5 Best Climbing Training Tools: Hangboards, Rock Rings and More

The strongest climbers possess nothing short of superhuman strength, and all their muscle comes with liberal use of hyper-specialized training tools and techniques.

Early climbing training equipment was very rudimentary: hunks of stone glued to cinderblock walls, nuts or other hardware bolted to a wooden board.

But over the past few decades, climbing standards have skyrocketed, forcing climbers to get smarter and more sophisticated in their regimes.

Here are the 5 best climbing tools for extreme climbing training:

Hangboards

Climbing is primarily about being strong. Sure, technique is important — you’ve got to be coordinated, learn footwork and put in years of practice to climb hard — but nothing beats steely muscles.

The shoulders, biceps and back do a lot of work. The fingers are also essential, as nothing is so crucial as being able to hang on. If you can’t grip tiny edges, or palm rounded slopers, none of the others muscles come into play.

That’s why climbers have developed the hangboard, a super-specialized training device for the fingers. Like climbing holds on gym walls, these boards are made of urethane.

Hangboards consist of several different grips designed to mimic holds of various sizes from micro fingertip edges to rounded slopers.

Climbers hang on hangboards for short periods of time, from a few seconds to about 10 and slowly add weight by attaching metal plates to a harness.

Campus Boards

Legendary climber Wolfgang Gullich invented the campus board to simulate a climb–at the time the world’s hardest–he wanted to do.

The climb required that he jump between single-finger holds called “monos,” so he created a kind of ladder consisting of wooden slats fixed to a board mounted at a slightly overhanging angle.

Starting at the bottom rung, he would climb the ladder with his fingertips only. To simulate more dynamic movements, he would spring to distant rungs, skipping one or more at a time, and then return to the lower rung. Campus boards have evolved little from Gullich’s original design in the late 1980s.

Today, though, it’s common to see campus boards with various sizes of rungs, from about a quarter inch to an inch for straight rungs, as well as pieces of plastic pipe coated in skateboard grip-tape to create friction.

Every ultra-strong climber, and many a fit weekend warrior, have used a campus board in training.

Rock Rings

These free-hanging rings are an adaptation of traditional gymnastic rings. It’s often said that climbing has a lot in common with gymnastics. Indeed, at least one bouldering pioneer, John Gill, was a former gymnast.

So why shouldn’t climbers train like their Olympian counterparts? Climbers use rock rings like the ones in his video from rockclimber’s life to build shoulder strength and perform core-tension exercises. The rings offer various sizes of holds, just like rock climbs, so climbers can build finger strength for small grips.

No climbing gym is complete without rock rings.

4X4

When you see a boulderer racing from one side of the climbing gym to the other, chances are he’s doing 4×4’s: a kind of interval workout where four problems are done in sets of four, in very quick succession.

Aside from angering fellow gym-goers trying to climb without being run over, 4X4s build endurance of the kind needed for short, powerful sport climbs and boulder problems.

To get the most benefit, you should choose four “problems” that are easy enough to do in rapid succession. The problems can be of the same difficulty, or decreasing difficulty, as with a typical pyramid approach used for pull-ups or other exercises.

Crack Simulator

For climbers who aspire to climb the hardest cracks, like those found in Yosemite and Joshua Tree, there is no substitute for the crack simulator. This masochistic machine is made of parallel beams.

By adjusting the width between them, climbers can simulate cracks of different sizes.

Crack simulators are more rare than the other climbing tools described here, mostly because they are tricky to build, but also because few climbers are so good at climbing steep and difficult cracks that they require a simulator to hone their abilities to the utmost precision.

Yet for elite crack climbers, particularly those who live in rainy and/or crack-less places (like these British crack climbing experts), it’s almost a mandatory item.

Think any other climbing training tools or exercises deserve to be on this list? Let us know in the comments below.

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