Monday, May 21, 2012

Slow and eccentric strength training

Versión en español

I have really enjoyed your blog posts - I especially appreciate that you don't tell people only what to do or what not to do, but that you also give reasons which helps us go much farther in understanding our training. In that vein, I'm wondering if you can elaborate on why "perform slowly part of an exercise like pull-ups is against our interest" or "same goes for maintaining a fixed angle of the elbow until exhaustion" might be bad. It seems I've heard of so many climbers see positive benefits from slow negatives and lock-offs in improving pulling strength. Thanks again for your excellent posts! 
Randy (in Frequently Asked Questions about Progression and Finger Strength Training (III))

Hi Randy,
Thank you very much for your appreciation.
I enjoy explaining the way things work, firstly because that question is what drives me to research the topics that puzzle me; in my opinion this is also more honest, and makes for a better learning than just listing some recipes without justifying them. This way you have more information to decide for yourself whether to follow the advice an the way of carrying it out.
I'll answer your question in two entries that will deal with the following topics:
Intentionally slow strength training; execution speed of an exercise; eccentric training; and lock-off strength training or stopping at certain angles while doing pull-ups

Intentionally slow strength training
Performing your strength exercises intentionally at a low speed (or part of them, like the eccentric part of the motion when doing negatives, picture below) is a style inherited from bodybuilding, under the presumed justification that doing so will cause more damage to the muscle, which in turn will promote hypertrophy.
Nosaka and Newton (2002), found that it appears that extensive muscle damage may not be a prerequisite for muscle hypertrophy. In the only RCT (randomized controlled trial) carried out to this date that looks at this topic, Keeler et al. (2001) suggest that some hypertrophy can occur in initially untrained subjects with an intentionally slow training, but not as extensive as that resulting from heavy weight training (80% of 1 RM or higher, and 5-8 repetitions typically ).

On the other hand, some authors argue that a muscle that is under load for more time will increase in endurance. However, I have found only 1 peer-reviewed study that supports this, and it has to be noted that these gains were only tested doing an exercise with similar speed and duration than those used during the training phase. It remains to be seen if these gains would translate into a better performance when doing the actual moves of the sport.
Have you ever asked yourself whether the exercise you are doing, and how you are doing it, will help you climb better? source:
In mi opinion, it makes more sense for increasing muscular endurance to perform a higher number of repetitions with a normal speed restricted only by load or fatigue, than doing less repetitions at a deliberately lower speed.
Because the latter means using lighter loads, and given that load has a direct association with muscle force production, the effect will be a smaller increase in strength and endurance.

For an athlete, going slowly on purpose, and not because of fatigue or due to our body weight being too high a load for that particular exercise, the result will be a development of slow-twitch fibers instead of fast-twitch fibers; the latter are associated to power, an so play an important role in our sport performance.

About the execution speed of an exercise
Given that power = force x velocity, when we apply the same force at a lower speed we are developing less power, so to maintain the power the force should be higher. For example, if we have great pulling strength and we do campus board with good holds or assisted pull-ups, we will be moving fast; if we do pull-ups with added weight we'll move more slowly; in both cases we are working our power, be it via increased velocity or via increased force.

Compared to slow velocities, moderate and fast velocities have been shown to be more effective for increasing the number of repetitions performed, work and power output, and volume ( Lachance and Hortobagyi, 1994; Morrissey and col, 1998 ), and for increasing the rate of strength gains (Hay and col, 1983).
Alex Puccio, Bouldering World Cup - Barcelona 2011
photo by David Munilla
You also mention slow negatives, in other words, doing just the eccentric phase of the exercise at a lower speed (coupled concentric-eccentric contractions). It's been suggested that this style only has an effect on "sarcoplasmic hypertrophy", the increase in volume of non-contractile proteins and sarcoplasm; this is why it is also known as "useless hypertrophy", because it is not associated to an increase in strength. This type of hypertrophy is typically seen in bodybuilders, in contrast with the useful hypertrophy that results from the training of weightlifters and powerlifters.
Probably the most famous bodybuilder of all time: Arnold Schwarzenegger.
A Weightlifter
Effects of eccentric training
Eccentric exercise creates greater force than concentric actions using less energy. Therefore, a person is capable of working with greater weight during an eccentric exercise. That's why eccentric training increases hypertrophy and muscle-strength significantly more than concentric training or coupled concentric-eccentric contractions, if one of the following conditions is met: 
  • The load is between 100 and 140% of the maximum concentric force;
  • There is a combination of eccentric (120-140%) and concentric (80%) phase in the same exercise (usually aided by other person or a machine).

Is this true?
Anyway, only really advanced athletes can benefit from an eccentric training, and always when the competition is far ahead, because the tensions generated are so high that the recovery period is long, and the risk of injury is high.

Lock-off strength training or stopping at certain angles while doing pull-ups.

  • Gonzalez Badillo and Ribas, J (1996): Fundamentos del entrenamiento de la fuerza. Inde
  • González-Badillo, JJ, and Izquierdo, M. (2008): Evaluación de la fuerza en el control del entrenamiento y el rendimiento deportivo. En Izquierdo, M. (editor); Biomecánica y Bases Neuromusculares de la Actividad Física y el Deporte. Panamericana
  • Hay, J.G., Andrews, J.G. & Vaughan, C.L.(1983): Effects of lifting rate on elbow torques exerted during arm curl exercises. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise 15, 63-71
  • LaChance, P. & Hortobagyi, T. (1994): Influence of cadence on muscular performance during push up and pull
    up exercises. J Strength Conditioning Res. 8: 76-79.
  • Keeler, L. K., Finkelstein, L. H., Miller, W., & Fernhall, B. (2001): Early-phase adaptations of traditional-speed vs. superslow resistance training on strength and aerobic capacity in sedentary individuals. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 15(3), 309-314.
  • LaChance, P. & Hortobagyi, T. (1994): Influence of cadence on muscular performance during push up and pull
    up exercises. J Strength Conditioning Res. 8: 76-79.
  • Morrissey MC, Harman EA, Frykman PN, Han KH.(1998): Early phase differential effects of slow and fast barbell squat training. Am J Sports Med. 26:221-30.
  • Nosaka K, Newton M. (2002): Repeated Eccentric Exercise Bouts Do Not Exacerbate Muscle Damage and Repair. J Strength Cond Res. Feb;16(1):117-122. 
  • Stone, M.H., Stone, M. and Sands, W.A. (2007): Principle and Practice of Resistance Training. Human Kinetics

Monday, May 7, 2012

Dead Hang training on Small Edges: Transgression's 6 mm edge

Versión en español

The day we installed our Transgression, we couldn't help trying the most challenging edge, the 6 mm one.

Dafnis held for 10 seconds with ease, but this wasn't unexpected, given his strengths and the years he has been using the methods I started to develop in 2004, and others that now are included with this hangboard.

I dindn't walk it, but the goods news is that there's still room for improvement and a variety of methods to achieve it.

Speaking of training on small edges

In a study of my own (López-Rivera, E. & González-Badillo, J. J., manuscript in preparation), we found association between the maximum added weight that could be held for 5 seconds while hanging from a 15 mm edge (finger strength test), and the smallest edge upon which the same person could hang for 10 seconds during first training session. These results are in line with Bourne et al. (2011), who found positive significant relation between the maximum force applied on a 12.8 mm edge and the one applied on 7.3 and 5.8 mm.

The above results add up to the fact that in our study (López-Rivera E. & González-Badillo J.J.; 2012), the group that trained 4 weeks using added weight and an 18 mm edge, and then other 4 weeks without added weight on smallest edge possible (a more specific exercise), showed positive significant relation between the relative increment in maximum strength and the maximum time on an 11 mm edge without added weight; and also with the smallest edge held for 10 seconds. All of this has the following implications:

Training with added weight on a medium-sized edge like the 18 mm one, and then using a more specific exercise like is the deadhang on smallest edge possible, we will obtain an improvement in our ability to hold small edges (11 mm) for longer and also to hold smaller edges than before. As we all know, these improvements sometimes can determine the success of a climb.

Practical Aspects of training and climbing on very small or shallow edges

According to Bourne et al. (2011), the force applied on tiny holds, like 4.3 and 2.8 mm, didn't show association with the maximum force applied on 12.5 mm, but did with anthropometric factors like having a bigger volume of flesh between the distal end of the bone (phalanx) and the fingertip. The authors say that this would increase deformation of the fingertip, increasing the skin to rock contact area on very shallow edges, and thus increase the limit of force production. (This paragraph has been corrected on 23 July 2012)
Deformation of my fingertip when hanging from an 8 mm edge.
Yes...I prefer to use open grip instead half crimp on small holds
From my own experience and observations:

- Temperatures below 15º C, make it easier to grab small holds, because the skin is a bit stiffer, and doesn't stretch so much, helping to maintain the angle of the distal phalanx relative to the hold.

- If the skin is not adapted to climbing in general, and to dead hangs on small edges, the deformation will be greater, and, again, it will more difficult to maintain the angle.

Marks left on my skin after a hard deadhang session
- And, conversely, high temperature, air moisture and perspiration, decrease friction and make the skin softer, leading to tearing and ultimately to slip and fall.


-If we perform a maximum repetition on an edge too small for us upon which we can't hold for the stated time with the previously determined effort level (EL), we risk spoiling the training session, because we can end with a cut fingertip or exhausted due to the "record setting" try.

As you have probably noticed if you already tried it, training in small edges causes a deep and localized fatigue. So manage cautiously the shifts from one size to the next, and honor the proposed rest periods between repetitions, sets and sessions.

You've been warned... if you want to make a try until muscular failure, do it in a separate session or as the last repetition of your dead hang training segment.

More articles about finger strength training and JM Climbing & Eva Lopez hangboards here 

Bourne, R., Halaki, M., Vanwanseele, B., Clarke, J. (2011): Measuring Lifting Forces in Rock Climbing: Effect of Hold Size and Fingertip Structure. Journal of Applied Biomechanics, 27, 40-46.

López-Rivera, E. & González-Badillo, J.J. (2012): 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, 5:3-4, 100-110