremely functional joint. Now if you think about these muscles, or rather the motions they produce, while climbing you can start to see why shoulder impingement is so common. When’s the last time you were climbing and had to do a really hard external rotation? I’d guess never. What about internal rotation, e.g. a twist lock? Well there’s a name for that movement, so obviously it’s common! This results in overdeveloped internal rotators, and weak externals. Sorry, I’m getting a little sidetracked. Point of this ramble is, get a theraband and do shoulder exercises. ALL. THE. TIME.

Ok, so if you look at the first picture you can see all the space between the bone and the muscles, specifically above the humurus. This is called the subacromial space (that crooked bone connecting to the clavicle is called the acromion). What fills this space is something called a bursa. A bursa is a fluid filled sack that provides a buffer between, in this case, the acromion and suprasinatus.

Ignore the torn tendon…

With repeated overhead exercise (and/or due to genetic predisposition), the bursa can get squeezed in that space and become irritated and inflamed. For shoulder pain due to rotator cuff weakness, the fix is pretty straightforward: strengthen the weak points, but a bursa is just a sack of fluid. How do you work out fluid?! Maybe Navier or Stokes know, but I don’t. So what is there to do except wait? If you’re following the latest trends, you’ve sworn off anti-inflammatories and icing, but for this issue, icing is key! Now, I’ll admit this is purely anecdotal, but for me icing was an immediate and long lasting fix. The best way I’ve found to ice for this is to use an ice cube. It makes it much easier to pinpoint just the bursa. I’ll usually wrap the back half in a paper towel so I don’t freeze my fingers off and to keep the dripping to a minimum. You’ll want to feel around to find the subacromial space, then just dig that ice cube right in for a few minutes. After that, just try not to aggravate it the rest of the day. By the next day my shoulder is typically completely fine. So if you’ve ruled out a rotator cuff issue, try this little tip and hopefully you’ll get back to crushing in no time!

Mad Rock Review

I swear my next post will be more relevant to training/injuries, but as I just joined the Mad Rock family, I figured I’d do a little review. First, obviously I’m biased, but I’m not writing this review because I feel obligated to, nor did I just randomly choose to join Mad Rock. It’s because I LOVE their shoes!

I’ve pretty much never been satisfied with any climbing shoes I’ve worn, so instead of resoling, I’d typically buy a different shoe. In doing so I’ve sampled most of the big name shoe models

From bottom right to top left: literally every pair I’ve worn during my first 7 years of climbing (does this mean I’m a hoarder?).

Continuing on from the picture above, I’ve also worn 5.10 Arrowheads, 5.10 Hornets, 5.10 Black Teams, in that order. After all those I’ve finally found a shoe that I’m completely happy with: The Mad Rock Shark 2.0. For this review, I’ll mostly be focusing on the Sharks, comparing them to the previous shoe I was wearing the 5.10 Teams, and because I just got them recently, I’m going to throw in the Mad Rock Redlines.

5.10 Team, Mad Rock Redline, Mad Rock Shark 2.0
5.10 Team, Mad Rock Redline, Mad Rock Shark 2.0

I’m a boulderer so obviously I’m always going to look for an aggressive shoe. All three have an aggressive toe.

Toe Profile
Toe Profile

The Sharks’ toe doesn’t look as aggressive as the Teams’, but the Arch Flex causes  the shoe to really suck into your foot creating a more comfortable yet just as high performing shoe. And the 3D concave sole provides exceptional edging. One thing that really impressed me with the Sharks is their sensitivity. While wearing 5.10, I always gravitated to their Mystique rubber because I liked the sensitivity of soft rubber. Although the Sharks aren’t quite as soft as Mystique, they’re right up there.

Folding soft Mystique rubber
Folding the Teams
Folding the Shark
Folding the Shark

The large rubber toe cover always makes any toe hook feel bomber. The 3D molded full cup heel includes a full strip of rubber running down it. This ridge really locks in side-on heel hooks. The Sharks really are my perfect all around shoe; they edge, toe, hook, and even smear with ease. The Redlines are talons, making them my go-to for steep, steep overhang where I need to really dig down to create body tension.

The Sharks are the only shoes that have EVER fit my heel. They truly fit like a glove. You can see how terribly the Teams fit my heel. Compare the first picture to the second, where I’m pushing in the massive deadspace (this space really encompasses the whole heel). I’ve heard 5.10 did this intentionally so the heel would smush and create more surface area, but for me it just feels insecure.



And that's the bottom of my heal...
And that’s the bottom of my heal…

The Teams are pretty extreme, but that’s about how every pair of shoes I’ve worn have felt. Now let’s look at the Sharks.



Nothin’. Where are all the ghosts going to go, ’cause there’s no dead space here! (Sorry for that). The Redlines’ heel fits me equally as well, plus they get a gold star for somehow being the most aggressive and yet plush feeling shoes I’ve worn.

Redline interior
Redline interior

They’re fully lined and that elastic strap holds down the tongue nice and snug. They feel like tight socks. Well until you walk in them then you remember how down turned they are…

I know a lot of people tend to overlook Mad Rock, but I encourage you all to take a second look!