by Maya Gans /
Seeking climbing in winter, I made the pilgrimage to Joshua Tree National Park where I fell in love with the iconic classic line, ‘Leave it to Beaver’. In search for beta, I found myself watching John Bachar free solo it in a 1980 TV special “That’s Incredible!” However, even more interesting than the footage of the climb, there was a snippet of his training which included crimping varying sizes of wood nailed into the wall and swinging from one to the other like a child on monkey bars. The climbing historian in me then decided to trace the origins of the now ubiquitous piece of training equipment: The Hangboard (Fingerboard). In John Bachar’s ‘Training for Stone,’–a manual written to go with the 1980s Chouinard Equipment ‘Bachar Ladder,’–he lays out a training regimen that compliments weight and cardiovascular training with exercises to increase power, endurance, technique, and coordination. In the program, Bachar refers to “fingertip hangs” on “finger edges,” alluding to a possible first indication of the idea of the Hangboard. While Bachar himself cannot be credited with inventing this climbing specific method of training, these wooden blocks are the precursor to the hangboard.
John Bachar hanging from wood blocks, varying in edge size. Photo: Reinhard Karl
Hangboards are one of the earliest climbing-specific pieces of training equipment to be invented, but the inventor of the contraption is not widely known. A hangboard is a tool made up of either wood, polyurethane, or polyester resin, featuring incrementally smaller holds and different grip orientations in order to train finger (“contact”) strength. The basic exercise is to deadhang from the varying grips for certain timed increments, but many exercises and entire regiments have been developed.
Bachar was using the wooden boards pictured above as early as 1980, and in the mid 1980s, Jerry Moffat designed a crude board that is currently featured in Nuremberg, Germany’s Climbing Center. In an interview with Cafe Kraft, Moffat points to a campus board and jokes, “All of this was me. Without me, there was no climbing. There was no strength, there was no power. People could only do one pull up!” A home video made in Moffat’s cellar in 1998 features a conglomerate of wooden holds, a slightly more sophisticated training set up than seen in Bachar’s 1980 video. In the interview, Moffat places the equipment in perspective as there were no climbing gyms yet with which to train. Cold winters in Germany made cragging impossible, bringing Moffat and his peers to the gym. Moffat trained at the Campus Centre, which housed a ladder of finger edges and is thus how the ‘campus board’ got its name. Wolfgang Gullich is credited with designing this method of training, and rightfully so–he broke most of the grade barriers from 5.13d to 5.14d. With the campus board providing plyometric training, it’s safe to imagine the fingerboard quickly followed suit as it trains contact strength on increasingly smaller or angled holds.
Left: Wullfgang Gullich on the original campus board. Center: Jerry Moffat’s hangboard at the Climbing Centre in Nuremburg, Germany. [Photo: Mark Anderson.] Right: Rob Candeleria’s first hangboard [Photo: DMM].
In the same timeframe, Rob Candaleria drilled varying sized holes into a wooden board, crafting a hangboard of his own. In an interview with Deadpoint Magazine, Candaleria describes himself as a ‘gym rat’ and was even accused of cheating in the mid 1970s because he trained for climbing in the gym! The board was crafted in the mid 1980s from a cutting board too large for Candaleria’s kitchen, “I just got a drill bit… put some holds on it and pinches on the side as well… and could start training on a rainy day,” he explains.
Wooden boards seem to have been the first finger training material used, but once training for climbing became more common and boards began to be mass produced, there was a shift to using polyurethane or polycarbonate resins. As Brooke Sandahl, the current VP of Metolius, explains, Smith Rock pioneers and crushers Chris Grover and Alan Watts traveled to Europe in the mid-1980s, where they encountered the first resin hangboard (made by Entre Prises). Grover and Watts headed back to the US thinking, “We need to make one of these!” The ability to train in winter and the foresight of training increasing finger power and strength made the production of an American hangboard necessary for climbers to remain competitive and innovative. Sandahl carved his first hangboard molds from wax, a now antiquated process as boards and holds are now shaped from foam. By the Simulator’s second iteration it was gaining popularity by word of mouth (the climbing community was so small advertisement wasn’t needed yet!), beginning its journey as the first resin mass produced hangboard in America. Metolius’s Simulator has now seen 7 generations of reforms and iterations. Transformations included tinkering with the texture and angles to make the holds both more comfortable and ergonomic. The biggest transformation the board underwent was in the early 1990s, when Metolius became the first climbing company to acquire a CNC machine to create molds which would produce perfectly replicated boards. Today’s Simulator 3D, a board that is thicker at the top than the middle and bottom, ensures an ergonomic hang on various holds. Currently, Jim Karn designs the boards on the computer, but he still molds some holds by hand.
Left: Steven Glowacz uses a combination of inset wooden holds and Metolius’s Simulator (1988) to hangboard aside his van in Smith Rock, OR. [Photo: Uli Wiesmeier for Wild Country Catalog.] Right: Another early board hand shaped by the training guru, Tony Yaniro’s PowerProducts, produced in the 1990s under Trango (now produced by Atomik).
Metolius still produces this modified version of the Simulator along with a cast of other boards worth checking out for your specific training needs. Today, hangboards are manufactured in a multitude of shapes and sizes with holds varying in orientation, size, and depth. There are many great fingerboards out there being produced by many brands, but it seemed relevant to showcase the history and thought behind the two most commonly used boards in Momentum, the Beastmaker 2000, and the Trango Rock Prodigy Training Center.
Ten years ago in Sheffield, UK, Dan Varian and Ned Feehaly were frustrated with the grips on hangboards as (1) they didn’t offer enough difficulty, leading them to either add weight or time to their hangs, and (2) the resin of boards left their fingers rough and blistered. The result was a wooden board, the friendliest material to the skin, with radiused holds (to avoid finger injury). According to Dan, the board’s most unique feature is its distinct inset bottom row so fingers not engaged within the pocket aren’t impeded by the lower layer. Dan explained that prior production boards may have been tapered to try to minimize this effect, “but we used to get ‘knuckle violation’ training on other boards, especially when training the back two grips, so we eradicated [the issue] completely.” A main tenant of hangboard training is using holds that are ‘bad’, increasing your ability to remain in contact with these holds. With that mentality, Dan created the board with holds he himself initially had trouble hanging on to. The design was further refined with Ned at a Sheffield University, and eventually they recruited friends to create a CNC machine to produce the boards on a larger scale as it gained popularity. In 2007, the first Beastmaker was produced and has now seen two successors, the Beastmaker 1000 and 2000.
Left: The 2007 Original Beastmaker. Right: Their most recent board, The Beastmaker 2000.[All photos from www.beastmaker.com]
The Trango Rock Prodigy Training Center (RPTC) was first manufactured in 2013 and designed by brothers Mike and Mark Anderson after writing The Rock Climber’s Training Manual (2014). Not only are the Anderson brothers crushers, but they approach training with an incredibly calculated, scientific zeal and seek objective ways to quantify their progress. After writing the book, Adam Sanders at Trango approached the Anderson brothers to design a hangboard–a fantasy Mark’s had since he’s worked with fingerboards for over a decade without ever being satisfied. What sets the RPTC apart from its predecessors is its ergonomics: it is the first (and only) hangboard that features two mirrored pieces which can be placed at varying width and angle, so no matter the holds being used the shoulders can remain in line. The holds are incrementally more difficult, and the pinches are set at an angle which allows them to be more wrist friendly than other boards. The Rock Prodigy went through many iterations in both the hold sizes and shape as well as textures and it was finally settled that the most comfortable and economical for production would be to cast the board in a dual textured resin. The Rock Prodigy now has a successor, The Forge, which is a more compact version of the RPTC with some modifications. Mark explains the Forge as a compliment to the RPTC rather than a superior model, as its hold sizes fit in between the RPTC’s to insure incremental progress moving from one board to the other.
Left: The first sketch of the Rock Prodigy Training Center. Middle: A Computer Aided Design model was made to ensure holds are ergonomic yet challenging Right: The final product, the RPTC. [All photos from www.rockclimberstrainingmanual.com]
These two boards are two modern takes on a classic innovation that take training in seemingly opposite directions. As the sport of climbing evolves, there is also the evolution of niche training, with people becoming experts at specific styles of climbing. From the hardest trad route which combines delicate movement with a headspace to place protection, to the gymnastic strength of competition climbers (and soon to be the Olympics), there are different hangboards to fit these different niches. The RPTC and The Forge include almost every hold and hand position, providing a tangible way to regiment and track progress and increase finger strength, while The Beastmaker provides holds for the advanced climber looking to push themselves to the limits of the sport. Depending on your aspirations within climbing there are now options for different hangboards to assist in your climbing goals. There are many hangboards on the market and alongside them many training regiments with which to improve contact strength. In fact, if you’re looking to incorporate hangboarding into your training routine but aren’t sure where to begin, Momentum has great personal coaching deals from the experts who can help to tailor the perfect regimen for you to see gains. Who knows: without the hangboard climbing may have never seen the visionary ascents it has or will have in the future!
Mo’ Training: “How to Hangboard”: https://vimeo.com/174560436
EpicTV: Hangboard Training for Softies: http://www.epictv.com/media/podcast/hangboard-session-for-softies–a-beginner-oriented-hangboard-drill/605682
Metolius Simulator Training Guide: http://www.metoliusclimbing.com/training_giude_10_min.html
Mark and Mike Anderson’s Blog: https://rockclimberstrainingmanual.com
1988 Metolius Catalog: http://www.metoliusclimbing.com/pdf/1988-Metolius-catalog.pdf
Yaniro Power Board: https://www.atomikclimbingholds.com/yaniro-power-hang-board-2
John Bachar’s Training Journal: http://www.garagegymtraining.com/2011/04/john-bachar-training-journal.html