Friday, April 30, 2010

Power endurance redux

Initial reaction to my thoughts on power endurance using a system board has been mixed but I have come to a realization that it is mostly a semantic issue. To overcome the confusion I am now calling my original power endurance “power fitness”. Using this term it becomes my evident as to what my objective for this phase is – i.e. to maximise my ability to access full power for as long as possible. This means that I have more strong attempts on a problem in a day.

After bouncing some thoughts this week I am starting to get a clearer picture of what is required. Moreover a week in to my new system board routine is showing me that I am on the right track for my overall objective for this cycle. However I do feel that there is a need to include some hangboarding and have therefore also included a Ethan Pringle hangboard session to maximise focus on true power endurance and a repeater session to focus on finger strength specific power endurance.

The routine currently goes as follows:
Monday – System board session
Tuesday – Ethan Pringle session
Wednesday – System board session
Thursday – Repeater session (done on Friday if I feel tweaky)

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Power training

After I have laid a foundation of hypertrophy the next step is to maximise recruitment. Getting the balance right is tough because you want to be at your strength limit to ensure the intensity is there but at the same time the exercise needs to be simple enough so that your failure is not due to engram issues or technique. For this reason my preference is to use a hangboard as this probably one of the most specific and simple tools available to a climber. This also means that performance is easily recorded and tracked.

Using advice I have gained from the Beastmaker boys, my preference for this stage is to utilise one arm hangs where possible using a pulley system to allow all manner of grips to be trained (note – I am currently unable to do a one arm hang on back 2 no matter the weight I take off so I am forced to use 2 arms). For me the golden number is 5 seconds; I can’t recall where I got this from but it is now my standard. My routine exists of front 2 and middle 2 hangs currently on the medium pockets and a full crimp hang on the middle crimp on both left and right arms. I allow myself 3 minutes rest in between repetitions and sets. My intended progression is to work up to a point where I need less weight off and then move towards using smaller grips and eventually drop down to one finger grips.

Although this routine seems simple, the basic nature of it is also beneficial as you can isolate each grip type and focus in on pure power. Results are also highly measurable which is motivating - where one arm 2 finger hangs seemed impossible at first I have since been able to manage a 2 second middle 2 hang on my right arm without any weight taken off which is real progress.

I have been toying of adding in system board sessions using a weight belt. I have only tried this sporadically to date so still need to test its long term benefit but theoretically it would be a useful way to work other grips (i.e. pinches, compression etc). My current plan however is to use the system board for power endurance and general strength rather after having completed my hypertrophy and power cycles.

*If you have difficulty in understanding my reference to grip types then refer to the Beastmaker website.

What constitutes power endurance?

My recent internal mental debate has centered around “what is power endurance”, “how does it apply to bouldering” and what is the most effective way to train it? For sport climbing where the level of moves may not be as intense, using interval training could be sufficient as long as you get the circuits rights and don’t rely too heavily on using the same circuit where practice effect starts to lead to diminished returns. Bouldering on the other hand requires more power and less of the endurance… Some solutions include repeaters (see the Beastmaker website) and the “Ethan Pringle” (EP) session both of which use a hangboard. I feel that both of these are great tools, and I have used them extensively but their long term benefits I feel are limited given their simplicity and highly isolated focus. Given that my previous hypertrophy and power cycles exclusively focus on hangboarding, my feeling is that using a hangboard for my power endurance cycle as well would limit the trainings overall transference to rock performance. I do however feel that it is a crucial supplement which I inject in to my training from time to time.

At the end of last year my power endurance training focused on repeaters and the EP session. At that time I had just completed Boogie Nights (18 move power endurance problem) and had been training specifically for that so my power endurance was at an all time high so currently I am somewhat undecided on how best to approach this. Since I haven’t fully utilised my system board yet my decision has been to focus on this for the current power endurance cycle. This will allow me to cover a greater spectrum of movement and hopefully a more rock applicable power endurance also biased towards bouldering and not sport climbing. I have settled on 2 sets of 20 system board routines/problems which focus on an array of movements and grip types (crimps, gastons, layaways, underclings, pinches and compression). I am attempting to do 2 repetitions for each problem by this could prove too much! The rationale for the 2 sets of problems is to accommodate for the practice effect I referred to earlier. In addition I will supplement these sessions with a repeater session at least once a week.

 Pic: My system board

Thoughts on hypertrophy

Hypertrophy forms an important part of my training cycle; it is the foundation for the rest. My current view based on Steve Dunning’s thought below is that you should be looking to do 25 second hands on your chosen grips. He suggests that “the principles of strength training with regards to static (isometric) contractions is very different from that of concentric and eccentric contractions. The duration of a static contraction in order to achieve the required overload for an increase in strength is in the region of 25-30sec, according to the majority of reliable research”. To date I have only completed 2 hypertrophy cycles and am still learning.

I currently include only the following grips as they form the basis for everything – Front 2, Middle 2 and Back 2 (For the last cycles I have used the medium Beastmaker pockets for F2 and M2 and the big back 2 pockets for B2). Steve Dunning suggest doing between 2 to 5 repetitions per grip. At present I do only 2 repetitions for each grip with a 3 minute rest in between which feels sufficiently taxing but will need to reassess this for my next cycle. Given that hypertrophy is more about building a foundation my thought is that it is better to add more repetitions than to use smaller grips to build intensity at this stage.

The training conundrum

In the past my training has always been somewhat haphazard consisting of one or all of the following at any time – 1) go to the wall and climb till you drop 2) campus always trying to beat a personal best 3) get on rock where possible, and 4) master a specific problem and then try to burn your friends off on it. While this approach worked to get me up to 8A, as I have got older and gained further responsibility I have had to look at how to gain efficiencies in my training which necessitates that I have a detailed plan for my training.

The old approach used to work purely because I was getting enough volume, but as the “corporate call” has strengthened this approach’s effectiveness has diminished; the goals I have set are just not possible to achieve with a diet of only one day training and half a day bouldering per week. Work hours dictate how frequently you can get out which has meant that I have had to adapt my training around this.

My Beastmaker was the catalyst for my training paradigm shift. Suddenly having a decent training tool at home made a world of difference allowing greater flexibility to fit training in to my busy work routine. Moreover a whole new addiction arose – hangboarding performance is highly measureable so my background in research soon dictated that I meticulously captured data from every session. This was highly useful as it showed me where my strengths and weaknesses were and allowed me to plan a course of action.

While my learning /training curve was steep (5 months later I sent my hardest problem ever) I realized there was a danger as this type of training is highly specific and in isolation would not be a long term solution. I did however enjoy the measurability and flexibility of hangboarding so had to factor this in to any new tool. Enter the system board! In the past I have toyed with the idea of using a system board and have liked its simplicity (Emile’s system crimps at UCT’s old climbing wall were also one of my favorite training tools). It allows for a greater variety of hold types than hangboarding and as well as very simple engram training. The added benefit is that one panel system board is easy to fit in to most houses which was once again a priority given that the key for me is having it at home.

So what have I learnt from this process?
1) Have a plan – Put together a plan based on your goals and stick to it for the long term. Broadly I try to follow a 3 month cycle of Hypertropy, Power and Power endurance. 2 months is sufficient to get in to good shape, but the final month is necessary to fine tune.
2) Routine flexibility – You need to be able to training regularly and frequently so find practical solutions to allow this.
3) Measurability – Record what you do so that you can see your improvements and identify relative strengths and weaknesses. It is also useful to have old benchmarks which you can use to measure your current ability.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

A fresh start

Having collected my thoughts, I have decided that the best way to map my progress forward (and to get me to stick to it) is to put it down on paper. Firstly I am an ambitious person (always have been and am aware that this is sometimes detrimental to my performance). I am also stubborn, and am easily inclined to keep hammering away at something until I achieve great success (If you need proof read this article). However great success (must be read with a Borat accent) is motivating, and last year’s ascent of Boogie Nights was a personal watershed. It was also a journey where I learnt much about my mettle and had to fight back from injury to achieve something that in the back of my mind at times doubted I could even do. Yet I stubbornly kept on trying…

Pic: Me on Boogie Nights, Topside. Pic by Tristan Firman

This year after 2 months of dedicated training I now find myself in some of the better shape of my climbing life and would like to use this springboard to achieve bigger and better things. I still however need rock time (and finger skin) to complete my conditioning. Only one more month completes my 3 month training plan and hopefully starts a memorable year of cranking! In the typical Streaky my goal this year is even bigger and more outrageous than last year’s, but hell it has worked for me in the past so why not again.

So what is it? After last year’s experience I have decided that I want to have multiple focuses rather than one specific problem. Given that climbing for me is also a social pursuit – hiding under a steep boulder which no-one else wants to try isn’t always the most fun way to spend your time even if it leads to great success and ultimate reward. Therefore I have set myself the broader goal of an 8B and another 2 8A+s. Top of the 8B pile is Black Shadow. I am yet to try it but it is a stunning and inspiring line (and supposedly a little soft also helps). As for 8A+s, well there are a few I am currently working on. Entropy is top of the list, and although There and back by Emile Esterhuizen is not the most inspiring, I fell off the last move last year (a common Streaky trait) and therefore would like to complete it. Others that I still need to try are Dark Harvest and Black Hawk Down and depending on my time in Rocklands, Nutsa could also feature.

Pic: JuzH on Black Shadow, Rocklands