July 1, 2010 posted by

WFH: Survival

At its core the first training block of the Workout From Hell is about survival. You won’t gain much strength. You won’t gain much muscle. You won’t get ripped. And while you should get better at the workouts they don’t feel any easier the more you do them. It’s similar to why most sprinters hate the 400. Instead of feeling fast and powerful, as you do at shorter distances, the quarter is a war; an internal battle to keep your mind calm and focused while every sense you have is screaming for you to stop.

I think it’s vital to embrace this mindset before you begin. Because everyday, at some point during the workout, you’re going to want to stop and there many rational reasons why you should. You don’t look better. You don’t feel better. No one understands what you’re doing. The big guys at the gym are eyeing you quizzically and you aren’t impressing the ladies with those 5lb dumbbells. Mostly you hurt. Struggling for those last 10 reps is almost comically sadistic. If you haven’t convinced yourself you want to fight you will stop. It’s guaranteed.

I don’t write down my hangboard workouts during this phase. I increase them by one grip position each workout so they get longer but my only goal is to find holds where I can barely finish each 50 second set (10 on, 5off, X 5).

Choosing weight for the resistance movements is a little tricky because you don’t want things to be too easy. But almost any amount of weight gets hard near the end so slightly too light is better than too heavy (especially if you fail under 20) because you want to finish the 30 with as little pausing as you can. I don’t always get this right. It doesn’t matter. The point is to stay engaged in the fight. Block one is about volume.

I’ve been asked how you’re supposed to feel and it’s hard to describe. Each set feels as though it’s pumping you out of your mind but you’re not always pumped. Because you’re crossing energy systems during each set it affects your body in an odd way. Sometimes you can barely begin the next set. Other times it feels easy. Others feel easy then you die early in the set. The response to this training is complex. I’ve done it many times over the years and the only thing that’s a constant is that every workout will be painful.

Post workout has me feeling weary than anything. You break down very little fast-twitch muscle fiber during this phase so you won’t experience DOMS. It’s endurance work as far your muscles are concerned but there are other physiological changes occurring as well. Joints and connective tissues are being stressed in ways they probably aren’t used to. Oxidative pathways, too. Your entire system is turned on end and confused. Daily response can’t be predicted.

Some days I feel dead at night and wake up feeling fine. On others I feel great and wake up stiff, sore, or feeling like I’ve tweaked something. I’m icing my lower back about five times a day because it’s injured but I’ve had to ice my shoulders, elbows, hands, chest, and upper back at various times over the last couple of weeks. I think this is because your body is on edge so it responds more drastically than usual to any unusual damage.

Block one of the WFH is always a personal odyssey and I suppose that’s why I like it so much. I’m not sure that everyone needs to experience it. Glycolytic athletes can benefit but, beyond them, I think it’s probably most effective as a plateau buster. If take it on make sure and commit to surviving. Though not visual, it’s where your true transformations will occur. It will make everything that comes later seem easy.

pics: dudes, i said survival, not survivor. above 80s sport climbing legends dale goddard and jim karn train for the world air guitar championships at smith rocks but when you look at their style there’s little question they hold faint hope of usurping aussie teen idol geoff weigand, top.


  • Great piece. Thanks for including the hangbaord regimen.

  • Will your muscles atrophy in this phase or can they still be maintained? My guess would be, you will have little to no muscle atrophy.btw, for me endurance work creates somewhat of DOMS.

  • Micah,I think you know the drill because we've talked about it. Posted here:

  • Insane,No atrophy at all for me, and some minor hypertrophy, though you might if your muscles were huge and you weren't used to doing any volume. But it's only three weeks so as long as you're eating you can't lose too much even then.

  • "It's funny, I probably know the route better than Chris. But Chris can climb it, and I can't."-Dale

  • "It's funny, I probably know the route better than Chris. But Chris can climb it, and I can't."-Dale

  • "And the hold he's going to now is really small. Umm… I've never seen anyone clip from that hold."

  • I find it curious that no one has yet mentioned a thing about G-Lo's outfit. I mean, there was lycra and then there was Weigand.

  • I am at about this point in my wfh, but i am definately feeling doms for several days after each workout, I am definately pushing so failure is at 30 on every set. I have also noticed a fairly large strength increase along with my muscles looking bigger. Im a bit scared what the final 6 weeks will have in store…

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