All posts by Alli

Alli Rainey is a professional rock climber, writer, and climbing coach.

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!

Strength Training to Improve Your Climbing: Lifts I Love (1) – The Deadlift

Want to improve body tension? Try adding deadlifts to your training program. (Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

Want to improve body tension? Try adding deadlifts to your training program. (Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You are climbing a steep route, and for the life of you, you just can’t keep your feet on the rock. They just keep flying off every time you get stretched out, and every time your feet cut, they whip back in the air from the momentum of them coming off, and then you work to let the forward momentum swing them back on.

“Man, I need to do more crunches!” you think to yourself, after this happens eight times on the same route. “Obviously, my core is weak.”

You go home, and every other day (or every day), you force your body through a grueling 20-minute core workout involving all sorts of different ab-targeting, crunch-style movements. Hundreds and hundreds of crunches later, you are still struggling to keep your feet on, though…

What did you do wrong?

This is a very classic and common situation, actually. And it’s one that I trained incorrectly for years myself. I worked the piss out of my abs, so that I could get my feet back on if they whipped off the rock. Never mind that I didn’t really climb steep rock so my feet never cut off anyhow – but I worked on my abs, regardless. I guess I worked on them more for bouldering situations where my feet would cut off occasionally. And because people said I should work my abs for climbing.

But it never dawned on me to ask the question about whether it might be possible to avoid this wild, full-body whipping motion in the first place, a motion that can waste time while climbing, and also that obviously loads the upper body every time it happens. So – what if it’s possible to (mostly) avoid having the feet unintentionally whip off in the first place? Or, if foot-cutting is part of the beta, what if it’s possible to have way more control over the angle and trajectory of the cut, not needing the full swing out and back to happen over and over again because it can’t be helped?

Enter deadlifts.

Other than pull-ups and pull-up variants (topic of the next Lifts I Love entry), I credit deadlifts with having the most impact of all the lifts I do in improving my climbing performance. Deadlifts strengthen several major muscle groups on the back of the body – parts of the body involved in generating body tension to keep one’s feet on the rock when extremely stretched out, and parts involved in pressing up into these types of positions as well – especially on steep rock. Deadlifts also engage many muscle groups throughout the rest of the body. This lift really is a full-body lift, and it quite closely mimics the muscles used when you are generating a body-tension-y movement on steep rock.

It’s very important to learn how to deadlift properly to avoid injury; however, claims that “I have a weak back so I shouldn’t deadlift,” are a little off, seeing as one of the most effective way to strengthen a weak, injury-prone area is to lift weights to strengthen that area! Add to this that deadlifts will help you in living life, too – in other words, having the strength and know-how to lift heavy objects properly from weight training can have great benefits to avoiding injuries during life tasks, both now and in the future. That being said, deadlifts should be worked into slowly, making sure that your form is correct. If you are unsure, hire a personal trainer to help you learn how to deadlift correctly.

After you have spent several months (or years!) deadlifting, if this lift has addressed a problematic area for you, you will start to notice greater control over your feet not cutting, and that you can maintain greater body tension, especially on steep rock. You may be able to stretch out taller up on your tiptoes without losing your footholds. You will find that your body doesn’t wildly whip away from the rock with as much frequency or at all – and that when you do cut your feet, you have much more control over the trajectory. You will still be able to utilize momentum from your feet cutting if it makes sense, but you won’t be at the mercy of the wild, full-whip-back foot cutting if it’s not what you want in any given situation. In other words, you’ll be able to deliberately cut your feet and place them precisely where you want them next in most situations, or to not cut them at all if you don’t want to.

Read more about deadlifts:

One of the Most Underrated Strength Exercises You Can Do

How to Deadlift with Proper Form: The Definitive Guide

ExRx.net: Barbell Deadlift

Why Fitness Resolutions Are So Hard to Keep – And What You Can Do To Change This

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Whenever we make resolutions, it seems we are tested. Temptations, distractions, and old habits spring up from every side. We need to find the inner strength to persevere and to discover ways to succeed.” (from Inside The Yoga Sutras: A Comprehensive Sourcebook for the Study and Practice of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, by Jaganath Carrera)

If you’re struggling already with your New Year’s resolution – less than a month after your intention was set – you are probably not alone. As the above quote illustrates beautifully, keeping our resolutions once they’ve been made challenges almost everyone who happens to be human. We also see this relatively universal experience reflected in the well-known saying “old habits die hard.”

Why is this? What is it about ourselves that makes it so easy to slide back into familiar routines that we perhaps desperately wish to change? The comfort of routine, yes, but why do so many of us persist with comfortable routines that make us routinely uncomfortable in our physical bodies, due to overeating, making poor food choices, neglecting to exercise or get enough sleep – all stressors that can contribute to poor health and suboptimal functioning on all levels of being?

The answer isn’t a simple one, but I firmly believe that we have a deep-seeded natural (genetic/evolutionary) tendency in our bodies that drives us to attempt to maintain our current state of being once our body has learned to operate and function in this state, even if it causes long-term damage and dysfunction and/or shortens our lifespans. In other words, once we’ve established a set point of “normal” functioning for our body in a certain set of circumstances, our body strives to maintain that set point and will actually work against our efforts to change that set point – particularly if we attempt to cause this upheaval on a large scale all of a sudden, which is exactly how many New Year’s resolution fitness/diet programs are undertaken. (Read more about the set point theory here: Weight gain and weight loss difficulties: the Set-Point Theory (part 2)).

This knowledge can seem daunting and discouraging, but actually, I believe it shines a ray of light and hope onto the topic of resolutions, as follows: To make and then successfully keep a fitness resolution, you should work to make small, step-by-step resolutions that involve minor adjustments to your current lifestyle rather than dramatic, drastic overhauls that disrupt your body’s conditioned way of functioning. Make the changes small enough that they will go virtually unnoticed, and make them easy enough so that you can and do succeed. Maybe you eat one more serving of fresh vegetables or fruit a day, switch to whole grain bread for every other meal, cut out sugary soft drinks or do a half-and-half mixture of tonic water and 100% fruit juice in place of sugary soft drinks. Perhaps you add in five minutes of stretching or walking or lifting weights three days a week, and after six weeks, you move this up to six or seven minutes. Maybe you get to bed 10 minutes earlier. All of these are very, very small changes – but they are a start, and if you can maintain them, they are worth so much more than dramatic changes that fall by the wayside after a few short days or weeks.

Once you’ve succeeded for a minimum of six weeks (longer if you want to really ingrain the habit), you can tackle the next change(s) on your list. Or you can try to adopt a small change in several different areas related to your fitness at the same time – but I suggest no more than three at a time. Keep a journal (on your cell phone might be easiest) to keep track of how you do in reaching your goals, and adjust them as needed. The goal is for you to succeed – keep reminding yourself of this – not to set yourself up for failure. Make sure the goals for each six week to three-month period are entirely attainable, and let yourself feel good about reaching them, no matter how small and insignificant they may seem to others (or your unhelpful internal self-judge, who expects you to be swimsuit-ready in three days and also able to run a marathon in the same amount of time).

After several years of making changes this way, you might be surprised to discover real changes in yourself and your fitness/energy levels that you never thought were possible. Another big reason that fitness resolutions and programs fail is because people expect impossibly dramatic results way too quickly. If you can change your mindset to embrace the idea that you’re working toward a permanent lifestyle improvement, not a temporary fix, and that the changes will be gradual, you will be on the way to succeeding via the understanding that the physically visible changes are likely to happen extremely slowly, but that the underlying fitness benefits of improved healthy habits will reap great rewards in terms of your overall health and wellbeing much more quickly…and that physical changes will follow, albeit much more slowly than you might wish them to occur.

Looking back at your New Year’s resolutions now, decide on some realistic, easily accomplished steps you can take during the next six weeks (or longer) to work toward those resolutions. Working to gradually reshape your body’s “fitness set point” will take some time, but if you can stick with it and continually update and expand upon your small, reasonable resolutions, you may be looking back five years from now amazed at how far you’ve come in terms of fitness, rather than discouraged and dismayed by your inability to make a fitness resolution and stick with it.