I'm looking for a new method for structuring my power-training sets on the hangboard. I've used the pyramid structure many times, but surely some different combinations are equally effective?
James Harrison | Flagstaff, Arizona
Strength athletes commonly adapt very quickly to the classic formula of pyramid training this is where you do sets of, say, 8, 6, 4, 2, 4, 6, 8 -- and many find that they have to change to avoid hitting a plateau. There are plenty of other methods out there, and I've picked one for you that is hot off the press, as well as a little controversial. It is adapted from a Russian power-training coach, Pavel Tsatsouline's, technique called greasing the groove. Tread carefully, as this program is geared toward elites (a few top-level competition climbers such as Leah Crane, British bouldering champion, have had exceptional results with it). The extent to which it can be down-geared and adapted safely for intermediates is not yet proven. Go carefully and monitor your body for signs of injury.
First, pick an exercise in which you want to get really strong (for example, a pull-up on a finger edge) and then add weight so you can do only one set of three reps, to failure, three times a day: in the morning, at lunch, and in the evening. Elites should do this for a block of five or six days in a row before taking a rest day and then repeating this cycle. Intermediates might extrapolate that they should train for two or three days in a row, probably only twice a day instead of three times. The important part is always to keep making the exercise harder, so that you can only just complete the three reps. The only time you should stop increasing the weight is if you fail to do two reps, in which case go back to the previous weight. If you are training with two arms on a fingerboard, then you can use a weight belt. If you're training with one arm, you can use a pulley and counter-balance with weight. With this method, simply remove a small amount of weight from the counterbalance (for example, half a kilogram) every time you make a target. The idea is that it gets harder and harder to make the three-rep target as you reach the later stages of the program, but you always make it in the end, and find yourself getting loads stronger if you stick with it.
This methodology contradicts conventional theories on strength training and the big questions are how you can get sufficient recovery when you train so frequently and how can one maximum set be enough to trigger the strength gains? We've always thought that the best way is to do several sets.
Tsatsouline maintains that the reason we find walking so easy is because we do it all the time, and that we should treat strength training the same way. If you can teach your body to adapt to a higher level of frequency, you get more gains than by training sporadically. He also maintains that any more than one set is over-kill for this method, provided you give it your all. Doing just one set each time rather than three should reduce the risk of injury, provided, of course, you always warm up thoroughly before each maximum set.
You asked for something different, so you got it! Good luck, train safe and don't forget that this type of training is all well and good provided you have the climbing skills to go with it! Power alone is never sufficient to get you up a hard route or boulder problem.