FUNDAMENTALS OF TRAINING DYNAMICS

The training dynamics proposed by the App are configured based on three elements:

1) the discipline for which you want to train, being able to choose between bouldering and sport climbing,

2) the relationship established between the indicators of your local physiological profile, which can be interpreted as balanced or unbalanced,

3) the effort intensity at which you reach your local occlusion threshold (OT).

The target disciplines are considered since the physical performance factors have been shown to be different for each one of them (1-4). In both, the maximum finger strength (5,6) has been proven to be the fundamental capacity, being the rapid expression of it (the grip power) (6) the one that has been observed as the most determining for bouldering performance. On the other hand, the ability to exert high levels of force over time (specific endurance) seems important in both disciplines (5,7), although with differences regarding the specific weight of the prevalent metabolic components in each one of them. Therefore, depending on what you’re training for, you should promote one type of adaptations over the others.

Knowing if your physiological profile is balanced or not, or at which intensity you reach the OT, is relevant to determine what contents to prioritize in training. This information allows you to optimize the process by letting you train to achieve the adaptations that appear to be the most necessary according to your current fitness. To improve the result of this process, it is also important to follow a specific order when training the different contents, thus, in the achievement of the different adaptations. This will allow you to take advantage of the effects of one training content to enhance those of the next, generating a synergy between these adaptations. The App will always propose on this basis, the training dynamics that best suits your characteristics, which are sequences of three capacities to train in a specific way. The table below lets you get an idea of the best ways to train each capacity. It is based on the current (still scarce) evidence regarding the greatest benefits of one over other means to improve each capacity, as well as on the App author’s experience as a professional trainer for climbers Pedro Bergua):

As seen in the table above, finger hangs allow to improve all the capacities your climbing performance depends on, although they’re not always the best option. In this sense, choosing them may come out of a criterion of effectiveness, but sometimes also out of necessity (if no other means are available). In any case, one of the keys to progress is to vary the training stimuli, so combining them appropriately at different times of the season may, possibly, be what offers the greatest benefit.

INDIVIDUALIZED OF THE FINGER HANG WORKOUTS PROPOSED IN THE TRAINING DYNAMICS

If you decide to develop all or only some of the capacities that appear in the training dynamics based on finger hangs proposed by the App after self-testing, you can do the indicated workouts following the App’s criterion by exporting them to “My workouts” from the self-testing record screen (where the results are displayed). You can also use these dynamics as a guidance to train the suggested capacities, but using the finger hang workouts you may have configured by yourself or choosing among the 500 included in the App, or even by different means. 

The level of a pre-configured workout proposed by the App for a capacity depends on the value of the indicators obtained through self-testing. The integer and the first decimal of an indicator determine the level and sub-level, respectively, of the training content related to the capacity valued by each indicator (example below).

Take into account that the training load that you may require at the moment, which should always be the lowest able to generate improvements (which would depend on how you’ve been training so far), could require a different level and sub-level than those automatically proposed. Here below you will find information on how to adjust better to your current needs the load of the workouts configured in the training dynamics.

LOAD ADJUSTMENT OF THE FINGER HANG WORKOUTS USED IN THE DYNAMICS

Two types of training load can be differentiated: 1) the external load, which represents the specific characteristics that define the workout (volume, intensity, recoveries, etc.) and, 2) the internal load, which is the effort that an individual must do as a result of a specific external load. Therefore, the same external load can suppose a different effort and, consequently, have a different effect on different subjects. This depends on factors such as the previous training experience and the individual assimilation ability.

Almost none of the pre-configured workouts have been established to be performed up to a specific external load (a specific number of repetitions or sets). On the contrary, the internal dynamic of these workouts is generally based on reaching specific performance losses in each content. Therefore, they are carried out with open or undefined external loads, but always to the achievement of acceptable internal load levels. In this way, the level of the effort that each of them supposes, will always be adjusted to what each climber can do according to his current state. This is possible thanks to the functionalities that the App‘s Timer incorporates that allows adding sets or repetitions to a workout, or end it whenever wanted, when the target internal load level is reached. For practical purposes, this means that each workout will be ended when a performance loss, previously defined for a specific content, is reached. This approach allows adjusting each workout to one’s real possibilities, making this process more effective and safer.

The procedure previously described, on how the App calculates the level and sub-level of each content based on finger hangs, implies that the characteristics of that content’s load are set by the App. Since the best workout will always be, as previously said, the one with the lowest load allowing you to progress, this procedure may only approximate the most effective load for you. From the point of view of your training, the best thing you can do to progress is to set workout loads that imply slightly different stimuli in relation to what you’ve done so far. Therefore, your previous training experience regarding each skill you want to develop will also determine your approach. Progression does not always imply training with more volume or intensity, other parameters of the load can also be varied, such as the density (relationship between effort and rest times) or the effort margin (EM) in each repetition, which is the margin that is left before muscle failure. These variations already generate stimuli different enough to allow this progression and, they are precisely what characterizes the different levels and sub-levels of the pre-configured workouts.

Because of the limitations of the App, it is very difficult to determine your training experience prior to the current moment. Therefore, the workout level and sub-level suggested by the App could suppose a load that is too low or too high according to your needs. At this point the Training Editor plays an essential role, since it allows you to modify the parameters of any workout proposed by the App. If you find yourself making big adjustments on a workout, consider instead, selecting one with the same content but 1-2 levels below or above. Possibly, if you are experienced enough with training, you may be able to figure out if the proposed workout implies a suitable load for you even before carrying it out, and make the appropriate changes if necessary. If not, there are some indicators that will let you know if the level of the workout proposed by the App is too low or too high for you:

The load is too high if you reach the intended internal load during the workout before doing less than half of the volume proposed for each grip.

The load is too low if you can comfortably complete the overall proposed volume for each grip.

By taking these indicators into account, you will be able to better adjust the pre-configured workouts increasing the chances of the dynamics proposed by the App being effective for you, which you can objectively assess by observing your progression in the self-testing records. In the event that self-testing did not reveal any improvement in the indicators of your physiological profile after completing a training dynamic, keep in mind this could be due to:

– not having properly performed self-testing, either because of a bad coordination (which you can deduct from the information provided by the App on the test’s accuracy), a non-compliance with the required conditions (previous rest, test scheduling, additional activities, skin shape, ambient conditions, etc.), or a lack of motivation to really reach muscle failure.

– showing a high local fatigue level, either caused by the finger hang workouts themselves, or by any additional training you may have been doing. Remember that any improvement achieved by training do not appear immediately, but rather after a sufficient recovery period or a load decrease (also called tapering) (8,9). Therefore, you should keep this in mind when performing a follow-up self-test. Since the App cannot measure the overall internal load implied by the training you have carried out, a specific length for the rest or tapering period previous to self-testing can’t be established. You can find more information on tapering to reach a peak of form, and resting before self-testing in the last section of this text.

– not having received a sufficient stimulus from the training carried out, which is the opposite of the previous point. Although unlikely to happen, this would induce either a small adaptation of the trained systems or none at all (see above in this text which indicators show that the training load is insufficient).

– finding yourself very close to your genetic limit, which implies that you have very little adaptation potential left, or said in other words, a limited ability to continue improving through training (or at least by following the same type of training). This depends on your genetic characteristics, but also on the training you have done up to this point. In any case, but especially in the latter, we recommend you to put yourself in the hands of a professional trainer who could propose the most appropriate solutions for your case.

– having reached the highest level in all the indicators. This case could be seen as similar to the previous one, although you could also still be relatively far from your maximum potential physical level. In either case, congratulations! You are in an incredible shape to climb, and very possibly doing this at a very high level. Getting here requires not only genetic potential, but also great effort and dedication. If you are reading this, possibly your intention is to continue progressing, and the way to do it is by introducing variations in your training to offer different stimuli to your body, pushing it to continue generating adaptations. We recommend you to consult the corresponding scientific literature to learn how to obtain the gross indicators of your physiological profile allowing you to continue assessing your improvements through self-testing.

SCHEDULING OF THE TRAINING DYNAMICS BASED ON FINGER HANGS DURING THE SEASON

This App doesn’t provide a seasonal training plan based on finger hangs, it only configures medium term dynamics that you can choose to follow or not, whether using finger hangs or different contents, and which duration will depend on the capacities you should develop and other elements exposed here below. Therefore, you’ll need to do the planning by yourself, provided you have the required knowledge, using the information that appears in these sections, or with the help of a qualified trainer (which we strongly advise). If you go on your own but don’t have much of an idea on how to do this, here’s some information on some basics you should consider.

Perhaps the most important among all the elements to take into account, is to know how to value the relationship between the stress implied by the effort you’re making (internal load) and the maximum stress you could sustain. This consideration, applicable in general to any kind of training in any sport (and even to the field of sports re-adaptation), is in the case of climbing especially related to the development of the soft tissues of your hands and fingers, which are all those structures that do a passive work during a grip (tendons, ligaments, pulleys, joint capsules …). In practice, our recommendation is that you should not exceed during a year the number of dynamics based on finger hangs shown in the table below.

This recommendation, which takes into account both the level of climbing experience (measured in years of assiduous practice), and the average level of indicators (ALI) obtained through self-testing, is made in a preventive sense, focusing on a harmonic or sufficient development of the soft tissues, in parallel to the physical-specific improvement that you will achieve with training. As already said, these tissues are those that transfer the grip force to your fingers, but their adaptation rate is much slower than that of the muscular tissue (11). Not taking care of this is a frequent cause of injury in climbing (12), since a great imbalance can be created between the tension generated by the finger flexors and the tension that these structures can withstand. Obviously, any action that involves grabbing a hold will generate stress on these tissues, so this preventive approach should be applied to any training content, not just to those involving finger hangs. In fact, workouts based on finger hangs have been shown to be safer than the contents that are trained by climbing, as it’s difficult to control the intensity of each grip in the latter (13).

Another thing to consider is that you should not work uninterruptedly throughout the season on the physical qualities that determine your performance since, paradoxically, continuous training does not ensure a greater improvement on them. A commonly used strategy in sports is to schedule one or more transition periods along the season. During these periods you should not climb or do any climbing oriented training, although you can do physical activity of any other kind. Their duration depends on the time you need to be physically and mentally recovered before starting a new training cycle (usually between 2 and 4 weeks a year) (14).

Aside from these considerations, determining a single strategy regarding how to organize during the year the training dynamics proposed by the App, is impossible. This will depend on your personal circumstances, individual progression, the adaptive capability of your soft tissues, your objectives and, above all, the time and the available means. A climber with little time to train during the week may not do the same finger hang workouts as another with much more time and resources at his disposal. Self-listening, experience and frequent assessment of your physiological profile will help you to be increasingly effective when it comes to choose the most appropriate training for each time of the season.

How to set the weekly distribution of the finger hang workouts configured in the dynamics proposed by the App during each cycle is clearer. As already stated, only one content/capacity from those proposed in these dynamics should be preferentially worked each cycle, meaning it should be trained with a frequency of two weekly sessions. We recommend distributing their workouts every two days, which should make their combination with other contents or activities easy. This is only a recommendation, so you should determine their specific frequency, adjusting it to the magnitude of the performed global load, and according to the perceived effort of all the activities done each week in addition to the finger hang contents. The directions in the table below may help you calculate the time you should rest between sessions.

These times are only indicative. If you have a lot of experience with training, you’ll probably know when to exercise again. If not, you should learn by self-observing your performance in each session, finding if it has been equal, better, or worse than in the previous session doing the same kind of workout. This comparison is very easy to perform when it comes to finger hangs, since there are no external factors other than the physical ones (aside from the ambient conditions and the shape of your skin) that could alter your performance in this kind of exercise (see the example at the end of TRAINING SCIENCE text 5).

We can infer from this that modifying at which moment each training session is carried out to get the most out of it, is something normal (and usual). This flexibility to distribute the training stimuli is necessary to correctly assimilate them and to make this process as effective as possible. The key to an effective training is based on offering the next stimulus to your body just when it has generated an adaptation that is sufficient to assimilate it positively. This is what will allow you a progression adjusted to your individual adaptation rate.

The duration of each training cycle proposed by the App is not standard either. Information about the usual duration allowing the development of its related capacity is available in the description of each type of pre-configured workouts. This will allow you to integrate them more easily and more often in the season. The two essential criteria that you must consider when establishing the specific duration of each training cycle based on finger hangs are:

– Having previously done a cycle of the same content: the duration of the following cycles with that content may be shorter, since the stimulus necessary to achieve the target adaptations will not need to be as great.

– The time available to integrate all the training into the calendar: for example, if you have 10 weeks before a climbing trip and you want to get in shape, you must adjust the duration of each one of the 3 cycles to be able to complete all the training, taking into account the considerations set out below to achieve a peak of form at the required time.

LOOKING FOR A PEAK OF FORM: TAPERING

From the point of view of the physical capacities, optimizing performance requires a phase of reduction of the training load to eliminate the fatigue generated by the training itself and to achieve the specific adaptations that are necessary for the objectives to be attained. This phase is known as tapering and its duration can be variable (8). Tapering can be done after each training dynamic proposed by the App, simply by stopping training with finger hangs and only doing the target activity, optionally complementing it with some additional contents (in a climbing gym, but none implying finger hangs). The goals of the tapering phase may be achieved through this reduction of the load. You can also achieve the reduction of the overall training load by lowering any additional content (climbing gym) that you may be doing in parallel to finger hangs during the last two or three weeks of the last cycle of the dynamic. This strategy will allow you to begin the tapering earlier, since the decrease in the load will start during the dynamic, not after ending it, allowing to shorten this phase’s duration (that is proportional to the duration of the previous training phase). Current evidence indicates that, in average, tapering lasts about 2 weeks during which the volume and frequency of the workouts are reduced by 40% to 60% (8), although the intensity is kept high (9).

On this basis, these two strategies could concretely consist on: 1) reducing the load of the contents that are not based on finger hangs by 50% (in regard to the volume) during the last 2 weeks of the last cycle of the dynamic proposed by the App or, 2) progressively reduce the load over 3 weeks (by 60%-50%-40% of the volume, for example) if tapering is done once the dynamic has been completed (10). In the latter case, the reduction of the load should take into account that you would no longer be training with finger hangs, already implying a decrease in the load.

REFERENCES

(1) Fryer S, Stone KJ, Sveen J, Dickson T, España-Romero V, Giles D, et al. Differences in forearm strength, endurance, and hemodynamic kinetics between male boulderers and lead rock climbers. European Journal of Sport Science 2017 07/28:1-7.

(2) Fryer S, Stoner L, Stone K, Giles D, Sveen J, Garrido I, et al. Forearm muscle oxidative capacity index predicts sport rock-climbing performance. Eur J Appl Physiol 2016:1-6.

(3) Levernier G, Laffaye G. Rate of force development and maximal force: reliability and difference between non-climbers, skilled and international climbers. Sports biomechanics 2019;Apr(30):1-12.

(4) Stien N, Saeterbakken AH, Hermans E, Vereide VA, Olsen E, Andersen V. Comparison of climbing-specific strength and endurance between lead and boulder climbers. PloS one 2019;14(9):e0222529.

(5) Medernach JPJ, Kleinöder H, Lötzerich HHH. Fingerboard in competitive bouldering: Training effects on grip strength and endurance. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 2015;29(8):2286-2295.

(6) Levernier G, Laffaye G. Four Weeks of finger grip training increases the rate of force development and the maximal force in elite and world-top ranking climbers. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 2017.

(7) López Rivera E, González-Badillo JJ. The effects of two maximum grip strength training methods using the same effort duration and different edge depth on grip endurance in elite climbers. Sports Technology 2012;5(3-4):100-110.

(8) Bosquet L, Montpetit J, Arvisais D, Mujika I. Effects of tapering on performance: a meta-analysis. Medicine and science in sports and exercise 2007;39(8):1358.

(9) Mujika I. Intense training: the key to optimal performance before and during the taper. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports 2010;20(s2):24-31.

(10) Gibala M, MacDougall J, Sale D. The effects of tapering on strength performance in trained athletes. International Journal of Sports Medicine 1994;15(08):492-497.

(11) Hochholzer T, Schoeffl V. Un movimiento de más–: cómo entender las lesiones y síndromes de sobrecarga en la escalada: texto aprobado por la comisión médica de la UIAA. : Ediciones Desnivel; 2006.

(12) Schweizer A. Sport climbing from a medical point of view. Swiss Medical Weekly 2012 October 11;142:w13688.

(13) MacLeod D. Make or break. 1.0th ed. Scotland: Rare Breed Productions; 2015.

(14) Maciá D. Planificación del entrenamiento en escalada deportiva. Madrid. (España): Desnivel; 2002.

LINKS

More about the physiological profile

More about the occlusion threshold

More on how to train with other contents and combine them with finger hangs according to the physiological profile and the previous training dynamics

More about the pre-configured workouts

More about the scientific base of the pre-configured workouts

More about the considerations to compare self-testing records

More on how to make self-testing with training

More about the gross indicators of the physiological profile

More about when and how to start training with finger hangs