# Hangboard Resistance Data Analysis

As promised, here is some hangboard resistance data from my recently concluded Strength Phase.  This was my first full phase using the Rock Prodigy Training Center.  I thought it would take a while to get the loads dialed in correctly but I was able to get pretty close to the right resistance during the first workout.

I trained the following grips, in the order listed below, performing 3 sets of reps (7 reps for the first set of each grip, then 6 reps, then 5), except where noted.

The below chart shows the resistance added to body weight during the final set of each grip (the Large VDER is omitted since this is a warmup grip and the resistance rarely changes).

This chart shows the resistance added (to body weight) for the third set of each grip, for each workout.

If I complete every rep of all 3 sets for a given grip, I add 5 lbs (to each set) during the next workout.  For example, during the first workout, MR 2-finger resistance was:

-10 lb. for the 1st set,
0 for the 2nd set and
+10 for the 3rd set.

During the first workout, I completed all reps of each set of that grip, so for the next workout the goal resistance was:

-5 lb for the 1st set,
+5 lb for the 2nd set and
+15 for the 3rd set.

So you can infer from the above chart that if the 3rd-set-resistance increased between workouts n and n+1, then I succeeded in completing the prescribed sets (at the prescribed resistance) during workout n.  If the 3rd-set-resistance did not increase, you can infer that I failed to complete all reps during workout n.  I almost always complete the first two sets of each grip, so one can further infer that if I failed to progress, I failed on the third set.

Some interesting “conclusions” can be drawn from this data.

• You can see where I started to plateau, between the 6th and 7th workout.  After the 7th workout I struggled to make progress between workouts on most grips.  I’ve experimented with trying to burst through this plateau by performing more and more workouts, but it never seems to work.  Usually by the 10th workout or so I won’t see any more improvement (I’ve done as many as 12 workouts in a phase)
• The earlier grips in the workout progressed much more than the later grips.  The most improvement over the course of the phase was seen in the Mono, Thin Crimp, and MR 2 Finger (the first 3 grips completed).  The least improvement was seen in the Pinch, IM 2 Finger and Small VDER (the last 3 grips).  This is typical in my experience, and this is why I suggest working the most “important” grips early in your hangboard workouts.  Here is another way to look at this phenomenon:

This chart shows the total improvement in Third-Set-Resistance over the course of my Strength Phase. The grips are shown in the order performed. As you can see, for the most part the grips performed early in the workout improved the most, and the grips performed at the end improved the least.

• The Pinch grip was a disaster!  After the second workout I flatlined, then after the 6th workout I actually got worse! This is somewhat exaggerated because after the 6th workout (and several straight workouts of failing on the third set), I purposely reduced the resistance in the hopes of jump starting this grip.  That worked once (workout 7), but then I plateaued at a lower level.  Part of this is because this is the last grip of the workout.  However, you might expect that I would at least get better at managing fatigue, and thus would show some improvement.  You certainly would not expect that I would regress.  So what is going on here?  Each workout is a little bit harder (overall) than the preceding workout.  This is because initially the loads applied are conservative, so early in the Strength Phase many sets are completed with relative ease, leaving more energy for the later grips in the workout.  Later in the Phase, the loads applied are much closer to my limit, and I really have to scratch and claw to complete each set of every grip.  Thus I’m much more tired when I arrive at the last few grips of a given workout.  The amplitude of this effect increases each workout within a phase.  So while the loads applied in this example are more or less constant, the apparent difficulty of completing three sets at those loads is increasing each workout.  A question worth asking is, does training this grip improve my pinch strength, or would I be better off ending my workout after 5 grips?  I don’t know the answer to that question, but I think it does make me stronger (or at least better at managing fatigue), even though the accumulating fatigue prevents me from capturing that improvement “on paper”.

Moving on, the first chart I posted illustrates only the load applied during the third set of each grip.  There are many other ways to slice the data.  During each set, I strive to perform a certain number of 7-second dead hang repetitions (7 for the first set, 6 for the second set, 5 for the third set).  Often I reach the end of the third set, having completed each rep without failing.  In these situations I usually try to perform a 6th rep at the end of the third set (in rare instances I will add extra reps to the second set, but only if it feels really easy).  On the other hand, often I fail to complete all of the prescribed reps.  For example, I might complete the first 4 reps of the third set of a given grip, but my fingers fail 5 seconds in to the 5th rep.  Capturing these variations and plotting them provides slightly more fidelity into apparent plateaus:

This chart shows the total “Time Under Tension” (TUT) for the 2nd and 3rd sets of the Pinch grip for workouts 2-6 (I omitted the 1st set TUT because it was a constant 49 seconds for each workout). The load applied (-5 lbs for the 2nd set, +5 lbs for the 3rd set) was constant for these five workouts.

The TUT for each workout in the above chart “should be” 42 seconds for the 2nd set (6 reps times 7 seconds per rep) and 35 seconds for the third set.  As you can see, there was a good deal of variation between workouts despite a constant applied load.  The problem with looking at the data in this manner is that it only works when the load applied is constant.  Another option is to look at the “Volume” of a given set.  Qualitatively, Volume = Intensity x Duration.  However, coming up with a practical quantitative Volume formula can be challenging.

The most simplistic method is to simply multiple the hang duration (TUT) for a given set by the load applied.  However, the load applied is only a fraction of the load on your fingers.  It makes sense to add body weight into the formula (so Volume = (Body Weight + Load Applied) x Duration.  The below chart shows this data for the 3rd sets of the IM 2 Finger grip.

This chart shows Volume, defined as Volume = (Body Weight + Load Applied) x Duration, for the 3rd set of the IM 2 Finger grip for the entire Strength Phase.

The problem with the above metric is that it “values” duration much more than load.  It’s easy to achieve a high Volume figure by using lower loads and performing extra reps.  For example, during the first 5 workouts of this phase, I managed to complete all 5 reps of each 3rd set, and then at least attempted a 6th rep.  During the last five workouts I only completed the 5th rep once and never attempted a 6th rep.  As a result, the “Volume” on the left side of the chart (the first five workouts) is greater than the Volume on the right half.  This is not what we want to strive for as athletes.  We want to strive for higher loads, more so than extra reps, so it would be nice to use a Volume formula that “rewards” higher loads.  Another option is to consider the Volume of the entire grip, not just the Volume of the 3rd set.  This method gives you “credit” for the extra load used later in the phase in the first two sets of each grip.

This chart shows the sum of the Volume for each set of the IM 2 Finger grip. The formula for this chart is Total Grip Volume = [(Body Weight + Set 1 Load Applied) x Set 1 Duration] + [(Body Weight + Set 2 Load Applied) x Set 2 Duration] + [(Body Weight + Set 2 Load Applied) x Set 2 Duration].

The Total Grip Volume method of calculation is an improvement.  The Volume for workouts 7-10 is greater than that of workouts 1-3, but it still implies that my workout 5 performance of 5 reps of 7 seconds and 1 rep of 6 seconds at +30 lbs. is “superior” to my workout 10 performance of 4 reps of 7 seconds and 1 rep of 4 seconds at +40 lbs.  Maybe it is, but I can tell you the latter seems much more difficult to do, and it would be nice if the “Volume” calculation captured that.  So there is room for an improved Volume formula.

Finally, for the “fun” of it, below is the Total Workout Volume (the sum of the above volume calculation for each grip):

This chart shows Total Workout Volume = [((BW + S1AL) x S1D) + ((BW + S2AL) x S2D) + ((BW + S3AL) x S3D)]Grip 1 + [((BW + S1AL) x S1D) + ((BW + S2AL) x S2D) + ((BW + S3AL) x S3D)]Grip 2 + … + [((BW + S1AL) x S1D) + ((BW + S2AL) x S2D) + ((BW + S3AL) x S3D)]Grip n.

At least it seems the Volume is more or less increasing each workout, and this shows some indication of a plateau appearing around the 9th workout.

I know I’m not the only spreadsheet nerd out there, so if you have a novel way of analyzing your training data, please share in a comment below!

## 24 thoughts on “Hangboard Resistance Data Analysis”

1. Rui says:

Thanks for sharing your data and insights. I have two quick questions, for the pinch grip do you keep finger tips in the flat or do they hang over the upper edge? After my fourth session I had to keep the tips on the edge in order to keep increasing weight (so far I am on three more sessions with incremental weight, but I feel another plateau coming). Also, which grip do you use for shallow three-finger pocket is it the IM three slot on the bottom outer?

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• Rui,

I avoid letting my fingertips touch the flat surface. I wanted to put some barrier there to prevent that, but it would have made the board very difficult to release from the mold during manufacturing. It definitely makes the grip easier. Ergonomically it should be fine to “cheat” onto the flat surface if you prefer to use it that way.

I don;t train a 3-finger pocket anymore. However, I intended the outer pocket to be fore IMR, and the inner pocket to be for MRP (the inside part of each Edge Rail can also be used for MRP). So depending on the 3-finger combination you are training, I would select one of those.
Mark

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2. Chris says:

Hey, awesome article and blog!
I too have noticed that the first trained grip gets the best gains.
i have a question regarding incrementing weights on a cycle to cycle and annual time frame. As an example, your thin crimp went from -10 lbs to +25 lbs over 10 sessions in a single cycle. You mention using about 3 cycles per year. The goal is to get that last session max higher than in the previous cycle. So at what weight would you hope to start the next cycle and what might a total net gain for a year look like? I’d imagine that in that example of the thin crimp, 15 lbs for the year would be decent?
When you take 1.5-2 months off the hangboarding, you tend to lose that max hang strength to some extent. Do you ever consider doing ‘maintenance’ weekly/biweekly short sessions to maintain the gains?

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• Chris,

Thanks for the compliments! These are great questions, and would be a good subject for a Hangboard FAQ, but I’ll try to give you a quick answer. I will determine the starting resistance for a season based on how the previous season started. For example, let’s say last season I started at +0, but then I easily completed every set and stepped up by 10 lbs between the first and second workout. If +10 feels right for the second workout, then it would seem I should have used +5 for the first workout. So at the start of the next season, I will use at least +5. If I feel like things went well on that grip in the last season (I generally progressed through out the season, didn’t plateau early or anything) I’ll be aggressive, and start at +10, or maybe +15 (that would be rare). Generally I like to start out conservatively. Its really easy to step up by 10 lbs between workouts, or even increase the resistance within a workout if you undershoot the resistance. Overdoing it can be demoralizing, reduces the effectiveness of the workout (because you can’t complete sets) and can cause injury in the worst case. Weather is another factor. I know I can do more resistance in the winter than in the summer, because its colder when I’m hangboarding.

The second question is more complicated. I think it really depends on how “well-trained” you are. I’ve been hangboarding forever, so if I improve 10lbs on a grip in a year, I feel like it was a good year. A beginner could probably improve much more than that in a year. This below chart shows some of my data. I improved about 10 lbs per grip over the course of a year (note you want to compare like seasons, winter-to winter, for example, since temperature is a big factor).

As for your last question, I agree with your premise. I have considered doing maintenance sessions, but I choose not to. I think if you are bouldering correctly, you can maintain (and in fact improve) your practical finger strength for several weeks. Your strength really starts to wane when you start climbing outside exclusively and working routes that aren’t especially powerful. At that point you don’t need max strength anymore (you need fitness), assuming you’ve ordered your objectives logically (if you continue to climb powerful routes, your strength will not diminish nearly as much). To maintain my practical finger strength, I begin every indoor session during my PE/Performance Phases with an hour or so of Limit Bouldering (then I do my interval workout, if I intend to do one). I think energy spent on strength maintenance via hangboarding would be better used gaining fitness or recovering for performance opportunities. I really like the hangboard, but its a specialized tool that neglects important aspects of ability like contact strength and movement training. If I can get close to the same thing with an activity that trains movement and power, I will favor that during performance phases.

Either way, you cannot maintain peak fitness of any kind indefinitely. Eventually you will burnout or hurt yourself. Better to manipulate your fitness to suit your needs than let the tail wag the dog.

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• Chris says:

Mark,
Thanks for the response, that makes good sense.
Here’s another question, that I suspect you’ve addressed somewhere in your articles but I didn’t see…
A different protocol for fingerboarding is to do 2-4 sets of only 1 rep, to failure or almost in 7-10 seconds, as opposed to 2-3 sets of 7-5 reps with 3 seconds between reps.
Do you prefer the higher volume way because it incorporates some power endurance, or do you just feel that it’s a better way to get strength gains?
Thanks for any info…

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• Chris,

I think a proper answer to that question will require a dedicated post, so I’ll add that to my topic list. We also address this in The Rock Climber’s Training Manual. The short answer is: I recommend a hangboard to train Strength. I recommend Limit Bouldering and campusing to train Power. A 1 rep set is (at best) a power exercise, not a strength exercise.
Mark

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• Chris says:

Cool. Looking forward to the book…

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3. Jim says:

Hi Mark,
I have a hangboard training question that is specific to me but the general idea should be helpful to lots of people. Some quick background, I’ve been climbing for 10+ years and have climbed a good number of 5.13 sport routes of lots of styles. However, I’m much weaker relative to other grips on open hand edges. So the training question is: Is it more beneficial to work larger holds (ie LVDER) with more added weight or smaller holds (SVDER) with less weight added? The same question could be asked for pockets (MR deep and shallow). Thanks for the advice!
Jim

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• Jim,

That is a great question that comes up so frequently I wrote a FAQ to answer it! Check it out here. If this doesn’t clarify things for you, please let me know,
Mark

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4. Aaron says:

Mark. What is the logic behind 10 lb increase between sets 1,2 and 3? I understand the reduced resistance for the first set, as in my experience, even after a warm-up I haven’t attained full recruitment. But for example, if you set your max resistance for your second set, since you’re less fatigued than for your third set, you might actually achieve higher resistance. Logically you may then be required to reduce resistance for the 3rd set in order to complete the reps (or in my experience I have kept the weight the same as the 2nd set and simply failed to complete the last seconds of the last reps for most holds). I’ll qualify this by admitting I’ve never tried increasing weight 10 lbs each set so have no experience on this ‘feels’.
Thx Aaron
PS. You’re blog is unreal good and looking fwd to the book

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• Aaron, First, thanks for the praise man, I really appreciate it.

Next, I think you’re fine doing it the way you are. I think training is much like religion, in that we all agree on 98% of the dogma, but we argue endlessly over the last 2%. I doubt it makes much difference whether the 2nd or 3rd set is the most difficult. That said, there are a few reasons we recommend building to the last set. The first is that that is how many successful strength programs are designed in other sports. I also think it really helps to build up to the highest resistance, even within the workout, especially on tweaky grips where each time I almost have to convince myself I’m capable of hanging the target weight. Last, it would tough for me to give 100% in the 2nd set knowing I still had save something for a 3rd set. Our structure ensures the last set is the hardest, so there’s when you get to that point you can give 100% without reservation because you don’t need to save yourself for anything (in my experience if you can’t complete the 2nd set, you won’t have a prayer on the 3rd set anyway).

FWIW, on my Mono sets, I increase by 10 lbs. between sets 1 and 2, but only increase 5 lbs between sets 2 and 3. I started doing this a few years ago because I felt like 10 lb increments between sets was too drastic an increase in terms of the percentage of total load, so I experimented with 5 lb increments. That worked ok, but then I found the first, pseudo-warmup set, was too hard. THe result is that the 2nd and 3rd sets are effectively the same difficulty. Some days I can do the 2nd set but not the 3rd, and some days its the other way around. Frankly I’d prefer if the 3rd set was consistently harder, but YMMV!
Mark

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• Frido says:

In the RPM book, you recommend no increase of resistance for the third set of the intermediate routine. Do you still recommend this and what is the logic behind it? Thanks!

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• Frido,

I believe the Intermediate Routine only includes 2 sets per grip. The Advanced Routine includes 3 sets per grip, but it also prescribes increasing the resistance for each successive set within a grip. So no, I don’t recommend maintaining the resistance between the 2nd and 3rd sets.

Mark

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5. Elvis K says:

I just read your book and started your hangboard routine, and was wondering, is there more of a benefit to increase the load +10lbs. between sets rather than +5lbs.? I started with doing +5lbs. increments and will have to adjust the loads to make it +10lbs for my next hangboard workout. Thanks for your time.

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• Elvis,

The benefit of finding the optimal increment is that it allows the difficulty to build as your muscles warm up. If the interval is too large, the early sets will be too easy and not provide enough challenge or warmup. If the increment is too small, the early sets are too hard and you fatigue too early to give a good effort on the last set. We arrived at the 10-lb increment through trial and error. We found it works well for us at providing the correct peceived difficult for each set within an exercise.

However, your mileage may vary, and I don’t use the 10-lb increment between every set either. For example, for my Mono exercise, I increase 10 lb between the first two sets, and 5 lb between the 2nd and 3rd sets. I recommend you experiment with different increments and stick with what works best for you.

Mark

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• Elvis says:

Mark,

Thank you for taking the time to respond. I went with 10 lbs increments today and got better results with the final set. The only one I could not complete was the Mono, and now I see why. Ill go with a 5 lbs increase on the 3rd set next time.

An off topic question, do you think it is really beneficial to use the narrow pinch?
I have been substituting it with PR 2F pockets instead. I feel like, where I climb I don’t encounter that postion very often. Was there a reason behind this? Thanks again.

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• You should use whichever grips are the most specific to the type of climbing you do, so if the PR 2F is more specific, go with that!
Mark

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6. SK says:

Hi Mark,

I recently purchased the RCTM and am trying to follow your program.
I had a question about the hangboard workout you described in chapter 6.

When you do multiple sets of the the same excercise, would you do the sets right after each other or would you do one set of each excercise before coming back to do the second set?

Thanks,
Sinan

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• Sinan,

Do the sets right after each other (with 3 minutes of rest between sets) before moving to the next exercise.

Mark

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7. Hey Mike and Mark,

I’ve been thinking about the issues with the Volume formula you’ve used above and I think I’ve come up with (at least a starting point) for a solution. The issue as you said above is that the volume formula’s used here reward duration more than weight or intensity. The issue here of course is that the rate of change for time is constant (time itself increases linearly) but the rate of change for weight is based off a percentage of your maximum ability and thus while the weight itself is actually increasing the RATE at which it increases is decreasing with respect to your maximum ability (We cannot indefinitely add 10 pounds as we can indefinitely add seconds). To compensate for this we need to create a formula which modifies the intensity values by a factor which has a linear or higher rate of change to compensate for the constant rate of change of increasing time. Additionally we need to take into account that the weight we are holding is going to be different for everyone, and thus any constant values will mess with the equation. Therefore the formula I’ve come up with uses the percentage of a person’s 1 rep max (the maximum weight they can hang for exactly 1 second) in order to calculate the intensity they are working out at and reward them appropriately. The formula is:

(((100*(Total Weight Hanging/1 Rep Max))^(2+(Total Weight Hanging/1 Rep Max)))*Seconds Hung)/10,000

Where the Total Weight Hanging is Bodyweight + Weight Added (or subtracted). I’ll explain the formula. As you can tell the Total Weight Hanging/1 Rep Max is simply the percentage of your 1 Rep Max weight you are hanging, and thus we can safely assume this number will never be greater than 1 (If it is your 1 Rep Max is clearly higher and you need to recalculate it). Unfortunately since that ratio is always less than 1 any attempt to raise it to a higher power will result in a smaller number than before. To fix this we multiply by 100 and now our ratio is greater than 1. The exponent here (2 + (Total Weight Hanging/1 Rep Max)) is used to ensure that worst case scenario (Total Weight Hanging is zero) we still have a quadratic function and thus a linear rate of change for our intensity, the closer we come to hanging our 1 rep max the more the rate of increase is raised approaching a quadratic rate of change (since the derivative of X^3 = 3X^2). So using this exponent we always have at least a linear rate of change for intensity, but no more than a quadratic rate of change for intensity, ensuring that intensity is always increasing faster than time (which has a constant rate of change). Finally, now that we have a solid value for intensity we simply multiply it by the seconds hung and divide that entire total by 10,000 (this is due to the relatively high numbers we have and we’d prefer for them to be a bit more readable).

If you plot this formula in excel you can see the volume graph. I used a 1% weight decrease for every second of hang time to come up with a nice hill shaped graph that peaks at 88% intensity and 13 seconds hung. (Again this graph assumes that for every second you hang your max intensity must decrease, if you were to hang say 95% for 13 seconds you’d get much higher values.)

There are of course a few caveats with this formula. For instance while it can be used to calculate a volume for every REP and add those volumes together, a better use is probably to calculate a volume for every set using the TUT. This formula however would not be ideal for calculating the volume of an entire workout using 12 minutes or something as the TUT as we have a decreasing appreciation for hang time in favor of intensity. The best way to calculate the volume for an entire workout would be to use this formula once for each set performed and then add the separate intensities together. Another issue with this formula is that it doesn’t much value intensities lower than around 85% of the 1RM. I actually don’t see this as a huge problem because hangboarding is supposed to cause hypertrophy and for this I think we want to be within a 20% range of our 1RM, but I haven’t played with the numbers enough to know how feasible this is (35 seconds at 90% of your 1RM is pretty extreme).

I don’t know if you’re still reading this thread and monitoring the comments or not so I’m not sure if you’ll even see this, but if you do please let me know what you think. It’s entirely possible I made some mathematical errors or even over complicated the formula where a simpler one would suffice so I’d be happy to hear your thoughts!

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• Jesse,

Nice work! I like the direction you’re going particularly your idea of bounding the exponent between 2 and 3. I have a couple of thoughts. First, I really don’t like using “1 rep max” because it’s hard to determine, and constantly changing (ideally, increasing). However, since we really just want to compare volume between workouts, using a rough estimate of 1 rep max would probably be good enough for our purposes. Still, you have the issue with the difficulty in measuring it.

The other consideration is that if you use “percentage of 1 rep max” as the measure for intensity, that is not an absolute value. Maybe that’s good, maybe that’s bad. If you want to compare between two people, it’s bad. If you want to compare a single person from season to season or year to year, it’s bad. You’re really just measuring effort, no?, as opposed to the total work accomplished (which ideally would increase fairly steadily through the years as you improve). Still, this could have great value as a measure of relative effort.

I would suggest instead of using percentage of 1 rep max, use “strength to weight ratio”, which I would compute simply as resistance/(body weight). It may need to be scaled somehow, but this at least is an absolute value that can increase over years, and is really easy to measure. It’s also something that bears directly on climbing ability, and could be compare between two people used Nguyen the same grip.

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8. Mark,

Great points. I guess when approaching this I was considering a measurement of effort per workout rather than total work accomplished, which as you said should be ideally increasing. I’ll consider this and let you know if I come up with anything!

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9. Ben says:

Your book is great, thanks for the information. What was your body weight throughout the time period? Also What redpoint grade did end the cycle with?

As a practice I have started recording my weight to adjust for weight loss/gain, so I can compare my grip strength progression on an apples to apples basis adjusting for weight loss/gain.

I think it would be great information to have a correlation of hangboard strength to redpoint grade. This would allow climbers to know if the other two pillars (mental and technique) were lacking relative to strength.

Maybe a google doc for people self report the information could do the trick. Not super scientific but it could help people find their strengths and weaknesses relative to the mean climber of their grade.

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• Ben, I love your idea of “crowd-sourcing” HB resistance data and redpoint grade. I have some of this data already from the survey we conducted last spring, but it would be helpful to get more. This would also make a really nice research paper for a sport science journal or conference. I’d be interested in working on it with you, if you are interested.

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