High Volume Power Training for Climbers

This article was written by Dr. Tyler Nelson, a sports scientist and climber who owns Camp 4 Human Performance, a chiropractic sports medicine clinic and strength and conditioning business in Salt Lake City.

Work with Dr. Tyler Nelson

If you’d like to work with Dr. Tyler Nelson on an individual basis for injuries or strength training, he offers remote consultations to people all over the world. He also teaches online classes on strength training and injuries. Learn more.

HIGH-VOLUME POWER TRAINING (HVPT) FOR CLIMBERS

By Dr. Tyler Nelson

@c4hp

I’m expecting most of you to pause at the title of this article. If it didn’t make you think twice, it should have. The title sounds like a misnomer. Most athletes associate power training with very low volumes of work, and long periods of rest. That’s because when sources discuss improving power, they are referring to peak power. That’s the maximum rate of work (load or intensity) per unit time. As an example, peak power for the vertical pull-up exercise is optimal around 70-75% intensity. So, to improve peak power you’d do a few reps (2-4) at that percentage, followed by a long rest (3-5 minutes), and repeat that for only a few sets (3-6). That would be a strategy to improve your peak power output.

Example athlete and what 70% looks like:

If we consider a 165 lb male athlete with a strength-to-weight ratio of 2.7 (not uncommon) in the pull-up exercise we get a better idea of these forces. If we divide his peak force (445 lbs) in half (222 lbs) and calculate 70% of that load he’d be putting 157 lbs of force through each arm during that movement. That’s 95% of his body weight! If we use his deadlift strength-to-weight ratio of 3.5 at 70% he’d be putting 200 lbs of force through each leg while on the wall. And lastly, if this athlete had a ratio of 1.9 on the 20mm edge (isometric maximum) then he’d be applying 100 lbs of force through each hand when working at 70% intensity. The question you want to ask yourself is, how often do we use those intensities while climbing. The answer is not very often.

This is a graph of my force-velocity profile for the bar pull-up, bench press, and 20mm edge pull-up at variable percentages.

Matching the Demands of the Sport

So, if the goal while climbing is not to reproduce peak power (the highest load you can move quickly) while climbing, why are we spending so much time using tools, like the campus board, that train peak power? It’s likely too high an intensity and too low a velocity to match the demands of the sport. On the whole, peak power training is not that sports specific. This applies to every sport and is the principle behind high-volume power training. By using a lower percentage of an athlete’s 1-repetition max we can train power with more repetitions (volume) that match the velocities of the sport. This is what climbers commonly call power endurance, however, this not usually how they train it.

It Sounds A Whole Lot Like Hypertrophy Training

If we compare the set, rep, and rest schemes of high-volume power training with hypertrophy training, they look very similar. The primary difference is the intensity and velocity. Muscle hypertrophy happens in the 70-85% intensity range while HVPT training is performed in the 30-60% intensity range. In this article, I’m going to outline how HVPT has been used to improve repeat power ability (RPA), repeat high-intensity efforts (RHIE), anaerobic capacity, and aerobic power in other sports. We will cover the most commonly used protocols and how to apply it to your climbing training.

Force-Velocity Continuum

It is very likely you have experienced the consequences of heavy loading. As you move heavier loads (added load to your body) the velocity at which you move that load goes down. If we measure the velocity at which you move a range of loads (35-95%) we can create something called a force-velocity profile (see image below).

This profile is specific to the athlete and the movement tested (pull-up, deadlift, bench-press, etc.). By better understanding an athlete’s profile, we can see which load to work with when training repeat power ability at different percentages.

We can conclude that strong athletes need more power (velocity) and powerful athletes need more strength, etc. Most climbers know their maximum (absolute strength) finger and pull-up loads, but very few know their 30-40% loads. This is problematic. We spend way too much time working the upper limits of the strength continuum at the neglect of the higher velocity loads.

Ballistic vs. Non-ballistic Power Exercise

When we think about power training we need to differentiate between ballistic and nonballistic exercise. In a non-ballistic exercise, there is a significant portion of time (the entire second half of the propulsive phase) spent slowing down (decelerating). In a ballistic exercise, there is no deceleration. This allows for greater peak velocity, as well as a longer propulsive phase (due to not slowing down). The athlete can accelerate through the entire movement because they, or their object, are eventually in flight.

Two examples to compare are the pull-up (non-ballistic) and the double-clutch campus move (ballistic). I would consider the 1-arm campus move quasi-ballistic. It is somewhere in the middle, like climbing.

Due to higher peak forces, greater impulse (the sum of propulsive forces), higher movement velocities, and a longer propulsive phase, ballistic-type exercises impose greater levels of acute fatigue compared to their non-ballistic counterparts. Also, ballistic exercises are technically more challenging (more degrees of freedom) to the neuromuscular system.

Put simply, if we can find ways to minimize technical strategies and perform similar work (direction of movement), we can do so with greater power output, even while undergoing fatigue. In short, you can do more high-velocity pull-ups under fatigue than you can single or double-arm campus moves.

Sienna Kopf testing her 20mm velocity at my clinic.

Andrew Caraballo testing his campus velocity at Elemental Performance

When using the non-ballistic version of a powerful exercise (pull-up) it is important to consider the loads because of their effect on the propulsive phase. This is due to the deceleration that accompanies each repetition. The lighter the load, the higher the velocity, and the greater level of decelerationSo, by using lighter loads it allows the athlete to move with greater power output over multiple repetitions.

One problem with the campus board, this needs to be fixed in my opinion, is that athletes don’t have a way to train at quantifiable intensities. It is either bodyweight or added load. There is no sub-body weight derivative.

What Does HVPT Look Like for Climbing

As I’ve mentioned, the frequency and volume of HVPT are similar to a hypertrophy training protocol in which 2-3 sessions per week is common. The duration of rest between these sessions is dependent on the protocol used (high-fatigue, low-fatigue), as well as the training age of the athlete. The more fatiguing protocols require a 72-hr recovery period and the less fatiguing protocols require 48h of recovery. It also makes sense to use the less fatiguing versions as an athlete moves closer to a competition or primary redpoint season.

Duration and Frequency

The duration of these training blocks can be as little as 4 weeks and as long as 12 weeks in duration with an average of 8 weeks. If exercising 2-3 times per week, this puts the athlete at 16-24 total training sessions. The typical number of sets used per session for HVPT is 3-5with the repetition range is 12-20. This has been recorded as high as 60-80 repetitions per set for some lower body movements.

Certainly, the most logical progression for a climber is to try and match the number of repetitions that the athlete has on their project, or possibly the average number of moves on a competition sport climb. This will take some time to work up to.

Velocity Cut-Off Strategy

Another option is to use velocity cut-offs to directly influence the repetition number each set. In this way, we can use a 10-20% velocity cut-off to better understand how many reps the athlete should use before their rest period. This has been supported in the research as a more effective strategy than a larger cut-off percentage of 30-50%. In the latter case, athletes performed more work, get less gain, and accumulate greater levels of fatigue. Remember, the ability to express power is dependent on the fatigue of the nervous system. The more fatigued an athlete gets each set, the less power they are producing.

Set 1: demonstrating the velocity of every repetition up to 10-reps until a velocity loss.

Set 2: demonstrating a velocity loss at repetition 9 stopping the set

Set 3: demonstrating a velocity loss at rep 7 stopping the set

Individual Needs Analysis

When it comes to selecting an appropriate set, rep, and rest scheme for the individual, that is where the art of coaching becomes important. There are infinite ways to organize the work-to-rest ratio of an exercise session, and it really depends on the individual and their ability to adapt to the training stimulus (adaptive capacity). What is productive for one might be injurious to another, etc.

Remember, being flexible is not a bad thing. If you get it wrong the first few sessions, change it and don’t be too stubborn to recognize it. Athlete adaptation is a moving target and your client will appreciate the honesty. That’s what programming is all about: trying new things, using logic and experience, and seeing how the athlete responds.

Inter-set Rest Period Options: Where to Start

Even though we use higher rep ranges during HVPT compared to normal power training the literature shows that a 2-3 minute inter-set rest is adequate for recovery. The most simple approach would be to gradually reduce the inter-set rest period every few sessions, or weeks, to improve the athletes repeat power ability.

A coach could start with a 3-minute inter-set rest and reduce it by 15-seconds per week while maintaining the same repetition number and intensity. The coach could also add load at 5% per week with the same rest period, or do both simultaneously. That’s the most simple way to apply this concept.

High-Velocity Interval Style Training

HVPT could also be used is in a circuit-style routine in which the athlete is moving between stations. One of which stations could be finger pull-ups, or campus board, at a specified percentage of their max. This is familiar to most as high-intensity interval training and shown to be an effective strategy for improving aerobic power.

The downside of this method is the use of more muscle mass. With more muscle fatigue comes more velocity loss. If the goal is to target the power output of the finger flexors specifically, it makes sense to isolate the vertical pulling movement.

Clustering Work: A More Nuanced Approach

Another application for HVPT is to manipulate the inter-set rest by using cluster sets. Cluster sets are commonly used at the beginning of a training stimulus and reduced over time as the athlete becomes more tolerant of the volume. So, instead of doing 3 sets of 15-repetitions continuously, the athlete would use a 5-second rest after every 5 repetitions for the entire set. They would perform 5 powerful reps, rest 5-seconds, then do the second 5-repetitions, rest 5-seconds, and then complete the last 5 reps until the longer inter-set rest (2-3 minutes).

As the athlete becomes more tolerant of the volume they could use more reps before the rest, or reduce the rest, etc. Another spin would be using a 25-repetition set in which the athlete rests 20-seconds after every 5 reps.

As of the writing of this article there is no conclusive evidence to support one type of cluster method over the other. The best one for you is the one which matches the demands of your goal route.

Acute Effects with HVPT: What the Research Says

Even at these high repetition ranges, there are no differences in peak power between sets. At the same time, however, we do see reductions in power output of 23% within every individual set. Put simply, even though athletes are getting tired they are still able to hit peak power every set.

There is also some evidence to support this type of training induces greater acute hormonal and immune responses to traditional strength, hypertrophy, and endurance training schemes. More on this in another article. When applied correctly it has been shown that HVPT can improve maximal power and repeat power ability by 22% across a total of 16-sessions, at two sessions per week.

An example of three HVPT sets showing a maintenance of peak power but a reduction in average power

Learn More from Tyler: If you want to work with Dr. Tyler Nelson on an individual basis for injuries or strength training, he offers remote consultations to people all over the world. He also teaches online classes on strength training and injuries. Learn more.

Energy System Demands

Even at these lower intensities, the continuous nature and neuromuscular demand (high-velocity) of HVPT will eventually stress the glycolytic energy system. Then during these partial rest periods, we see an increased respiratory rate to training metabolic clearance.

The goal is not to get pumped. The goal is to move until your power drops, rest partially, and repeat that as many times as the athlete can tolerate. This is how using 30-60% of your max can force an adaptation in both (anaerobic and aerobic) systems simultaneously while still being very specific. 

How to Apply HVPT to Climbers: My Recommendation and Programming Ideas

Most of the exercises that have been studied with this intervention are lower extremity driven movements like the countermovement jump, speed squat, and power clean. I believe that’s part of the reason we see repetitions in the average 15-20, and up to 80 range. As far as applying it to climbing we can do so generally with the bench-press, deadlift, and pull-up or we can do it specifically using a campus board (feet on likely) or fingerboard. I have used both for my private clients, so it really depends on the athlete and their needs. To reduce the length of this article I’m going to focus on the finger training version of this method, which I call high-volume power pull-ups.

What You Need and How to Apply This Method

First, you want to use the edge size that you’re frequently using on your project route. As a general rule, the more vertical the terrain the smaller the edge (15-20mm) and the lower the percentage used (30-40%). The steeper the terrain the larger the edge (25-35mm) and the higher the percentage used (40-50%). Once an athlete gets into the 5.14 grade and above, they’ll likely be using smaller edges (15mm) and higher percentages (50-60%), etc. So it really depends on you and your ability.

The next thing you need to do is test your maximum strength on that same edge size. This can be done in many ways and is very simple to calculate. For more information on testing, you can look at my previous articles or @C4HP. Take the 2-arm maximum (bodyweight + added load) that you can hold for 5-seconds (most commonly used finger position as well) and multiply that number by the targeted percentage (.30 – .60). This might take some playing with to get the appropriate load, so feel free to calculate multiple loads to try.

Let’s use our same 165-lb athlete as an example. His s:w ratio was 1.9 on a 20mm edge which puts his peak force at 313 lbs. If we multiply 313 by .40 we get 125 lbs at 40% intensity. So, to get the appropriate load for a bodyweight-dependent exercise we need to subtract that number from his body weight (165-125) which gives us -40 lbs. Remember, we want him pulling on his fingers with 125 lbs of force, or 62.5 lbs per arm.

Ben Hannah testing his 20mm maximum with the Exsurgo Gstrength500 at C4HP

https://youtube.com/watch?v=2Thl0Q12YQ%3Fwmode%3Dtransparent%26autoplay%3D0

Next is choosing the appropriate set: rep scheme that fits the demands of the goal route. I’m writing this with the sport climber in mind, however, this does not mean it wouldn’t work for a bouldering athlete as well. The only difference is the percentage intensity (60-70%) and the repetition number (3-4) you would use before the inter-set rest (longer). If the goal route is an 8-move boulder problem, the progression would be to hit 4 high-velocity pull-ups, without your feet touching the ground, on a finger or campus board at 60-70% before your rest. If it’s a sport climb with 30-moves, the progression would be to hit 15-high velocity pull-ups at 30-40% before your rest.

The last thing is to predict the progression of your training. As I have already mentioned, starting with a 3-minute inter-set rest is a reasonable place to start. Then you could simply watch the repetitions automatically increase for a couple of weeks until you start reducing that time by 10-15 seconds per week. I’ve included below some sample progressions that you could try for different types of athletes.

Below is Ben Hannah showing us what good power capacity looks like in the fingerboard version of HVPT. If you’re strong enough you don’t need to remove load from your body, which makes this very simple to perform. In this example 45% load is body weight.https://www.youtube.com/embed/8StH5oipxsE?autoplay=0&enablejsapi=1&wmode=opaque

And here, Andrew is demonstrating the body weight version at 55% intensity…https://www.youtube.com/embed/GbIqr_YswEM?autoplay=0&enablejsapi=1&wmode=opaque

Short Route or Long Boulder Example Progression: 48-hr Rest Between

Repetitions are performed consecutively until power drops without feet touching the ground. Repetitions will vary each set pending power output but will increase automatically with time. This is as long as the athlete is well recovered. This is a higher intensity protocol (50-60%).

Example 1: Increasing short duration power for bouldering.

  • Weeks 1-2: 5 sets, 3-4 reps with 3-minutes rest between.
  • Week 3-4: 5 sets, 3-4 reps with 2:45 rest between
  • Week 5-6: 5 sets, 3-4 reps with 2:30 rest between
  • Week 7-8: sets, 3-4 reps with 2:15 rest between
  • Week 9-10: 5 sets, 3-4 reps with 2:00 rest between etc.

You could also do the same workout with increased intensity and no change in rest time.

Long Route Example Progressions

These are cluster examples – think number of hand moves before resting on your project with 48 hours of rest between sessions.

Repetitions are performed in groups (3-5) until the athlete gets a short rest. They will continue to progress in this manner for the remainder of the reps until the inter-set rest. Repetitions in each cluster are to be performed consecutively without feet touching the ground.

Example 1: increasing power output over the cycle (72-hour rest between)

5 sets of 20 reps in 5 rep clusters separated by 10-20 seconds. Moderate intensity protocol (40-50% intensity)

  • Weeks 1-2:  5 reps, rest 20-seconds, 5 reps etc. for 4 rounds (rest 2-min). 5 total sets
  • Weeks 3-4:  5 reps, rest 15-seconds, 5 reps etc. for 4 rounds (rest 2-min). 5 total sets
  • Weeks 5-6: 5 reps, rest 10-seconds, 5 reps etc. for 4 rounds (rest 2-min). 5 total sets
  • Weeks 7-8: 5 reps, rest 5-seconds, 5 reps etc. for 4 rounds (rest 2-min). 5 total sets
  • Weeks 9-10: 10 reps, rest 5-seconds, 10 reps (rest 2-min). 5 total sets etc.

Example 2: increasing capacity over the cycle (72-hour rest between)

5 sets of 12-30 reps in 4-10 rep clusters separated by 20 seconds. Lower intensity protocol (30-40% intensity)

  • Weeks 1-2:  4 reps, rest 20-seconds, 4 reps etc. for 3 rounds (rest 2-min). 5 total sets
  • Weeks 3-4: 6 reps, rest 20-seconds, 6 reps etc. for 3 rounds (rest 2-min). 5 total sets
  • Weeks 5-6: 8 reps, rest 20-seconds, 8 reps etc. for 3 rounds (rest 2-min). 5 total sets
  • Weeks 7-8: 10 reps, rest 20-seconds, 10 reps etc. for 3 rounds (rest 2-min). 5 total sets
  • Weeks 9-10: 10 reps, rest 20-seconds, 10 reps etc. for 5 rounds (rest 2-min). 5 total sets etc.

Example 3: increasing capacity over the cycle (72-hour rest between)

5 sets of 15 reps in 3 rep clusters separated by 20 seconds. Lowest intensity protocol (30% intensity)

  • Weeks 1-2: 3 reps = rep 1, hang 5-seconds, rep 2, hang 5-seconds, rep 3, hang 5-seconds, rest 20-seconds, etc. for 5 total rounds (rest 2-min). 5 total sets
  • Weeks 3-4: 4 reps = rep 1, hang 5-seconds, rep 2, hang 5-seconds, rep 3, hang 5-seconds, rep 4, hang 5-seconds, rest 20-seconds, etc. for 5 total rounds (rest 2-min). 5 total sets
  • Weeks 5-6: 5 reps with 5-second hang, 20-seconds between for 4 rounds (rest 2-min). 5 total sets
  • Weeks 7-8: 6 reps with 5-second hang, 20-seconds between for 4 total rounds (rest 2-min). 5 total sets
  • Weeks 9-10: 7 reps with 5-second hang, 20-seconds between for 3 total rounds (rest 2-min). 5 total sets

Overview: High-Volume Power Training

  • 2-3 Sessions per Week
  • 30-60% 1-Repetition Max for Sport Climbers
  • 3-5 Working Sets
  • 10-20 Repetitions per Set or Auto-Regulated by Velocity Drop
  • Inter-Set Rest Period of 2-3 Minutes
  • With Weight Lifting Derivatives (Think Bouldering). Use 60-65% 1-RM instead.

Has Been Shown to Improve

  • Repeat Power Ability
  • Repeat High-Intensity Efforts
  • Anaerobic Power and Capacity
  • Aerobic Performance

Principles to Consider When Choosing Variables to Manipulate 

  • Increasing Load = Increases Power, Reduces Reps (Alactic Power)
  • Increasing Reps = Increases Capacity at Given % Power (Anaerobic Power)
  • Reducing Rest = Increases Recovery at % Power (Aerobic Power)
  • Increasing Sets = Increases Adaptive Capacity (Burns in a Day/Session)
  • Increasing Rounds in a Day = Systemic Capacity (Pitches in a Row)

Primary citation: The effect of high volume power training on repeated high-intensity performance and the assessment of repeat power ability: A systematic review. Sports Medicine, February 2020.

Learn More from Tyler: If you want to work with Dr. Tyler Nelson on an individual basis for injuries or strength training, he offers remote consultations to people all over the world. He also teaches online classes on strength training and injuries. Learn more.

About The Author

Tyler Nelson owns and operates a chiropractic sports medicine clinic and strength & conditioning business in Salt Lake City. While earning his doctoral degree, he completed a dual program Master’s degree in exercise science at the University Of Missouri. While in graduate school he worked with the University of Missouri athletics department and currently is employed through two colleges in Utah.

He teaches anatomy and physiology at a community college and works as a team physician for the Brigham Young University athletics department. He is certified through the National Strength and Conditioning Association as a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist and spends any extra time in his life with his wife and three kids or trad climbing in Zion National Park.

He has been climbing for 17 years and gravitates toward all-day adventure climbing. His expertise in human physiology and cutting-edge knowledge of strength and conditioning science are what drive him to always challenge the norms in training.

Your Menstrual Cycle and Athletic Performance

Your Menstrual Cycle and Athletic Performance

Oh yes, we are totally going there! If you aren’t one who enjoys talking about periods, female “issues” and hormones you can stop reading right now. However it is 2019 and these topics are becoming more popular but are still not nearly mainstream enough to have the attention this topic so dearly deserves.

So here we are! I love talking all things periods, menstruation and hormones. Why? Because they effect my life every dang month. Hell, every day is more like it! And because knowledge is power, the more you know about your body and why it does the things it does the better off you will be.

I am particularly excited to talk about how a woman’s menstrual cycle affects athletic performance because I think it is such important information to have in order to determine training cycles, training load and when to just give ourselves grace or take a rest day (or two).

For this post I will be specifically addressing women who have a regular menstrual cycle – fairly dependable timing each month and lasts 26-34 days and who are not on hormonal birth control. Those with amenorrhea (no period), PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) or those with irregular cycles will need to work with either a healthcare professional or doctor to make sure they are doing what is best for their individual situations.

I can, however, speak to those who have regular menstrual cycles and how either have symptoms throughout the month or starting before their period because GIRL I’VE BEEN THERE. Honestly, I’m still there but it’s getting LOADS better with supplementation, seed cycling, stress reduction and figuring out the root cause of my symptoms. Overall, it has been an interesting and exciting journey as I learn more and more each month about myself.

If you want to learn more about menstrual cycles and PMS head here to read this post about 10 things to try before turning to NSAIDs or ibuprofen. Now, remember I am not a medical professional nor can any of this information be intended as diagnosis or treatment. This is merely educational and anecdotal information that I hope to be able to share.

Two of the most helpful guides I have had throughout my journey to learning more about my own body and cycle have been Beyond the Pill by Dr. Jolene Brighten and The Period Repair Manual by Dr. Lara Briden. These books are well worth their weight in gold and have been extremely useful for information on PMS symptoms, hormone management, troubleshooting and overall education about women’s health and health issues. I highly recommend that you pick up both books and get ready to change your world!

Let’s dive on into what a menstrual cycle actually is. What hormones are at play, how they affect our bodies and common issues women may experience with different hormone imbalances?

A woman’s cycle can last anywhere from 26-36 days with 32 being the average. Day 1 of the cycle is the first day of a woman’s period or the day she begins to bleed. Bleeding can last anywhere from 3-7 days, shorter or longer than that can be considered abnormal. Around day 14 or halfway through the cycle, ovulation occurs. Women’s bodies produce an egg every month which then if fertilized with sperm, can create a pregnancy. This egg travels down the fallopian tube, if it is not fertilized, will then dissolve and pass out of the body along with the uterine lining which starts the next cycle with bleeding.

It is easier to think of the cycle into 4 main parts: the period, follicular phase, ovulation and the luteal phase. These four distinct parts of the cycle allow the magic to happen. Fascinating stuff here, really. Now that we have a rough idea of what happens to the body during a woman’s cycle, let’s dive into the hormones at play.

There are two main hormones that rise and fall at different parts of our cycle. Estrogen and progesterone. Estrogen is typically most dominant during the first half of our cycle while progesterone is typically most dominant during the second half, after ovulation occurs.

If hormones are relatively balanced, day 1 of our period both estrogen and progesterone levels drop low to shed the uterine lining and start the bleed. This drop in hormones stimulates the brain (specifically the pituitary gland) into releasing follicle stimulation hormone (FSH). This stimulates the growth of the follicles in the ovaries to get an egg ready for ovulation.

During the 3-7 days that a woman is bleeding, estrogen starts to rise to a peak around day 8. Then, around days 9-10 testosterone also spikes to increase libido. Women also have testosterone, just not in the amounts that males do. Our bodies “want” to get pregnant and the spike in estrogen and testosterone makes sense to encourage women to seek out their partners for fertilization during ovulation. This would be a good time to either use a condom, use other non-hormonal forms of birth control like a spermicide or to abstain from sex if you are not looking to get pregnant.

Ovulation occurs around day 14 and the egg lives for 24 hours. Sperm can live for up to 5 days so the window of time that women can get pregnant is 6 days. Days 12-14 during ovulation estrogen is at its highest point and after ovulation occurs, starts to drop. After ovulation, our bodies start to release progesterone from the ruptured follicle released during ovulation. Progesterone continues to rise until about day 21 and then the cycle starts over again!

To recap: the first half of a woman’s cycle is called the follicular phase and prepares the body to release an egg and builds the lining of the uterus, the second half of the cycle is called the luteal phase and prepares the body to accept a fertilized egg (pregnancy) or to start the cycle over again. All the while, the body is sending the brain signals to elevate certain hormones.

From the image above, hopefully you can get a little bit better visual as to what the levels of different hormones look like throughout a cycle. Hormones are KEY to how we as women feel every single day. Too much of one hormone or too little of another can create anxiety, moodiness, lack of self confidence, acne, bloating and so much more! That’s why it is so important to work with a practitioner that you trust to make sure your body is operating optimally for your health. Or if your body isn’t operating optimally, what you can do to support it and create more balance.

Now that we have a little bit better of an idea of the hormones at play in the body let’s dive into why they are so important for the body and why it is so important to make sure the hormones are balanced in our bodies.

Estrogen is a group name for the hormone compounds that contain estradiol, estriol and estrone but for ease of understanding is typically grouped into the general term of estrogen. Estrogen is key for brain health, heart health and also keeps our bones strong. It is key in the reproductive system for helping to regulate the menstrual cycle, thicken the uterine lining and helps direct the distribution of body fat in the body.

Progesterone also helps to regulate the menstrual cycle and is crucial for maintaining pregnancy. If no pregnancy occurs that month, progesterone levels drop off so the uterine lining can be shed. Other important functions that progesterone help with include: blood clotting, immunity, regulating inflammation, skin elasticity, thyroid health and bone strength. Seems pretty necessary huh? Men also produce progesterone but in much smaller amounts than females.

From this information we can then begin to understand why females can feel so strong or good in one part of their cycle and tired or flat-out defeated in a different part of their cycle if certain hormones are either too high or too low. Keep in mind that there are plenty of other factors at play here: sleep, nutrition, internal and external stress all have a large effect on overall health.

Generally speaking, women tend to feel stronger or “better” in the first half of their cycles due to an increase in estrogen. This would be days 1-14 or as soon as you feel ready and able after the cycle starts. Again, estrogen is what helps to build bone strength and density but it also has an effect on satiety cues in our brains and can help us to feel more full with less food. I call that a win-win, as long as you are eating enough in the first place!

This would be a great time to focus on more strength-based activities such as heavy hangboarding or fingerboarding, heavier isometric drills (weighted two-arm hangs, weighted one-arm hangs and any other heavy weight pulling exercises), deadlifts, heavy bench press and more. Anything that requires a lot of physical strength would be a great fit for this time of the cycle creating larger strength gains overall. Women will typically also feel especially awesome leading up to and right before ovulation. Take advantage of this!! Set out to onsight or redpoint the hard boulder or route and push yourself to expand your limits if your body is feeling it!

As far as training for strength goes: high intensity, low volume and lots of rest. That means heavy loads, not that many reps and make sure you get plenty of rest between sets of whatever exercise you’re performing.

During the second half of the cycle and after ovulation, progesterone begins to rise and women might start to feel a bit more fatigued and “heavier.” Progesterone can cause the body to retain water, so don’t panic, it is normal to feel heavier or a little bloated in the second half of a cycle.

This is also a great time to focus more on the endurance aspect of the sport. This might mean taking the intensity down a notch and decrease rest between sets. This could be a great time to work on power-endurance with a shortened work:rest window, so doing an exercise such as 4x4s on boulder problems. Anything that isn’t max intensity or heavy loads will be beneficial in the latter half of the cycle.

As you get closer to starting the cycle over again and bleeding, be sure to listen extra carefully to what your body is telling you. If you need rest, take it, during this time of the cycle women are extra prone to injury due to low levels of estrogen and therefore creates less elasticity between the tendons and bones. Calorie requirements (especially carbohydrates) during this time will also be higher in order for your body to undergo shedding the uterine lining. This process is no small feat and requires fuel, sustenance and rest to do so.

Of course, these are just guidelines but I encourage you to give it a try! By adapting this approach for my own training I have seen gains in both my strength and endurance and more importantly I am able to give myself grace and be a little more patient with myself when I am just “not feeling it” a few days before my cycle starts. Having a deeper understanding of exactly what is happening and when it is happening has really opened my eyes to a sustainable approach to climbing training.

I highly recommend starting to track your menstrual cycle if you don’t already! My personal favorite app is Flo, but there are plenty of cycle tracking apps out there. Get to know your body and the signals it is sending you! It is so important for you to get in tune with your body and to train in sync with what it is telling you.

Lastly, I would like to bring up what it feels like to have “balanced” hormones so you can know what to look for in your own health journey. If your hormones are balanced well, your period will come and go easily. You might not even notice any of the typical PMS symptoms like breast tenderness, moodiness, fatigue, bloating, cramps or other symptoms. Your cycle will be regular, predictable and generally pain-free.

On the other hand, if hormones are imbalanced or poorly regulated, symptoms will be very prevalent and can cause further issues such as autoimmune disease, endometriosis, fibroids, PCOS and more if ignored for too long. Examples of hormone imbalance include: estrogen dominance (too much estrogen), low estrogen, low testosterone, high testosterone, too little progesterone, too much cortisol, too little cortisol and too little thyroid hormones.

As you can see the list for why hormones might be imbalance is long and not entirely straight forward. I highly recommend working with either a practitioner that you trust and can ask questions from or in conjunction with someone such as myself who can work with you to discover what your current hormones situation looks like and where to go from there to become more balanced and create a healthier life.

Thank you for making it this far in the post and for following along! As always, I love hearing from you and let me know if you have any questions or comments in the comment box below. I love hearing from you!!

Top Ten Warm-Ups and Stretches to Do Before Climbing to Avoid Injury

If there is one universal truth about climbing, it may be this: climbers suck at warming up.

How many times have you gone to the gym or gotten to the crag and immediately jumped on a crimpy V4 boulder problem or pumpy overhanging route because you’re “fresh?”

To avoid injury and maximize your climbing potential per session, don’t let your friends (or your eager ego) pressure you into getting on the wall before your body is properly warmed up.

When your muscles are cold from sitting all day, your body is far more prone to injury if you start working out without warming up, regardless of the activity.

This sentiment is especially true for climbing, since rock climbing is a particularly intense sport that requires both fine and gross motor skills to complete every movement on the wall.

Warming up and cooling down may feel like a chore when you first start the practice. But once you incorporate this fun and dynamic warm-up series into your regular climbing sessions, you will undoubtedly begin to see improvement in your overall technique and stamina.

Avoiding flash pumps and nagging finger injuries, as well as increasing your projecting potential, make warming up before climbing a worthwhile endeavor for beginners and rock gods alike!

First Things First – Heating Up the Body

The term “warming up” is self-explanatory and describes the first principal of performing a proper climbing warm-up. Your first goal before getting on the wall is to get your body warm.

There are a number of ways you can heat up the body, but the most important thing to focus on is increasing your heart rate while warming up.

Exercises to Increase Your Heart Rate Before Climbing

1. Jumping Jacks

As simple as it sounds, jumping jacks are one of the easiest and most effective ways to get your blood pumping and increase your heart rate to prepare your body for a rigorous climbing session.

  • Complete 3 sets of jumping jacks at 10 reps per set with a 30 second rest between sets (30 total jumping jacks)

2. High Knees

Similar to jumping jacks, trotting around your gym or the crag while lifting your knees high into your chest is a great way to get your body moving and stretch your hamstrings and quads at the same time.

  • Perform 3 sets of high knees at 1 minute per set with a 30 second rest between sets (3 minutes total)

3. Walking / Jogging / Hiking

Regardless of where you are, whether at the crag or in your local gym, you should have no problem finding somewhere to simply move your body in a forward direction.

An approach to a crag can often suffice for your heart rate warm-up, but if you’re climbing by the roadside or in the gym, make sure to intentionally move your body before getting on the wall.

You can do this by walking around saying hey to friends or jogging up and down a staircase a few times to get your muscles working before you begin stretching.

Types of Stretching – Static vs. Dynamic

It is important to know the two different styles of stretching before diving into the nitty gritty details of how to warm-up before a climbing session. The two types are static and dynamic. Both are useful for various forms of exercise, but for our pre-climb warm-up, we want to focus on dynamic stretching.

  1. Static stretching is holding the body in a single position for a certain amount of time (i.e. 30 seconds), such as bending down to touch your toes and holding the stretch without moving for the allotted time.This is great for improving flexibility, but best suited to after a workout.
  2. Dynamic stretching is a smooth movement through the full range of a stretch that focuses on spending an equal amount of time through each phase of the stretch.A dynamic hamstring stretch would be reaching down to touch your toes while counting to three, and counting to three again while you return to a standing position. This is the sort of stretching you want to do to warm up and get your joints moving.

Top Ten Warm Ups and Dynamic Stretches

1. Knee Pull-Ups

Male Climber Doing Knee Up Stretches

  • Aim: to stretch your abdominals, hip flexors and gluteal muscles
  • How-to:
    • While standing, pull one knee tightly into your chest until you feel the stretch, then switch and pull the other knee in.
    • Repeat 5 times per knee.

2. Hip Rotations

Female Climber Doing Hip Rotations

  • Aim: to increase flexibility in your hips, allowing you to pull them in closer to the wall while climbing. Also stretches glutes and abdominals.
  • How-to:
    • While standing with legs hips-width apart, balance on your left foot while lifting your right leg with your hand on your knee.
    • Gently pull your right leg open, rotating your hip and extending your knee out to the right until you feel the stretch.
    • Repeat motion with your left leg while balancing on your right foot.
    • Repeat hip rotation 5 times per leg.

3. Deep Squats

Male Climber Doing Deep Squat Stretches

  • Aim: to lengthen and strengthen the inner quads, glutes, hamstrings, and calves while stretching the low back
  • How-to:
    • Stand with feet together.
    • Step out to the right wider than hips-width and squat down as far as you can, making sure to keep your heels on the ground and your back as straight as possible.
    • Stand up as soon as you reach a comfortable depth of stretch in your squat, step feet together, then step out left to squat down again.
    • Repeat 5 times per side.

4. Flag & Reach

Male Climber Doing Flag And Reach Stretches

  • Aim: to mimic a movement you would make on the wall (flagging) while stretching the abdominals and glutes
  • How-to:
    • Start standing up.
    • Reach each opposing arm and leg (i.e. right arm, left leg) as far away from the body as possible while standing on one foot to make half an X-shape.
    • Repeat movement on the other side.
    • Repeat 5 times per side.

5. Reverse Outside Flag & Reach

Female Climber Doing Reverse Outside Flag And Reach Stretches

  • Aim: to mimic flagging while stretching the arms, hips, and legs
  • How-to:
    • Start standing up.
    • Bend your right knee while you extend your left arm up and away from your body and step your left leg behind your right leg, touching the floor with your toes.
    • Repeat motion on the other side (right arm / right leg).
    • Repeat 5 times per side.

6. Shoulder Rotations & Arm Circles

  • Aim: to warm up your rotator cuffs while stretching your shoulder and arm muscles to prepare for pushing and pulling motions on the wall
  • How-to:
    • Roll both shoulders forward five times, then back five times while arms dangle down by your sides.
    • Next, lift both arms and rotate the arms/shoulders five times forward and five times back, making sure to keep the motion as smooth and controlled as possible.

7. Torso Twists

Male Climber Doing Torso Twist Stretches

  • Aim: to increase mobility in the spine and stretch/strengthen the abdominal wall
  • How-to:
    • Stand with your arms raised and bent in toward your chest at shoulder height. Keep your feet rooted firmly on the ground, wider than hips-width apart.
    • Simply start twisting your torso gently from side to side, gaining momentum slowly. Don’t twist your body further than is comfortable each time.
    • You must move fully from one side to the next to complete one twist.
    • Perform 10 total torso twists.

8. Neck Rolls

  • Aim: to improve mobility in your neck, especially to prepare for long belays
  • How-to:
    • Let your head completely relax while looking down, then roll your head in gentle circles, five times in each direction.

9. Forearm Extensor Stretch

Female Climber Doing Forearm Extensor Stretches

Female Climber Doing Reverse Forearm Extensor Stretches

  • Aim: to extend your forearm muscles and stretch your biceps and triceps to avoid elbow injuries while climbing and decrease the possibility of a flash pump
  • How-to:
    • In a standing position, bring your arms together in front of your chest (your hands should be at your waist).
    • Straighten your right arm and lay your fingers flat on the palm of your left hand.
    • Pull back on the fingers of your extended (right) arm until you start to feel a gentle stretch. Hold for 10 – 20 seconds.
    • Release your right arm and rotate it 180° so the fingers are facing backward on your left palm with your thumb facing out to the right.
    • Pull back with your left hand until you feel the stretch in your forearm. Hold for 10 – 20 seconds.
    • Repeat both front and back forearm stretches with the other hand.
    • Do two sets of the stretch per arm (four total stretches per arm)

10. Easy Climbing

Rock Climber Doing Gentle Warm Up Climb

  • Aim: to prepare your body and your mind for the act of climbing and put into practice all the warm-ups you just did!
  • How-to: _ Pick out at least two climbing routes or boulder problems that are two or more grades below your peak climbing level (so if you’re a 5.10 climber, climb a 5.7 and 5.8, or if you climb V6, start out with a couple V3 or V4 problems). _ Focus on how you move and pay attention to where your thoughts go while you warm-up on the wall. Try to be precise with your movements and present in your thoughts while paying close attention to footwork and efficient movement across the wall. * Warming up before climbing doesn’t have to be lame. Gather up a few friends and make a game of it, or record your progress as you start to notice the differences that warming up has on your climbing ability.

You’ll be impressed with how quickly your climbing improves after just a couple of sessions that incorporate a thorough warm-up!

And always remember to do a short cool down after finishing up on the wall to allow your muscles to relax and prevent further injury. To cool down, simply perform some of the same stretches described above in a static fashion (hold the stretch for 20-30 seconds), or you can do some gentle yoga to cool down your body and your mind.

Now that you know how to properly warm-up before climbing, get out there and start climbing like the rock warrior you are, with smoking hot muscles and the mind of a Jedi to boot!

Written By: Briana Halliwell

https://www.theclimbingguy.com/ten-climbing-warmup-and-stretches/

You’re Going to Lose Endurance and Why You Shouldn’t Worry About It

Covid-19 has all of us looking for ways to keep training while staying at home and being socially responsible. There is a lot of information, including the TrainingBeta At-Home Training Program, out there right now to help you train at home no matter how limited your equipment is. With all of this information available, there’s no reason you can’t find a way to keep training and progressing towards your climbing goals.

That said, we are getting a lot of questions from route climbers about how to go about training endurance from home. I get it. You trained hard all winter. You’re feeling fit and ready to get after it on your projects this spring. Then, bam. The coronavirus hit and you’re stuck at home feeling your hard-won endurance slipping away.

This situation sucks. No way around it.

While I fully understand where this sentiment comes from and am even in a similar situation with my personal climbing, I don’t think it’s the best way to think about training during quarantine, and it’s leading to a lot of unnecessary anxiety and missed training opportunities.

To get this discussion started, I’m just going to say it: You’re going to lose endurance during this pandemic.

And you shouldn’t worry about it.

Now, I know you’re not going to just take my word for it, so let’s take a closer look.

Why You’re Going to Lose Endurance

The main reason why you are going to lose endurance during these times is because of equipment issues. This should be fairly obvious. Without access to outdoor climbing or to the nice lead walls at your normal climbing gym, you just aren’t going to get in your normal volume of pitches. If you’re normally a weekend warrior who climbs outside on the weekends and indoors on Tuesdays and Thursdays, we could be talking about twenty or more pitches a week. That’s a lot of lost volume and there’s really no getting around that in our current situation.

But what about maintaining your endurance with the equipment you do have available at home?

Let’s imagine for a second that you a really great home training situation with a home wall, a hangboard, a good weight training setup, and plenty of motivation. Even with this great setup, which most people don’t currently have, you are still going to run into equipment issues trying to train endurance. Let’s take one piece of equipment at a time.

Home Walls

Most home bouldering walls are steep and small. The combination of both of these features makes them much more suited to hard bouldering than endurance circuits. Yes, with big enough holds, you can set up longer circuits on your home wall, but unless you are a fairly advanced climber (say 5.12+ and up) it’s still going to be hard to stay on a 45-degree wall doing lap after lap of your circuit to effectively train endurance.

Neely limit bouldering on her recently built home wall.

Hangboards

There are ways to train endurance on the hangboard. To do so, however, you need to be able to manipulate the intensity and this means you’re also going to need a pulley system and weights to use as assistance so you can hang at less than 100% body weight.

Personally, I’ve got several issues with training endurance on the hangboard. First, it’s heinously boring. No way around that one. Second, even though the hanging you’d be doing is pretty low intensity, adding that much hanging into your training is going to place a lot of additional strain on your shoulders, elbows, and fingers. If you have a good training background on the hangboard, I do think it can be done safely, but even in that situation, I don’t think it’s the best use of your time. More on that later.

Weights/Bodyweight

Whether you have a nice weight setup or are just using bodyweight exercises to train at home, neither of these training modalities offers effective endurance training options for climbing. The reason for this is that when we talk about the physical component of climbing endurance, we are really talking about the capacity of the forearms, not the general aerobic endurance required to do things like run for long periods of time. Working up to being able to do longer/harder sessions with these training modalities is going to increase your general work capacity, which is a good thing, but it isn’t going to prevent you from getting pumped next time you’re able to get out climbing.

Nik Berry high off the deck and eyeing up the crux move of Planet Earth 5.14a at the VRG | Photo: Matt Pincus | @mpincus87

Why Losing Endurance is Ok

Ok, that’s the “bad” news. Now let’s look at why this inevitable drop in your endurance levels is ok.

You’ve Been Here Before (even if you don’t know it…)

The first reason to not freak out about losing your endurance during the pandemic is a common sense one. You’ve lost your endurance and gotten it back before.

Climbers who switch between styles know this already. Spend the winter focused on bouldering and you’re going to get pumped when you get back on a rope in the spring. The good news is once you are getting pitches in consistently you won’t be getting pumped for long and you’ll still feel the positive strength/power benefits of your winter bouldering. The same can be true during this period of social distancing.

I know that those of you route climbers who would rather not climb than go bouldering probably don’t believe me. If you’re one of those climbers, really think about it. Do you have top-level endurance year-round? I doubt it. Far more likely is that it ebbs and flows based on your climbing seasons and projects. What about injury? Most climbers have had to take some time off due to injury. When you were able to climb again were you as fit as ever? Probably not, but you worked through it and have sent routes since then. All of these scenarios should also show you that it isn’t that hard to regain endurance.

Transient vs Persistent Adaptations

The second reason why a temporary drop in your endurance levels is ok has to do with the type of adaptations endurance really is. Endurance in climbing is primarily a metabolic adaptation, meaning that it is gained by optimizing the use of certain energy systems in the forearms.

This is obviously an oversimplification. For the purposes of this discussion, however, all you need to remember is that metabolic adaptations are more transient, while attributes like strength, which depends on structural and neurological adaptations, are more persistent. To sum all this up, endurance can be gained and lost quickly while strength is gained and lost more slowly. You probably won’t feel super fit your first day out sport climbing, but that’s ok. Once you get back into the swing of climbing outside, your endurance will come back quickly.

Endurance is Style and Skill Dependent

The final reason why it’s ok to let your endurance levels drop right now is that endurance is dependent on both style and skill. What I mean here is there’s a lot more that goes into being able to climb a challenging-for-you route than just the capacity of your forearms. You need to be able to climb calmly above a bolt, have your beta dialed in, and generally be able to climb confidently and efficiently. These are all skills that take practice. You aren’t going to fully forget how to do them while you’re staying at home, but you are going to get rusty. Just like your first outdoor days of a normal season, it’s going to take some days/pitches to get back into the flow of things. What this means is that you’re going to need to spend some time getting back into outdoor climbing before you can really get after it on your project. Those days sound like a pretty good time to regain your endurance to me.

Estaban Lahoz entering the first crux of Negocié 8b in Siurana | Photo: Matt Pincus | @mpincus87

An Opportunity: Don’t Miss It

There you have it. You’re going to lose some endurance and that’s ok. You don’t need to worry about training it if you don’t have the proper equipment to do so. What should you be doing, though? Should route climbers be doing anything they possibly can to maintain as much endurance as they can or are there more effective uses of their training time and energy?

I would argue that, at best, trying to maintain your endurance right now is like running on a hamster wheel. You’re going to put in a lot of effort, but you’re not really going to get anywhere. The bigger problem here isn’t the wasted effort, but it’s the other training opportunities that you are missing as a result.

Rather than asking yourself, “How can I maintain as much endurance as possible?” when we’ve already established that losing some is inevitable and not a big deal, a better question to ask is, “What can I focus on training where I can really make some progress and move the needle?” No matter what kind of climber you are, the obvious place to start is strength.

Strength is the foundational physical attribute and is a prerequisite for developing high levels of climbing-specific power, power endurance, and endurance. Do yourself a favor and use this time to get strong. Doing so may not help your climbing performance the first day back at the crag, but it will help you dramatically in the long run.

If you don’t know where to start, the TrainingBeta At-Home Training Program Ebook is a good option. It gives you both a wide variety of exercises to choose from, options for different amounts of available equipment, and a framework for understanding how to train strength.

No matter how you end up training, remember the goal should be to get stronger and build a good foundation of general strength that will serve you well when we get back to climbing.

Cover Photo: Sean Bailey fighting the pump on Joe Mama 5.15a | Photo: Matt Pincus | @mpincus87

About The Author, Matt Pincus

Matt is a boulderer and a sport climber from Jackson, Wyoming. He spends most of his time on the road living out of his van. Matt is responsible for most of the blog posts and social media posts for TrainingBeta and is our head trainer. He’s a seasoned climber and coach who can provide you with a climbing training program from anywhere in the world based on your goals, your abilities, the equipment you have, and any limitations you have with time or injuries.

Train With Matt

Matt will create a custom training program designed to help you target any weaknesses so you can reach your individual goals. Whether you need a 4-week program to get you in shape for an upcoming trip or a 6-month program to make gradual strength gains, he’ll create a weekly schedule of climbing drills, strength exercises, finger strength workouts, and injury prevention exercises tailored to your situation.

Training For Climbing channel

The video home for TrainingForClimbing.com, by Eric J. Hörst (pronounced “Hurst”), an internationally renowned author, researcher, inventor, climbing coach, and accomplished climber of more than 40 years. Visit the links below for training podcasts, pro tips, article archives, and performance nutrition to help you train smarter to climb harder!

James Lucas on Using Intermediate Goals

As climbers, most of us have dream climbs we’d love to send someday in the future. Whether they are life-list routes, boulders, or big walls, these dream lines can be great motivators for continual improvement. The idea being that one day you want to be good enough to tick one of these objectives.

However, things can get tricky when it comes to actually planning out how to work towards such a lofty goal. The magnitude of the task can start to feel overwhelming and you can be left feeling like you don’t know where to start. The key is to set more achievable intermediate goals. These more achievable objectives help keep you motivated and build towards your larger objective.

To show this process in practice, here’s an excerpt from TrainingBeta Podcast 131 with James Lucas where he describes how he set a series of progressively easier goals to help him works towards sending his bigger objective, Yosemite’s Midnight Lightning V8.

When you read this excerpt, pay special attention to how James made some of his goals so easy it was almost impossible to fail. They may have been as simple as showing up but achieving them built confidence and moved him towards his larger objective. If you like what you see, be sure to check out the full episode/transcript and the article James wrote about his Midnight Lightning training: James Lucas: How I Trained for Midnight Lightning

bouldering training program

James Lucas on Using Intermediate Goals

26:13

James Lucas: I set myself up with a few goals. I wanted to do Midnight Lightning so I would do 10 V8s. Another goal that would help me get there is if I fail on the V8s I could always just try and do 10 days of alpine bouldering. That’s easier because I just have to show up. For me, sometimes that’s the hardest part, just getting there. Once I’m there I’m like, ‘Oh, I’m here. I’ll try my project since I’m here or I’ll do something else because I’m here,’ and that helps my climbing.

Neely Quinn: It’s interesting because your first goal was lofty and the second one was just about motivating yourself. Either way you were setting yourself up for success. Even if you failed on the first goal you could still attain the second. 

James Lucas: Right. Exactly. Each goal would get smaller and smaller and that really helped me. I feel like that was the biggest part of my training program. It was like, ‘Okay, it’s 4:00, I’m done with work, I guess I need to go climbing.’ Then it would be like, ‘I should go to the Park.’ I’d drive up there and do the hike and at the very least I’m hiking. Then it’s like, ‘Well okay, I’m at the boulder. I might as well climb.’ 

I had this initial goal of doing 10 alpine days and I did that pretty quick so then I was like, ‘Oh, 30.’ Then at the end of the season, I ended up doing 50 days of bouldering in just Rocky.

Neely Quinn: That’s a lot of days.

James Lucas: Yeah, it was a lot. I got kind of burnt out at the end.

Neely Quinn: In those 50 days what did you accomplish?

James Lucas: I think I did six V8s, I did three or four V7/V8, and I climbed around 10 or 11 V7s. I built a pretty wide pyramid.

Neely Quinn: I just want to reflect. In the 14 or 15 years up to that point you had done 3-4 V8s, 10 V7s, and 20 V6s. In this one summer you did six V8s, three V7/8s, and 10 V7s.

James Lucas: Yeah, that sounds about right.

Neely Quinn: That’s pretty huge and it seems like maybe, and I’ll ask you: is it just because you put the time in?

James Lucas: Yeah, I would say that’s the biggest part of it. Through my climbing I’ve noticed, not only in myself but in other people, the people who put the time in and put the work in get better at whatever they’re doing. The more you commit to it the more you’re going to improve.

Neely Quinn: The 10,000 hour rule. You put approximately 10,000 hours just into hiking. [laughs]

James Lucas: [laughs] Yeah, possibly. I definitely wore through my approach shoes. Even if you’re doing the wrong training program or something that doesn’t work, the fact that you’re out there doing it is going to make you better. To some degree there’s this placebo effect where if you think you’re putting energy towards improving at your project or improving at your goal, you will.

Neely Quinn: So it’s both a placebo effect and just the practice on the wall?

James Lucas: Yeah, just the practice and getting better at those skills. Because I had a short time frame to do Midnight Lightning, I got better at sending stuff quickly, which is hard.

Neely Quinn: That’s what I was going to ask you: what did you learn up there?

James Lucas: I kind of learned how to project a boulder problem. It’s easy to think about a route project, like where the clips are and stuff, but on a boulder problem project it’s like: where is the crux move? How can I do this one move? What’s the most efficient way to do this one move and doing the move before it to get into it? Linking sections and then figuring out what the best conditions are to climb stuff in.

Full Episode/Transcript: TBP 131: James Lucas on Improving His Bouldering the Old Fashioned Way

Seb Bouin’s Journey To Climb La Rage D’Adam 9b/+

The Verdon Gorge is Seb Bouin’s favourite place to climb, its where he has climbed many of his hardest routes and some of the hardest routes in France. 4 years ago his journey began trying to climb what he would go on to climb La Rage D’Adam, the cruxy overhanging route which he has now made the first ascent of and given a grade of 9b/+ , making it one of the hardest sport climbs in France. And after his recent history of climbing Move 9b/+, Patanics, 9a+/b and Mamichula 9b we reckon he might be onto one…

Dr. Tyler Nelson: The “Simplest” Finger Training Program

The idea that finger strength is an important factor in climbing performance is a well-established fact. As a community, we’ve also accepted certain assumptions about training finger strength, including that hanging from a hangboard is the most effective way to improve finger strength. While I won’t argue that the hangboard is an invaluable climbing training tool, our assumptions about how to use it, including that you should train in a full crimp or that hangs need to last for a certain duration (think 10-second max hangs), can be limiting.

It’s with challenging some of these assumptions in mind that we give you this article by Dr. Tyler Nelson, a sports scientist, and climber who owns a chiropractic sports medicine clinic and strength and conditioning business in Salt Lake City. In it, Dr. Nelson outlines his take on the “simplest” finger training program.

Now, if you’ve read any of Dr. Nelson’s other articles on TrainingBeta, you’re aware that “simple” isn’t really his forte. However, with this finger training program, Dr. Nelson has created an easy to follow a protocol based on the latest sports science research on isometric muscle contractions. You don’t need any equipment beyond a hangboard, and Tyler believes this program is suitable for climbers of all ability levels. Give it a look, but prepare to keep an open mind about how you utilize the hangboard. Also, remember that simple doesn’t mean easy: For this program to be effective, you still need to show up and put the hard work in…

The “Simplest” Finger Training Program

Tyler Nelson DC, MS, CSCS

Camp4 Human Performance

It’s very apparent to anyone who’s been climbing for over a few years that having strong fingers is incredibly important for progressing in the sport. When it comes to training finger strength, there is a spectrum of programs that range from simple to complex, and it’s important to understand that there’s a time and a place for both. 

The simplest forms of finger training are generally more suited to beginners to the sport and the more complex programs reserved for those at the advanced level. This is because athletes with a larger training age (years climbing and training) require more unique stimuli (added load, 1-arm hangs, micro edges) to create further adaptation, whereas those newer to the sport just need some dedicated finger training which can take the shape of hanging on their fingers and climbing harder routes.

If you’ve read my previous articles on TrainingBeta, you already know that I usually lean towards creating nuanced finger training programs. As a coach, my athlete assessment panel and programming entail precise measurements of force and the time it takes the finger flexors to create that force. This allows me to be as accurate as possible when prescribing training loads specific to each individual. To some climbers that hit home, but for others, it misses the mark due to its complexity, and that is ok. Not everyone is interested in minor details or has the tools necessary to apply this type of intervention. So, here’s the good news. You can cover all the components necessary to make your fingers stronger with just one tool: the hangboard.

Based on 2019 review papers in the Scandinavian Journal of Science and Medicine in Sports* on isometric muscle contractions, I’ve created this program for climbers, both beginners, and experts, looking to make finger training as simple as possible. No weights added, no scales to measure with, and no pulley system used. Just a hangboard with multiple edge sizes. This could be a board fixed to the wall of your home or even a portable one you use while on the road. My personal preferences are the Tension Climbing Grindstone (home), or portable Flashboard (road). I like the feel and comfort of the wood on my fingers and really appreciate their craftsmanship.

Because this program is advertised as “simple,” I need to make it very clear that by simple I mean in its application, not necessarily that the workouts will be easy. My goal here is to be clear and straightforward in the description of each component of the program and its rationale so that anyone can incorporate this program into their training. Doing the work and trying hard is still on you. 

A Few Things to Understand First

To make our fingers stronger for rock climbing, we need to develop a few very important things:

  1. Muscular recruitment and size
  2. Density in the tendons, phalanges (bones), and pulleys
  3. Adequate blood flow (capillary density)
  4. Stiffness of the entire system to exert force rapidly

Let’s briefly discuss how each of these mechanisms works:

1. Muscular Recruitment and Size

By developing muscular recruitment and size, we train the nervous system and muscles to produce more overall force but do so slowly with low to zero velocity. To do this, we need to either pull on something at max effort (overcoming isometric) or hold onto something until our muscles fail (yielding isometric). 

By trying hard (over 85% effort) and pulling for 3-5 seconds we can recruit the largest muscle fibers of the finger flexors. By holding onto an edge at a lower intensity (40-70%) for 30-45 seconds, or failure, we cycle through all the fibers of the finger flexors. This quickly fatigues the small fibers and ultimately ends in using the largest muscle fibers as well. 

By training, we gain more overall force potential (maximum strength), but also better capacity to produce force for a longer period (endurance). In addition to more recruitment, we also gain muscle size in the form of fat-free mass (hypertrophy). This can add additional force potential but slightly less endurance. This component generally comes from holding on to failure each set.

2. Connective Tissue Density

The next thing we need to discuss is how to increase the density (collagen thickness) and stiffness of the tendons, ligaments, and bones that allow our muscles to create movement across a joint. After all, these are the real limiting factors in most climbers’ ability to grasp small holds quickly, and not fall off.  

A hard-to-visualize principle is that when we grab onto something statically (no objective joint movement) and hold for an extended period of time (30-45 seconds) our tendons are stretching slowly. As the tendon continues to stretch the individual fibers within it slide next to each other. This sliding disrupts the chemical bonds that attach the fibers as a unit. If we follow this type of slow static loading with adequate rest and nutrition, over time we create more bonds and thus denser connective tissues. While we load the tendons of the finger flexors, we also get stress (perpendicular force) to the pulley system of the fingers and the bones to which they attach.

By creating denser connective tissue, we create a more robust system overall. This means the fingers are not only capable of creating more force but are also more resistant to injury and capable of withstanding the stress of hard climbing. 

3. Adequate Blood Flow

To fuel muscle work and remove waste products, we need an adequate blood supply to the working tissue. This comes in the form of blood vessel density surrounding the finger flexor muscles. If you’re a route climber, you need to fuel those muscles with oxygen as long as possible and if you’re bouldering you need to clear out waste products between attempts. 

We train better blood flow to the working tissue through a couple of different mechanisms. We can build up the metabolic byproducts in our muscles intentionally (4×4 type training), then rest before doing it again to train the system to work with partial clearance. We can also train right below the threshold of accumulating metabolic byproducts (ARC training) to force better working blood supply and cellular metabolism. Finally, we can severely reduce the blood flow to working tissue (blood flow restriction training and isometrics) in order to force anaerobic modes of energy production chronically.  

When we consider training blood flow on a hangboard it comes in the form of the last mechanism – severely restricted blood flow – even when not using tools like blood flow restriction bands. That’s because we use levels of muscle work (30-50% and above) adequate to create full compression on the blood vessels of the finger flexor muscles. This disallows new blood to and from working muscle, which creates hypoxia locally. Long term this creates more efficient use of oxygen when it is available. 

4. Rates of force development and Muscle-tendon stiffness 

The final component, or icing on the cake, that ties everything together is improving the rate at which force is generated in the finger flexors. Just as the name implies, it is literally the rate (time in milliseconds) at which force is exerted through the muscle-tendon unit to the joints of the fingers. To best optimize this component of our finger training, we need to have already worked on tendon density and recruitment. The reason for this is that training recruitment gives us the strength that we are then trying to apply with speed and training density makes the muscle-tendon unit robust enough to tolerate the forces created by rapid loading. Once these attributes have been trained, by using moderate to high intensity (40-80%) muscular work for 1-3 seconds, we can focus on moving/creating force as quickly as possible. 

By training force production rapidly, the tendons stretch less while the muscles shorten as quickly as they can. This produces an overall slight reduction in force but creates the contact strength and stiffness necessary to be dynamic on the wall. 

How do we train each with a simple tool like the hangboard?

Hangboard Workout 1: Recruitment Pulls

Recruitment pulling is the high-intensity finger training portion of this program. To get the intensity right all you need to do is find a few specific edge sizes, get fixed underneath them with the board overhead, and pull with max effort, 1 arm at a time, for 3-5 seconds. When positioning for this, I suggest that people get set up with a large elbow angle (120-150 degrees) and not with the elbow in full extension. 

It’s important to point out that we are not necessarily hanging on the board here, but are pulling vertically downward with muscle force through the entire upper extremity. If you’re strong enough to do a 1-arm hang, that’s great. Find an edge size that you can hang on for approximately 5 seconds with 1 arm. If you can’t do a 1-arm hang, no need to worry. The goal is to try and generate enough force to lift your body off the ground, even if you can’t. As long as you are pulling with maximal effort, you will get the appropriate stimulus even though your feet don’t leave the ground. 

An important thing to note about this movement is the speed at which you develop force. The goal is not to grab and pull as fast as you can for 5-seconds. The goal is to slowly bring on the pulling force for 1-2 seconds, then really grip down as hard as you can for the remainder of the time (3-5 seconds). This allows the largest muscle fibers to be engaged during the last few seconds of the effort. It should feel similar to the speed of a max hang. 

Whether you are hanging or pulling, progress by trying hard and using smaller edge sizes to hang on. 

Hangboard workout 2: Density Hangs

Density hangs are the lower intensity, longer duration portion of this program. To get the intensity right here you want to find a few specific edge sizes that you can hang on with 2-arms for approximately 20-40 seconds. In this case, you could use either a large joint angle at the elbow or use a fully extended elbow position. This portion of the protocol will look like a long duration hang on the board and is the most similar to what you’ve probably done in the past. 

The goal here is to hang to muscular failure. I use the term density hangs here to refer to both the tendons and the finger flexor muscle density, which are improved through long-term contractions to failure. With longer hang times at reduced intensity, we create new bonds in the tendons but also some cross-sectional area (hypertrophy) to the muscle fibers themselves. 

Progress by increasing the time to failure on the chosen edge size or drop the edge size if you can hit 30-seconds easily.

Hangboard workout 3: Velocity pulls 

Velocity pulls are moderate to high-intensity efforts done for a short duration. Once you get to this portion of the program, you’ll have already established the edge sizes from the previous two workouts and now will focus on the rate at which you develop force on those edges. These can be done with either one or two arms depending on the intensity you can tolerate. 

At its simplest, you would stand under the board with your arm at 120-150 degrees of flexion with your fingers slightly engaged on the edge and pull down as fast as you can, or “hop” onto the board. As with the recruitment pulls, we aren’t necessarily hanging here, but just pulling with the intention of creating force quickly.

When doing velocity pulls, I always recommend starting with slight tension into the hold (10-20% max) before pulling down fast. This creates less shock load to the pulleys and also gets the muscle-tendon unit engaged to pull down as rapidly and hard as possible for 1-3 seconds. If you were performing these 2 arms at a time, you would simply get set up with some tension and quickly lift your feet off the ground and hold on with your fingers at the same time. The most advanced progression would be to fully load a 1-arm hang quickly for a total of 3 seconds. 

What matters most with stiffness training is the rate of force development in the first quarter of a second, which is why the focus on speed is so important. However, some research has shown that maintaining that force for up to 3 seconds produces better dynamic performance. If we think about force production for climbing, this principle makes sense as it’s more specific to how we engage holds when climbing. 

Progress by using smaller edge sizes or being able to 1-arm load for more reps.

Implementing the Program 

Hopefully, by now you’ve got a basic understanding of the different types of training interventions and what they target. The reason you can train all of them with the same tool is based on your ability to manipulate the intensity, time under tension, and the rate at which you apply force to the fingers on your board. Applying force at the high intensities slowly trains recruitment. Applying lower-intensity force for long durations to failure trains hypertrophy and connective tissue density. Moderate to high-intensity work done very rapidly trains contact strength and stiffness. Simple and you cover all your bases! 

Now let’s discuss how to implement all these principles into an actual finger training program.

You Have Total Control 

The reason I think this is practical for both beginners and experts is due to the autoregulatory nature of force in the finger flexors. A beginner pulling hard on their fingers on a 20mm edge is likely producing 30-50% of their body weight, where an expert might be pulling 100-120% of theirs. For the density hangs, the beginner likely will be hanging on a jug or 35mm pocket where an expert will be hanging on a 15 or 10mm edge to failure. With the velocity pull workout, the expert will be pulling their body weight in force around 1.5 seconds where the beginner will only get to 40% body weight. As you can see, those are huge force differences which are regulated automatically by the strength and stiffness of each individual’s fingers. So, as long as each athlete understands the principles of the workouts, is properly hydrated, fed, rested, and giving a good effort, this program will work for anyone.

When and How Long – What the Program Looks Like

When to do a hangboard workout is entirely up to an athlete’s schedule and where it fits within the rest of their training program. Personally, I think the time that you can get it done is the best time to do it, so long as it’s not right after or before your climbing-specific work. The one exception here would be a few recruitments pulls before climbing, which serves as a final warm-up for climbing. 

I am also a big fan of training the fingers on the same day as your climbing day but separated by at least 4-6 hours. The fact that you can do this all on a hangboard, which you likely have at your house, makes this manageable for mostly everyone. The rationale for having multiple training sessions in a day separated by a long break is to give the finger pulleys enough time to return to their normal shape and get hydrated before loading again. 

In regards to the frequency, 2 days per week separated by two days of rest is an ample stimulus for beginners. For experts, I think 3 days per week is optimal.

Some general programming ideas:

As a point of clarification, you’ll note that I suggest beginners only perform the speed pulls after having completed a cycle of both recruitments pulls and density hangs while experts can do so after only a cycle of recruitment pulls. The reason for this is that, as stated above, the density of the muscle-tendon unit is important for safely withstanding the forces created with rapid loading. We can safely assume that experts (those with a longer training history) can handle these forces while beginners who are new to training/climbing should err on the side of caution and train this attribute first. 

Pairing Finger Training with Climbing and Progressions 

There are many ways to program finger training into your climbing schedule during the week. I’ve already talked about how I prefer doing it later in the day on a climbing day. In addition to performing the finger training later in the day, I’m also a fan of matching the intensity/focus of the finger workout with the focus of the climbing session. This keeps things simple and assures that you’re addressing all of the components of your finger training. So, if you’re performing a limit bouldering session in the morning you would perform a recruitment/speed pull workout later in the day. If you had a capacity workout, you would do the density hangs and so on. Here is a rough outline. Be sure to leave 4-6 hours between sessions and note that it is no problem to switch them around so you train in the morning and climb in the afternoon.

* The articles I pulled from are from academic journals that are not open source. The citations are as follows:

  • Isometric training and long-term adaptations: Effects of muscle length, intensity, and intent: A systematic review“; Scandinavian Journal of Science and Medicine in Sports; Dustin J. Oranchuk, Adam G. Storey, André R. Nelson, John B. Cronin
  • “Effects of plyometric and isometric training on muscle and tendon stiffness in vivo”; Scandinavian Journal of Science and Medicine in Sports; Keitaro Kubo, Tomonobu Ishigaki, Toshihiro Ikebukuro
  • “Brief Review: Effects of Isometric Strength Training on Strength and Dynamic Performance”; Scandinavian Journal of Science and Medicine in Sports;  Danny Lum, Tiago M. Barbosa

For any additional programming ideas or questions come to see me at the Performance Climbing Coach Seminars or email me at camp4performance@gmail.com. You can also find me on Instagram @C4HP.

Cover Photo courtesy of Matt Pincus |@mpincus87

About The Author

Tyler Nelson owns and operates a chiropractic sports medicine clinic and strength & conditioning business in Salt Lake City. While earning his doctoral degree, he completed a dual program Master’s degree in exercise science at the University Of Missouri. While in graduate school he worked with the University of Missouri athletics department and currently is employed through two colleges in Utah. He teaches anatomy and physiology at a community college and works as a team physician for the Brigham Young University athletics department. He is certified through the National Strength and Conditioning Association as a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist and spends any extra time in his life with his wife and three kids or trad climbing in Zion National Park. He has been climbing for 17 years and gravitates toward all-day adventure climbing. His expertise in human physiology and cutting-edge knowledge of strength and conditioning science are what drive him to always challenge the norms in training.

Article from: https://www.trainingbeta.com/the-simplest-finger-training-program/

Core Strength For Climbers

Core Strength For Climbers By power company climbing is a great training manual, you can get it for $35 dollar on their website. check it out what they have to say about it…

power company climbing

Our intention with Core Strength for Climbers is to both give you the tools to develop a strong midsection that helps you to climb harder, and to make this entire process simple and repeatable. By the end of this, our hope is that you will have a better idea of what the core does, how to make it stronger, and have a plan to put that information to use.

What You Will Find in this E-Book

Fundamentals: With a nearly limitless number of core exercises out there, it can be hard to know where to start with your training. This book will lay out the exercises and progression methods that we at Power Company Climbing believe to be the foundation of developing a strong midsection.

Ready-made plans: Here you will find several circuits that are practice-ready and can be started today prior to completing this book. Obviously, there is more nuanced information as you continue reading, but don’t be afraid to put the book down and get to work. Your journey with core strength will be ongoing and you don’t need to know absolutely everything before getting started. The best way to learn is by doing, so once you feel like you have a grasp on what’s going on, get after it.

How to create a plan of your own: As you progress through these workouts you will start to get an idea of your strengths and weaknesses and be able to start modifying the program to suit your individual needs. This section has suggestions on how to make a unique program that is still sustainable and effective.

Exercises: This section has detailed descriptions for the exercises and how to progress them through modification as well as a series of focused climbing exercises. We have also included videos to go along with the written instructions for each exercise.