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Pinch strength is an often forgotten area of climbing training, it certainly isn’t very sexy, but you can get some great gains if you take the time to develop it.
To get the best results out of pinch grip training you need to be engaging your thumb and really squeezing it in opposition to you fingers. Unfortunately, most pinches on fingerboards and even system walls don’t fully target pinch grip strength development as they tend to encourage compression (pulling your hands towards each other), rather than true pinching.
Luckily, there is a pretty simple way to really target this thanks to some of the sweet training products on the market these days. My go to training tool are the elephant balls by Awesome woodys, which are perfectly round wooden balls on a cord. They do an amazing job of working your pinch strength and it can be an effort just to hold onto them.
I’m a big fan of the elephant balls, but if you are struggling for dollars, a simple and very effective alternative to this are blocks of wood that you can fashion for yourself. Essentially you can go for any thickness you like, but I’ve found a medium to wide pinch hold to be the best for me.
In the past, I’ve just used a piece of 70 x 35mm pine and doubled this up for thicker grips. Just cut a couple of lengths around 10-15cm long and screw in an eye bolt or drill a hole to take a loop of cord.
There are a couple of ways to use pinch grips, both are effective for training, but one is a little more precise than the other.
To really get a handle on your pinch strength ability and track your progress, you will need access to some weights. Rig a sling through the middle of these and attach them to the pinch grips. Experiment with the weight (in a similar way to the max hang, minimum edge protocol) to find something you can hold for about 12 to 13 seconds, this is your working weight and there is a good chance that it will be different for each hand.
If you are using the balls, hold them wherever feels comfortable, but try to keep your fingers under the top line etched into the wood so you are really working that pinch. Lift the weights at the same time (one grip in each hand) and hold for 10 seconds before lowering them back down. Take a 3-minute rest to fully recover and then go again for 5 sets.
This is a pretty short set and you may not feel too taxed physically, but it is highly likely your grip will be compromised by the end, so don’t do it before a climbing session.
You should aim to complete 2-3 session per week for 5 weeks, take a 1-week break, then evaluate your progress by adding some more weight to the grips to see if you have improved.
If you don’t have access to weights, you can carry out the same program by hanging from the balls with your feet up on a step, or simply out in front of you on the ground, depending on the resistance required to hold on for 12-13 seconds. This is obviously harder to track quantitatively, but you should see a result in your climbing, which is all the proof you need.
I’d suggest either adding this to a fingerboard workout as an additional grip, or as a stand-alone exercise and cycle it with some other grip training after 1-2 blocks so you don’t overdo it.
Grab the free interval timer below and go wrap your hands around some balls!
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Remember, train hard and climb smart.