Tinkering with another workout today that could, theoretically, change how we train for climbing. It’s already changed how we train for many power sports because it makes power training safe. The mechanism at work is called post-activation potentiation, which you may have heard about if you own P90X2 or X3, read this blog, or were lucky enough to train at P3.
To recap my original power training post, you’d probably want to power train if you could do it safely. However, given its risk of injury is high, you probably don’t need its benefits enough to do it. Post-activation potentiation, employed correctly, makes power training pretty darn safe. This means it can be for everybody, but it needs to be earned. Here’s a quick explanation.
Defining PAP training
In conditioned athletes, preceding an explosive movement with a heavy contraction movement can free up higher threshold muscle cell motor units (MU) than doing the explosive movement alone. The recruitment of high threshold MU are what allows you to run faster, jump higher, etc.
The reason is unclear but the assumption is that the contraction set relaxes the protective nature limits high threshold MU activity, most likely because your body is now “warmed up” enough to handle the movement safely.
Why isn’t everybody on board?
Two reasons, the first of which is in the term “conditioned athletes”. When you don’t have enough condition, the first set is all you can handle and the explosive movement, while still protected by the warm-up set (which is now a pre-fatigue set), is rendered useless.
The second is subtler, in that it should be systematically used. Many Crossfit gyms train using complexes that employ this research but it’s very rare when they understand how and when it should be used. This isn’t necessarily all bad. Random hard training still has a training effect and, as long as it’s safe, there’s little downside. Due to reason #1, however, you can see a limit to using this strategy as a general course.
Training “like an elite athlete” may have marketing appeal but it only makes sense if you have the fitness base to benefit from it. Complex training shows up in the third training block of P90X2, and the bonus (4th) block of P90X3 (since its workouts are short, hence adaptation is slower), ensuring you’re ready for this style of training.
Furthermore, the latter two programs use a ramping up effect in regards to complex training, where targeting absolute efficiency is tampered slightly in favor of a metabolic effect. While done mainly for safety, it’s also effectively training you for higher intensity levels of complex training. Foundation power training, if you will.
How well does it work?
All you need to do is look at P3’s athletes as an example. It’s one thing to use theory, completely another to see results at the highest levels. When I see how little P3’s athletes get hurt compared to, well, the rest of all pro athletes, I’m amazed every team in every league isn’t beating down the door (they kind of are, but still).
Their poster boy must be Al Jefferson. Nearly written off due to poor knee health by the NBA, he’s not only still playing but has become a bonafide star, leading one of the worst teams in the history of basketball into the playoffs in one year. Since stepping into P3 five years ago, he’s transformed from fragile gamble to league stalwart. Sports Illustrated ran this great story on him last month.
Taking things down a level, I receive constant raves about X2 (3 just came out) for improved performance. It’s often phrased as somewhat a surprise, since complex training doesn’t feel as though it’s doing as much for you as something move obviously movement oriented, like Insanity: The Asylum. Clearly, that program works (this vid is rad), but properly constructed complex training goes a level deeper, and we developed our training model with Dr. Marcus Elliott, owner of P3, meaning your training mimics what works at the top.
While I’m sold that it can work for climbing, I’m not sure exactly how; thus the experimentation. The weak link in climbing are very small muscles, as well as tendons and ligaments. This changes the template, starting with the definition of an athletic base as tendon strength develops much slower than muscle. Margins are thinner, risk wise, always making things tricky. But the carrot, a way to revolutionize training, is always enough to try and tweak an applied scientific principle until you get it to work. Or don’t. Either way, once more unto the breach…