Tuesday, November 1, 1994

Reprinted from Allez... Training: Periodization

This is an exact reprint of my second training article published in the Nov-Dec 1994 issue of Allez Magazine.
"These are the teachings of
Yamamoto Jin’emon:
Singlemindedness is all-powerful.
Continue to spur a running horse.
Wrap your intentions in needles of pine.
A straw hat or helmet should be
worn tilted toward the front.
Tether even a roasted chicken."

   - Yamamoto Tsunetomo
Athletic training is not an exact science. The point of this, and future articles, is to convey as much information as possible related to the science to training as it is presently. Some of it will even be contradictory. The true science lies in trying different things and seeing what works best for you. With this in mind, I will attempt to describe training methods used by most elite athletes in a broad array of sports; translating specifics into climbing terms when necessary.
   Successful training is based upon two concepts: overload/recovery and cyclic periodization. The first, overload/recovery, concerns stimulating (exercising) a specific muscular system to the point at which it will attempt to rebuild itself (by resting) stronger than it originally was. The second, cyclic periodization, deals with the fact that continuous overload of the same muscular system causes training plateaus and injuries. Cyclic periodization covers what systems to train, in what order, and for how long; from this we can derive a sound training schedule. How particular systems are trained will be covered in future issues.
   Since cyclic periodization targets specific cellular components in different phases, muscle cell operation is covered first. Don't underestimate the importance of understanding the basics of a cell's components: it is impossible to know how to train without being aware of what, exactly, is being trained. But, if a rigorously scientific approach bores you, skip to page 41, “The Phases of Training."

Muscle Cell Operation
At the first instant of exercise, the Central Nervous Systems (CNS) activates the necessary motor nerve fibers to control a given movement (see Figure #1, item #1). For movements that the CNS is unfamiliar with, accuracy is achieved through sensory feedback and additional muscle refinements, this results in jerky, inefficient movement. If the movement is familiar to the CNS, a specific, programmed motor engram controls the movement, this method is far more efficient and fluid.
   Once signaled by the CNS, muscles demand energy and then contract. This first burst of energy is always supplied by the break-down of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) to adenosine diphosphate (ADP) and energy (2); this energy causes the muscle to contract (3). ADP is harmless and does not cause fatigue within the muscle. Unfortunately, there isn’t very much ATP in the muscle cell, only enough for about 5 seconds of exercise. ADP can be converted back into ATP if enough energy is supplied to it (4). This cycle can continue as long as energy is supplied to convert ADP to ATP. There are three energy systems that serve this function.

Phosphagen Energy System
The first energy source used to convert ADP to ATP is creatine phosphate (CP). CP breaks-down into creatine, inorganic phosphate (Pi) and energy (5). The energy and Pi combine with ADP to create ATP (4). Unfortunately, there is only enough CP in the muscles to fuel about 10 seconds of intense exercise. After this time, all the CP has been converted to CR. CR does not cause fatigue, but it will not reconvert into CP until enough oxygen enters the system. Key Trainable Elements: ATP-CP stores.

Anaerobic Glycolysis
The first step in anaerobic glycolysis is the break-down of glycogen to pyruvate and the release of some energy (6). If there is oxygen present in the mitochondria, then the pyruvate can be converted into more energy, this is aerobic glycolysis. In intense exercise, more pyruvate is produced than can be used by the mitochondria (this is the case with anaerobic glycolysis), thus the pyruvate is converted into lactic acid (7).
The muscle cell has two ways of removing lactic acid. It can move it out of the cell into the blood, but this is a slow process; or, it can be "soaked up" by molecular "sponges" within the muscle called buffers (8). Eventually these buffers fill-up and lactic acid starts accumulating in the cell causing it to contract with less force and finally acidifying it to the point of failure (9).
   Note: Muscle contractions squeeze capillaries reducing oxygen supply to the muscle (10). At contractions above approximately 50% of maximum strength, blood supply is cut off; thus all energy must be supplied anaerobically and lactic acid is unable to leave the muscle cell. This state can only last a brief time (under 2 minutes). Furthermore, at high levels of lactic acid, muscle coordination is also impaired (11). Key Trainable Elements: 1) Lactic acid buffers within the muscle. 2) The individual's psychological ability to resist lactic acid and climb pumped. 3) Glycogen stores within the muscle.

Aerobic Glycolysis
The aerobic system can utilize glycogen, fats, and protein for energy. (Fats and proteins are broken down slightly differently than glycogen, and are only used if glycogen stores are depleted.) The first stage is the same as above (6). Next, if oxygen is present in the mitochondria the pyruvate can be used in a series of reactions called the Krebs cycle. Here, pyruvate is converted into carbon dioxide (CO2), hydrogen ions (H+), and electrons (e-). Finally, the Electron Transport System (ETS) uses these hydrogen ions and electrons to create water (H20) and release a huge amount of energy in the process (12). The H20 is harmless and the C02 moves out of the muscle cell very quickly. No lactic acid is created in this process. Key Trainable Elements: 1) Krebs Cycle efficiency. 2) Mitochondria. 3) O2 Myoglobin stores within the muscle. 4) Capillaries. 5) Cardiovascular ability does not seem to be a limiting factor in climbing. But, increased CV ability might increase oxygen transport into the muscle while it is contracting. Note: All the energy system utilize various enzymatic systems, the efficiency of which can also be increased.
   Further knowledge of energy systems can be gained from Chart #1. Adapted from studies on runners, this chart gives us an approximation of the contributions of the three energy systems during exercises of varying lengths. Intensity is assumed to be constant; which is an important distinction since climbing is rarely performed at a constant rate. Notice that you are almost always utilizing all three energy systems.

Non-Energy Elements
Energy isn't the only factor that we must consider, the following elements also determine success or failure.
  1. Muscle mass largely determines how strong the muscle group can potentially be; the attainment of this potential is determined by one's recruitment ability.
  2. Recruitment is the degree to which muscle cells can contract
  3. The Golgi tendon reflex is the threshold at which contraction shuts down; this can be increased, but it's dangerous to do so.
  4. Connective tissue (ligaments, tendons, etc.) is often a climber's weakest link.
  5. Intermuscular coordination and movement efficiency (engram training) are qualities that training addicts like to overlook, but are essential for success.
  6. Neuromuscular System Muscular failure is often attributed to the Central Nervous System, the neuromuscular junction, and/or the motor nerve; the exact mechanism is unknown. Fast-twitch muscle fibers appear more susceptible to this type of fatigue.
  7. Excess muscle tension can add unnecessary stress to the body and reduces fluid movement; it can be eliminated through relaxation training.
  8. Mental factors such as motivation, breathing, fear, etc. must also be trained.

The Phases of Training
Training has been proven to increase each of the above systems (energy systems included). Continually training any of these systems leads to injury or plateaus (except #8). Thus, training must be cycled in a manner that stimulates and improves all the systems. A Russian trainer, L.P. Matwejew, developed the first model for cyclic periodization. Each cycle is comprised of six phases that are described below. Many people follow each phase rigidly and religiously, never overlapping them at any time; others integrate the four “core” phases so much that they aren't even cycling their training. Either extreme reduces efficiency, but there is still plenty of room for customization. Furthermore, cycle length can range from 4 weeks to a year. Here is a brief description of each phase.

Foundation Phase
General conditioning, a solid aerobic base, and strong connective tissue are the building-blocks that support the more strenuous training that follows. This phase is also the time to learn and refine new movements (engrams.) (This step would be impaired in later phases due to fatigue.) The rate of connective tissue strengthening is much slower than it is for muscles, thus this process must start first. Also, training effects on these systems last longer than for others, so they can be trained earlier in the cycle. Time permitting, you should try to climb (or train) 2-4 days consecutively at low intensity (never get pumped or exert maximum power), but high volume. One rest day should be enough to get your body back to 100%, if not, you trained too hard. (Next issue’s article will deal entirely with this phase. Until then you can reference Performance Rock Climbing, page 121.)

Hypertrophy Phase
Next add the muscle mass that will be trained and refined throughout the rest of the cycle. The mass gained in this phase will be of no use unless and until proper recruitment training is completed. Many serious climbers I know don’t even train hypertrophy specifically; they emphasize recruitment to the point where hypertrophy is “forced” due to the body’s high recruitment level. This is a debatable point, certainly getting huge (hypertrophy) isn't enough in and of itself, but most climbers will benefit greatly from even a little added mass. I lean towards high integration between hypertrophy and recruitment phases.

Recruitment Phase
This is a much bigger topic than Americans acknowledge. In fact, an entire training “philosophy” exists based upon the idea of training high-end recruitment almost exclusively. Many of England’s climbers seem to subscribe to this theory. Future training articles will cover: Slow-Velocity Strength, High-Velocity Strength, Rate of Force Development, Stretch-Shortening Cycle, and the Golgi tendon reflex. This is the most intense phase, requiring the most rest between workouts.

This phase is often referred to as the Lactic Acid Resistance Phase. Training your body and mind to deal with lactic acid and increasing your anaerobic ability are the goals of this phase. Your training should closely resemble whatever you have planned for your peak phase. Most likely you will want to integrate recruitment and aerobic exercises into this phase. In my opinion, most American climbers have trained power-endurance far too much, emphasizing ending every training day with a "good" pump.
   Many trainers suggest that power-endurance training requires the most rest, I do not believe this theory. Here’s why: 1) Top climbers who emphasize power-endurance (Francois Legrand) train 2-3 days on with 1 rest day, rarely 2 rest days. 2) Top power climbers (Ben Moon) always emphasize the importance of rest, often training 1 day on with 3-4 days rest. 3) After exercise, lactic acid is actually reconverted into glycogen. 4) Advocates of this theory will recommend training power-endurance on consecutive days, but never power. 5) Personal experience and observation.

Peak Phase
As your training tapers off, if you timed and executed your phases correctly, your peak will begin. Go climbing and try to achieve your goals Don’t do training exercises after a day of climbing; you’re done training for now. Try to rest more than during your training phases. If you feel like you should be doing more, emphasize mental training and flexibility. Whenever you go climbing, analyze how your training affected your climbing, from this, decide how you can improve your cycle for next time. As with other phases, if you try to extend your peak too long, you risk injury and your climbing will suffer.

Rest Phase
This phase allows muscles (and motivation) to recovery completely. Many climbers, myself included, have a problem with a complete rest phase; still, take as many days off as you can (at least 4). Go bolt new lines, or play video games, just forget about climbing for awhile. But, stay physically active, participate in other sports, go running, or find something else to do.

Phase Length
Knowing the six phases, we must consider the time which we will spend in each phase. To do this, let us consider the four core training phases: foundation, hypertrophy, recruitment, and power-endurance. The first line (in bold) of Chart #2, indicates a reasonable starting point for the proportions of these core phases. The first 35% of the core-cycle is foundation training, then 20% hypertrophy and so on. Next on the chart (and in the paragraph below) are modifiers that you can incorporate to tailor the proportions to your needs and goals. Lastly, in italics, are minimum and maximums that should not be exceeded. Chart #3 shows some examples of this process according to various goals and situations. These charts are only a guide, they come from no source other than off-the-top-of-my-head. What is important is to get a general feel for what type of training various goals call for.

End of Phase Signals
You must always allow for flexibility in the length of your phases. In general, plateaus and boredom are the best indicators that you should move on to the next phase. Obviously, if you get injured you stay in the phase way too long. Never stay in a phase only to stick to your schedule What ultimately decides how long to stay in a phase is whatever your body tells you.

Integration of Phases
Integration is the degree to which non-phase workouts are incorporated into the current phase; i.e., during the recruitment phase many climbers still train stamina (foundation phase) once a week. (For examples of this, compare the two different sample schedules in Chart #4.) The advantage of integration is that there is little regression due to lack of training a particular system. The problem is that integration is contrary to the principle of periodized training.
   Longer cycles will definitely require more integration; whereas 4 week cycles need no integration. Again, you will have to experiment and see what works.
   Note: Integration should never involve hypertrophy, recruitment, or power-endurance training during the foundation phase. Integration is done only to prevent loss of fitness which is not necessary at the start of a cycle; thus, the degree of integration should increase towards the end of the entire cycle, just before the peak phase.
   Important: Aerobic training (foundation phase) has negative effects on recruitment. The degree of this effect is large enough that many power-sport athletes rarely, if ever, train aerobic endurance This is a result of: 1) the fact that during aerobic exercise slow-twitch muscle fibers are utilized because they have a greater aerobic capacity; and 2) fiber recruitment is decreased to make the muscles more efficient aerobically. Fast-twitch muscle fibers are used during intense sprint-like activities, like bouldering. You can alter the ratio of fast-twitch and slow-twitch muscle fibers in a given muscle. Again, what is important here is your personal goals in climbing. If your goal, for example, is to do The Dominator, don't train long-endurance during your recruitment phase. For more information on this topic, I highly recommend Power: A Scientific Approach by Frederick Hatfield. (If you don’t want to buy the book, read Chapter 16: Endurance and Strength: Ne'er the Twain Shall Meet, on page 144.)

Cycle Length
Cycle length refers to the total time from the first foundation training day to the last rest day before starting a new cycle. Proper cycle length can only be determined after you have tested several different cycle structures and lengths and determined which works best for you.
   Hans Florine reported excellent results from a 19 day training cycle I recommended to him; others have reported successful results from cycles lasting a full year. I recommend starting with a 8-12 week cycle and refining it from there It might also be wise to alternate between long and short cycles.
Advantages of Short Cycles
   1. More knowledge gained through more cycles completed.
   2. Easy to focus and stay motivated.
Advantages of Long Cycles
   1. Higher and more predictable peak.
   2. Full benefits of each phase are achieved.

Once you have determined your goal, cycle length, and phase lengths, you arrive at the more specific issue of scheduling your workouts. First, get a calendar and write down all the major events you can think of: trips when you will not be able to workout, social functions that interfere (invariably) with training, everything. Next mark the general phase lengths, keeping in mind that they are flexible. Now consider what days of the week you can or would prefer to workout. Consider things like when your gym is least crowded, your work schedule, your partner’s schedule, etc.
   During the foundation phase, try to schedule 2-4 days on followed by one rest day. Schedule hypertrophy workouts 1 day on with 1-2 rest days. Recruitment is the most demanding phase in terms of rest required, schedule 1 day on and 1-4 days off. Power-endurance workouts can be scheduled 2-3 days on with 1-2 rest days. Pencil in all the days you plan on training until the end of the powerendurance phase.
   When in doubt, insert a rest day if it helps your schedule fit together better; never eliminate rest days. I have included two sample workout schedules (Chart #4), which should help in figuring out my cryptic-at-best descriptions. Performance Rock Climbing also lists sample schedules on page 152.

Obligatory Conclusion
Cyclic periodized training is not for everyone. For these people, this and the articles to come should still hold some valuable information and suggestions that can be incorporated into your training schedule. For example, if you do not include workouts from each of the four core-training phases, you are not training all aspects of strength. Future articles will definitely be more down-to-earth.
   If you plan on following these articles and training seriously, save this and future issues, even if it seems unnecessary now. I welcome, and need, comments, questions and need any feedback possible regarding the content and quality of these articles.

Next Issue: Foundation Phase Training Specifics (also Hypertrophy and Power Training space permitting)

Recommended Reading: Mutants Amok by Mark Grant

Credits, Sources, and Further Info:
This article would not have been possible without the consultation and help of Kevin Brown, a certified athletic trainer at the Peninsula Sports Medicine & Rehabilitation Center, and a consultant at CityRock Gym.
Hatfield, Frederick Power: A Scientific Approach. Chicago, IL: Contemporary Books, 1989.
Fox and Mathews The Physiological Basis of Physical Education and Athletics. New York, NY: CBS College Publishing, 1981.

And stuff.