Friday, April 11, 2014

Training Cycle Structure

Revamping My Training Cycles
On June 3, 2013, I decided to make 1-5-8.5 on the 1" rungs my birthday challenge for next year (June 5, 2014.) As I mention before, I broke it into 3 waypoint goals: 2 months each to do 1-4-7, 1-5-7, and 1-5-8. That left me six months to do 1-5-8.5. 1-4-7 was also an appropriate goal for me at the time because it's what I would consider my normal "base" level of fitness, which I was not at.
   I decided to do a short cycle, 9 weeks total. Without getting into a long discussion about cycle length, I'll just say that I picked this because I thought the goal was not too far off and short cycles provide more immediate feedback as to their results (i.e., shorter cycles are shorter, duh.) Basically, feedback on the structure was critical, since I wanted to revamp how I was doing my periodization. I always like to have a climbing goal, but Rubble (13b) would be too hard for me this cycle. So while I will get on it, it will be the goal of my next cycle, not this one.

As mentioned in my last article, periodization is a systematic way of training each of the distinct musculature and energy systems. Periodization for climbing is typically 4 training phases followed by a peak phase. These training phases, in order, are:
  1. Foundation. While many climbers use this phase for aerobic training, I consider this phase's primary benefit building connective tissue and getting me ready for long, hard workouts. You can't do long, hard workouts if you can't do long, easy workouts - clearly. It's common for people to target high volume at 30-40% intensity level. That's what I used to do; but I've switched, I now target 50-65% intensity level at relatively high volume. I find this more specific for most of my goals (power endurance routes 40-60 feet long.) I think it's almost impossible to do too much in this phase; i.e. more exercise is generally better. This is the most commonly skipped phase (or type of training not performed by those not periodizing their training.) I think this type of training is essential to preventing injuries and I attest my mostly injury-free history to the foundation phase work I've done. This is the time to do preventive/rehabilitation/stabilization exercises; these should be at least 25% of the work done in this phase.
  2. Hypertrophy. This is the muscle building stage. Body builders spend all their time here. In terms of repetitions, it's from 6-12, or approximately 20-40 seconds of time under tension. I start around 70% intensity and finish the phase 3-4 weeks later close to 85%. I do two big workouts each week, not counting a day climbing outside. On those two days, I think it's hard to do too much; you can do very big workouts, just remember to follow these days with 1-2 complete rest days. Building muscle does not mean that you're going to get "bulky" - women often express this fear. That doesn't happen - unfortunately - you don't just turn into Arnold Schwarzenegger overnight and be like "what happened?!?!?" Building muscle for climbing means building just the right muscles required to achieve your goal.
  3. Recruitment. The greatest phase. This is where you train your muscle fibers to all fire at the same time - maximizing output. Other important factors like the Golgi tendon reflex, slow-velocity strength, high-velocity strength, the stretch shortening cycle, etc., are also trained in this phase. Quality, not quantity is of paramount importance here. It is very easy to do too much volume in this phase; but it is almost impossible to be at too high an intensity level. You want to drive your muscles to fail at near maximum output. Follow these workouts with 1-3 complete rest days.
  4. Power-Endurance. This trains the anaerobic system and maximizes the ability for high output for a longer period of time. Many other sports refer to this phase as lactate threshold training. Activities requiring 1-3 minutes of high intensity output emphasize this metabolic system. Of the four training phases, this is the one I am least confident in my training methods. I dialed in the other three phases over my last 4 cycles (well, really, dozens of cycles for the last 20 years) and plan on refining my training for power endurance soon.
I decided to do 2 week phases and started with an initial week of rest. (I rarely rest for a week, but that week was my birthday and I think I was too busy for any serious workouts.) Two weeks is very short for a phase, I'd only recommend it if you've done a lot of training and are confident that all your workouts will be efficient. I didn't include a power-endurance phase; this is because campusing takes no power-endurance - it's pure recruitment.
   I think about periodization like the pyramid below. The foundation phase is critical in building connective tissue and adaptation capabilities for hypertrophy and recruitment. Hypertrophy builds the raw muscle mass so that there is something to recruit. Finally, recruitment gets to turn the previous work into something real and usable. Power endurance doesn't make the pyramid because it trains an energy system, not a musculature system. I don't know how much my specific workouts will help people; but over time, after I've documented 3-4 full cycles and you compare my reformulations to your own, I think patterns will emerge that you can leverage, as I have. I'll describe any uncommon exercises in a future post; right now I'm focusing on cycle structure.

I'm a weekend warrior, so planning my schedule is dependent on work, social obligations, etc. Ideally, my calendar would look the the schedule below. If you're new to periodization, I'd recommend longer phases because figuring out the right intensity will take some time. As you advance, I think shorter cycles are better because you're body will naturally adapt to the phases quicker and once your body adapts, you need to switch things up.

Most people wouldn't do campusing as part of their foundation phase; but I like campusing and I wanted to do some experimenting. You can see my specific workouts and notes, but my basic weekly schedule is below. I'll save you the time of reading my notes, here's what I did wrong:
  • Failed early in the workout, this shouldn't happen in foundation.
  • Excessive intensity, thus I was unable to complete my target workout.
  • I mutilated my skin, which further reduced the quality (and fun) of the workouts.
These are basic issues and I got them wrong (most were mentioned in last week's post.) I made a note at the end regarding how to improve the structure in my next cycle. Even though I don't believe I heeded my own advice, it's still a good reference point to have. (The note was: I have determined that the only exercises I will do for campusing in foundation are: 2 finger hangs, 4 finger up moves on the 1" rungs, and 1-3-5-7 up & down on the 1.75" rungs.)
  • Saturday: 10 laps at the Owl Tor (mostly 12a)
  • Sunday: Optional gym climbing of easy, high volume; or ½ hour set
  • Monday: Bikram
  • Tuesday: 
    • Campus Laddering (Goal is 200 moves in 1.5 hours):
      • 10 sets on the 3 minute: 5/8" rungs, 1 rung laddering: 60 moves
      • 10 sets on the 3 minute: 1”, 1 rung laddering: 90 moves
      • 10 sets on the 3 minute: 1.75”, 1-3-5-7-9 up only: 50 moves
    • Bouldering (1 hour): high volume, routes on the 2 minute (30 routes averaging V3/4)
    • ½ hour of easy, continuous climbing at the gym
    • ½ hour Set (Every minute for 30 minutes: 3 pullups, 3 pushups, 3 AbRollers, 3 Hammer Curls, 5 rehabs)
    • Power Forearms (5 minutes)
    • Grippers (10 minutes): 3 x Max of Trainer
  • Wednesday: ½ hour Set
  • Thursday: about the same as Tuesday
  • Friday: Rest

I didn't leave many notes, so evaluating this phase is difficult. Again, recording your workouts is fundamental. Still, you can see that volume decreased and intensity increased compared to the foundation phase. Exercises in this phase should be performed at about 75-85% of maximum. (This is approximately 6-10 repetitions.)
  • Saturday: Hard climbing outside. 5-7 laps (not redopints) on 12c-13b.
  • Sunday: Optional climbing at the gym
  • Monday: Bikram
  • Tuesday:
    • Campusing: Stacks: 1 hr. 4f on 1": 1-3-6-8, 1-4-6-9, 1-4-6-8, 1-3-6-7. Bumps: 1-4-5.
    • Bouldering: 1 hour. Working problems and/or 4x4s with 1:1 rest.
    • Hangboard Repeaters 2 sets of: 2f on 1", 3f on 1", 4f on 5/8", 2f on 1.75".
    • Pullup Shrugs: 3 sets of max reps each arm
    • Pullups: wide back, wide front, shoulder, narrow, offset-L, offset-R, under-wide, under-narrow.
    • Ab-Rollers: 3 sets of max reps
    • Grippers: 3 x 6-8 reps of #0.5
    • Power Forearms
  • Wednesday: Rest
  • Thursday: about the same as Tuesday
  • Friday: Rest

I think campusing, and drops specifically, are the most important exercise for recruitment. By "drops" I mean one hand starts high, say rung 5, and the other low, say rung 1. Then you let go with the high hand, drop and catch rung 1, then immediately pull-up and go back to 5 with the same hand. Doubles, where both hands start high and drop to a lower rung, and then go back up, are also good.
   Again, volume decreased and intensity increased compared to hypertrophy. All the exercises in this phase should be performed at about 90-100% of maximum. (90% of your maximum is approximately 4 reps.)
  • Saturday: Very hard climbing outside. 3-4 laps (not redopints) 13b-13d.
  • Sunday: Rest
  • Monday: Bikram
  • Tuesday:
    • Campusing: 
      • Drops on the 5/8” rungs (Max 5-2-1-5)
      • Drops on the 1” rungs (Max 5-1)
      • Maximum up moves on the 1” rungs
      • Maximum up moves on the 1.75" rungs
    • Bouldering: 1 hour. Working routes at my limit.
    • Hangboard: Max Pulls 3 sets w/2f & 3 sets w/4f
    • Pull-ups with 40 lbs.: wide back, wide front, shoulder, narrow, offset-L, offset-R, under-wide, under-narrow.
    • Ab-Rollers: 3 sets of max reps
    • Grippers: 3 x 1-3 reps of #1
  • Wednesday: Rest
  • Thursday: about the same as Tuesday
  • Friday: Rest

As you can guess, my peak phase consisted mainly of trying my goal - 1-4-7. Volume becomes extremely low in this phase. I achieved my goal of doing 1-4-7 as well as 1-2-6 and 1-5-6.
  • Saturday: Best attempts at projects outside.
  • Sunday: Bikram
  • Monday: Rest
  • Tuesday:
    • Campusing: 
      • 1-4-7 on 1" (done)
      • 1-5-6 on 1" (done)
      • 1-2-6 on 1" (done)
      • 1-5-7 on 1.75" (failed)
      • 1-3-7 on 1.75" (failed)
  • Wednesday: Rest
  • Thursday: about the same as Tuesday
  • Friday: Rest

Facts & Stats
These stats took me under 10 minutes to compile - a testament to the benefits of recording your workouts.
  • Goal: 1-4-7 = Achieved
  • Training Days in Cycle: 42
  • Weight, Body Fat %, Body Fat pounds:
    • Start: 172.8, 7.6%, 13.1 lbs.
    • End: 174.3, 8.1%, 14.1 lbs.
  • 1/2 hour sets: 6
  • Pull-ups: 816
  • Push-ups: 531
  • Ab-rollers: 355
  • Climbing Outside: 7 days, 38 hours
  • Climbing Gym: 13 days, 17 hours
  • Campusing: 12 days, 14 hours
  • Hangboard Workouts: 3
  • Power Forearms: 7
  • Gripper Workouts: 11
  • Bikram: 5
  • Rest Days: 16 (Bikram is mostly a rest, so I consider this 21 rest days, or half the cycle.)

I emailed my training buddies at the end of my cycle and it sums it up pretty well:
Sent Tue 8/6/2013 11:28 AM:
I finished my first cycle, which lasted nine weeks. Most importantly, I completed all my 1” campusing goals (albeit just barely.) These were: 1-4-7, 1-5-6, and 1-2-6. I didn’t have a major climbing goal, I sort-of tried Rubble (13b), but that was unrealistic for this cycle. I redpointed The Old Pro Skill (12d) on my last climbing day of the cycle, which is a fitness litmus test for me (I was unable to redpoint it at the start of the cycle.) Overall, this cycle got me to what I generally consider my “base” level of fitness.
   My next cycle starts today and is 10 weeks long; maybe 11 if I add a third week of recruitment. My goals are: 1-5-7 and 1-3-7 on the 1” – 1-5-7 is very realistic; but 1-3-7 is no joke. I’m confident this next cycle will be much more efficient, as I did a lot of testing and reworking of routines in my last cycle.
   I’ve come to the conclusion that, overall, the “old ways” (the exercises we’ve traditionally done) work very well. I’m adding one arm work, hangboarding, Press Throughs, and mono-lifts this cycle. My time in the climbing gym will decrease, it’s just not that useful. I’ll probably end up doing 1 hour twice a week, primarily for movement. Outside my redpoint goal will be Rubble. I am injury free, and I think the weekly Bikram helps in this regard. I had a couple minor tweaks at the start of my last cycle, but they are gone, can’t even remember what they were.
Recruitment training pays off for Ben Moon on Agincourt (14b) FA 1989.