June 17, 2010 posted by

The Workout From Hell

john long bouldering Pictures, Images and Photos

My damaged back has turned the summer plans upside down, with the upside being that I’m so limited in what I can do it will add some focus to my training. The last few days I’ve been testing my limits to see what I should and shouldn’t be doing. In conclusion, I’ve decided it’s time to dust off the “Workout From Hell.”

My buddy Largo wrote this workout program for a climbing magazine back in the 80s. While no one questioned its difficulty, it never became a part of the climbing lexicon because, frankly, it’s not very good training for the sport. These days it’s pretty antiquated as training for anything. In a world where symbiosis and functionality are king, it’s preaches isolation and iron so strongly that it conjures up black and white images of Arnie, Franco, and Muscle Beach.

Though dated, the program is not without merit (note above pic of a ripped Largo back in the day). Its graduated rep scheme that begins absurdly high and transitions to very low is great for targeting energy systems. And it’s even more intriguing given I lack mobility and can’t do complex movements. The lack of functionality doesn’t bother me because, when I’m healthy, I spend too much time playing and too little time training so my sports specific engrams (neuromuscular patterns) are firmly in place.

Of course I’m already very familiar with the WFH. I try everything. I began my first cycle of this program the day after I read about it. Back then we’d try anything to improve our climbing. Without resources like the internet we weren’t privy to why the Europeans had come out of nowhere to dominate the sport that we’d ruled for a couple of decades. It wasn’t due to the WFH but we didn’t know that, so I hit the gym with the fervor of an amphibious rodent being dropped into a bath.

Like Largo, the first time I did this I was so sore that I couldn’t reach my hands above my head to wash my hair, much less climb anything. And while it didn’t improve my climbing it helped my fitness. Over the years I tinkered with it. I’d do a cycle each year, in the off season, to build base fitness and avoid muscular imbalances. And while I’m not sure it was the most efficient tactic for my climbing only lifestyle, as I was doing back then, I think it will help with some weaknesses that I currently have and be good overall training for my current multi-sports lifestyle.

I’m not sure how much help the WFH is in the modern world. Something like 90x, for example, is a far more thorough training regimen. But some of its aspects can still help improve fitness, especially for those targeting specific weaknesses. And the structured repetition scheme, which never became popular for the masses, is pragmatic for sure as it directly addresses muscular endurance, hypertrophy (though Long misidentifies this phase, though it’s a semantics error as he knows what it does), and power. My evolved version of the WFH is quite different than the original and I’ll post it when finalized.


  • And I thought I get bad reps for creating a hybrid with 2 insanity workouts a day 😛 No leg training? No core training? Won't your leg muscles atrophy? Your core strength will decrease?I would love to try this schedule after my current phase, but even I somewhat doubt the idea behind it.Any thoughts?

  • oops sorry I read through and found you can pick a muscle group.

  • It would be an interesting for you to try this. Since you're cycling things all the time anyway you'd might as well. It would teach you a lot of energy system work because the phases are so extrememly different and calculated as opposed to, say, 90x in which there is always some crossover. It's not better than what you are doing, or even as good overall, but that doesn't mean there aren't gains to be made from this approach because there are.

  • sweet! I'll put up my new schedule sometime this week on the thread. Can you switch muscle groups like for week 2 focus on lower body and core instead of chest and back or shoulders and arms? Or should that be left for off days?

  • I did two rounds of the WFH in the winter of 90 – 91, with a two week break in between for recovery and ice climbing. I started with very low weights, being an endurance built guy rather than a power guy. I went from 7% bodyfat to about 5.5%, and from 165# up to 181#. I was doing bike delivery at the time, 45m of daily cardio at "all-out", plus I put in another 45m to 1.5h of cardio in the gym. I did core work sets, alternating with stretching, between weight sets. Unlike Largo, I didn't add the WFH to an upper body workout, it was my only workout (he was doing 1.5 hours in the kayak every day), so I may have gained more, because my body got more time off. In the end, I was pulling off boulder problems I'd not been able to get onto, and had the endurance to puzzle through them. It was one of the few times I've had absolute confidence that my body could do anything I asked, and that freed my mind to attempt serious boulder problems / ice.

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