Monday, May 1, 1995

Reprinted from Allez... Training: Hypertrophy & Power

This is an exact reprint of my fourth training article published in the Summer 1995 issue of Allez Magazine.
“Endurance won’t help.”
   -Master Wu #1 Killer of the Green Dragon Clan Operation: Scorpio
This issue's article covers hypertrophy and power training. These two phases are dealt with together because they are closely related and many climbers train them simultaneously.

Hypertrophy training aims to increase muscle size. This is what bodybuilders emphasize, and bodybuilding magazines are an excellent source of methods and recent studies. It is important to remember that muscle size is only one small component to strength, let alone climbing ability.
   A plethora of schemes exist for attaining muscle hypertrophy. First, select the specific muscle that is to be trained, then exercise that specific muscle until failure repeatedly. Essentially, this involves 5-10 sets of 6-12 repetitions (6-12 seconds for fingerboard hangs). These are performed at an intensity level that produces failure during the last rep of each set. The speed of each rep can also vary between very slow to fairly fast. (All reps within a given set should be done at the same speed.) Rest between sets should be 1-3 minutes: enough to be 75-95% recovered. You should feel slightly pumped at the end of each set. Recovery time after each workout is 36-60 hours. At the end of a training day your muscles should feel exhausted, but not too pumped.
   You will notice that the time, set, rep, and rest ranges are fairly broad. Doing 10 set of 12 reps with 1 minute rests will feel much different than doing 5 sets of 6 reps with 3 minute rests. Experiment and notice how your body reacts to different workouts. Also, variation is important, never let your body get “used to” a workout routine: this causes plateaus.
   Since consistent, nearly identical muscular movements are necessary to stimulate muscle hypertrophy, rock climbing is a relatively difficult method to use. On the other hand, weightlifting is so efficient that one must realistically consider the risk of building too much muscle. Large muscles can yield greater strength, but they must be trained properly to do so. The proper combination for you will depend on your climbing style, goals, ability, strength, training history, time spent training, etc.

On Rock
If you want to do your hypertrophy training on rock, choose a climb with very similar movements throughout the length of the climb. Or, take a climb and break it up into sections of 10-20 feet of climbing. On top-rope, climb whatever section you have chosen, lower to the starting point, then climb it again until failure. After a short rest, repeat this section until failure 2-3 more times. Rest for 5-10 minutes and move on to the next section. This is a good method for working sections of a route that you want to redpoint.

On Artificial Walls
Artificial walls are an excellent environment for training hypertrophy. Simply design a 6-15 move boulder problem with similar moves. After a few training sessions, this route will be too easy, so make the holds smaller and/or further apart, or add weight. Make sure to have a variety of routes. These should be designed for different purposes: crimp strength, pocket strength, lock-offs, etc. One advantage of training on artificial walls is that strength gains translate towards climbing ability more rapidly than from weightlifting. Weightlifting
If you decide to lift weights, choose 2-3 exercises for each major climbing specific movement. For example, do 2-3 different pullup-type exercises for the major pulling muscles. For smaller muscles (biceps, triceps, etc.) 1 or 2 exercises is enough. Finger curls are also a great way to finish off your forearms. Each workout should also include at least 5 exercises that target your antagonistic (or pushing) muscles.
   Selecting what exercises to do is not easy. I recommend asking fellow climbers, reviewing climbing magazines, and glancing at some bodybuilding books. The key is to know what movement you want to simulate and which muscles are used in that movement. Then look up 2-3 exercises targeting these muscles; try each one.

The ability to train hypertrophy on fingerboards is questionable at best. Evidence indicates to me that finger curls with weights are a better means of attaining muscle hypertrophy. But, experiment and see for yourself. To train hypertrophy on a fingerboard, simply choose a hold, hang it for 6-15 seconds, then rest 1-2 minutes. Remember, you should fail in the last 1-2 seconds of your hang. Do 4-10 sets, then move on to another type of hold. Vary the holds you hang every few workouts.

When to Move On
Issue #2 dealt with the length of each phase. This should be reviewed, and you should have an estimated length of how long you will train hypertrophy. Still, the most important thing is to monitor your workouts. You‘ll probably notice local plateaus every 2-3 weeks, where gains come slowly. When this occurs change your workout scheme. Continue training hypertrophy, just in a different way. As the overall rate of improvement decreases, so will your motivation, these are good signs to move on to power training. The phase should last about 8-14 weeks.
   This should give you a working knowledge of hypertrophy workouts.

Power, or recruitment, is the ability to activate a high percentage of the muscle fibers in a given muscle. (Refer to previous articles for more information.) While bodybuilders are a good example of hypertrophy training, scrawny climbers who can do multiple one-arm pullups are an excellent example of recruitment training. Being a powerful climber does not require large muscles, but it does require a high level of recruitment. For most climbers, power training will lead to greater strength and performance faster than any other type of training. But these rewards have a price. Since power training maximizes the forces absorbed by your muscles, ligaments, joints, etc., it can cause serious injuries. It is also the most complex and challenging type of training. Fortunately, it is also, for a fact, the most fun.
   Note: The term power is used very broadly by climbers, who usually mean strength. When training for this strength, we should keep in mind what power actually means:

Power Work / Time.
Work : Force x Distance
Force Mass x Acceleration
Power = Mass x Acceleration x Distance / Time

Since the fingers never really move when gripping a hold (i.e., no distance), the term “finger power” is technically inaccurate. Still, I will generally use the common meaning of power.
   In my second article, I mentioned some relatively unknown, yet primary elements of power. Among these are:
  1. The Golgi Tendon Organ (GTO) which senses stress at the juncture of a muscle and tendon. If excessive stress is exerted, the Golgi tendon reflex causes the muscle to shut down. Through deinhibition training (i.e., shock loading), the GTO can be trained to withstand greater stress without shutting down. Injuries (like an elbow injury) increase the sensitivity of the GTO.
  2. Slow-Velocity Strength (SVS). Initiating movement Without inertia requires slow-velocity strength. That is, the ability to overcome a heavy resistance at relatively slow speeds. SVS is trained by moving very heavy weights (1-3 reps).
  3. High-Velocity Strength (HVS). Once inertia is gained via SVS, HVS is required it keep it moving or accelerating. HVS is trained with speed repetitions at various weights.
  4. Stretch Shortening Cycle (880). Before a climber performs a lunge, they lower their body, extending their arms, then pull rapidly. Why? Because a stretch reflex caused by rapid extension results in greater force during contraction. Your efficiency in utilizing this reflex can be improved by ballistic and plyometric training.
  5. Coordination and Efficient Movement. Performing a powerful move requires the precise contraction and relaxation of literally hundreds of muscles throughout the body. Any error, regardless of how minor will result in failure (assuming the movement is at 100% of your potential). Even unnecessary tension of facial muscles, for example, leads to inefficient movement. Since power is largely neurornuscular in nature (this is kinesthetic awareness), fatigue rapidly reduces coordination and therefore, technique. Bruce Lee emphasized: “Do not practice finely skilled movements after you are tired...” Since climbing requires you to perform difficult movements while fatigued, proper training might appear contradictory. A good guideline is to learn new techniques fresh and practice known (difficult) techniques tired. This should also remind you to get adequate rest between sets.
As with hypertrophy training, power training has some general guidelines to follow. The number of sets can range from 3-10. Repetitions should be from 1 to 5 (1-6 seconds for finger hangs). Again, each set is performed at an intensity level that produces failure during the last rep of each set. The speed of each rep is a much more important factor in power training; it can range from normal movement speed to very fast. Rest between sets should be 3-5 minutes: enough to be 95%+ recovered. You should not feel pumped at all during the entire workout. Recovery time after each workout is 48-72 hours. At the end of a power-training day you should feel relatively fresh, say 80-90% (definitely not exhausted); but you should be unable to complete single moves or routes that felt reasonable at the start of your workout.

On Rock
Bouldering and working short sections of future redpoint routes are adequate means to training power. As a guide, these problems should be less than 8 moves and/or take under 10 seconds to climb. Treat each boulder problem or section as 1 set and repeat the problem several times (until you can no longer do it). Then move on to another problem or section. Mix up the type of moves you are doing as much as possible: do static problems, dynamic problems, fingery problems, etc.

On Artificial Walls
Training on artificial walls is done just the same as on natural rock, except here you can finely tune each problem to meet your specific needs. You might want to try recreating moves on a natural route that you want to redpoint.

On Fingerboards
Fingerboards are an excellent means of training your fingers on holds that are too dangerous to use on your boulder problems. For example, don’t just slap some monos on your wall and try to pull on them. Instead, find a good mono on a fingerboard, and hang it with the aid of elastic straps. Slowly (over the course of many months) increase the stress to your fingers. This allows for precise stress to the fingers, which is impossible on boulder problems because external variables (your feet can slip, humidity, etc.).

Campusing: The Ultimate Form of Climbing
In general, their are two types of campusboard workouts. One involves static movements, the other dynamic dropping (plyometric) movements. The difference between the two is substantial. While both methods should be used, the latter provides greater power gains. The static method is fine for training lock-offs and some contact strength, but plyometric training targets all five of the elements of power listed above.
   Static exercises generally involve handover-handing from the lowest rung to the highest while locking-off with one hand.
   The essence of plyometric campusing lies in dropping, catching, and rapidly reversing direction back upwards. Any exercise you develop should incorporate these three aspects. Dropping is important because it means you are accelerating downward. Catching is essential, of course, because otherwise you’ll just hit the ground. Note that you will be catching more than bodyweight because you are accelerating. Catching targets the Golgi tendon reflex. Reversing direction is important because this is when you train the upward movement necessary for climbing; SVS, HVS, SSC, and coordination are trained while reversing direction and catching at the top.
   There are many plyometric exercises. Here are some examples of the more popular methods to get you started:
  1. Two-handed moves. Starting on the same rung, both hands drop down and catch a lower rung; then you can fire up to the starting rung, or higher. Repeat. Fun.
  2. Starting with two hands at the lowest rung, fire up and touch a rung but do not hang it, immediately lower and catch yourself on the original rung, then fire up with the other hand, touch a higher rung without hanging it and lower and catch on the original rung. Repeat until death. Very hard.
  3. Starting with one hand on the lowest rung, and one hand on the highest rung you can use, let go with the high hand and catch on the lowest rung, immediately fire back up with the same hand to its original rung. My personal favorite.
High-Velocity Strength and Slow-Velocity Strength in the arms are the primary targets of weight training.
   HVS, is best trained by using loads around 30% of your 1 rep maximum (1 RM). For example, of your 1 PM for pulldowns is 200 lbs., use about 60 lbs. for HVS training. Do as many reps as possible as fast as possible at this weight. If you can do more than 20 reps, increase the weight.
   SVS can be trained with loads ranging from 60-110% of your 1 RM. At the 60% range, you should be able to do 4-8 reps fairly fast (try to do them as fast as possible). Loads greater than your 1 RM are usable only by doing negatives. Negatives are very demanding on your body, consult bodybuilding books for specific exercises and methods.
   A sound power-weightlifting routine would involve a mix of all the above methods, although not necessarily in every given workout. Clearly, a solid base is a pre-requisite.

When To Move On (Never)
Since the next phase in the cycle is power-endurance, I can’t really imagine why you should ever stop power training. As Belt proclaimed to me recently, “I won’t train endurance. I won’t.” Belt, as with other climbers at “The Castle" only stops power training when on the verge of injury. For legal reasons, I must recommend a more sane approach, so follow the same general guidelines as were mentioned under hypertrophy
training. Prepare yourself for the hell of infinitely boring endurance training.

"Endurance routes get easier. Hard moves are always hard moves."
   - Jerry Moffat

Next Issue: Power-Endurance

Recommended Reading:
Jones, David B. A. The Power of Climbing. West Bank, Winster, Derbyshire: Vision Poster Company, 1991 .
Stroustrup, Bjarne. The C++ Programming Language. Reading, Massachusetts: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, 1991.

Recommended Viewing: One Summer Bouldering in the Peak with Ben Moon

Credits, Sources, and Further Info:
Kevin Brown of the Palo Alto Sports Medicine Clinic.
Power: A Scientific Approach.