Thursday, October 21, 2010

Final Thoughts On The Workout From Hell

I guess it’s time to wrap up The Workout From Hell. I keep amending it and now it’s just a climbing training program, so I see no further reason to evaluate it as the WFH. This confirms, as I surmised from day one, that’s it’s more of an off-season program. Whether or not it’s worth your time is up for discussion, so let’s take a look at my results. I’ll summarize at the end but will start with a review of each phase of the program.

Block One: 30 reps: I found this to be good general conditioning. Perhaps because no other training focuses on high reps to failure it seemed to stimulate a lot of new fitness. In climbing I felt as though I could hang on longer. I definitely feel it’s a benefit and will continue to incorporate 30 rep phases into at least one block of training per year—something I used to always do in the 90s.

Block Two: 15 reps: While it’s technically necessary to transition from 30 reps down to teach the muscles to recruit higher threshold muscle cell motor units I’m not sold this has to be an entire phase. This is consistent with my thoughts from the 90s.

Block Two B: 10 second reps: This was hugely helpful for hypertrophy. For gaining mass with limited means (weight) it’s the ticket. In fact, even with all the weight I could want I would use super slow reps again any time I’m looking to create hypertrophy.

Block Three: 5 reps: Again, important for recruitment but I’m not sure it needs an entire phase to create this, given so much sport specific training is recruitment based.

Block Four: PAP (postactivation potentiation) training: This I think could be a breakthrough but in the constraints of the WFH I could not test it thoroughly. I think that it could evolve into the most efficient way to increase your power base.

Block Five: Climbing training. This is not really a part of the WFH but it’s still the most effective training for climbing, using almost any of the known modalities. Climbing is too specific to jump out of the gym and kick ass, if for no other reason than that your skin needs to be conditioned no matter how strong you get.

Overall impressions on the white mouse: As I guessed earlier I didn’t get the timing right. Most climbing specific training needs to be done prior to your actual season because the specific adaptations you need to climb hard (and a lot) take some time to develop, most notably skin. While I felt that I had the fitness to throw myself at hard routes I simply didn’t have the skin condition on my hands or feet to handle it. I would say that you need at least a solid month to climb yourself into specific shape at the end of the program.

My base fitness, however, is quite good. On 10/10/10 I did 10 routes from 13a down (12d, 12c, etc) which is a very good day for me, and something that I probably haven’t been able to do in some time. However, I think I could have gotten to this point quicker using a more specific training program, or maybe even just climbing. Where the WFH should shine is over time. As my climbing specificity comes around the deep base that I have should, in theory, allow me to push harder and longer.

For this reason I would recommend the WFH as an offseason program only. I would recommend doing it alone, during a break from climbing totally. I don’t see any benefit in concurrently attempting to do both, as I did. Because your climbing must be dampened, to the point where it’s not gaining you any fitness, it is simply a diversion from your actual goals.

As a base program whether it’s better than P90x, Crossfit, or whatever is up for debate. I added a lot of outside elements (yoga, PAP) that definitely made it more effective than the traditional program. What we have outlined here is a well rounded fitness base program for anyone. As I’ve begun getting back into my mountain sports I feel much more stable, and much less apt to get injured. I began this program with a somewhat major injury and I feel I’ve got it licked.

Modification Recommendations

This winter I’m going to flip flop the structure and do this again. Since I’ll be training for climbing, cycling, and running I will be doing this will getting ready for a full endurance sports season. This is a totally different focus than last time, when it began as rehab.

First, I think the hypertrophy phase should be isolated. If you need muscular size gains make them early, as far away from competition as possible.

Next, bring in the PAP training. Power takes the longest to build, as well as to educate(neuromuscular coordination). These should be the main focus in the off season. I think you can build power in one realm while building aerobic base in another. I will be putting this to the test.

I think the muscular endurance (30 rep) phase can be done quite close to your season. The gains made here are somewhat fleeting and seem tangible to climbing. I think you could do a three week cycle where you gain a lot of endurance and lose very little power.

But no matter how you train, for climbing you need to climb. So get outside--or at least into the climbing gym--as much as possible when you’ve got a big project to send.

So that’s it. My six month travail ends with no amazing breakthroughs, though with some new light shed. And that’s always the point; to learn something new with any endeavor.

To see the entire Workout From Hell series click here.

re: what better way to wrap this up than lynnie looking marvelous? maybe the snowbird comp from '88. oh how things have changed.


Ben said...

Reading through this series was really interesting! Is there somewhere I can read more about why certain rep schemes work the way they do? I'm trying to learn to be a "fitness nerd" like you and Denis. ;)

I'm looking for hypertrophy right now and then focusing on overall athletic performance later. So I'm thinking of focusing on 10 second reps (are those still in the 8-12 rep range?) now and then experimenting with PAP and 30 reps after I've gained size. From my understanding, I won't lose the size but rather be training those larger muscles to be more efficient?

Steve Edwards said...


Almost any fitness book will cover this. It's not reps, really. We just use reps to incur time until failure because it's easier.

You are correct about the hypertrophic transition, though you may/will lose a little size. But by continuing to cycle your workouts you'll be able to grow your muscles and make them strong until they are as big and strong as you like--within the natural characteristics/potential of your body.

Josh said...

What happens when all the peaks are conquered? When all the mountains are climbing?

Is the soundtrack available?


p.s. Do trust your safety rope.

Ben said...

Thanks Steve! I'm going to go to my library to pick up some books to read during my free time. Maybe by the time I get to my 30 rep and PAP blocks I'll have learned enough to do a decent study on my results.

I've been lifting/failing at 8 reps but with more explosive movements. I assume when I do slow reps my numbers will go down. So will the slower reps with lower weight work better than faster reps at higher weight for hypertrophy?