Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Core Series -- Pillars & Physball Exercises


Front Pillar Hold -- x20-30sec
Front Pillar Arm March -- x8-10each
Front Pillar Leg March -- x8-10each
Side Pillar Hold -- x20-30sec
Side Pillar Leg Lift -- x8-10each
Glute Bridges -- x12
Glute Bridge W/ March -- x8-10each
Glute Bridge W/ Ab/Add -- x12
Physball Elbow Roll-Outs -- x8-10
Physball Elbow Circles -- x6-8each
Physball Body Saws -- x8-10
Physball Knee Tucks -- x10-12
Physball SL Knee Tucks -- x8each
Physball Straight Leg Glute Lifts -- x12
Physball Bent Leg Glute Lifts -- x12
Repeat 1-2x

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Shoulder Mobility

Hey Guys,

I have had a lot of climbers and many of my athletes ask me about improving shoulder range of motion lately.  So I threw together a short vid with some soft tissue work, stretching, and a couple of pre-hab exercises.  Enjoy and stay healthy!


Soft Tissue: Work through sore spots, spend as much time on an area as is needed.

Stretch: Hold stretches for 20 to 30 seconds.

Dowel Dislocations 2x15
9090 Active 2x12ea (Keep Knee Down)
Wall Shoulder Slides 2x8-10 (Wrists and Elbows Against Wall)

Friday, May 27, 2011

Motivational Quotes

Lately I have been super motivated and trainging really hard.  Here are some quotes I have compiled to keep the motivation up, hopefully they do the same for you!

As you think, so shall you become. – Bruce Lee
Ever since I was a child I have had this instinctive urge for expansion and growth.  To me, the function and duty of a quality human being is the sincere and honest development of one’s potential. – Bruce Lee
There are no limits.  There are plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them.             – Bruce Lee
To hell with circumstances, I create opportunities. –Bruce Lee
We are what we repeatedly do.  Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit. –Aristotle
On the mountains of truth you can never climb in vain: either you will reach a point higher up today, or you will be training your powers so that you will be able to climb higher tomorrow. –Nietzsche
To be successful, you must dedicate yourself 100% to your training, diet and mental approach. –Arnold
What I learned is that we are always stronger than we know. –Arnold
I’ve always made a total effort, even when the odds seemed entirely against me.  I never quit trying; I never felt that I didn’t have a chance to win. –Arnold Palmer
You can’t put a limit on anything.  The more you dream, the farther you get. –Phelps
You miss 100% of the shots you never take. –Gretzky
Keep blasting, pushing, and flowing. –Bruce Lee
Forget about winning and losing; forget about pride and pain. –Bruce Lee
There is no such thing as maturity.  There is instead an ever-evolving process of maturing. –Bruce Lee
You must have complete determination. –Bruce Lee
Possession of anything begins in the mind. –Bruce Lee
Flow in the living moment. –Bruce Lee
What you habitually think largely determines what you will ultimately become. –Bruce Lee
Choose the positive. –Bruce Lee
Embrace the Struggle.
Stay Humble.  Stay Healthy.  Keep Training.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Dynamic Warm-Up

Short post today.  Sample dynamic warm-up.  Start taking the time to prepare yourself properly for your exercise/activity of choice!


Knee Hug -2- Lunge x6ea
Inverted Hamstring x6ea
Quad Pull x6ea
Handwalks x5
Lunge -2- Instep x6ea
Ankle MOB x10ea
Wall Squats x8
90/90 Active Stretch x12ea
Hip Crossover x12
Cook Hip Lift x8ea

Repeat 1x Through

Thursday, April 21, 2011

30/30 Interval Workouts

*These circuits are designed to integrate strength and metabolic training.  If performed correctly, they will help to build lean muscle mass  and decrease fat mass.  I really like these workouts because you can adjust the intensity by the time of the intervals or the weight used for each exercise.  Also these workouts are very time efficient, you get a lot of work in, both resistance and cardio, in a short amount of time.

*For each exercise, I have provided a suggested weight, please use good judgment however about how much weight you use.  In these circuits I would rather you use a lighter weight with perfect form that allows you to maximize the amount of reps you get in an interval.

*The "30/30" circuits that I have included require that you perform the given exercise for as many reps as possible in 30 seconds, then rest 30 seconds before moving on to the next exercise.  Typically the circuits have 10 different exercises.  So one time through takes ten minutes, but for most I have you repeat the circuit 2-3x.

*Ways to increase intensity of the workouts provided include...
        1.  Not resting between the whole circuit as indicated in the first three levels.
        2.  Instead of doing 30seconds work and 30seconds rest, you can go 40/20.
        3.  Try to push the amount of reps you get in each interval.
        4.  Increase the weight used for each exercise.
        5.  Perform a whole extra circuit.  (3x Through instead of 2x Through)

*As always please make sure that you adequately warm-up prior to performing the circuits and cool-down and stretch following the workout.

30-30 Primer

30-30 Level 1

30-30 Level 2

30-30 Level 3A

 30-30 Level 3B

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Keep Training: A Powerful Statement

"Keep Training,"  that is what I tell myself everyday and what you should be telling yourself as well.  It may sound simple, but that saying alone has gotten me through injuries, weight gain, weight loss, performance plateaus, self-doubt, and periods of low motivation.

It does not matter whether you just like to train for training sake or you are an elite level athlete trying to perform on the field.  Your mind set has to be positive and you must always tell yourself to "Keep Training."  Some of the best performers can become complacent because they feel as though they have reached the pinnacle of their sport/profession.  That complacency leads to failure in the long run.  If you want to be great at something and continue to improve throughout your career, you must adapt the philosophy of continuing to improve and to Keep Training!!!

I watched the Brady 6 documentary last night on ESPN, and while I have never been a huge Patriots or Michigan fan, I really like Brady's story.  Here is a guy that had to push through a lot of adversity through college and his early NFL career, but had the confidence in himself and the wear-with-all to keep training his body and mind so that when his chance came, he could capitalize on it, which he did.  He could not control what the coaches did or that Bledsoe was going to get injured, but he could control his preparation and training regimen and that is what he focused on.  Moral of the story, don't focus on things that are out of your control, and continue to keep training no matter what.

The fact of the matter is that no one is ever going to be at their best all of the time.  Injuries happen, doubt slips in, and a downward spiral may ensue if a negative outlook is adopted.  When things like that happen, tell yourself to "Keep Training."  If your upper body is hurt, train your legs; if your legs are hurt, train your upper body; if you can't do anything physical, train your mind. 

Just keep trying to get better, never get complacent.  Do not worry about what others are doing, you are not them.  Keep training and working hard on every part of your game.  Do not worry about the things you cannot control and train the things that you can!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Faster Recovery from Training: Foam Roll, Lax Ball, Massage Stick

I have said it in my blogs before, but I think that one of the sports that is most behind the eight ball on applying strength and conditioning principles is rock climbing.  My interest in the sport over the years has grown exponentially in large part due to the unique combination of skills it takes to be successful.  It is a challenge training and programming for climbing because you are constantly juggling power, endurance, flexibility, balance, and strength.  That is perhaps why I care for it so much, but at the same time it drives me nuts, no one trains appropriately for it and more importantly nobody recovers appropriately.

So I threw together some vids of easy, inexpensive ways that climbers can recover from a day at the crag or a hard indoor training cycle.  A foam roll, lacrosse ball, and massage stick is all you need to help your body's tissue recover quicker and help improve your muscle quality.  More importantly these items are easily transported and can be used just about anywhere.
Perform each of the exercises in the series as you deem necessary.  Some areas may be more painful and thus require more time.  You can use these exercises before, during, and after a workout. 


Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Ring Exercises, Variations, Progressions

I love the rings for variations on pretty much anything, they are a great tool for building upper body strength.  Male gymnasts possess an amazing amount of upper body strength and balance and the rings are predominantly an exercise of pure strength.  Recently, the use of rings and other suspension devices has come into vogue for the general population as well as athletes.  My driving force behind this post was the amount of horrible form and poor progressions being implemented in commercial gyms as well as my local climbing.  Shout out to Active Climbing!  Vids will be coming soon, but for now here are some stills and variation/progression ideas.

Ring Push-Ups


Adjust Difficulty by adjusting the height of the rings.  The higher the rings, the easier the push-up.  
3sets of 10-12reps

Ring Fall-Outs

Adjust Difficulty by adjusting the height of the rings.  The higher the rings, the easier the fall-out.  Keep Abs tight and do not let your low back sag towards the ground.  Cup your wrists to engage core and back musculature.

Can make harder by...
  Widening your hands as you fall out
  Falling out and making a wide heart shape with hands
  Extending one arm at a time
  Extending one arm and making a heart shape with the other

Depends on variation used, but 3 sets of 6-8 is usually good.

Inverted Rows

Start with perfectly straight body and row up to where your hands are even with your chest.

Can make harder by...
  Elevating feet on a box
  Holding the up position for time

3sets of 8-10reps 

Tucked Rows

Get into a tuck position, with back relatively parallel to the ground with arms straight and then maintaining the tuck position, row your body up.
3sets of 4-8reps depending on strength levels

Piked Rows

Get into a hanging piked position, with back relatively parallel to the ground with arms straight and then maintaining the piked position, row your body up.
3sets of 4-8reps depending on strength levels.

Horizontal Muscle Ups

Start with Rings at arms length while lying on the floor,  pull up and get one elbow over the ring and pause, then extend arm and muscle up.  Keep your body straight the whole time.

Can make harder by...
  Elevating feet on a chair/box.

3sets of 2-5 each side

Monday, April 4, 2011

Front Lever Progressions

The Front Lever

When I first started climbing I was instantly attracted to this exercise and after trying and failing many times, I made it a goal to be able to do this exercise.  Well after some research, hard work, and experimentation, I am now able to pull a pretty decent front lever.

I have worked with many different athletes thus far in my career and feel as though this movement can be trained and performed by a variety of athletes other than climbers and gymnasts, but it takes proper progressions to get to that point.  And yes, I know body proportions will make this movement much more difficult for some to complete, but the gentleman above (John Gill) was over 6'2 and was said to be able to hold a front lever for over 30s while holding a conversation.

Here are some progressions to experiment with, along with some suggested set and rep schemes for each exercise.  Still working out the kinks of this whole video making and posting so bear with me until I get it on lock down!  Part 2 will focus on other progression schemes as well as some advanced front lever variations.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Power of Our Thoughts: Self Talk and Performance

Alright, super addicted to Malcolm Gladwell at the moment and have been tearing through his books.  Last post I talked about the power of context and how that can be applied to the weight room and your training.  My inspiration for this post comes from Gladwell's "Blink," and touches on a subject that is under studied and not practically applied as much as it should be.  Hopefully this post convinces you to train your mind as much as you train your body.

Blink is a book that discusses the role that our unconscious has on our everyday lives and how we are able to make snap judgments that more often than not are correct.  The content that really got me thinking was the section on mental priming.  In this section, Gladwell details a study in which individuals had to look at lines of scrambled words and form a sentence as fast as possible.  Here is the example present in the book.

1.  him was worried she always
2.  from are Florida oranges temperature
3.  ball the throw toss silently
4.  shoes give replace old the
5.  he observes occasionally people watches
6.  be will sweat lonely they
7.  sky the seamless gray is
8.  should now withdraw forgetful we
9.  us bingo sing play let
10.  sunlight makes temperature wrinkle raisins

Here is the kicker, this may seem easy to you, but the moment you get up and walk away from your computer, you will walk slower than you normally do.  The researchers purposefully placed words in the sentences like "Florida," "old," "lonely," and "bingo" that are all associated with old age.  Your unconscious sees this pattern, associates it with old age, and in turn makes you walk slower.  I was blown away after reading that.

They also performed another similar test, but in one group the words were aggressive in nature and in the other group, the words were polite in nature.  People from each group were then asked, upon completion of the test to walk down a corridor and hand in their results.  The researchers placed a person who was talking to the person that the subject had to hand the results to however, and the idea was to see how long the subject would wait until interrupting the conversation.  You probably guessed what happened, the aggressive word group interrupted the conversation much quicker than the polite word group.  In fact the polite group subjects almost always maxed out the 10 minutes that was deemed the cut off time in the procedures. 

So your telling me that within minutes of the test, our behavior has been altered/primed by just reading a group of words?  According to the research the answer is yes.  So why are we not constantly reading and thinking about positive things and outcomes?  I do not know if you have ever stumbled upon self-help websites or self-help books, but they all speak to the power of positive thinking and positive affirmations.  This brought me back to a book that I had read in the past titled "Thinking Body, Dancing Mind" by Huang and Lynch.

Thinking Body, Dancing Mind takes the reader through all of the mental obstacles one may face in their journey through athletics, business, and life.  Chapters of the book are brief and contain subjects like the fear of failure, fear of success, dealing with slumps, fatigue, expectations, self-criticism, and much more.  What I think is unique about this book is that in each chapter it provides affirmations/sayings that can be repeated internally or read over and over again to combat mental challenges.

Sample affirmations from the text for re-framing failure.
"Success does not guarantee happiness; failure need not guarantee misery."
"Failures are lessons from which I learn and forge ahead."

Sample affirmations from the text for positive thinking.
"Calm and confident, I play well."
"I am in control and ready to roll."

As I read through many of the chapters some of the affirmations really struck a chord with me and I have continued to use them in every day life to control my inner chatter.  They may sound corny, but you can make up your own that mean something to you.  Who cares, it is not like you are saying them out loud, you are saying them in your head and reaffirming/reminding yourself to be positive and successful.  Hey there is proof that just reading certain words affects your behavior, so why not adopt positive thoughts and surround yourself with them.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Power of Context

So last time we talked, I went on a little bit of a speil about the Malcolm Gladwell book "Outliers" and how the section on the rule of 10,000 hours could be applied to skill development in sports.  Well I have moved on, but not too far.  I recently finished another one of Gladwell's books "The Tipping Point" which discusses how small changes can make big differences as well as spawn epidemics in everything from shoes to ideas.  I thoroughly enjoy his books because they offer new insights about the world around us, but more importantly they get me thinking of how I can apply what I have learned to my own life.

I have always been very interested in psychology and how our surroundings and genetics effect who we are and how we act.  A lot of things that we are attracted to buy and do with our time is in large part due to our environment and even more so, to our groups of peers.  This is what Gladwell refers to as the power of context; the ability for our surroundings to affect our ideas, moods, and our actions.  So I thought about how this affects my life and my training.

If you are reading my blog, you may also read T-Nation articles, stuff by Gentlicore, Cressey and Contreras, all of whom I believe at some point have made note about the importance of the facility you train at, as well as the crew you train with.  Most of this was anecdotal and common sense to me, but I never really knew the mechanism behind it all.  Our environment and peers play a large role in our attitudes and actions and Gladwell cites many studies that back up this claim in the book.  Well, how do we apply this training.

Ever notice what is in a collegiate weight room?  Record boards, pictures of successful athletes, motivational phrases and quotes.  All of these little things add up and although you may not notice it, they effect you and your athletes in a positive manner.  The previous list may be obvious but how about the little things like the lighting, music type/volume, and type of equipment.  The type of equipment will not only dictate the the types of exercise selection that is possible, but it will also dictate an attitude.  Check out the Rocky 4 training montage and notice the different environments each trained in and how that affected their state of mind.  Cheesy, ya maybe, but I think it illustrates the point nicely.

Also, the crew/teammates you work out with make a huge difference.  Your team/training crew has a lot to do with how you workout, how hard you workout, how often you workout, etc.

Take me for example.  I train primarily for climbing, so I perform body weight pulling and core work, as well as a lot of metabolic conditioning to maximize my power to weight ratio.  I train by myself in the weight room in regards to climbing specificity, but train with like minded people at the climbing gym that are all super motivated to keep getting stronger and push their physical and mental limits.  That peer group keeps me motivated to push myself.  I am also around motivated collegiate athletes all day long, so a lot of their enthusiasm for training rubs off on me as well.  But lets say I worked out up at Cressey Performance, I would not have as much access to climbing areas and therefore may not be completely addicted to climbing and rather by means of peer pressure, be addicted to deadlifting and barbell glute lifts.

Also, the guys that you train with are probably the people you hang out with outside of the gym.  Their habits outside of the gym will affect you as well.  If you keep the company of guys that are training their brains out in the gym but get hammered every night and eat like crap, guess what, you may fall into that same trap.

Be mindful of the context of your environment and your peers, as it greatly affects your mood and behaviors.  The more you look for it, the more you will see the impact it has on you.  Also, go read "The Tipping Point," it is truly eye opening.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Climbing Training Talk

I have over the last couple of years been randomly bookmarking training pages that pertain to climbing and bouldering. Some of the advice that is contained within these sites is pretty good, my main beef with a lot of these training articles is the lack of information on periodization and cycling of training protocols. Ya, a sweet hang board workout will probably increase your contact strength, but just completing hangboard workouts 4x a week will get you injured. Another thing I feel is lacking in the climbing literature is weight room based training and how to properly prescribe strength training for climbers.

Here are some of my thoughts on supplemental strength/metabolic training for climbing. My intent is not to write a full annual plan for certain climbing disciplines, as I find it very hard to tailor to individual climbers' needs, but rather to give some insight into basic training plans.

Each climber is different and within each climber are times that they like to boulder, sport climb, boulder, sport climb, you get the point. Rarely have I come across climbers that absolutely stick to one discipline all year long, unless they are fortunate enough to chase the good temps. Extreme specialization may at times be a detriment to an individual's health.  Research has shown that early specialization in children can lead to increased overuse injury rates for a variety of sports. While no research like this has been conducted on climbing, it does not seem to far fetched to hypothesize that if an individual specialized in one form of climbing year round for multiple years, that they might be setting themselves up for an overuse injury. My contention is that it is a good thing that a climber's mood changes a bit during the year.  Maybe it is your body sending subconscious messages to your brain that there is too much of one type of physical stress present and something needs to change.  Of course if you override/ignore these inclinations, you are setting yourself up for injury.

Lets extend this thought process into training for climbing.  The unique thing about climbing is that there are so many different disciplines and different ways that you can train from day to day, week to week, and so on.  Lets take for example a climber that primarily boulders.  I would say that the great majority of boulderers go to the gym and boulder, some days easier and some days harder.  But that is exactly the problem, there is a lack of structure in this process along with a lack of structure with supplemental strength training.  If you do not have a structure for your climbing in a given week or month, it is hard to effectively add additional strength training.

Here is an example that I bet a lot of boulderers fall into.  "I am want to try and get to climbing gym four or five times this week and boulder hard."

Problem #1:  Unless you already boulder 4 to 5 times a week for 3 or more hours, you probably cannot maintain a high level of intensity (hard grades) during each one of these sessions.  Instead, it would be advisable to sit down and decide which days you want to do primary hard bouldering and which days you want to pack in a a lot of easier boulder problems to help build power endurance and gradually increase the volume of climbing your body can tolerate in a given time.

Problem #2:  A lot of time I feel as though boulderers sometimes do things on a whim.  "This week I am going to lift really hard as well as boulder really hard."  Well I got news for you, that ain't happening and if you do manage to get through it, you will put yourself in a hole for the next week.  There are not many people that can train like Patxi Usobiaga, if you have seen Progression, you know what I am talking about.  Not advised for most/all of us.

I guess these problems boil down to the fact that boulderers for the most part do not plan/periodize their training effectively.  You are setting yourself up for an injury if your supplemental training is exactly the same as your climbing training.  If you go to the climbing gym and boulder hard and then go hit the weights and do heavy pull-ups, front levers, and other pulling exercises, you are essentially taxing the same muscle groups.  There needs to be better structure than that, here is a basic structure that may help you train smarter.  I am in the Southeast, so keep that in mind while I move through an annual training cycle.

In-Season Bouldering -- Performance Orientated for Outdoor Bouldering (October through March/April)
During this phase of the year you should be focused on maintaining strength and spending more of your time climbing rather than training in the weight room.  I know that I may be abnormal, or normal depending on your perspective, but I only get outside on the weekend, so here is what my weeks look like.

Climbing Portion: Longer sessions earlier in the week on Monday and Tuesday that will have some hard climbing (single moves and some hard setting) for ~60min and then full problems below redpoint level for 60 to 90min or some 4x4's for power endurance (About a 2.5 hour sesh).  Later in the week, maybe Thursday, shorter session of hard single moves and weaknesses, maybe 80min at the most.  Take Friday off and send Saturday/Sunday.

Weight Room Portion:  Shorter session, 30 to 45min, that is aimed at maintaining strength you developed through off-season and pre-season training as well as injury prevention exercises.

Maintaining strength should include a low volume, but with relatively high intensity.  So lets say that your max weight for 1 pull-up is 100lbs, instead of trying to constantly increase during the season which may difficult considering the amount of climbing you would like to be doing, you should aim at maintaining this.  Maintaining this is easier than you think, doing 4 to 6 sets of 1-2 reps at 80% of your 1 rep max (80lbs) will adequately maintain your strength.  Gaining strength and power during the off-season is the hard part, maintaining should be easy.  Also you should aim for muscle balances as well during this season, when you climb you are constantly pulling, so when you are in the gym it does not make sense to do a lot of pulling exercises.  Instead you should be focusing on keeping your body in balance by performing pushing exercises, such as a push-up or triceps extensions.  As mentioned earlier, we are already at risk of overuse injuries because of the nature of the sport, why add to this in the weight room, it does not make sense and it will get you hurt.  Also please do not forget that you have legs and they to need to be strong and maintained, especially your hamstrings for overhung boulder problems.  Additional core training during this time shoudl follow the same princi

You have no idea of how much injury prevention that I perform with my athletes, it is one of the most valuable things you can do for yourself.  The industry has coined a lot of these exercises "pre-hab exercises" which are aimed at addressing particular joints and problem areas associated with the given sport.  Pre-hab for climbing should include a lot of shoulder, wrist, and thoracic spine work.  Also soft-tissue work is extremely important, think of this as a self-massage technique, all you need is a foam roller and a lacrosse ball/massage stick.  Also a lot of active flexibility/toga stretching should be included at the end of your workout or on it's own regularly during the week.

Post-Season Bouldering (March/April)
Alright so you have made it through a season of bouldering, hopefully injury free and still feeling strong.  Now bear with me, you may want to take a week or two off to let your body recuperate and heal up.  You may not be injured, but I bet you have some nagging finger/shoulder/biceps pain that good benefit from some recovery time.  Rest and recovery is as important as the actual training itself and should not be overlooked.

Climbing Portion: I would recommend completely abstaining from climbing for a week or two, but if you are feening to climb, which I am sure you will be, go to some low intensity traversing or long easy routes.  For those of us that will be in heat for the summer months, it is usually time to rope up.  So doing some of this low intensity endurance work will not only help us recover, but will give us a bit of an endurance base.

Weight Room Portion: While resting from climbing, I would rest from weight training as well.  In strength and conditioning programming, coaches usually include an unloading week every four or five weeks to let the body recover from the stressors of the previous training cycle.  I do not even mention this in the in-season section because I know that no-one would actually follow this advice.  But in the immediate post-season, it is a great idea and you should come back from a week or two of rest feeling re-energized and and maybe even stronger.  There is a term in the strength and conditioning literature called supercompensation.  Basically this concept postulates that through a hard training cycle you are continually breaking down your body, and once you unload, your body should rebound from the training stimulus and you should be at higher physical state than when you started the previous cycle.

If you are nut, like myself, and simply cannot go two weeks without being active and training in the weight room.  I would suggest low intensity workouts that integrate more flexibility and injury prevention measures as previously mentioned.  This is usually a good time to remember other things that you like to do beside climbing.  Dust off the mountain bike, hike, play frisbee golf, yoga, etc.  Just do something active that is not climbing and your body will regenerate and you will come back feeling strong and have a renewed psyche.

Bouldering Off-Season
Ya, so this one is a bit tricky for me anyways.  I do not particularly get excited for sport climbing.  I do not know why, but unless I get the itch, I typically do not do a lot of sport climbing during the summer months and prefer to train harder in the weight room.  Keep in mind that I am a strength coach and work in a weight room, so it is kind of hard for me not to hit the weights.  With that said I will go through a brief synopsis of what it would like to solely train in the summer for bouldering and omit the sport climbing info (article for a different day and mood).

Bouldering, Climbing Portion:  This can get a bit tricky because we are now moving into a year round bouldering plan, which as mentioned earlier can lead to injuries eventually, but with a proper training protocol, injuries can be avoided.

During the early portion of the off-season, maybe 3 to 4 weeks (June), I would focus on the volume you are capable of climbing in a given gym session.  In strength conditioning, this period is referred to as the general prep or work capacity phase.  This phase lays the ground work and necessary fitness base in which to build strength and power off of.  A typical gym session could be a 4x4 workout, a set number of easier problems you want climb that day (10,15,20), short power endurance intervals, or a combination of these. 

During the next 3 to 4 weeks (July) the focus can shift from general prep to strength development.  Workouts at the gym may include easier boulder problems with lock-off pauses with each move gradually increasing the angle and difficulty of the problems as you get stronger.  Hard boulder problems that require core, hard lock-offs, and pure strength movements as opposed to power/dyno moves will be what you want to pick during this time. Hangboard workouts could be included during this time to help increase contact strength (1x a Week).

During the next 3 to 4 weeks (August) the focus can continue to be on increased strength development, but the emphasis should begin to change toward power production.  Workouts in this phase can begin to include hard boulder problems that require powerful, dynamic movements as well as some campus board work (1x a Week).  I firmly believe that the best way to get better at climbing and reading problems is to actually climb.  Being able to set and just make up problems on the fly is a valuable asset as well.  Not every gym will have the problems set that you necessarily need at the moment, just make them up and remember them or ask to tape them up.  Being able to set will help you to read problems as well as to make up problems that stress your weaknesses.

Please check out this post I put up last month with training ideas.

Bouldering, Weight Room Portion:  Alright, the off-season is where you make your money in the weight room.  You can train your ass off, be tired and not really have to worry about performing, unless you are trying to show off at your local climbing gym, and if that is the case, please stop climbing ASAP.

So here is the way I look at it;  if you are training strength in the climbing gym, I think that you should train power in the weight room and vice versa.  This may be a bit counter intuitive in regards to typical strength and conditioning programs, but climbing is unique and a bouldering session is very strenuous and mimics a weight room training session.  Too much of one type of training will not only set you up for injury, but will degrade the amount of effort you can put in at the climbing gym.  Think about it, say you get into the weight room and train strength (heavy pull-ups, front levers, dragon flags, etc.) and then go to the climbing gym later that afternoon.  You may not be able to perform problems that you normally are able to because of the fatigue you induced earlier in the day.  According to the theory of specificity, training is most beneficial when it closely mimics the demands of the actual sporting movement.  What is great about climbing is that there are so many angles and variation of movement.  This variation makes it hard to replicate these positions in the weight room, so my contention is that you are better off putting greater emphasis on training strength through climbing harder strength-oriented boulder problems rather than in the weight room.

Now, once your focus in the climbing gym changes from strength to power, then your emphasis in the weight room can now shift to increasing strength.  The basic premise is that training two of the same physical attributes (power, strength) concurrently in the climbing gym and the weight room will not lead to greater benefits and may in fact lead to overuse injuries and/or overtraining symptoms.

The one phase I believe you can train concurrently in the climbing gym and the weight room is the general prep phase, that is briefly talked about above in the June portion of training.  Doing come circuit training in the weight room along with some endurance, low intensity climbing will help build a nice base in which to work off of in the strength and power phases of your training.   

  1. Plan your training and log everything.  I will post an article soon about how I record all of my physical activity.  The better you log your activity the more you will stick with it.  Also, you will be able to see trends of when you were sending hard and when you hit plateaus and what kind of training was taking place during these phases.
  2. Don't over do it.  Do not boulder super hard and hit the weights super hard.  You may be able to handle the stress for a couple of weeks, but sooner or later you need to change it up or unload (which most climbers do not do).  More is not always better!
  3. Realize the stress that you are putting on your body.  High stress in consecutive weeks without the proper recovery, will lead you down the road of injury.
  4. If you are young, you will be able to handle the stressors more readily, but keep in mind that as you age, there is a cumulative effect of repeated micro-traumas and injuries that you may be able to fight through now, but maybe not five years from now.  Fred Nicole has been climbing for 25 years and I want you to be able to do the same.

Keep in mind that I am not an elite climber and I started climbing in my mid 20's, so I started climbing late in the game and was way to muscle bound and heavy to begin with.  Needless to say, I thought that my strength in the weight room would immediately carry over to climbing, it did not however and I have had to learn how to balance my weight room training and goals with my climbing goals.  But over the last 4 to 5 years I have tried to apply my training knowledge to the sport of climbing and basically have experimented with a lot of different training protocols.  I am also not an elite climber, I train 3 to 4 times a week in the gym and try to get outside as often as I can, which really is not that often, but have managed to steadily progress each year I have been climbing with no real substantial plateau's.  

More to come, please leave comments with additional thoughts or ideas you may have that you would like me to research.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Does Shaking Out while Climbing Really Work: The Science Says No

Another recent article in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, titled "Active recovery strategies and handgrip performance in trained vs. untrained climbers" had the aim of better understanding active recovery strategies as well as to determine if there are differences in isometric handgrip strength between trained and un-trained climbers.

The intro to the article talks about the usual background info about the nature of the sport and the type of intermittent isometric activity that takes place while climbing.  Much of this information has already been covered in my other reviews, Time Motion Analysis of Bouldering Comps and Injuries in Bouldering.

Compared to untrained climbers, elite level climbers have increased blood flow to the forearms and  take twice as long to fatigue during intermittent isometric contractions.  Surprisingly, there are no differences between trained and un-trained climbers when continuous isometric contractions are used with initial strength controlled for.  In non-scientific terms, elite climbers and untrained climbers show similar decreases in forearm strength if asked to hold a grip for 30 seconds.  However if they are asked to hold the grip for 6 seconds then release for 3 seconds in an intermittent fashion, elite level climbers show much less fatigue.  The authors thus hypothesize that the greater endurance elite climbers have over untrained climbers is related to the amount of blood flow between contractions.

In an effort to recover during a climb, many climbers "shake out" when at a rest stance.  Ask any sport climber and they will tell you that it speeds recovery and increases blood flow, but what does the science say.  The subjects in the study were asked to complete 5 to 11 sets of 6 reps (Reps = 3 second contractions with 1 second rest) and each set was separated by 9 seconds in which the participant would shake out in an effort to recover.  The force required to close the grip device was adjusted based on the initial strength measured on each climber so that the climbers could be compared to each other.  Also the number of sets used varied for the participants based on the level of fatigue the researchers wanted to induce.  Another interesting part of the study is that during certain trials of the experiment participants were required to were a blood pressure cuff during the shake out period in an effort to alter the amount of blood flow to the forearm.

The primary finding of the study was that shaking out did NOT significantly improve intermittent isometric handgrip exercise compared with the control, plain rest.  However the initial advantage elite level climbers had over untrained climbers when intermittent isometric strength was measured seemingly disappeared when the blood pressure cuff was used during recovery.  The authors infer from these results that elite climbers superior performance is more dependent on recovery blood flow in between contractions.  

Ok, so we know that trained climbers have better intermittent isometric contraction endurance and have much higher grip strength than untrained climbers.  Kind of a no brainer if you ask me, but now we have some science behind why that is; better recovery blood flow between contractions.  

I am not convinced with the findings that just plain resting your arm is as beneficial as resting it and shaking it out.  More research needs to be done, specifically research that measures blood flow to the forearm and utilizes various climbing grips.  Squeezing a typical handgrip dynanometer, like the one used in this study does not replicate the demands of the holds encountered in rock climbing.  Also there may be something said about the effect gravity has on the blood in the arm, shaking your arm from high to low may aid in the movement and delivery of blood to the forearm.

Green, J.G. & Stannard, S.R.  Active recovery strategies and handgrip performance in trained vs. untrained climbers. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 24(2) 494-501.


Saturday, February 26, 2011

Time Motion Analysis of Bouldering Comps

Could not help myself, this journal article titled, A Time Motion Analysis of Bouldering Style Competitive Rock Climbing, that was published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research sounded pretty damn interesting.  My masters and doctoral research has a lot to do with observing human movement via video and as far as I know there have been no other studies to systematically evaluate bouldering work:rest ratios.

  • Climbing/bouldering is unique due to the novel movements that are dictated by the external environment/problems.
  • Much of the research conducted on climbing has to deal with sport climbing.  Previous research has shown that physiological responses to climbing a sustained sport route (~2-7min) leads to decreased handgrip strength (~22%), decreased endurance (~57%) and an accumulation of blood lactate above baseline measures (~6mmol/L).
  • Because of the obvious differences between bouldering and sport climbing (height of problem and duration of climb), the current research which hinges primarily on measures obtained from sport climbers may not be applicable to bouldering.
  • Bouldering comp formats usually include a qualification round consisting of 6 problems and the competitor is given 6 minutes to complete the problem with a 6 minute rest between each problem.
  • This format dictates an intermittent activity pattern and anecdotal evidence suggests that primarily anaerobic energy sources are utilized.
  • 6 Elite competition climbers were filmed on two of the qualification round problems for a total of 12 climbing performances that were analyzed.  
  • Measures that were obtained include number of attempts per problem, attempt time, recovery time, climbing (sum of all attempts), hand contact with climbing hold, and reach time between holds.
  • Climbers attempted a problem 3 times in the 6 minute window.
  • Each attempt took ~30 seconds with ~115 seconds of recovery.
  • During attempts, handholds were gripped for ~8 seconds with ~0.6 second recovery reaching between holds.
  • Overall climbing time per problem was ~74 seconds.
  • During attempts, total time moving was 22.3 seconds and time spent holding static positions was 7.5 seconds.
  • The exercise-to-recovery ratio ratio during the 6 minutes was ~1:3.8 overall and ~13:1 for activity in the finger flexors while attempting a problem.
  • Differences present between bouldering and previous research findings based on sport climbing include shorter bouts of activity (30seconds vs. 2-7min); decreased static periods (25% vs. 38%), and more attempts allowed to ascend aproblem.
  • The shorter climb time is obvious due to the length of the route, but the decreased static periods is interesting. Decreased static periods indicated the route was more dynamic and there was less time spent in a static position. (Static positioning in this study indicates no hip movement upwards and does not describe the type of single movement)
  • Reasoning for the decreased static periods probably has to deal with the nature of bouldering in which hold type, patterning, and steepness are altered to rapidly increase the diffculty and physiological demands of the problem.  Hard boulder problems are typically, but not always set using a steeper angle with increasing difficulty of holds (smaller, slopey) and thus individuals may be inclined to move through problems faster due the demands of the problems.
  • This evidence points towards bouldering being one of the most physical and technical disciplines of climbing, with strength being central to performance.
  • A large difference between sport climbing research and bouldering research was the exercise-to-recovery ratio in the forearm.  In sport climbing this ratio is ~3:1 and in bouldering it ~13:1.  This increased ratio allows minimal reperfusion of muscle tissue.
  • There has been no research conducted on the use of training aids for bouldering such as a hangboard, campus board, HIT strips, and the exercise protocols suggested for these training aids.
  • This research does seem to give a bit of scientific backing to the exercise protocols typically prescribed for hangboard workouts however.  5-7 (8-10sec Static Hangs) with minimal rest between (~3-5sec).
  • Also this research could be used to better develop strength and conditioning programs specific to boulderers.  Interval/Strength training should be aimed at replicating the total body exercise-to-rest ratio of 3:1.  Circuits should be developed in which the athlete is required to complete strenuous upper body work for 30-45 seconds with 15 seconds of rest between sets, for a total of 3 to 4 sets. 
  • Keep in mind that this is particular to indoor competition climbing.  I suspect that if this same study were done outdoors with a full day of bouldering, the exercise-to-rest ratio would change significantly.  If I had to take and educated guess I would imagine that this ratio would totally flip and look more like 1:5 and would be similar to ratios prescribed for Olympic weight lifters, in which long rest times are taken between attempts to allow the central nervous system to recover.
I think performing this same study with outdoor boulderers would be really unique and with all of the videos that are on the internet right now, it may not be that tough to get some of this same data.  I am trying to find some other unique climbing studies, stay tuned.

White, D.J. & Olsen, P.D.  A time analysis of bouldering style competitive rock climbing. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 24(5), 1356-1360.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Injuries in Bouldering

In 2007, Josephsen et al.  conducted a prospective study on injuries in bouldering in the journal of Wilderness and Environmental Medicine.  This journal article caught my eye because there is very limited research conducted on the climbing discipline of bouldering or any discipline of climbing for that matter.  On a side note, the book featured below has a wealth of knowledge on this subject and provides a structured format for recovering from various climbing injuries.

Here is a quick run-down of the article.

  • Number of people climbing recreationally has increased from 7.3 million to 9.2 million over the last decade.  This figure may be even higher since this article was published in 2007.
  • The continual rise of involvement in the sport has led to increased injury rates.
  • Bouldering, unlike sport or trad climbing involves serial repetitive movements that are strenuous and powerful to a greater extent than what might be encountered in a sport or trad climb. 
  • This may predispose boulderers to an increased risk of overuse syndromes.
  • Three main ways in which a boulderer can sustain an injury include 1. climbing the boulder, 2. falling, and 3. spotting.
  • 2 Cohorts of Climbers (31 outdoor and 22 indoor climbers who completed the study)
  • Outdoor boulderers consisted of individuals from various parts of the country that have access to a wealth of outdoor bouldering.
  • Indoor boulderers where recruited from a gym that does not have near-by outdoor bouldering and primarily climb indoors.
  • Initially all of the climbers filled out survey regarding demographics of the population and then after a year were given an internet follow-up survey to assess any new injuries that may have taken place over the year.
  • Outdoor boulderers injure fingers more than indoor boulderers. (61% vs. 27%)
  • Finger injuries were the most common injury followed by shoulder, then elbow.
  • Falling injuries were lower in outdoor bouldering then indoor bouldering (23% vs. 50%), however outdoor boulderers were more likely to be injured falling.
  • Falling injuries were most prevalent at the ankle and the foot.
  • Spotting injuries were more prevalent in outdoor boulderers. (10% vs. 2%)
  • Nothing really earth shattering present is this journal article.  As a climbing community we should be aware that the most common climbing injuries involve the hand and fingers.  After that, a numerous amount of injuries take place from falling which include the ankle and foot.
  • The majority of boulderers in the study reported being injured and half of those injuries occurred as a result of falling.
  • The vast majority of injuries were to the upper extremity however (fingers and shoulders).
  • Research has shown that the nature of climbing/bouldering make finger pulley injuries extremely likely over time, specifically the A2 finger flexor tendon sheath pulley.  The two main positions under investigation are the crimp and slope grip.
Josephsen, G. et al. (2007) Injuries in bouldering: A prospective study.  Wilderness and Environmentla Medicine, 18, 271-280.

Stayed tuned to the blog, I am planning on reviewing several other scientific journal articles that pertain to climbing/bouldering.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Cardio Strength Training

So I recently dove into Cardio Strength Training and I really like the easy to read and well organized format of the book.  A lot of the exercises and the programs are nothing ground breaking for strength coaches, but it did kind of ignite a bit of motivation to get back into some hard interval training.

These are a couple of the workouts I have been toying with which have a little bit of my flavor as well as Dos's.

Workout #1 20min Total (40sec Work / 20sec Rest, 2x Through) Max Reps

Slideboard Push-Up to Knee-Tuck
Slideboard Touches (Max #)
Russian Kettlebell Swings Alternating Hands
Slideboard Body Saws (Front Pillar Position, Feet Slide Back)
Slideboard Touches (Max #)
Slideboard Push-Ups W/ Single Arm Slide-Out
Slideboard Side -2- Side Abs (Hands on Ground, Feet Go from Side to Side on Board)
American Kettlebell Swing
Slideboard Touches (Max #)
Dynamax Burpees

Workout #2 20min Total (30sec Work / 30sec Rest, 2x Through) Max Reps 
Add 20lb Weightvest

Kettlebell Snatch Right
Kettlebell Snatch Left
Barbell Overhead Squat
Single Leg Elevated Physball Push-Ups
Inverted Rows
Barbell Good Mornings
Russian Kettlebell Swings Alternating Hands
Box Jumps (24")
Barbell Full Sit-Ups
Plate Russian Twists

Theories of Motor Skill Acquisition

The most notable thing that happens when people practice is that they demonstrate increased proficiency in performance and skill.  A skill can be conceptualized as a task (e.g. throwing a baseball, kicking a ball) or it can be viewed as a level of performance proficiency that distinguishes a higher-skilled performer from a lower-skilled performer (Schmidt, 2004).  While several definitions of skill have been proposed, Guthrie’s (1952) definition captures the critical elements of skill that are espoused by the majority of contemporary researchers and theorists.  He proposed that “skill consists in the ability to bring out about some end result with maximum certainty and minimum outlay of energy, or of time and energy.”  There are different types of skill; for example, motor skills, perceptual skills, and cognitive skills.  Motor skills are those in which both the movement and the outcome of the movement are emphasized (Newell, 1991).  There are three essential features of skilled movement: maximum certainty of goal achievement, minimum energy expenditure, and minimum movement time. 
Motor skill acquisition is a process in which a performer learns to control and integrate posture, locomotion, and muscle activations that allow the individual to engage in a variety of motor behaviors that are constrained by a range of task requirements (e.g. athletic context) (Newell, 1991).  As a learner acquires a skill, changes may be observed that reflect strategies that an individual uses to achieve specific movement outcomes.  A learner may show a change in the spatial orientation of his or her body and body limbs as well as exhibit a change in the timing and sequencing of movements.  Motor-skill acquisition follows a pattern in which learning accumulates with practice.  Changes in performance that accompany practice are usually much greater and more rapid at first and systematically become smaller as practice continues.
Bryan and Harter (1899) were among some of the first researchers to study skill acquisition.  They observed performance scores of telegraphers who received telegraphic messages and then translated the code into their native language.  Bryan and Harter hypothesized that improvements in the telegraphers’ performance, which was measured by the amount of words translated in minute, could not be due a sudden increase in knowledge of native language but rather an acquisition of higher language habits (Bryan & Harter,1899).  Later, Snoddy (1926) provided a classic example of motor skill acquisition.  He conducted a study that required subjects to perform a mirror tracing task that required them to learn to control hand movement speed and accuracy.  Snoddy asked his subjects to trace a circuit of a 12-edge, star shaped path one fourth of an inch wide.  The direct vision of the tracing instrument and the hands were obstructed by a screen and only an indirect mirror image of the tracing device and hands was available to the participants.  The instruction to the participants was to move around the path as fast as possible and avoid making contact with the side of the tracing.  Each trial consisted of completing one circuit, and performance was measured as the ratio of 1000 over the sum of tracing time (T) and number of contact made (E) within each trial [1000/(T+E)].  Analysis of participants’ scores revealed that gains in performance follow a non-linear pattern in which improvement was rapid at first, but declined as training progresses and the number of trials increases.  Snoddy (1926) hypothesized that the number of repetitions was the primary parameter that affected the course of learning.  He explained motor-skill learning as a two-stage process which was comprised of an adaptation stage, in which the learner acquires the neuromuscular pattern required to perform the movement, and a facilitation stage, in which the efficiency of the movement pattern is improved. 
Later, Henry and Rogers (1960) explained motor learning in terms of neuromotor memory.  They hypothesized that humans possess a vast amount of unconscious motor memory which is stored in the form of innate motor coordinations that are essential to initiation of controlled motor actions.  They modeled motor control processes in terms of a memory drum, a data storage device developed in the 1930’s that was an early form of computer memory.  For machines, the memory drum formed the working memory of the machine which allowed for data and programs to be loaded off the machine using punch cards.  The memory storage drum in the human mind as proposed by Henry and Rogers is analogous to a memory drum in a machine in that programs are preprogrammed and stored for retrieval.  Henry and Rogers hypothesized that the neural pattern for specific and well-coordinated motor acts are controlled by a stored program that when retrieved directs all of the neuromotor details of the performance (Henry & Rogers, 1960).  In the absence of a stored program, a novel task will be carried out under conscious control and the execution of the movement will be poorly coordinated and awkward.  Thus, the memory drum theory predicted that whenever a specific movement pattern is required; the stimulus causes the memory drum to ‘play back’ the particular learned neuromotor program.  The theory was consistent with the view that learning motor skills is specific, rather than general, and that there is little or no carry-over from one skill to another unless the skills are nearly identical.  Practice was predicted to improve performance of a specific skill by the strengthening of the neuromotor program; further, the retrieval of the neuromotor program was predicted to occur more automatically and with less conscious awareness. 
Most motor-skill acquisition theories have embraced a stage conceptualization of learning.  Fitts (1964) and Fitts and Posner (1967) proposed a three stage process of motor learning that incorporated a cognitive stage, an associative stage, and an autonomous stage.  During the cognitive stage of skill acquisition, the biggest challenge of the learner is to understand what is to be performed, while the biggest challenge for teachers is conveying to the learner what is to be done.  During this stage, performance gains are usually quite large; however, these performance gains become smaller and smaller as a function of the number of trials.
The associative stage begins once the learner selects a movement strategy and actually performs the task, and based on feedback begins to modify how the movement is performed.  This stage is of particular interest to researchers because feedback plays a crucial role in altering the movement pattern.  In the associative stage, attention is allotted to improving the efficiency and timing of the movement.  The rate of gain of learning in the associative stage is influenced by the nature of the relationship between environmental stimuli and developing motor responses.  Stimulus-response compatibility refers to the extent of the association or “naturalness” between a stimulus and the response (Schmidt & Lee, 2005).  Tasks are easier or more difficult to learn as a result of the pairing between specific stimuli and their respective responses (Kornblum et al., 1990).
The autonomous phase appears after extensive training and it is characterized by motor movements being performed automatically and requiring less attentional capacity to complete the skill.  Schneider and Shiffrin (1977) conducted extensive research on automaticity and the goal of their research was to understand precisely the conditions under which attention limitations occur.  Schneider and Shiffrin used a visual search task that involved presenting stimuli in a rapid succession of displays and the subject’s goal was to judge whether a target stimulus had been presented.  Stimulus display duration, memory set size, and consistency of target-distractor mappings were manipulated.  Two conditions were used to evaluate attention and automaticity: consistent and varied mapping.  On consistently mapped trials, the targets and distractors were distinguished by category (e.g. letters or numbers).  In the varied mapping trials, targets and distractors were from the same category.  Results showed that performance in the variable mapping condition was dependent on load and frame size, and performance in the consistent mapping condition was largely independent of load and frame size.  Schneider and Shiffrin proposed two processes to account for their results: controlled search and automatic detection.  Controlled search is a serial process in which a matching decision occurs after comparison of each item in the display to the memory set items; in contrast, that automatic detection operates in parallel and independent of attention.  Automatic processes do not require attention and they do not use up short-term memory capacity; further, once initiated automatic processes are not easily modifiable (Schneider & Shiffrin, 1977).  The findings have implications for motor skill acquisition: they demonstrate that cognitive load affects rate of skill acquisition, and that once learned, automatic movements are difficult to modify.
Adams (1971) was one of the first researchers to emphasize the role that cognition plays in skill acquisition.  Early theories of motor skill acquisition were influenced by the views of behavioral psychologists who conceptualized learning in terms of the associations between stimuli and responses.  Adams hypothesized that human motor-skill learning was not simply a behavior driven by neuromotor programs in response to a stimulus, but rather that motor behavior included a variety of cognitive processes as well as the development of strategies that can be used to complete a given motor task.  A central component of Adams’ (1971) theory of motor control was the manner in which feedback and error detection influences learning.  Adams (1971) believed that learners possess a reference of correctness that specifies a desired outcome of the movement and a feedback mechanism that detects error between the learner’s desired movement and the actual movement produced.  Considerable research findings suggest that Adams’ views hold true for movements that are relatively slow.  Relatively slow movements provide the learner an opportunity to evaluate his or her performance as it is ongoing and to detect the error between the desired movement and the actual movement by way of a feedback mechanism.  This type of processing has been termed closed-loop processing (Schmidt & Lee, 2005).  Adams posited that movements produce internal feedback, which creates a perceptual trace of the movement that is laid down in the central nervous system.  The more accurate the movement, the more useful the perceptual trace will be on subsequent trials.  The feedback mechanism compares the feedback produced by the movement to the accumulated perceptual trace and detects any errors between the actual and expected feedback.
Adams’ theory placed less emphasis on how ballistic, rapid, open-loop movements are learned and controlled, however.  For open-loop movements, a motor plan needs to be structured in advance and executed without regard to the effects that they may have on the environment, which does not allow for feedback during the movement.  Schmidt (1975) developed an important theory of motor learning that addressed directly how discrete motor movements are acquired and controlled.  He proposed a schema theory that hypothesized that there are two states of memory: recall memory and recognition memory.  Recall memory is responsible for movement production and recognition memory is responsible for evaluation of movement.  Recall memory does not play a role in slow positioning movements.  For slow movements, the recall state simply controls movements in small bursts with the movement terminating when the movement-produced feedback matches the reference of correctness.  Schmidt proposed the idea of a generalized motor program; a structured plan of movement that is composed of invariant features and variant features.  Invariant features are comprised of the components that remain the same in regards to the general movement being executed (overhand throw) and variant features are the parameters of the program that can be altered such as time and time and force (soft overhand throw versus hard overhand throw).  Individuals do not learn specific movements; rather they construct a generalized motor program by exploring the rules of action (schema) and learning ways in which movements relate to outcomes.
Schmidt’s theory explains how motor skills are learned.  A general motor program depends on four types of information that are stored in short-term memory: 1) information about the initial conditions before the movement (variances in limb position or object size/weight), 2) parameters assigned to the general motor program (force, time), 3) augmented feedback about the movement (KR), and 4) sensory feedback (how the movement felt, looked, sounded) (Schmidt & Lee, 2005).  These sources of information are interrelated and represent recall and recognition schemas.  Learning occurs through the development of the recall schema as the number of trials of given task accumulate.  After each adjustment of parameters, various sources of information are discarded from working memory; thus, all that remains is the movement rule, which represents the recall schema.  The recognition schema forms in much the same way as the recall schema.  The recognition schema is developed on the basis of information concerning the relationship between the initial conditions, the environmental outcomes, and the sensory consequences.  Before a movement takes place, an individual can use a learned recognition schema to predict the sensory consequences that will occur if the correct movement outcome takes place.  These expected sensory consequences are the basis for which to evaluate movement.  Thus, augmented feedback plays a central role in schema development.
While there are differences among contemporary theories of motor-skill acquisition (e.g., Anderson, 1982), the notion that the learner progresses through a series of stages remains central to explaining the phenomenon.
Several contemporary theories of motor learning have identified cognitive processes as being important to motor skill acquisition.  Cognitive processes have been hypothesized to be crucial during the initial stages of skill learning.  During the cognitive stage of motor-skill acquisition a large amount of mental involvement is required of the learner.  The cognitive phase is characterized by conditions in which the learner must encode and integrate task instructions, become familiar with task goals, and formalize strategies for task accomplishment.  Ackerman (1988, 1992) provided evidence that during this phase learners’ performance is slow and error prone due largely to the need to formulate strategies and to test strategy effectiveness.  During the cognitive stage considerable attention is directed towards understanding movement goals and the contextual factors that constrain movement.  Performance during the cognitive stage is associated highly with general intelligence and verbal, spatial, and numerical abilities.  During the associative phase of skill acquisition, the role of general intelligence abilities decline and perceptual-speed abilities become more highly associated with performance.  In the autonomous stage, the influence of both general intelligence abilities and perceptual-speed abilities decline and performance becomes most associated with psychomotor abilities.
Ackerman and Cianciolo (2000) assessed procedural skill development via the Kanfer – Ackerman ATC task, which is a complex task that simulates air traffic control decisions and landing of aircraft planes on the basis of various procedural rules.  Results obtained from the study demonstrated the predicted change in the contribution of general intellectual ability as performance improved and confirmed the importance of cognitive abilities early in skill acquisition.
There are many factors that influence the performance and learning of a motor skill.  Verbal information in the form of instructions is one of the most important factors and also one of the first factors to be studied systematically.  An early study conducted by Solley (1952) evaluated the effects of instruction on learning a lunge and stab movement under conditions that emphasized either movement speed, movement accuracy, or an equal emphasis on speed and accuracy.  The results were quite dramatic.  The group instructed to emphasize movement speed had the highest movement speeds, the group instructed to emphasize movement accuracy yielded the highest accuracy scores, and the group instructed on both speed and accuracy performed at intermediate levels on both speed and accuracy.  These results indicate that specific information presented to learners can alter the way in which a movement is carried out as well as the outcome of the movement.  Modeling a movement is another way to convey information to a learner.  Modeling, or observational learning, is learning that occurs as function of viewing, retaining, and replicating a novel behavior executed by other individuals.  Several factors influence the degree to which modeling influences skill acquisition: the properties of the model (e.g., expert versus non-expert), the nature of the task (complexity, number of degrees of freedom), observer determinants (comprehension of the demonstration), and feedback (Ferrari, 1996).  Feedback in particular plays a critical role in determining motor learning and performance.
This research indicates that learning cannot occur in the absence of information and learning may be hindered if too much information is presented to the learner.  One critical aspect in the field of motor skill acquisition that has not been assessed is how an individual’s initial skill level affects the type and amount of feedback necessary for efficient learning to take place.  Researchers in the field, Guadagnoli and Lee (2004), have formulated a framework in which many hypotheses in regards to how skill level and task difficulty interact can be drawn.  The challenge point framework touches on the idea that increases in task difficulty are accompanied by increases in potential information (Guadagnoli & Lee, 2004).  However the there is a limit to the amount of information that is interpretable to the learner, which is assumed to be governed by the individual’s skill level.  Furthermore depending on the skill level of the individual, an increase in task difficulty would be associated with decreased performance expectations, but there would also be an increase in the amount of available information (Guadagnoli & Lee, 2004).  Thus the challenge point framework represents the degree of task difficulty an individual of a certain skill level would need to optimize learning (Guadagnoli & Lee, 2004). 
The challenge point framework and the research conducted on the most beneficial types of feedback and feedback schedules has led to hypotheses that deal not only with feedback protocols, but on how those protocols affect skills of varying difficulties.  Guadagnoli and Lee (2004) hypothesize that for tasks of high difficulty, more frequent presentation of feedback will yield the largest learning effect and for tasks of low difficulty, less frequent presentation of feedback will yield the largest learning effect.  This hypothesis has not yet been tested however and further research is needed.
A proposed experiment to test this hypothesis should include assigning participants into two groups (high skill and low skill) based on their performance on a median level task.  Upon assignment to skill level groups, experiment 1 will proceed by  asking each group (high and low) to perform a task of high difficulty under two conditions (frequent feedback and less-frequent feedback) and the performance under each condition will be collected.  For experiment 2, participants from each group will be asked to perform a task of low difficulty under the same conditions (frequent feedback and less-frequent feedback) and the performance under each condition will be collected and compared against the results obtained in experiment 1.  The conditions that yield the greatest performance will give researchers a better understanding of the dynamic interaction between skill level, task complexity, and the most appropriate feedback for each situation


Adams, J.A. (1971). A closed-loop theory of motor learning. Journal of Motor Behavior, 3, 111-150.

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