By Christy Mader BSc. RMT and avid climber.
Here is the second part of my finger rehab blog. If you missed the first part, it’s here. Once you have gotten over the acute part of your finger tweak and have started climbing at a rate that doesn’t make you more sore the next day, you are ready to up the ante and load the tissues in your finger a bit more. When doing exercises for an injury, you want to feel the injured part being loaded, which might result in feeling a dull ache or tension during the exercise or even the same day of training. If you have that increased pain the next day, you did too much and need to dial in the right amount of load. The three exercises in this blog are also helpful things to do in general for forearm and finger health.
The first two exercises in the video below are great for lengthening those tight finger and forearm flexors (only doing the eccentric phase aka lowering the weight) is key for this exercise and great for loading tendons without shortening your forearm flexors) and strengthening the forearm extensors which are usually weaker than the flexors. I generally do 3 sets of 10, but if they feel too easy you could do a few more or if they feel hard, you can do a feel less. Check them out!
The next exercise I highly recommend is hangboarding. At first I was a bit leary myself about using the hangboard as a rehab tool, but in the end, I realized that the demands I place on my fingers while doing isometric hanging is significantly less than when I am doing dynamic moves to smaller holds. I have also been climbing for awhile (I started climbing when Green Day became popular the second time), so you might want to ease into hangboarding if you are new. The key is to make sure your fingers are tracking properly while hanging. Also, if you find that you are someone who hurts your fingers regularly -pulley or tendon problems- you may also want to pay attention to what your shoulders are doing. If you aren’t able to activate your shoulder stabilizers, it can load your fingers more. You can see bad and good finger tracking and what happens to your fingers and hand when you lose your shoulder stability, here.
If you are coming back from an injury, you might not be able to hang with your full body weight on an edge. There are ways to make yourself lighter: by using a pulley system or bands. As you load the tendons and ligaments, they will get stronger. If you can already hang -pain free- with body weight on a finger pad edge (around 18-20 mm), then you can start to add a bit of weight. Eva Lopez did her PhD on strength training for fingers. She delves into max weight and minimum edge training and what order is more effective for getting stronger. Unless you are climbing 12+ or harder, I wouldn’t worry too much about minimum edge training. Her abstract is here.
She recommends hanging for ten seconds, with three minutes of rest in between, five times. Fifty seconds of trying hard, that’s it! The key to hang boarding successfully is to go up in weight very slowly and make sure that you are warm and your body is ready to work. And just a little reminder from my last blog, if your finger is more sore the next day, you overdid it! If that happens, back off the weight and rest a bit before trying again. Dave MacCleod has a great youtube video about warming up and how to hang on the hangboard, including body position and different hand positions. Dave also talks about work to rest ratios, and he likes ten seconds of work to one minute of rest -instead of three minutes. I would recommend more rest in the beginning, especially if you are new to hangboarding. If you are more experienced climber, it would be worth trying different rest times to see what is best for you to produce your maximal effort. Check out his video here!
Knowing how to warm up for climbing is very helpful in avoiding finger injuries in the first place. Dave has lots of wisdom to add about warming up. I can speak from experience, when all my climbing muscles aren’t warm, my fingers don’t track as well. It took me ten minutes of warming up before I could get my right hand to track properly while filming the finger tracking video above. So don’t skip the warm up before climbing! Hopefully, this post will help get you strong enough to return to climbing pain free and get you sending your projects!