How Can I Improve My Finger Strength?

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This common refrain can be heard at all ability levels in the climbing community, but it’s not really the question that should be asked. As any climber will be happy to tell you, the reason they fall off is typically that their fingers no longer have enough strength to maintain a position on the wall. And although finger strength and endurance are the easiest culprit to point a finger (pun intended) at, they are not necessarily the proximate cause of failure.

Why? Because climbing is not purely a strength sport. Imagine this: You don’t know how to swim so you take yourself to the pool to learn. At your first lesson you get in waist deep water and your instructor tells you to swim across the pool which you dutifully attempt to do. At the other side your shoulders burn from the effort yet for all your work you only made it a few yards. Is the problem that your shoulders aren’t strong enough? Clearly they’re tired. It’d be easy to place the blame on those overworked muscles, but are they really the underlying reason for your (lack of) performance?

Of course not. Any six year old with a decent stroke will out swim you and do so with seemingly no effort. Your problem is not with your aching shoulders but with your movement technique, called a stroke in swimming. The inefficiency of your stroke is what causes your shoulders to tire. Now you can bet that Michael Phelps’ shoulders are well developed and that they tire during a workout or race, but underlying Mr. Phelps prowess is a super efficient stroke that allows every bit effort to be translated into forward motion.

So what’s the real question climbers, and especially new climbers, should be asking? It’s not how can I increase my finger strength but rather how can I improve my movement skills??!! And that, my friends, is the basic premise behind our philosophy of climbing performance improvement. Work on movement first and even at the upper levels of our sport where strength training has its place, movement efficiency is paramount to climbing to your potential.

Of course, improving your movements skills is easier said than done primarily because there are so few places in which it’s taught or, if it is offered, taught properly. Climbers typically learn movement by emulating others, a sometimes dubious and counterproductive activity depending on who and what is being emulated. Emulation is usually what’s available, but someone else’s habits may not work productively for you.

So, how would you go about learning effective and efficient climbing movement skills? Skilled instructors are one method if available or they can be learned on your own by way of text, photos, and video which, of course, is what we hoped to accomplish by writing The Self Coached Climber. We’ll be discussing some of these skills in upcoming installments so stay tuned. For now, change your mindset from “My fingers are weak” to “My movement needs improvement.”

One Response to “How Can I Improve My Finger Strength?”

  1. Natividad DiversNo Gravatar says:

    I have been searching for a blog like this. Thank you all so much it has been super helpful.

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