I was asked to review a recent article on power training, published in Rock & Ice magazine. The article, written by UK climber Neil Gresham, recommends this protocol for a short term power fix.
“Pick an exercise in which you want to get really strong (for example, a pull-up on a finger edge) and then add weight so you can do only one set of three reps, to failure, three times a day: in the morning, at lunch, and in the evening. Elites should do this for a block of five or six days in a row before taking a rest day and then repeating this cycle.”
I think what we have here is a classic case of deadline disease. Magazines are forced to publish on certain dates, whether they have good content or not. This has historically lead to a lot of awful training advice. In fact, I personally know one bodybuilder who (with his friends) sent in joke routines for years that were published and, certainly, followed by clueless souls who probably wound up injured or smaller/weaker. With that in mind, let’s shed a little rationale on this sucker.
First, the analysis that ” Tsatsouline maintains that the reason we find walking so easy is because we do it all the time, and that we should treat strength training the same way ” doesn’t make sense from, really, any sort of rationale discussing power since walking is 100% antithesis of a power activity. I guess he means that if you power train all the time, you’ll adapt and get more powerful. While true–if you have a fight a tiger 3 times a day you’ll undoubtably get better at it, unless you are killed first (of which there is a high probability)–it neglects one of the primary rules of training: the adaptation principle. Well, it doesn’t neglect it but it acts like its definition can be ignored without impeding fitness (an aside, I often admire such cavalier thinking). The more force you put on your body, the longer it takes to recover. Training before you are recovered leads to either overtraining, or forced undertraining. I would surmise this works when the later takes place, mainly because the former would lead to injury. A training principle that only works by accident is starting off on shaky footing.
The next issue is lack of a proper warm-up. As you know, your warm-up for a hard power session (or single route/boulder at your limit) takes a while. Just doing a proper power warm-up three times a day is unlikely, unless you have a ton of patience and lot of free time. Without a proper warm-up, chances are that you aren’t pushing 100% because neuromuscular patterns, in attempt at self protection, won’t allow it. I could then argue that you’re not training full bore (attempting to recruit the highest possible muscle cell motor units) but I think that point is moot as its the only possible scenario for safety. Gresham claims this has worked, and I would guess that is the only rationale for why, which isn’t a strong testament to the protocol.
If you evaluated this against other methodology I’m pretty certain you’d find it lacking. That doesn’t mean it won’t work. If you’re in a hurry, and power is your be all end all–like a route you can easily do except for one, hard move–then perhaps you’d benefit. I’d be hesitant to recommend it, due to one, important issue, not discussed in the article.
Tsatsouline is not as much a power coach as a power-lifting coach, and this is not a small distinction. If you look at his training protocols there are mainly full body movements, controlled by very large muscle groups and powerful levers. A Turkish Get-up, or similar movement, even when weighted heavily, forces this load across most of your body. Climbers, on the other hand, force excessive loads on our smallest muscle groups, which are both harder to warm-up and have very little reserve energy once they are warmed-up. Power training for your fingers is always a risky proposition. For example, how many climbers have you run across in your life who push themselves and have not been hurt power training or bouldering? So while this training protocol might work, with the right climber attempting to improve on the right exercises, the chances of it going well are very slim and I’d be extremely hesitant to recommend it.
pics: while I wouldn’t want to try the above movement un-warmed up, either, it’s a lot safer than the bottom one.