Monitoring adaptations and self-testing

Generally, one of the greatest issues and challenges in the field of training for any sports, not only in climbing, is monitoring the adaptations and changes in our bodies. Knowing realistically where exactly are we getting better and how much we are adapting to the given stimuli, it does not look something easy to achieve, as we just said, not only in sport climbing also in other sports discipline 📊.

In my case, and during the last 10 years I have been using the indicators that now you will be able to use on the self-tests. In fact, and in order to prove that I am not making things up, I do invite you reading (or reading again if you already did it, because is worthwhile doing it) an article that I posted on my blog already 7 years ago when Mar Alvarez climbed her first 9a (article only in Spanish). In this article I talk about the importance of these controls.

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In order to monitor the adaptations that are produced in training sessions (so, to go sport climbing should be also monitor, as it is a stimulus itself that generate certain adaptations 😜) first thing to find out is which are the adaptations that we should monitor. It makes sense, right?. Cool, so the answer seems to be equally straight forward: we should control the adaptations on the abilities that determine performance to a greater extend.

In the case of climbing, the adaptations that we would like to be monitoring are not the same for everyone (or at least they should not be), because the abilities that determine performance are “slightly different” depending on the climbing discipline that we would like to assess. For instance, we should not measure the same parameters in a boulderer than in a sport climber (but we will get deeper in this matter in another entry, otherwise we will lose track of the main goal on this one).

Right, once we will know which abilities must be monitored, next thing to do it will be to understand how to control them, in other words, how we can test them. So, these measurements have to be useful, valid (they must be able to measure what we really need to be measured) and reliable (the results should be similar when two samples have been taken close in time) 📝. Besides these two main requirements, there is another clue element, and is that we should be able to be testing with an appropriate frequency or regularly enough: so testing must be ACCESSIBLE. If testing ends up needing materials that are too expensive or difficult to set and understand, the actual monitoring process will be done with low frequency (losing its utility), or it will stop happening (below, testing in a laboratory with NIRS in order to measure local oxidative dynamics during a study…, pretty cool device though, but not very accessible and it is not easy to understand the data).

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In climbing, the big question mark about monitoring the adaptations has always been in HOW we can measure the adaptations that reveal Specific Climbing Endurance (SCE). Independently of the climbing discipline we will be looking at, 🤔 the difficulty that has traditionally existed when measuring this capacity, in a valid and reliable manner, is hence to the inherent heterogeneity of climbing itself. What I mean is that, as well as the intensity as the time of the contractions that are made when we do sport climbing or bouldering, they are always different (in fact, there is evidence that there are differences even on different attempts of the same sequence of movements (Donath & Wolf., 2015)). All these facts have made even harder to try and standardize a protocol to measure the SCE…, so far at least .

Bringing the Occlusion Threshold (OT) into the equation has allowed us to deal with a fundamental element when distinguishing which is the main metabolic component that we want to monitor when measuring the SCE💣. This is because we can actually know when there is blood flow and when there is not 💔. Being able to know when there is blood irrigation in the active part of the key muscles that affect climbing performance: the finger flexors (Deyhle et al., 2015)🏼.

So, if we can test the SCE at intensities over the occlusion threshold (supra-OT), or just slightly over the OT, we will find out this specific condition of local ischemia that we are looking for. This is telling us that during this assessments there will not be blood flow in between contractions phases, and that we will only have blood flow during the resting times in between these contractions, as long as there will be enough time to allow its restoration. According to this, we will be able to allow blood flow depending on how long we rest between contractions or also depending on the rest:effort ratio (RER) that it will be used.

 

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According to the observations of Demura et al. (2008), RER with resting times under 2 s, it will not be long enough to allow blood flow restoration. Interestingly, the study was undertaken on “non climbers”, so people sampled did not have great local vascular adaptations, on the other hand, a more recent research have seen that climbers do have this adaptations very well developed (Thompson et al., 2015), fact that opens the door to think that some climbers could be having some blood flow on the resting times between contractions, where the blood flow has been restricted, eventhough these times had been under 2 s. In fact, Fryer et al., (2015) did observe that climbers with a higher level showed to have a greater local blood flow between resting phases on an intermittent protocol at 40% of the maximum voluntary contraction. Therefore, this is very inviting to think that climbers of a higher level have a greater reactive hyperemia (the scale of the blood flow when freeing a contraction with total occlusion) than climbers of lower level 😱😬. In the light of these results, SCE testing protocols must take them into account when stating specific RER and adapt them in order to undertake a valid sampling🤓👈🏻.

Luckily all this information does not have “to worry you” too much indeed, it is just being curious about it, because all testing protocols used to do the self-tests are already taking all this information into account. If you would like to find out more about the fundamentals of the self-tests click here.

So, after all this you should be asking yourself, “right, how can I use all this in my practical life?”. Ok then, now I will use a real example so you can really understand how important is to monitor the adaptations that we could be achieving climbing/training, and also using the self-test that you can carry out on the R-Evolution Training Board and its App.

On the last 2 weeks I did 2 self-tests: first one was already planned, as it was right at the end of a training cycle (or mesocycle); and the second one was just being curious about it, as I am explaining below.

In first place, undertaking two self-tests this close in time should not be happening normally. Technically, we should be leaving at least a whole mesocycle in between the two self-tests, so we can actually see which is our progress after a training cycle. But this time I did it like this because I really wanted to check out the reliability of this test related with the assessments under the indicators of the physiological profile. Below you will see the results of the first of the two self-tests:

As you can see on the figures above, there are three indicators creating my physiological profile and also my Average Level Indicator (ALI – more info about this in this text) based on the climbing discipline that I do: sport climbing (as we have discussed already above, we are not chasing to control the same values on all disciplines of climbing 😜). So, in this case, what you can see on the figures above are my Strength levels (Strength Indicator) and local specific endurance (LSE) for the aerobic (AE) and anaerobic component (ANAE). Now, + 5 stitches 😁, -3 screws 🔩🔩🔩 (to understand this, please see picture nº2 on my Instagram post) A week later, see the results on the figures below:

 

💥💥💥🤯 Exactly!!! you did realize, didn’t you? The adaptations of the Aerobic component of my Local Specific Endurance (LSE) seem to be getting lower 😭😭 (-7.59% just in one week!! 😱). On the other hand, it could be said that my level of strength remains almost the same (+0,19% ✊🏼) and the adaptations of the Anaerobic indicator have improved slightly (+4,14% 💪🏼). So, how this could be explained? 🤔😵

It would not be too hard to explain it if we take a few considerations in order to compare both results. Considering that external conditions, like the state of the skin on my fingertips, or my level of fatigue (none or negligible) were similar in between both self-tests, what it could be explaining this small fluctuation in the adaptations on some capacities or others, could be found in …, ta-daah…  

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Correct! 👊 What I had been doing on that last week👌🏼👏🏼👏🏼. Effectively I had been resting, especially if we compare it with the previous weeks when I was training. So, the Acute Training Load (ATL) of this week had gone down dramatically considering the Chronic Training Load that I was accumulating through the last month (in another post we will talk about ATL and CTL ratios 😜). So, you must be asking yourselves, what did I do through the last month

Working 24/7 😂😂 but also I had been able to go out climbing and try hard routes (for me of course), so effectively I had been working mostly on the anaerobic component of the LSE, given the style of routes and its relative difficulty (I’m telling you, they made try hard though). They forced me to try so hard, that I had to climb really quickly, with really short resting times in between contacts (climbing like this does not deal very well with blood flow 😁🤓though). But being honest, I hadn’t really stopped on that week either (except the day of the surgery, that was the day right after I did the first set of self-tests), so my strength levels had remained (because I had done a short high intensity session on the R-Evolution Training Board). So, effectively my body only had a week of not having those intense stimulus trying hard routes, therefore the anaerobic component of mi LSE is higher that it was a week ago. This fact is telling us that I have recovered pretty well of the adaptations that determine the Local Aerobic Endurance (these adaptations are related to deposits of local glycogen, glycolytic enzymes, etc).

On the other hand, 11 days without any rock climbing session, and just having done an aerobic oriented hang board stimulus, it did translate in a decrease of my local oxidative capacity, that is measured by the prevalent aerobic component of the Local Specific Endurance (LSE) 💪😎.

So, thanks to all this information, I can now take funded decisions in order to direct my current training, specially if I would like to keep myself in great shape to carry on climbing to my best ability (I won’t be explaining this exact thing here, at least not yet 😁). I wanted to discuss all this experience with you because I wanted to show you two main things:

If you’ve liked this post or you do think that is interesting for someone, please share it with anyone that could be interested.

AUTOR: PEDRO BERGUA

References

Donath, L., & Wolf, P. (2015). Reliability of force application to instrumented climbing holds in elite climbers. Journal of Applied Biomechanics, doi:2015-0019

Deyhle, M. R., Hsu, H. S., Fairfield, T. J., Cadez-Schmidt, T. L., Gurney, B. A., & Mermier, C. M. (2015). Relative importance of four muscle groups for indoor rock climbing performance. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 29(7), 2006-2014.

Thompson, E. B., Farrow, L., Hunt, J. E., Lewis, M. P., & Ferguson, R. A. (2015). Brachial artery characteristics and micro-vascular filtration capacity in rock climbers. European Journal of Sport Science, 15(4), 296-304.

Demura, S., Nakada, M., Yamaji, S., & Nagasawa, Y. (2008). Relationships between force-time parameters and muscle oxygenation kinetics during maximal sustained isometric grip and maximal repeated rhythmic grip with different contraction frequencies. Journal of Physiological Anthropology, 27(3), 161-168.

Fryer, S., Stoner, L., Lucero, A., Witter, T., Scarrott, C., Dickson, T., . . . Draper, N. (2015). Haemodynamic kinetics and intermittent finger flexor performance in rock climbers. International Journal of Sports Medicine, 36(2), 137-142.

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