dinsdag 28 april 2015

New season!

I still don't really know why I didn't write a decent wrap up for the last season, because in the end it wasn't really that bad. Although I didn't get outdoors nearly as much as I had wanted to, I climbed enough to discover that the disciplined training I've put myself through this winter is paying off and I am getting stronger again. Honestly, that's quite a relief after the absolute lack of results since April last year. After the initial (and undeniable) gains of installing my woody I got stuck in doing the same bouldering routine over and over again, which turned out to be equally effective as flogging a dead horse. Totally unnecessarily though, because essentially I have a luxury version (it has a window) of the dark and damp training dungeons that got British pioneers like Ben Moon and Jerry Moffatt to the top of their game 20 years ago. It feels like only now I'm learning to use it properly with the help of some fancy training books offering the latest insights in climbing training. Somehow it seems though that said heroes like Moon and Moffatt were doing awkwardly similar things long before these books were written...

Ode to old school! Released in 1996, 'The Real Thing' was the first ever real bouldering movie.
Don't forget to watch parts 2 and 3!

Anyway, let's talk about me. I still haven't bragged about the last Teuto session halfway March and it's already a while ago since I shared how far my ego drifted off during the preceding session. It's baffling how little is needed to feed it! During the last session, my confidence got another boost. By failing. Now that's a rare thing. Usually failure frustrates me beyond reason, but this time I had no expectations whatsoever and got surprised by falling on the last hard move of my intended summer project. Twice! Reality check: the last move is a real bitch. It's a very powerful, technical deadpoint that requires accuracy. Although I can do it consistently when rested, it's horribly hard to do when fatigued and it's right at the end of a 16 move power endurance sequence. There can be a really long way between falling on the last move and doing the last move here… Nevertheless it's right on top of my goal list for the next season!

Fast forward to today: as I am writing this, over a month of the second training cycle has past already. The mentally draining strength phase is done and I've started working on power already. I carefully logged my trainings again and the results are quite insightful. I've described the training before, so I'll go straight to the results. Below are the graphs displaying the data from both season 1 and 2.

Time under tension (T.U.T., i.e. total time spent hanging) and Volume (integral of total load over time).
Added load per grip position (negative load implies weight was substracted). Grip positions are listed in chronological training order. The 'front 2' grip position (middle and index finger) has been added to the routine in season 2. The plateau on the 'Big Sloper' position is deliberate as the purpose is to warm up the elbows and shoulders (and not injure them).
Total load equals body weight plus added load and is used to calculate training volume.
Boring details (skip to Summary for the conclusions):
Having to build on a previous season brings the difficult choice of the starting loads of the first training. In the nearly three months between strength cycle 1 and strength cycle 2 detraining occurs: some strength is lost and it's unrealistic to expect to pick up right where I stopped. The aim is to surpass the previous highpoint at the end of the cycle though. Having no real clue what to choose, I varied the drop a bit per grip position: on the '4 finger open' hang I didn't drop weight at all, on 'front 3' I dropped 8 kg, on '4 finger half crimp' 6 kg and on 'mid 2' 4 kg.

To explain the additional drop for the last three after two trainings, I have to admit to making the stupid mistake of neglecting the advice of sticking to a 30 day regime of hangboarding exclusively. I broke the discipline already after the first training by squeezing in an outdoor bouldering session in Avalonia. I climbed six 7's in a day, but payed for it during hangboard trainings 2 and 3. They were terrible and I felt so weak that I decided to drop weight on the mentioned hangs after training 2.

Based on the results, it seems that dropping more weight is better: for the '4 finger half crimp' and 'mid 2' positions the weight drop was small and I only matched the highpoint of season 1. I wonder if I would have surpassed it if I hadn't gone out to Avalonia though… 'Back 3' had a slightly bigger drop (6 kg) and surpassed the previous season by 2 kg, 'front 3' had the biggest drop (8 kg) and the biggest gains (6 kg). The '4 finger open' positions seems to contradict the trend with no drop and a progression of 6 kg as well, but I think this particular grip position did benefit a lot from the campus training I did after the first strength cycle. With that in mind, it's spectacular that the 'front 3' grip has progressed 6 kg as well, especially since I did complete the 'front 3' hang on training 10 and failed to complete the '4 finger open' hang.

Because of the drop in load, a corresponding drop in training volume is expected at the start of a new cycle. It doesn't show up here, because the T.U.T. was increased by adding a new grip position to the routine. On this position ('front 2') I hit a brick wall during the last five trainings and wasn't able to progress anymore. I have no idea why. Next season I'll start with an even lower load and see what that does.

The implications now, for those interested in hangboard training themselves and for future me, who should really, really read this before starting the third hangboard season:

  • Stick to the program, don't do anything that interferes with the hangboard trainings. That means no hard climbing: the forearms get two full rest days between trainings. I did an hour of crossfit training for arm, core and shoulder strength and injury prevention on every first rest day, which seemed to work fine.
  • Drop back in load significantly from the end of the previous cycle. Make sure it's high enough to be able to surpass the previous high point at the end of the cycle. Next season I'll try to drop back 10 kg. With a possible progression of 2 kg per training, it should be possible to match the previous highpoint during training 6. That leaves 4 trainings to try and surpass it.

vrijdag 13 maart 2015

New found strength

Everything seemed to line up to make my first training cycle end in disaster. I had to cancel the trip to Spain for which I more or less planned the entire cycle and closer to home winter condition lingered on, making sports climbing impossible. Stubbornly I ventured to Ith, but failed to get warm enough in the ice cold wind to climb anything hard. Equally demotivating was the flu I struggled with for more than a month, culminating in a bronchitis infection right at the planned fitness peak at the end of the training cycle. I felt anything but fit and saw the chances to reap the rewards of the hard work slipping away rapidly.

But right when I got desperately frustrated, my mood hit all time lows and I considered starting up a new training cycle without achieving a single climbing goal in the first, a spell of spring arrived out of nowhere and sparked my enthusiasm. Two afternoons in Teuto with Frans and Koen were all it gave me - normally a second choice option in any occasion - but they gave me exactly what I needed to finish the training cycle and get psyched to start a new one. On the first afternoon (with Frans) I climbed the power endurance route 'Stamina' (7b+) in Plisseetal. Allthough gradewise that isn't new ground, I was shocked by how easily I climbed it, feeling fitter than I've ever done before. I continued working the moves of an extension (making it 7c/7c+) and fell on the last move when I gave it an attempt. On the second afternoon (with Koen) I climbed the extension on the first attempt. Meanwhile, in a vulgar display of fitness, Koen impressively flashed Stamina.

Having quite some time left owing to our quick ascents, we walked to Schinder, home to the 7c+ project that threw me off many times last year. It has a powerful crux halfway, followed by a short power endurance section to a great rest just two moves below the top (one tricky, one easy). Last year, I only occasionally managed to get through the first crux and when I did, I lacked the power endurance to reach the resting position. Now, I climbed through the powerful crux moves immediately and climbed to the rest with a feeling of mastery and control that seemed impossible last year. I rested, did the tricky move and then made the monumental fuck up to let a foot slip, preventing me from clipping the chain. With all the hard climbing done, I blew the formality of finishing it correctly. The 'real' goal is climbing the same line without the good rest, changing the finishing sequence completely and adding a 7A/7A+ boulder problem at the end of a demanding route. Climbing it with the rest therefore only is an intermediate goal, mostly a psychological support in building the believe that the ultimate goal is possible. Until this day that goal felt way out off my leage, but having finished the easier variation for all but clipping the chains, I started to believe. I've never been as strong as I am now. Having spent many time on Schinder in the past years, it's hard cruxes and sustained link ups are the best benchmark I have and I've never done them as easily as I did them this day. It's time to commit to my hardest project yet and consider the intermediate, easier 7c+ goal as done!

Two afternoons in Teuto turned out to yield the strongest climbing I've done in a long time and provided the closure for my training cycle right at the moment I'd lost believe in it ever happening. The new training regime pays off, I'm progressing again and I've gained the confidence to start believing in a next level project. It'll be on my mind during every training of the new cycle I'll start next week. Back to training!

From the archive: my first time on Schinder back in my hair days almost four years ago. In the picture I struggle on the moves of 'Banane' (7a+). It's fun to look back and realize how much I've progressed in the meantime.

dinsdag 20 januari 2015

Power Training Recap

Time flies by and I've nearly completed my power phase. Campus training has been the name of the game for nearly a month and having no significant prior experience with it, the gains were big and extremely motivating. In fact the workouts were so much fun to do, I feel a bit sorry to progress to power endurance training. That's a sharp contrast with the extremely demanding fingerboard session from the previous phase, which I haven't missed for a second yet.

Much like hangboarding, campussing is very quantifiable, so my inner geek went berserk again and I've analyzed the campus trainings a bit. Trainings consistently comprised a few warmup ladders (after roughly an hour of full body work and bouldering), followed by 'max ladder' attempts: three moves between three rungs as far apart as possible, out of which the second move obviously is the hardest. Because the ladders really boil down to this one move, they are asymmetrical: starting out with the left hand ('leading left') is different from starting out with the right hand ('leading right'). The first graph below shows the hardest max ladders I've completed per workout, differentiating between leading left and leading right. As I've stated before, I had no significant experience in campussing before starting this phase. This explains the fast progress to harder max ladders that the graph displays. I don't expect anything similar in the next season: I'd be very happy to get to 1-4-7 then.

The second graph shows the volume per workout (in red) and the average distance covered per hand move for each workout (in blue). In my opinion, the combination of these two reflects the performance during a training a bit better than just the best performed max ladders. Volume is calculated as the total distance covered multiplied by my body weight. Note the difference with the definition of volume I used for the strength trainings, in which I multiplied mass and time. Due to the static nature of deadhangs, no distance is covered. It's all about the T.U.T. (Time Under Tension). Now, with the dynamic campus exercises, covering distances is what counts. Most readers won't be very interested in these details, but it's important to point out that the quantitative values of volume from hangboard workouts cannot be compared to those of campus workouts. Throughout the phase a steady rise in volume and average distance per hand movement can be seen, which - obviously - makes me very content with the results of this power phase. Now it's time to shift my focus to power endurance!

Hardest max ladder performed per workout, differentiating between leading left (left hand first) and leading right (right hand first). On the vertical axis are the progressively harder max ladders. 1-3-5 for example means both hands start at rung 1, one hand moves up to rung 3, the other to rung 5 and finally both hands match on rung 5. Rungs are at Moon spacing (22 cm), half numbers (like 5.5) indicate rungs at half Moon spacing. More board specs here.
Average distance per hand movement and volume for each workout. Together they give a good indication of the intensity of a workout: a workout with many, many small hand movements could still have a very high volume, but has a very low average distance per move.
Some interesting things I've noticed or learned during this power phase:

  • Already after a few campus trainings, I noticed an increase in contact strength on dynamic moves while bouldering.
  • Performing a fully maximal explosive movement requires extremely high arousal. Taking time to concentrate on getting all fired up prior to starting the exercise really helps to explode up and makes the difference between not even coming close and sticking a movement easily. This is a bit different from the power breathing approach that worked so well for deadhangs, although power breathing can help induce high arousal.
  • Campus training is addictive and it requires discipline to end the workout before performance drops and the risk of injuries increases dramatically.
  • Focussing on the lower hand (to push down) rather than the higher hand (to pull up) is extremely helpful. I figured out how to do this during workout 4. See for the results yourself in the upper graph.
  • I'm considerably better at max ladders starting out with left. As in this case the left hand does the pulling during the hardest move, this isn't really surprising for a left-handed guy...

donderdag 18 december 2014

Strength training recap

Last week I enthusiastically wrote about starting a periodized training schedule. Truth is that I had already started it weeks before and this week I've completed the strength phase. The core exercise of this phase was doing isometric deadhangs on the fingerboard. I've approached it quite differently though compared to how I used to perform deadhang training. Previously I followed up the advice of Dave McLeod and Eva Lopez and aimed for a very small volume of very short, maximum intensity hangs (in my case a set of 12 single hangs I could hold for up to 8 seconds and then take several minutes of rest before the next hang). Such a routine aims for neurological adaptations exclusively.

In my current training program (based on the The Rock Climber's Training Manual by the Anderson brothers) neurological adaptations are primarily addressed in the power phase. In this case they are trained in the context dynamic movements, which is much more sports specific than isometric hangs and therefore makes a lot of sense to me. As the strength phase precedes the power phase, aiming for hypertrophy first is sensible and therefore a different approach to the exercises is required. So I switched to doing 'repeaters': sets of 7 second hangs separated by just 3 seconds of rest. Sets contain 6 or 7 hangs and are separated by 3 minute rests. With a harness, some weights and a pulley system the load can be carefully adjusted to aim for muscular failure at the last hang of each set and progressively increase the intensity through the strength phase. The basics are described elaborately in The Rock Climber's Training Manual and partly in this article plus video by Ned Feehally from Beastmaker fingerboards (see also the second part about the advanced routine).

The result of this regimen is a much higher training volume at a slightly reduced intensity, aiming for hypertrophy in the forearms (it should be noted though that most strength gains in this phase are still from neurological adaptations). I did 10 workouts, consisting of about an hour of progressive warming up (mostly by bouldering) followed by 13 sets of repeaters in varying grip positions (although I had to start with less, but could increase the volume quickly in the first 4 workouts) and finally some upper body and antagonist exercises. As predicted, I was able to increase the load consistently between the first workouts, but the gains started to diminish towards the end of the phase, which is the cue to progress to the power phase.

As hangboarding is extremely quantifiable, it's easy to keep track of progress and analyze workouts. I've made the following graphs from the data I collected during my trainings and they nicely show the progress through the strength phase. A list of the grip positions and their abbreviations can be found below.
Time Under Tension (T.U.T.) and Volume per workout. T.U.T. is the actual time spent hanging and volume equals the integral of total load over time. Initial gains in volume are mainly due to the increasing T.U.T., after workout 4 primarily due to increased load.
Added load for each grip position per workout. Negative numbers imply weight has been substracted. Chronological order (as shown by the legend) is important, as is demonstrated for example by the open handed 4 finger hangs: small hold, high load at the start of a workout and a lower load on bigger hold at the end due to fatigue. The initial decrease observed in load for the latter is because I started too high and had to keep adjusting it down during the first 5 workouts.
Total load equals body mass plus added mass and is actually a more interesting number than the added mass, as this is the total load the fingers have to support. Fluctuations in body mass are visible and explain for example the small volume drop in workout 9.
List of the grip positions (in chronological order):
  1. 'Big sloper': open handed hang on big sloper
  2. '4f open 18 mm': open handed, four finger hang on 18 mm edge
  3. 'front 3 24 mm': open handed, index/middle/ring finger hang on 24 mm edge
  4. 'back 3 24 mm': open handed, pinky/ring/middle finger hang on 24 mm edge
  5. '4f h. crimp 24 mm': four finger half crimp hang on 24 mm edge
  6. 'mid 2 28 mm': open handed, middle/ring finger hang on 28 mm pocket
  7. '4f open 24 mm': open handed, four finger hang on 24 mm edge
Some valuably things I've learned during this strength training phase:
  • Repeaters are punishing on the fingers and if a grip position is only slightly unergonomic, the results are devastating. Already after the second workout I had a mildly inflamed collateral ligament on the PIP joint of my left index finger due to a tweaky grip position. I performed an open front three hang (ring, middle and index finger) on a set of edges that's too close to the centre of my board, forcing a tilt in my arms (pushing the elbows out) and putting strain on the PIP joints of the index fingers. By responding quickly, taking a few days off and moving this particular hang to a different, wider set of holds allowed to continue training without further problems. The take away message: (almost) all boards have holds close to the centre that are potentially dangerous for two handed hangs. Try to position the hands above the shoulders to avoid injuries.
  • Power breathing is a great way to enforce a state of high arousal and push trough the extremely uncomfortable final hang(s) and really reach muscular failure. I'm trying to apply it to hard climbing moves as well, but still struggle with the fact that coordination seems to suffer in a state of very high arousal. Maybe it simply needs some practice...
  • Starting a strength phase turned out to be very exciting and the rapid initial gains were very motivating to push through the workouts. Towards the end of the phase, the workouts became more and more mentally challenging. Hangboarding works best when you dig deep, really deep and I've consistently managed to push myself to the point of being slightly dizzy and nauseated (thanks to power breathing). During the final workouts it became hard to keep doing this and I'm happy - almost relieved - to switch to a new phase now. Obviously periodization is not only beneficial for the body, but also for the mind!