This is a great article for those who enjoy geeking out about fitness. For anyone interested in what I do for a living here’s a taste. I’m always evaluating the latest data and techniques looking for ideas we can incorporate into what we do. It’s from an elite climber and strength trainer Rob Miller and titled The Map of Athletic Performance.
Articles like this are what opens the door for training advancements. I can’t say that I learned anything new, exactly, but certainly helped my thought process. I mean, we’re all working off of the same science so new aspects about training tend to come from experience and trying to think outside the box. This is why breakthroughs in training rarely come from scientists and usually from athletes and trainers (Rob is both) who experiment outside of known templates–why we call exercise physiology an “applied science”. This is similar to what Charlie Francis was doing with runners and Paul Rogers is doing with cyclists.
Anyone interested in last week’s articles on customizing P90X should consider investing some time, so bookmark this article for reference. While techie, it summarized a lot junk you’re forced to learn in school and is much more fun to read than most text books. That’s because it stays focused on a subject, which is training for climbing, though its scope if far beyond that particular sport. The theories discussed here can be applied to any type of training.
I’m going to try and break this down a step further for the layman by adding notes and perspective on various sections. Miller begins with the climbing aspect and goes into the general exercise phys stuff later, which I’m reversing for readability in my analysis.
Getting “generally” strong is just smart. Whether it is to increase lean body mass for health reasons or to gain an edge at the sport you love. Full range of motion basic barbell movements performed well will have the farthest reaching impact in support of all athletic endeavors. Essentially, strength improves the body’s capacity to perform at a greater intensity. This is true for all developing athletes and remains true for even the most advanced.
This is a great paragraph but it needs to be noted that Rob is a barbell trainer (how he makes his living). Of course that are others ways to accomplish this, but barbell training is his bread and butter. He knows it very well and can teach is safely, which everyone cannot do. He addresses that fact but he doesn’t explain that there are other ways to safely do compound lifts (he has no reason to) that are easier to learn.
What became very obvious while dwelling on the ramifications of the Map (above) is that there are many trajectories from the inside ring toward the outside that can naturally be pursued over the course of an athlete’s career. But the closer an athlete is to expressing most of his genetic potential – the further out from the center of the Map – the greater the need for the effort to become more focused. Deliberate choices need to be made with regard to which, and how many, outward trajectories from the center will benefit the athlete most. Because training is a deliberate approach to systematically achieving one’s goal, after 5 years of “Elite” distraction the first deliberate thing I did for my training as a climber was to stop pushing out in all directions on the Map at the same time in the pursuit of “increased work capacity over broad time and model domains.”
This is a challenge faced by any athlete who practices many different sports (hence most weekend warriors). He’s specifically addressing Crossfit and its misguided emphasis when it comes to sports (he has a long history with CF’s founder, discussed at length) but the challenge he’s addressing—-efficient sports specific training to leave time for sports specific work—-is the meat of what all athletes are after.
The activities may be listed along the Map’s perimeter but the process of athletic development begins well within the Map’s interior. The activities being listed on the outside have to do with creating a trajectory for development. Reaching the outside limits of the Map means that you are up against your genetic potential in that sport. It is a rare individual that has exhausted all means to achieve greater abilities and capacities in his sport. But more importantly, an athlete on the outer reaches has developed other “supplemental” trajectories either by exploring other sports or deliberately pursuing physical qualities that his primary trajectory will directly benefit from. And this is one of the more significant implications of the Map.
He’s just defined the concept behind “muscle confusion” from P90X, which we’ve taken to a much deeper level in X2. What’s so important in this paragraph is that you can’t change your genetic potential but within your genetic make-up you can improve your capacity for improvement and efficiency. That is what any trainer’s goal is with an athlete, to maximize their genetic capacity for performance.
Prioritizing training time is weighed against the timeline of the upcoming season, event or competition in every stage of athletic development. Advanced training takes on a laser-like focus the further out on the Map one is, and it and becomes less tolerant of any superfluous training “noise.” Each training session has a clear purpose and all available resources go into achieving that purpose. The ratio of work to rest that productively drives adaptation no longer has a forgiving margin of error. The work is focused and deliberate, so that the body can be left alone to do its thing during recovery.
The single biggest challenge most of us face, especially when life (job, families, etc) enter the equation. Efficiency is king but, let’s face it, most of us would rather do what we enjoy. Sometimes, especially if you want to maximize your potential, you need to put that aside and make decisions about what is best for you to reach your goals and not just what you like to do.
There is no parallel to the barbell in its ability to meet an athlete exactly where they are now in terms of neuromuscular efficiency and begin the process of progressively applying higher demands on the entire system. The neglect the barbell receives from both regular folks and athletes is something of a mystery, given its potential. Still, given that we live in a culture that sells products offering quick fixes or a “silver bullet” for most everything people are interested in, it is understandable that training with the barbell is undervalued or ignored. It takes time, like anything worth doing thoroughly.
Obviously, as a barbell coach, this is his opinion. Almost nothing you do with a barbell can’t be done using something else—-though a barbell can be very efficient. What he hasn’t addressed is the injury potential when doing his exercises, which is very high. His angle is that if you learn the moves right they are safe but he also states it took him many years of devoted study and training to do this. Thus…
What’s he’s saying is to take his camps or train differently. I can’t argue. If I can find the time I’ll take one of his camps. If not I’ll train differently. I’ve been around these lifts my entire life but have never devoted near the time Rob has to learning about them, even though…
The squat is the single most important exercise there is. Nothing else recruits more tissue doing more work than this one movement. The full range of motion squat done properly is the most potent tool in the gym. The other four add balance and support to this central movement. The time it takes you to learn something in the gym has a lot to do with how long it will remain interesting and effective, no matter what your goals are. Correctly performed squats take some time to learn. Even if your sport does not require squatting, and most do not, there is enormous benefit from becoming fluent in this basic human movement.
…this paragraph sounds exactly like one of my mentors, Fred (Dr. Squat) Hatfield.
In an endurance setting, strength and power will always be expressed at a fraction of one’s overall potential due to the lower strength and power demands of endurance sports. Therefore, the increase in strength and power will directly benefit one’s endurance simply by increasing that overall potential, and thereby increasing the reservoir from which to pull that fraction.
This is very important. My biased definition as to why P90X2 is so important for all athletes, even endurance athletes.
Perhaps the misguided emphasis on cardio-respiratory endurance will shift when more people try alternatives to mainstream ‘trendy’ workouts. Maybe the idea that “more” is not better will begin to sink in.
Very true but he’s talking about elite athletes. The emphasis in their training has been moving this direction now for more than a decade. The exact point is discussed in the X2 guide when addressing why there is no “cardio” in that program.
This is a quick synopsis of a broad topic. In the article he provides a nice discussion of energy systems and how training them applies to everyone. It’s very important to understand that no matter what kind of sport you want to train for.
miller walking the talk on el capitan
Now off to more specific things…
I’m saying that if you’re training, then it’s time organize your climbing into a weekly period of work-to-rest for the best results. To get the most out of the climbing you are already doing, we’re going to organize your week around a primary session called the Heavy Day. This is the day, or a combination of days if you go climbing for the weekend, that will be driving your intermediate rate of adaptation. This is the stressor that your body will need a full week to recover from.
It doesn’t mean the intermediate climber takes a week off. He needs to engage those skills during the week of active rest. This way, skills stay sharp and are ready to ‘neurologically fire’ when fully recovered. To accomplish a full intermediate recovery, you’re going to follow the Heavy Day with one Medium Day and one Light Day during the remainder of the week.
Your body is conditioned to climbing. So some climbing, even at your limit, won’t inhibit your recovery. It’s when you don’t understand how to actively recover, or that it’s necessary, that so many climbers eddy in a performance slump way longer than necessary.
Interesting in that this is what the Spanish do, and they have the most strong climbers in the world, by far. They call it tranquillo y a muerte (you mostly relax but when you do climb it’s “to the death”) and, I think, many traveling Americans have trouble with such a small volume of climbing—-myself included (we’re on limited holiday time fer crissakes)—-but those who do embrace it generally improve.
So why do climbers do the same thing as the example tennis player, and climb routes that don’t really challenge their abilities – a bunch of sub-maximal work that doesn’t challenge the skill set? Since there is no specific motor pathway being practiced – because the sport consists of myriad ways to climb any route – there is no point in the sub-maximal repetition. The worse case scenario is that the sub-maximal work at higher volume sets them up for injury when they do ramp up the intensity, like ‘junk’ miles on a bike for a cyclist.
This is key. Most of us waste a lot of time like this. It’s why you see people climbing for years and years and never really improving. Maybe they get slightly better when, say, they lose a few pounds for a redpoint but never by much. Focused systematic training out of your comfort zone is the only way to reach your body’s capacity for strength.
What he leaves out, which is important to less serious athletes (most of us) is that “junk miles” (or its sports equivalent) is important for season athletes as a way to condition the body when you haven’t practiced a sport in a while. Skin conditioning of the hands for climbers, feet for runners, and saddle area for cyclists are simple examples. Re-engaging neuromuscular patterns is another. This should not detract us from his main point, which is that creating a strong foundation of fitness minimizes our need for “junk” volume.
That stressor doesn’t have to come from the sport you’re training for. That’s what happened to me when I got into CrossFit. Not identifying the unfamiliar stimulus was unfortunate. I could have saved a lot of valuable training time.
Great point, but are different stresses the climbing causes that should be addressed individually depending upon the type of climbing you do, which he gets into…
Strength takes the longest to develop but it also sticks around the longest. Endurance comes and goes almost by the week. Strength is persistent and has the greatest training carryover, like in our bouldering example.
I think he’s underselling endurance. As any cyclist/triathlete knows it does take a while to bring all of your various “endurance” parameters up to speed. You improve by the week but it takes many weeks to have everything humming along perfectly.
However, his main point, that strength takes the longest to train (he means power or “absolutely strength” or muscular efficiency) is not only valid it’s the one essential key to improving performance even as an endurance athlete. It’s harder to train, takes both focus and specificity, and, mainly, to truly address it you must curtail your endurance training, which is a hard sell for most of us who are addicts, especially true of runners, cyclists, surfers, and climbers.
It’s really the key to the entire article: that we neglect full body strength training in favor of random volume. It’s not a coincidence that Francis and Rogers, who coached a stack of Olympic champions, were thinking along the same lines.
above: note no cyclists on the map. This is because those sports are hard to define this way. A road racer, for example, is an endurance athlete whose entire success is dependent on the anaerobic pathways, or the ability sprint or climb a hill at key points in an otherwise aerobic race. this means both areas must be trained with specific focus on the individual depending on the type of races they want to do well at.