I’ve had a number of requests recently for some more posts about training, especially from fellow female climbers. So it seemed fitting to share about my somewhat recent experiences with HIT Strips. A little late, but better late than never! HIT Strips, aka Hypergravity Isolation Training, are a training protocol developed nearly a decade ago by guru Eric Horst, author of numerous training for climbing books. What prompted me to hop on the strips? Summer in the Southeast, as you are probably aware, is not known for it’s sending conditions. Heat and humidity is at an all-time high, causing both physical and mental energy to shrink to an all-time low. Fortunately for us, we’d made plans to escape the summer doldrums with an excursion to the higher (and therefore cooler) ground of South Dakota and Wyoming.
I wanted to feel strong on our trip, but logging outdoor mileage and maintaining psych was easier said than done. In the weeks leading up to our trip, we were plagued by rain and heat indices above 100. We managed to get out a few times, but conditions made it impossible to get much done, so I turned inward. Not in a zen kind of way, but in a gym kind of way. I’m fortunate to belong to a climbing gym that has a decent training area – campus board, hangboard, and of course, HIT strips. Since the hangboard and I are still “seeing other people” after we couldn’t stay away from each other during my dark days in the boot, the Hit Strips were a novel new choice.
You can get a more detailed and scientific explanation of the HIT Strip concept from Eric’s training website here, but here’s the gist of it in layman’s terms. Basically, for a training exercise to be most effective at increasing maximum grip strength, the following requirements need to be met 1. High intensity throughout the exercise. 2. Muscular failure reached quickly. 3. Movement is climbing specific. 4. Specific grip positions can be isolated. Campus boards, hangboards, and bouldering intervals can meet some of these requisites, but only HIT Strips meet all 4.
So how do you do it?
Easy. Well, easy to understand that is. Not so easy to do (which is the whole goal, right?). The simple answer is that you just climb up and down the HIT Strip wall, until your muscles give out and you flop down on the pad. Then you rest for exactly three minutes, and do it again. Here are some specific guidelines.
1. Only work one grip at a time – so if you’re working an open-handed grip, for example, you climb up and down using only that grip.
2. Count your hand movements – you should be falling off between 15-20.
3. If you do more than 15-20 hand movements (on our wall that was 2 laps up and 2 laps down), add weight the next time you work that grip.
4. Write down your “stats.” It’s tedious, but it’s the best way to track your progress, and the only way you’ll remember how much weight to add for your next session.
5. Start with your weaknesses first and end with your strongest. For me (and a lot of other people), that meant starting with pinches and ending with open hand.
Eric has a whole slew of other HIT Strips training tips here, so if you are considering incorporating this type of workout into your training regimen, I would highly suggest reading through it. As for me, I didn’t do things exactly according to his instructions, but rather tailored them for what worked for my body and the time frame I had available. I did 2 sessions of HIT per week for 4 weeks, so a total of 8 HIT sessions. During this time I climbed outdoors some, but mostly easier stuff, and certainly no projecting, so that my body could have adequate time to rest and rebuild. My last HIT session was a week before my trip, and for that week I just did some easy bouldering and/or ran laps on moderate terrain.
Of the 6 grips recommended by Horst, I only trained 4 – pinch, “2nd team” (index and middle finger), “1st team” (middle and ring), and open hand. Being my first time trying the program, I didn’t feel comfortable using a crimp grip or “3rd team” (ring and pinky), as I wanted to make sure my tendons were ready to handle it. Another time I might include it. Each session I did 2 sets of one grip (separated by 3 min rest) before moving on to the next one. I started out with no weight, but found that I very quickly needed to add weight (usually 3 pound increments) in order to produce failure in the ideal number of hand movements. After my HIT Strip session, I would supplement my workout with 3 sets of 10-15 pull-ups, along with a couple of sets of an exercise on the hangboard I call “the campus traverse.” (More on that later). The whole she-bang (not including a 10 minute warm-up) took about 40 minutes.
The results? I was shocked at how much progress I made from one session to the next. I was adding weight left and right, and by the end of my training cycle, I had maxed out my weight vest (30 pounds) for everything but pinch grip. Climbing with all of that extra weight was definitely a weird feeling (and also gave me flashbacks to my maternity days…). As far as results on the rock go, I think I definitely felt more comfortable pulling for all I had on all those tweaky limestone pockets in Ten Sleep Canyon. And as an unexpected bonus, all those countless laps on a 45 degree wall made me feel more at home on steep terrain as well. I will admit that those 4 weeks got a little monotonous by the end, but it was a no-brainer way to squeeze in a quick (and efficient) workout into an often chaotic gym visit with a Cragbaby in tow. I think next time it’ll be less boring and equally effective to follow the 2 weeks on, 2 weeks off routine that Eric suggests on his website.
Has anyone else tried HIT Strips before? What other sport-specific training is everyone into these days?