Book Review: Jim Stoppani’s Encyclopedia of Muscle & Strength, 2nd Edition – The Ultimate Guide to Crafting Your Own Strength Training Program for Climbing (or Anything)

Have you heard of the KISS principle? KISS stands for “Keep it simple, stupid,” and it has become an underlying theme for me in designing and implementing effective and efficient climbing training programs.

In fact, overwhelming complexity in training design can present one of the biggest barriers faced by individual climbers looking to improve at climbing via training (as well as for others interested in more advanced training methodologies beyond simply improving general fitness). Lots of excellent training resources provide so much complicated detail that it can be hard to sort out what a person really can and should do, leaving one’s head reeling with ideas but unsure of how or what to start with…which is why a book like Jim Stoppani’s Encyclopedia of Muscle & Strength-2nd Edition seems like the perfect resource to recommend for those climbers (and others) looking to add effective and efficient strength training to their overall training regimens.

You don’t like to read much? No worries – you only need to read the first 24 pages of this book for a succinct understanding of “Training Essentials.” Most climbers will probably skip the entire section called “Training for Muscle Mass” (as I did), and move straight to “Training for Maximal Strength.” Strength training uses different strategies than muscle mass training. Here you will learn in a few short pages about some important general strength training principles, and then Stoppani presents numerous strength training programs that work, each with a ratings chart indicating time (of each individual workout), length (until noticeable results are achieved), difficulty (how hard the program is/how much training experience you should have before trying it) and results (how much strength people typically gain using such a program).

If you’re totally new to weight training, you’ll also find the illustrated sections covering training equipment and specific lifts extremely helpful in crafting a strength training program. This book also includes a “Training for Maximal Fat Loss” chapter and an excellent “Cardio Training for Maximizing Fat Loss” chapter that should convince you in three or four pages to stop your steady-state aerobic exercise if you haven’t done so already, presenting clear scientific evidence in support of High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). Sport climbing at a high level for your body is HIIT – no doubt about it! Toward the end of the book, you can read about “Nutrition for Maximizing Muscle Mass and Strength” and “Nutrition for Maximizing Fat Loss.” Again, KISS rules here – short and sweet sections guide you toward Stoppani’s recommendations in these areas based on his experience and expertise in the field.

Keep in mind as you read this book that it is not climbing-specific or sport-specific – meaning that as a climber, you will want to select your exercises according to the principle of SAID (specific adaptations to imposed demands, meaning you want to choose exercises that closely mimic climbing movements). You will also want to include exercises that work opposition muscles to keep your body in balance (think opposite motions to climbing movements). Also, as a climber, you will not want to weight train every day you train. KISS and SAID taken together suggest that you will spend the training days that you don’t lift working on specific areas of your climbing game that need improvement or maintenance throughout your strength training season. Deciding on a secondary area of focus in addition to your strength training program will be largely personal and individual, depending on what part of your climbing has emerged as needing the most work. Beyond that, keeping all other skills in play in a cyclical manner will help keep you from losing ground in those areas, just as maintenance strength training should stay in play during the climbing/competition season so that you don’t lose ground there.

This may seem too random, but in fact, this approach is supported by research. As Stoppani notes in the Encyclopedia, “Although it seems that such a training system that requires little planning would be less effective than a program that is scheduled much in advance, research has found that undulating periodized programs are just as effective as linear periodized models for the development of strength, power, and muscle mass…and are more effective than nonperiodized programs.” The reason for this, as I’ve noted before, is that while our minds tend to cling to and want routines (i.e. I train using these climbing exercises/drills in the same order for the same amount of time every Tuesday, etc. and in this cycle I’m working on strength so I’m not going to route climb at all), our bodies adapt quickly to routines and start to plateau if we don’t provide consistent variety within the consistency of our training. This doesn’t mean our training becomes totally random – but it does mean that we should be okay with and open to varying what we do enough to keep our bodies from plateauing or even backsliding as best we can.

Summing it up, if you’re looking to include effective strength training into your climbing training plan – or you simply want to educate yourself more about basic principles of effective training, I suggest picking up a copy of Jim Stoppani’s Encyclopedia of Muscle & Strength-2nd Edition to help guide you in your quest. It’s not hard to read or understand, and that makes this book a beautiful example of the KISS principle – it gives you exactly what you need to know, presented logically and concisely. Happy training!

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