Monday, July 8, 2013

Weight Room Protocols for Bouldering -- Summer Phase

During my time climbing, specifically bouldering, I have noticed that there is not a great resource for weight training as it pertains specifically to bouldering.  Eric Horst, Self-Coached Climber, and Eva Lopez have a number of books/blogs that talk about assistance exercises for climbing in general, but as a strength professional I am still amazed at the lack of formal training periodization available to climbers.

The aim of this series of posts is to provide you with sample workouts as well as a periodized plan for a year of bouldering.  Along with the workouts and periodization plan, I will provide rationale for exercise selection and the annual plan.  Instead of periodizing based on seasons, which is how annual periodization works for team sports, I will periodize based on climbing goals/wants.

So instead of a traditional periodization based on off-season, pre-season, in-season, and post-season; I will loosely categorize phases as...
  • Summer time
    • Temps are not great.
    • You are not getting outside much, and if you are, the level of climbing is significantly lower than during the colder months.
    • Body may feel rather tired during this time due to increase in training intensity.
    • Lots of time in the gym.
      • Climbing gym time consists of trying harder problems and really hard single moves.
  • Early Fall
    • Temps are ok.
    • Starting to get back outside more and are ramping up for projects.
    • Body should be starting to feel fresher for each session.
    • Gym time decreasing, really hard training also decreasing.
      • Climbing gym time consists of trying to get volume up for all day/multiple day bouldering trips.
  • Fall & Winter
    • Temps are prime.
    • Getting outside once or twice a week and are trying to tick projects.
    • Body should be feeling good and fully recovered for each training/outdoor session.
    • Gym time decreasing a bit more, moving more into a maintenance phase.
      • Climbing gym time consists of recovering from outdoor trips whil trying to maintain multiple variables including volume, strength, and power.
  • Spring
    • Temps are getting worse.
    • Still trying to extend the season and tick projects before the heat comes in.
    • Body should still feel good if you took proper rest during the Winter season, however you could be starting to feel the effects of pulling hard over the past 3-4 months.
    • Gym time may be coming back up as you are not getting outside as often.
      • Climbing gym time should be aimed at trying to keep necessary power for last couple of projects.
      • As it gets hotter however, gym time should consist of some easier days to let the body recover before moving into harder training during the summer.
****Please keep in mind that this pertains to those who have school, work, and other responsibilities during a typical week and may only be getting oustide on the weekends. 

****Also this set-up is directed to those who do not live super close (under 30min) to the crag and have to supplement their training with indoor climbing.

****Lastly, this pertains to individuals who may not be able to chase the weather and have perfect climbing temps all year round.  I live in the southeast and have modeled this after what a typical year looks like for southeastern climbers that don't have the means to travel all summer for climbing.

The Nature of Bouldering
This may be a no-brainer statement, but hard bouldering requires very high levels of power and strength and does not require as much endurance as sport-climbing does.  If your goal is to boulder hard, then it makes sense to train specifically to the needs of bouldering.  In training terms, this is known as specificity of training and is a concept utilized by strength coaches around the world. 

For example, being able to complete 20 strict chin-ups may help you on a sport climb where more endurance is required, but may not help you pull a V10 crux on your boulder project.  Adaptations to training are specific to the type of training you are doing.  If you want to get stronger and then use this new-found strength to become more powerful, you need to train that way.

This appears to be some smokin' hard climbing or maybe he is just screaming for effect.  None-the-less, Ondra has spoke about his climbing and has made the comment that in the gym he primarily boulders to maintain his strength and builds his endurance by climbing routes outside.  Strength and power are much harder physical attributes to build and maintain as opposed to endurance.  So whether he knows it or not, his training is smarter, not necessarily harder.

Summer Time
***The idea behind these workouts is to gain maximal strength, but also allow you to pull hard in the climbing gym.  It makes no sense to blow the doors off of a workout in the weight room and then not be able to climb hard at the climbing gym.  After all, you are trying to become a better climber, not necessarily a better weight lifter.  With that said, you should be spending most of your time practicing climbing and ensuring that your body is able to recover between training sessions.  You should look at training as "putting money in the bank" rather than "making withdrawals," because eventually you are going to run out of money (energy).  If you have the time, I reccomend reading the book Easy Strength by Dan John, it is a great read and talks a lot about managing total stress on the body and goes into greater detail about "putting money in the bank". 

***The workouts are shorter and should only take you 45-60min.  The goal of the workout is to become proficient in each of the movements and prioritize technique over the weight on the bar.  You should be picking weights that you are easily able to lift for the prescribed reps.  Again, to reiterate, you are trying to get stronger without unneccasarily fatiguing yourself.  In essence, you are trying to find the minimal effective dosage of training that will elicit strength gains and nothing more.  Anything more will simply fatigue your body and nervous system and take away from your climbing.  Everybody laughs at Chris Sharma when he tells people that the key to becoming a better climber is simply climbing more, but I think he is on to something.  There are so many technical intricacies to climbing that take years to develop and your time and effort is better spent on the wall than in the gym lifting weights until you can't lift you hand over your head.

Summer Lifting Phase 1
This phase utilizes slightly higher reps for the deadlift and pressing movements to allow technical acquisition.  Remember, technique first, than you can increase weight.

You will notice that each workout has exercises either shaded or not shaded.  That is done to indicate which exercises to superset with each other.  For example, in Day 1 below you should perform all sets of the kettlebell swings before moving on to the next set of exercises in which you perform the deadlift, single arm bench press, and weighted pull-ups in a circuit-type fashion.  Same thing goes for the next tri-set.

Summer Lifting Phase 2
This phase is designed for recovery.  All of the exercises are the same for the most part, but should be completed with very light weights.  You could also just take a week or two completely off from the weight room and just be active (climb, hike, etc.) during that time.

Summer Lifting Phase 3
The reps in this phase start to decline so that heavier weights can be moved.  Again, form first, then weight.  While you are trying to increase the weight you use during this phase, your goal should be to leave the weight room NOT feeling crushed.  In other words, leave something in the tank, ya you probably could go heavier on some of the exercises, but don't.  Remember you are climber, not a weight lifter and your weight training should aid, not detract from your climbing.

Exercise Description/Explanations
Warm-Up Series:  The warm-up series is designed to prepare your body for the workout and consists of a variety of yoga poses aimed at addressing…

Strength Exercises
1.  Kettlebell Swings: Biggest “bang for the buck” movement you can ever perform.
a.  Teaches proper hip hinge mechanics.
b.  Loosens the hips and the legs.
c.  Teaches power production from the hips.

2.  Deadlift Variation: My second favorite exercise after the kettlebell swing.
 a.  Variations may include...

1.  1 Kettlebell Deadlift

2.  2 Kettlebell Deadlift

3.  Sumo Deadlift

4.  Conventional Deadlift

b.  Develops total body tension.

3.  Single Arm Dumbbell Bench Press: You must counteract all the pulling involved in climbing with pushing or your elbows will hate you.
a.  Teaches proper pressing technique (elbows in).

b.  Strengthens obliques.

c.  Prevents/Fixes asymmetries.

4.  Single Arm Dumbbell OverheadPress: Pressing overhead is a lost art and is a movement that will teach you a lot about any asymmetries present in your body.
a.  Strengthens upper-body musculature.  It is not simply a shoulder exercise, when pressing overhead your core, lats, pecs, and posterior chain must all work together to perform the movement.

5.  Weighted Pull-Ups:  Adding weight to pull-ups will help develop maximal strength levels.  You are bouldering and need to pull hard for a limited amount of moves, thus it makes sense to train this way.
a.  Improves maximal pulling strength.

6.  Front Levers or Tuck Rolls: After pull-ups, these may be my favorite pulling exercises.
a.  Teaches total body tension.
b.  Teaches the body to create tension stemming from the lats.  Your lats are responsible for pulling, but are also an integral part of creating tension through the entire body as they help stabilize the hip and thus have an effect on the lower body.

7.  TRX Y’s, T’s, L’s & Rope Face Pulls:  Great movements to protect the shoulder,  ensure health of thoracic spine and promote proper scapular function.
a.  Scapular function is very important to climbers and is often neglected.  If you exhibit poor scapulohumeral rhythm, you may be setting yourself up for injury down the road.

8.  Ab Wheel Roll-Outs & Standing Ab:  Think of these exercises as an easier variation of the front-lever.  Both exercises force the lats to work in conjunction with the rest of the core musculature.
a.  Great progression for front-levers.
b.  Teaches the “hollow-bodyposition,” which links core musculature to upper body musculature.

9.  ½ Turkish Get-Ups: Another “bang for the buck” exercise.  If I had to pick one core/total body exercise to do for the rest of my life, this would be it.
a.  Your body is made up of many pieces.  Dan John likes to say that “the kettlebell get-up is what puts the little pieces together into one big piece.” (Easy Strength, 2011)
b.  The ½ get-up is a progression into the full Turkish get-up, but still yields many of the same benefits.


Anonymous said...

great article, but what about squats?

JRucci said...

Thanks for reading. You could sub sqauts in for deadlifts on either day using the same set and rep scheme. I like the goblet squat and front squat variations.

Unknown said...

Do you have an email address I can write to? I've developed a periodized plan recently and think more people would be better off doing that but they just don't understand it. Also, nice reference to Dan but I'm not sure anything in NLG has much carryover to climbing training. Dan is a personal friend and mentor. Easy strength is much better applied to climbing training.

JRucci said..., hit me up.

George said...

Thanks for posting this. Awesome article and incredibly thorough. Hope to see you outside when it cools off, if it ever does.

Anonymous said...

Congratulations for your blog ... i liked ;).

Interesting article, I would like to read the following phases (Early Fall, Fall & Winter and Spring).

Greetings from Spain.