Start getting strong with a hangboard, a kettlebell, and just “five” minutes
Years ago as a gumby in my very first year of climbing, I was looking through guidebooks in Rock and Snow in New Paltz, New York, when a random old-schooler started spouting off about how he had attained his current level of strength and fitness. It took me a moment to realize that this Verve-clad dude, whom I assumed to be a human relic of the Vulgarian era, was, for some reason, talking to me.
“If you want to get really strong, here’s what I do,” he said. As entirely odd as this unsolicited advice may have been —even for a New Yorker—I was also suddenly quite curious to hear the forthcoming wisdom.
“Anytime I walk through a door, I stop and hang on the door trim for as long as I can,” he said. “I’ve been doing it for 20 years. It’s my secret to success. It’s that fuckin’ simple!”
“Um, thanks!?” I said and awkwardly shuffled over to a discounted rack of prAna leggings beneath a Sharma poster.
It was perhaps the first piece of climbing-training advice I was ever given. Shockingly, it was actually a fundamentally decent recommendation. There was something almost brilliantly intuitive about what this guy had devised. Gymnasts are often taught to spend as much time walking on their hands as possible. Why wouldn’t climbers also want to take every opportunity to hang from their fingertips?
Years later, armed with my own wisdom and years of experimentation, I’ve devised my own routine that, coincidentally, contains some similar physiological parallels to the door trick. Obvi it’s totes more sophisticated tho.
It’s quick, it’s simple, and it gets you strong/fit quickly.
I’m calling it “5 Minute Fingers” (hashtag #5MF). I devised this program with desk-bound weekend warriors in mind—i.e., folks like me.
The basic gist of the program—which I will describe in more detail below—is doing two or three very short workouts throughout the day, a few days per week. Each workout includes just three sets of easy hangboard repeaters interspersed with three sets of moderately taxing kettlebell swings.
That’s it. It’s that fuckin’ simple.
I developed this program for myself for a few reasons, the primary ones being time, schedule, and my own personal disposition. Motivating for a hangboard workout can be enervating. When attempting to tag a hangboard workout on top of a 2-hour Moon Board or weight-training session, almost as an afterthought, I’d often find a way to convince myself of something, anything, better to do.
Originally, I reasoned that if I could break up a 20-minute hangboard workout up into two or three smaller work-outs spread out throughout the day, I could achieve the same volume of work and stand a better shot at actually getting through the workout without getting bored.
The key is doing something the Russian lifting guru Pavel Tsatsouline dubbed “Greasing the Groove,” which essentially means doing more shorter workouts well below points of failure. “Everyone says you can’t get stronger this way,” said Pavel. “But it turns out, you can.”
“Everyone says you can’t get stronger this way,” said Pavel. “But it turns out, you can.”
Kettlebell swings are part of this program because they are good for you and because squeezing them into a 90-second hangboard set rest is more efficient. Doing 100 kettlebell swings a day has been shown to have hormonal benefits, including an increase free testosterone and HGH. Same with deadlifts. The thing that makes the kettlebell swing superior to the deadlift—at least for this exercise—is that it only requires one relatively small piece of equipment as opposed to an Olympic bar and tons of weights.
Kettlebell swings are a fairly technical exercise demanding proper form. It’s easy enough to learn—but make sure you do learn. Pavel’s company Strong First is the best resource for all things kettlebell related. This video is a great place to start.
My favorite aspect of Five Minute Fingers, however, is that it breaks up a formidable hangboard workout into bite-sized pieces. It’s digestible and easy to accomplish. It’s also a great excuse to take a break from staring at a computer screen and get the body moving.
I ran my idea past the Salt Lake City-based hangboard guru Steve Maisch, by the way. I asked him if it was the dumbest idea he’s ever heard, or the most brilliant. “I’m going to go with possibly the most brilliant thing I’ve ever heard,” he said. So, there you have it.
Maisch also helped me tweak a few parts of this routine based on his own expertise. Unfortunately, one of his suggestions made the routine a little longer than just five minutes. But since “Seven Minute Fingers” sounds fucking stupid, I’m sticking with “Five Minute Fingers” and hoping you don’t need to be so gosh darn literal about everything in life.
With all that said … if you want to get strong, here’s what I do:
There are a few things #5MF has going for it. It’s quick, it’s effective, it’ll leave you panting like a dog on a hot summer day, and it can be done almost anywhere.
Here’s what you need:
- 1 hangboard
- 1 (heavy) kettlebell
- An interval timer app
For an interval timer app, I suggest Seconds Pro, though I haven’t done too much research into what other options are out there. Seconds Pro works great, comes with pre-set timers, and is fully programmable.
For the kettlebell, any generic brand will do, though I’m partial to ones made by Rogue since they’re so well made and have a nice grip. You’ll want to select a heavy weight such that you’ll be able to complete 15 kettlebell swings and it’s relatively difficult though not really really hard. If I were to make a general recommendation, I would suggest that most men might want to choose a kettlebell in the 45- to 75-pound range, and most women might want to select a kettlebell in the 25- to 50-pound range.
For a hangboard, I’d recommend either a Beastmaker or Tension hangboard. If you are doing this workout at work, and you can’t drill a hangboard into the wall above the office water cooler, you might consider building a foldable metal tripod to create a portable hangboard station. Otherwise, you could use the Tension Flashboard or an equivalent product.
Lastly, I’d recommend using liquid chalk instead of regular loose chalk, which is cleaner if you are in fact doing this workout at work. Also, you can do an entire workout with just one coat. For liquid chalk, I highly recommend Friction Labs Secret Stuff.
Full disclosure, Friction Labs partnered up with me this month to sponsor a training post. They didn’t pay me to make this recommendation, however, and I wouldn’t say it if I didn’t believe it.
The toughest part of #5MF is warming up because you’re not going to be climbing on V0s for 20 minutes in the gym. We don’t have 20 minutes! This is Five Minute fingers, fool!
A good warm-up means slightly raising your heart rate, active stretching, and taking your body through all ranges of motion. You can achieve this by doing 10 jumping jacks, or 10 air squats, or a minute of jumping rope, or a few burpees—or some combination thereof. Maybe finish it with a few pull-ups and some light stretching or band work.
My approach is to actually begin my warm-up as soon as I wake up. Instead of just drowning myself in coffee while slumped into my couch, I have found it’s optimal to start my day with 15 minutes of yoga, active movement, air squats. I feel ready to go on days when I get my body moving first thing.
And now, for the routine:
- 2-3 workouts per day.
- 2-3 days per week.
- Each workout consists of three sets of 5-rep hangboard repeaters, where one “rep” equals a 10-second hang. It’s important that you choose edge sizes that aren’t all that difficult for you. You are NOT supposed to go to failure!
- In between each rep is a five-second rest. According to Maisch, five seconds is better than three and allows for significantly better ATP-CP regeneration.
- This set is immediately followed by 15-rep kettlebell swings during a 90-second “rest” window. It should take you around 30 seconds to do 15 kettlebell swings, which leaves you around 60 seconds to catch your breath before the next repeaters set begins.
- In terms of selecting an edge size, it would be best to start with a large edge/jug. From there, work down in size over the next two sets. Again, choose edges that you can succeed on. Do not go to failure with this workout.
For your convenience, I created an online Five Minute Fingers interval timer, which you can download or just use online.
What good is training if you don’t post a video of yourself doing it on Instagram? Let us see how it goes! Tag yourself using a #5MF workout on Insta, and use these four tags—#5MF #chalkmatters @EveningSends @FrictionLabs