Good power is the ability to apply force explosively. That is, as fast as possible. This faculty is essential for dynamic movements, whether in sport climbing or bouldering. In this article, you will learn what power training for climbing is and the best exercises to work on this quality that is so decisive in extreme or limited climbing.
It is very nice to see someone climbing in a coordinated way, controlling every part of their body in sync with the rock. However, this type of climbing is difficult to maintain in sequences at the limit of your physical level or in dynamic movements.
In such situations, explosive power or strength becomes important. That is, the ability to generate the necessary force at a sufficient speed so as not to stay halfway.
The maximum value of the power depends on the force applied and the speed to apply it. It is related to the term “explosive force “, although it is not equivalent. For there to be power, there must be movement.
Therefore, it is necessary to differentiate between:
A cast or dynamic movement can combine the generation of power from the lower body, followed by the upper body and, once the “weightless moment” is reached, apply the necessary contact force with the forearms and fingers, re-engaging the upper body together with the body tension of the core to avoid shooting out.
The explosive contact force or RFD is decisive in the sequences that you climb to the limit of your physical capacity or technical ability.
Maximum power has been considered the optimal product of muscular force and speed. That is the maximum mechanical performance in the perfect balance between strength and speed. From here, to increase one variant, the other should be decreased.
To work on power, speed must be applied to the execution of movements. Executing a contraction at maximum speed is a way to get the fast fibers ready without the need to apply excessive force.
Working with maximum speeds (or almost), with the least deceleration phase, produces the following effects:
For this reason, there is an increasing tendency to control speed as the main parameter of the intensity applied.
Once execution capacity is reduced, you will be working at resistance ranges, with the risk of transforming IIx (IIb) fibers into IIa.
With training, the motor units are recruited in a more coordinated way. For this reason, they will need a lower rate of stimulation to produce the same maximum peak force. That is, with less effort you will apply more force more quickly. This is what is known as intramuscular coordination.
These motor-neural changes can modify the functional capacities of the trained muscles. Recent studies show how motor neuron recruitment depends on both activating and inhibitory signals. Training will help reduce these types of inhibitory signals, allowing you to apply greater explosive force.
Previously, it was thought that Henneman’s law or motor neuron size principle was always fulfilled in muscle activation. That is, they come to action starting with those that innervate slow fibers and ending with the fast ones (if necessary). This is why the complex method works so well.
However, in explosive efforts it has been shown that it is possible to skip this protocol, resorting directly to the activation of fast fibers. The body is much more efficient than previously thought.
Once a certain level is reached, the speed of muscle contraction has little room for improvement. To improve maximum power, the other variant will have to be worked on, since it will allow greater progression: strength. Although without neglecting the speed variable.
With practice, the different muscles will learn to work together harmoniously. It is intermuscular coordination, and it will help you achieve more efficient and precise movements.
To improve the ability to apply force explosively, you should do training focused on this type of work. Although to increase the maximum isometric strength, strength training is shown to be superior (27% vs 11%), it will hardly produce power improvements over trained climbers (24% vs 0.4%).
Update: However, this study indicates positive transfers of RFD in climbers of the French bouldering team who trained one-arm suspensions for 4 weeks.
Once maximum strength has been developed to an acceptable level, its transfer to climbing is of interest. That potential found in the climber must be transferred to the specific gestures of climbing, making it a useful force. According to González Badillo “all explosive strength training should be considered a complement to maximum strength training.”The exercises used must be specific and of medium or high transfer.
To achieve good power and efficiency in dynamic climbing movements you must train your ability to apply maximum force quickly. You can get this:
The best methods also need to be specific enough to develop technical skills along with useful intermuscular strength and coordination for climbing.
Maximal recruitment training is common in strength sports. One of the ways to do this is through plyometric training. An example of this type of work is jumping from an elevated surface, bouncing off the ground with another jump.
Plyometric training was developed in the Soviet Union in the 1960s. It consists of passing as briefly as possible from an eccentric to a concentric contraction. This type of work allows a greater activation of the muscle fibers during the concentric phase by canceling inhibitory processes in the first moment of the eccentric contraction.
By minimizing the transition time from one phase to another (below 0.2 seconds) these disinhibiting effects are achieved together with a high speed in the application of force.
The complication of performing this type of training while climbing is that during climbing the grip contractions are of the isometric type. The campus board allows you to work on these three phases that make up plyometric training: concentric to isometric to eccentric.
The complex training method combines a strength exercise with a plyometric/reactive exercise. In this way, the first acts ergogenically on the second. That is, it enhances your results. You have more information in the article on the complex training method for climbing.
However, there are coaches who do not consider plyometric-type campus board training. In order to meet the times between the eccentric and concentric phases, a very refined technique would be needed on very specific exercises.
For this reason, it is perhaps more correct to refer to campus board training as quasi-plyometric or reactive-type training. Reactive strength is the ability to quickly go from an eccentric to a concentric contraction, applying many of the benefits of plyometric training.
The best thing about the campus is that it allows us to quantify and measure the load and progression with hardly any limitations due to the technique. The worst thing is its limited specificity by not using the lower body, in addition to its damaging potential if not used properly. Remember that the campus board is a tool for advanced climbers.
If you use larger grips you will be focusing the work on the power of the upper body. To focus the work on the contact force, reduce the size of the slats. Make a series of no more than eight movements applying the maximum speed. If you go over the movements you will be doing another type of work (strength-resistance or power-resistance).
You have an article on the campus board to delve deeper into this wonderful tool for advanced climbers, and a video with initiation exercises.
A fantastic exercise for plyometric or reactive type training, but without the grip strength limitations of the campus board. It’s a great stepping stone until you’re ready to train on campus or if you don’t have one nearby.
The exercise consists of performing pull-ups with enough power to separate the hands from the bar. Over time you will acquire enough power and body timing to be able to clap your hands in the air, during that “weightless moment” above the bar.
Do 2-3 sets of 3-8 reps, resting at least 3 minutes between sets.
A great way to get started in campus board training is to climb campus bouldering on the wall. That is, without using the feet. By being able to use larger holds, you will reduce the grip strength limitation. Another advantage is that it allows you to use a greater variety of grip types and shapes while moving in a more three-dimensional plane.
If you start practicing it you must be careful with your shoulders and elbows. Maintain constant tension in your shoulders and avoid putting your elbows completely straight. This way you will reduce the risk of injury. As you execute, pay attention to the generation of inertia and momentum from the hip.
The moon board is a training system created by Ben Moon. On the web, they define it as « a standardized interactive training wall that connects a community of climbers through shared bouldering problems and classification of participants «.
It consists of a collapsed wall at 40º and with a specific distribution of the dams. The same one you will find on any Moon board anywhere. Through a mobile app, you can access the blocks uploaded by other users or share those of your creation.
Due to the type of dams and inclination of the wall, it attends to a great work of power and contact force. Its installation has multiplied in climbing walls around the world due to its possibilities. A great way to take advantage of so few square meters.
The Moon board is superior compared to the campus board in engaging the entire body, and providing superior technical benefits. However, these same requirements of the technique can be limiting in specific cases.
You can work on bouldering problems that have a balance between power training and RFD or contact force while maintaining high technical specificity.
Bouldering or extreme block consists of performing isolated movements that require all your effort. They are sequences of one to three movements that will make you scream and squeeze everything you have inside. To be truly extreme, it will require several attempts. If you manage to do it on the first or second hit, you are not working to the limit. Many times it will be pending to do it another day. Even if you don’t manage to do it, the force you apply remains there.
It is the moment to squeeze the maximum force in the minimum number of steps. Design moves that are 100% you. Try steps that don’t work out for you, but allow you to give it your all.
Novice climbers should not repeat the same sequence too many times due to the risk of injury. In your case, it will be convenient to accumulate a greater variety of blocks. In this case of experienced climbers, they will be able to try each bouldering problem four or five times, spending up to a quarter of an hour working on it.
The only drawback with respect to the campus board is that the control and quantification of the load and the results are complicated. However, its specificity is superior when working with the whole body. It will also allow you to focus on technical weaknesses that need to be improved. With good facilities and route setting, it will outperform the Moon board thanks to a greater variety of holds and wall angles.
Other advantages of this type of effort are psychological. Being able to work to your fullest will help recalibrate your Core Governor and get him used to these kinds of efforts.
During the session, recoveries between attempts must be completed. It is not interesting to accumulate fatigue or you will be doing another type of training. In addition, the risk of injury and loss of motor control will appear.
Rest between attempts for at least three minutes and even five when changing sequences. When you notice that you lose explosive power, control, and technical efficiency (technical failure), end the exercise.
Explosive strength or power training is a demanding type of training. You will have to be focused and put in 100% effort to get good results. Motivating music and a good coffee can help you.
The repetitions per series of exercises should be low. If a certain threshold is exceeded, the job type will change to another type.
For exercises, stay below six repetitions. The execution speed should always be the maximum possible. If this is not the case, the maximum explosive force that the subject can achieve against the resistance against which he acts will never be produced (González Badillo).
Recovery between exercises should be enough to allow you to give 100% on each attempt. It would be at least 3-5 minutes, with a work/rest ratio of 1-20. That is, if you go up the campus in 6 seconds you should rest for 2 minutes. This would be a minimum that you can increase until you feel recovered.
It is not interesting to accumulate fatigue, quite the opposite. The volume must be dosed with the head. End this type of training at the first signs of fatigue, or you’ll be approaching the risk of injury.
Explosive exercises generate greater neural-type fatigue. This results in a higher risk of overtraining. They also produce great stress at the joint level.
For these reasons, you should not do more than two sessions of this type per week. You should arrive fresh and rested for the session, and finish the exercises to technical failure. Between both sessions, there should be at least two days of rest or other types of less demanding stimuli. A capillarization session the next day or some recovery strategy can be interesting. Furthermore, since it is a more central type of fatigue, it would be interesting to monitor it through HRV.
Explosive-type training loses effectiveness at 10-12 weeks (1, 2). After 8 weeks, there are no improvements, and after 12 weeks, a worsening begins (González Badillo).
For this reason, you should not extend this type of training for more than a couple of months in the case of very experienced climbers. If it is the first time that you carry out this type of load, a single mesocycle will be enough to enjoy its benefits.
Power and RFD training are essential in any climbing planning. Its location will depend on the needs of the climber, but it is important that he already have a conditioned physique to support it. Doing it late in the ATR, macrocycle will allow you to enjoy its benefits during peak fitness.
Devices like Tindeq’s Progressor allow you to make precise measurements of resistance, maximum peak force, and RFD. In this way, you will be able to discover the need to train and follow the progress.
Being such a demanding workout, it should not be too long or too frequent. Personalized training will be key to grading the right load for you.