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Fingerboard training with Katie Varian

If someone told you all you had to do was 4 hours of something a week and after 6 months you’d go up a whole grade if not more, would you do it?

I first started fingerboarding around 5 years ago when I was given a Beastmaker 1000 to review. I had no idea what to do with it and assumed it would be pretty easy to do. How wrong I was. After misreading my session plan and making it last 2.5 hours instead of 1.5, I was well and truly knackered (for want of a better word). I did however get that feeling you get when you’ve given something a really good workout. So I was hooked. I trailed off for a while, then got psyched again and carried on this routine for a long time, seeing gains but not as many as if I’d just cracked on and stuck with it.

Katie fitting in a session while her daughter is asleep!

Things changed after giving birth to my daughter. Fingerboarding became a lifesaver. Obviously I didn’t get straight back on it - everything is so elastic for a good while after - but when the time came it was a great way mentally and physically for me to get my strength back: mentally because it gave me a goal and showed my progression, I used the Beastmaker App and worked my way through the grades until I was back to where I used to be; and physically, well because it got my finger strength back in a safe way. As a handy bonus it’s also fantastic for your core - keeping your body in a solid position when hanging is great for stability, and seeing my body sway less and less as time went on was a great boost in confidence.

Yes, fingerboarding can seem boring, hanging there by yourself for a good hour plus...but when you get into it it really isn’t. And when you see rewards, well that’s when you know it isn’t!

When you first start fingerboarding the gains aren't instantaneous - your body needs time to make adaptations to the new regime! On average, you will see results after around 6-8 weeks. Then it just gets logical after that; keep it up and you see more gains, don’t do anymore and you should stay where you are, with a possible tail off if you don’t use it. Start making your session harder and you should see even more gains. It’s that simple. Or is it?

Well, yes, it can be if you’re dedicated and stick to it, or if you have no other option e.g broken ankle. But for most it will be like a line chart of your bank account, very up and down with stints of nothing. So how can you make yourself stick with it? Isn’t it enough that you know it works? Sadly not always - some of us can be pretty lazy with it (and yes I am including myself!)

Put you board somewhere accessible and you will use it more.

You can start with the obvious things like hanging your board somewhere sociable, not in a coat cupboard at the back of your house.

Put it somewhere you walk under a lot, at some point you will feel guilty enough to get on it! Make a plan for yourself, nothing crazy, not 5 sessions a week. Just give yourself a few to do, and plan when you can fit them in. Personally I try to do a session when the little one has her daytime nap, but if she decides ‘there’s no sleeping today’ I’ll wait for her dad to come home and try to do one then. It’s about making the training accessible to you and telling yourself it’s the best use of the hour spare you have.

Most people take up fingerboarding more seriously when they damage something else - most popularly the ankle - and this is no bad thing. In fact it’s the best thing for that situation; bearing in mind you probably hurt yourself because you were trying your hardest on something and were just about to make a breakthrough in your climbing (sound familiar?). So you're feeling psyched and this is your opportunity to strengthen those fingers! No distractions of climbing outside or in, you have no choice - this is when most people make the most gains.

Shauna makes gains on the fingerboard while recovering from a broken leg

But why do we have to wait until there is no other option? We’ve seen people like Shauna Coxsey get great gains from training on the fingerboard after breaking her leg, so we know it works!

The answer is we don’t have to wait - make it a part of what you do. It doesn’t have to encroach on your climbing sessions. It can be that thing you do when you can’t get out or to the wall, and bear in mind the fact that if you dedicate a good amount of time to it at the start, you can use it less regularly afterwards as a booster, or if you have a project or goal you’re keen to train for.

This brings me to the most important thing, safety and proper use. A fingerboard is for strengthening your fingers in an even controlled manner. Assume your fingers aren’t strong enough (otherwise you’d be able to do pinky monos from the start no problem), so this means there’s a chance of injury if you do it wrong or too hastily.

There is no point training religiously on your fingerboard if your form on a hang is wrong; all you are doing is putting undue strain on your fingers and definitely not getting the most from them. So good form is a must. Make sure you are putting equal weight on both arms and don’t overdo it. If you can’t do a hang properly, make it easier (use a box or chair or bigger rung). Any hint of pain or discomfort, come straight off - there are no second chances when it comes to your fingers...well there are but they’re about 6 months away!

If you have questions about using a fingerboard either ask a coach at your local wall or check out: Beastmaker, WCS16 coach Eva Lopez's site or Dave McLeod's blog.

Katie will be running a workshop on fingerboarding as one of our specialist options at this year's Women's Climbing Symposium (WCS16). A choice of ten workshops will be available to Full Ticket holders.


Owner of Eden Rock Climbing Centre in Carlisle and a new mother, Katie Varian has been climbing since 2001 in all areas of the sport, concentrating on bouldering for the most part. She boulders all over the UK, and can often be found on a hard sandstone test piece in her home county

of Northumberland. In 2014 she became an ambassador for Beta climbing, Tenaya and Snap.

She started coaching in 2010 and is one of a handful of coaches nationwide to hold the Development Coach Award. As one of the head coaches at Eden Rock she is heavily involved with the day-to-day development of their Youth Team, individual coaching and training workshops.

Katie has been part of the route setting team at Eden Rock since 2012. This has given her an understanding of the different demands problems can put on women; where they excel and where it is easy to come unstuck.


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