Grip strength might be the single most important thing that all climbers need. Almost all forms of climbing require holds and grip strength to stay on a wall. I’ve had many new climbers approach me and ask about max hangs vs repeaters as a way to increase this strength.
I have used both max hangs and repeaters in my training over the years, and both have benefits depending on how you’re using them and other factors.
In this article, we’ll cover max hangs vs repeaters, when each is good to use along with your climbing, and how to program them and what size edge should you use!
What are Max Hangs? Repeaters?
Before we can tell you which is better or even dig into the debate, we need to clarify what we mean when we talk about both max hangs and repeaters.
One thing we can start with is that both of these techniques use a hangboard, and both are done to increase your hand, tendon, and grip strength specifically for climbing. I generally advise people to hold off hangboarding for the first few months they climb.
Max hangs are holds where you hang at the hardest possible ledge and grip for 7-10 seconds, then resting for about three minutes before attempting another set. Max hangs will often be weighted with something to make you heavier. As the name suggests, this is a max effort hang for a very short duration.
Repeaters, also known as intermittent hangs, on the other hand, are much easier hangs where you still hold your hang for 7-10 seconds, but you only rest for about 3 seconds before repeating. A ‘set’ of this would be about 5-6 hangs.
In studies, both have shown to be effective over a four to eight-week program, and the results were very similar. So which should you use?
I always recommend beginners, or people new to hangboarding, start with the repeaters. This helps to build up endurance in your hands and gets your body used to using a hangboard. Most intense climbing sections only last about 50 seconds, so by practicing repeaters that are 50-60 seconds of “work” time you can simulate that stress.
If pure grip strength is your goal, then max hangs are the way to go. Climbers who prefer bouldering to rock climbing will often go with max hangs because bouldering requires short, powerful moves that often require a ton of strength!
Are Max Hangs Safe?
Yes, max hangs are safe when programmed correctly. You don’t want to do them every day or they could possibly hurt your hands and cause overuse injuries. They are a fairly intense exercise and your body should be given 48-72 hours to recover after a max hang session.
As with any time you are hangboarding, you also want to keep your lats and shoulders engaged. To engage your shoulders think about putting your shoulder blades in your back pockets. This will engage the musculature there and make sure you are not putting dead weight on those joints.
The other thing to do is bend your elbows. This engages your biceps, forearms, and triceps to protect the elbow joint.
How Often Should I Max Hang?
Since max hangs are so intense, you should only be doing them about one or two times a week. Also, since they are so intense, don’t do them after repeaters or other hangboard exercises. By giving yourself at least 48 hours between max hangs you will let your body recover.
You can do other climbing, especially lower intensity types of climbing on other days, just stay away from extremely demanding climbs or hangboarding.
What Size Edge Should I use for Max Hangs?
When you start doing max hangs or repeaters start with about a 20mm edge. As you become more advanced, stronger, and acclimated to the hangboard you can decrease this edge size.
When you are starting a hangboarding program you want to start with an edge that is fairly comfortable. 20mm is good for most people, but I’ve trained climbers who started on 24mm all the way down to 14mm.
Programming Max Hangs
Programming max hangs is not difficult, you want a quick 7-10 second hang followed by a rest period. For beginners, we’d recommend a long three-minute rest between sets, and only 3 or four sets.
When you are starting you should only do this once or twice a week, depending on how many days you’re climbing in addition. If you’re not climbing at all (shame on you!), you could do this three times a week with 48hrs in between sessions. Doing more than this can be counterproductive.
As you build up your grip strength you can find variations of this program and adjust it to your needs. One of my personal favorite variations is detailed in the video below:
The Final Pitch
I hope this article has given you some insights on the difference between max hangs vs repeater exercises for your climbing. Remember, it’s important to train regularly and consistently with a purpose. Many times that is what will make all of the difference, not minute differences in time or sets!
Our resident climbing gym and bouldering expert, Melissa uses climbing to destress and relax when away from her tech job in the Berkeley, CA area.
Melissa picked up climbing while in college at CU Boulder and has never looked back. Melissa writes all of our content on female climbing gear and much of our bouldering articles!