A few weeks back we hosted a movement seminar, member and good friend Fletcher wrote some words about it
scope it here :
A few weeks back we hosted a movement seminar, member and good friend Fletcher wrote some words about it
scope it here :
It’s not what you do today that counts. It’s what you do all year, day in and day out. Athletically we are the sum of the work we do. As a coach I often see people come into the gym and destroy themselves in a 2-hour suffer-fest workout, only to not come back in a week or more. Unfortunately, this type of intermittent training has little value concerning performance. I’m not saying it doesn’t have any value, but instead, it’s an inefficient use of your time.
Here are some quick tips to help you get the most of your workouts:
Do less- Huh? You heard me. You don’t need to kill yourself in the gym and spend the next week obliterated. It’s OK to leave the gym feeling good and not destroyed! 20 minutes is plenty of time if you walk into the gym focused and with a plan.
Do less but do it better- The goal of a workout is to stimulate the body, thus manifesting change (in the industry we call this super compensation). We can boost our bodies by increasing the weight (stack on those weights bro!), volume (number of reps or sets) or intensity (how much or how little you rest during your session) AND by improving and changing your movement patterns (i.e using proper form). Don’t just focus on one of these, rotate through each to keep the body guessing.
Do less but do it more often- Training 20 minutes a day, 5 days a week will do more for your performance than training 2 hours, once a week. Wrap your head around this because it’s a brainbuster.
Have a plan- When you walk into the gym, know what you’re going to do, how fast you’re going to do it, and then get it done. Trust the system. It’s not magic, but it works.
I’ve included two quick 20 minute burners to get you rolling. Workout #1 is climbing specific, and Workout #2 is general conditioning. Do them both if your feeling feisty, if not alternate each day or workout around your climbing schedule. You can find more workouts at www.mountainstrongtraining.com
Workout #1: Climbing Specific
Things to focus on: this workout is about FAILURE. To get better you can’t just let go every time you get a little pumped, that would be weak sauce. Hold on until your grip FAILS. You know this happens when your hands pop off the wall, it hurts your tender skin, and you land on your butt (probably not very gracefully). You wouldn’t believe how often I see people let go instead of falling.
3 Rounds of:
-10x Scap Pullups
-10x Arm Circles (one arm at a time, forward and back)
-20 sec Deadhang from a good sized edge ( his should feel fairly easy but a bit pumpy)
6x 3-5 Kipping Pullups (that’s 6 rounds of 3-5 pullups). Scale the reps based on your ability/fitness level. Kipping helps recruit more muscles in the shoulders and back, so while it makes the pullups “easier” you’ll get a broader impact on your body. Kipping is a skill and it’s harder to master than it looks. If this is hard for you, or pullups are not available to you yet, work on your kipping swing for 5 minutes instead of doing the prescribed rep scheme.
Hold size for this is subjective: scale this based on your ability/fitness level.
Speed 5 minutes finding the worst edge or hold you can hang onto for 15 seconds, open-handed with straight arms and no feet.
Complete 3 rounds of the following:
-Unweighted, 6 rounds of hanging for 7 sec on/ rest for 3 sec (1 min total, each round)
*rest for 1 min between rounds
-Weighted, 6 rounds of hanging for 5 sec on/ rest for 5 sec (1 min total each round)
*rest for 1 min
*use a weight vest or put on a backpack and put some weight in it. Scale (modify) this, so it’s difficult but not impossible to hang for 5 sec. Don’t change the size of the hold; the idea is to elicit change without putting too much strain on the ligaments and tendons (so you don’t need a tiny edge). This type of training pays substantial dividends in the long-run.
Workout #2: General Conditioning
Focus on intensity: let me put it this way…you can go run for an hour+ OR you can run for 5 min, the choice is yours. If the hour+ session is more up your alley, then get after it. The goal of this workout is to get you feeling smoked… Welcome to metabolic conditioning! This only works if you push yourself. Consider timing yourself or challenge a friend to do it with you. Intensity is king here.
3 Rounds of:
-10 Pushups (scale these to your knees if you struggle with pushups)
-10 Air Squats
Complete 3 minutes of cardio (run around the block, up some stairs, row on an ERG, or do some jumping jacks. The goal here is to get a little out of breath so push yourself a little in this part of the warm-up.
Hips swings and arm circles
Complete this rep scheme as fast as possible. You will need to take some breaks, just keep them to a minimum. Try and stay consistent, keep good form and remember to try hard. This workout can be as tricky as you make it!
*10 Pushups, 10 Pull-ups, 10 Burpees, 9 Pushups, 9 Pull-ups, 9 Burpees, 8 Pushups, 8 Pull-ups, 8 Burpees… Continue down to 1 of each movement.
*Record your time. Next time you do this try and beat it.
Go for a walk as you cool down after, and do some light stretching.
This week’s post is all about converting to the Zone Diet. The Zone diet has been around for decades and has generally been known as a weight loss diet; this is a shame because being in the Zone is about so much more than weight loss. It’s been proven that your body responds positively to meals balanced with 40% carbohydrates, 30% protein, and 30% fat. When you’re in the Zone, you’ll have better digestion, more energy, more power, and excess fat will almost literally fall off your body. The Zone diet is all about keeping your body “in the zone” as much as possible. This is the only diet I have followed that has given me the results it promises. I encourage everyone to give this is serious try for 30 days and watch your results both on and off the scale.
Zone measures your macro-nutrients. There are three of these: carbohydrates, protein, and fat. Learning about and implementing the Zone diet is not easy. There is so much information out there it can be hard to process. Try to keep it simple for at least a month before you begin to experiment with different balances and more complex measurements.
Everything you eat should be grouped into one of the three macro-nutrient categories (carbs, protein, fat) and broken into what we call blocks. This is to simplify the calculations.
1 block carbs = 9g carbohydrates
1 block protein = 7g protein
1 block fat = 1.5g fat
A meal or snack should consist of equal blocks carbs, protein, and fat. For example, a three block meal includes 3 blocks of carbs, 3 blocks of protein, and 3 blocks of fat. Other than a few exceptions (which we won’t even bother getting into in this post)everything you eat will fall into one of these categories based on its dominant macro-nutrient. Whatever the food item contains the most blocks of, is what it should count towards (more on that later).
The list below is designed to put you on the right track for success in your transition towards being in the Zone.
If you have any questions, please comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
1) Learn what the Zone Diet is. Diet is not what you eat for your attempt at a 30 day quick fix, diet is your lifestyle of eating. The definition of diet is not weight loss, contrary to what many people believe. Its true definition is what foods someone eats habitually. Read the below link to learn about what the Zone diet is:
Here is some more easy reading on Zone with examples of meals:
2) Find out what a ‘block’ is and how many you should be eating.
A block is 40% Carbs, 30% Fat, and 30% Protein. To simplify you can think about it as the following:
1 block carbs = 9g carbs
1 block fat = 1.5g fat
1 block protein = 7g protein
Zone assumes you are consuming some fat in your protein source or carb source, so there is no need to micro-manage your food. Everything you eat should be considered either a carb, fat, or protein. The dominant macro-nutrient will help you define what your food is.
For example, something that has 4g carbs, 6g fat, and 7g protein should be considered a fat source. While something that has 20g carbs, 2g fat, and 7g protein would be a carb source.
In the first example, where the primary macro-nutrient is fat, this item would equal a total of 4 blocks of fat within a meal. In order to complete the Zone-friendly meal, someone would need to eat an additional 4 blocks of carbs and 4 blocks of protein.
If you do not follow this method and micro-manage your blocks, you’re likely not going to eat enough and end up hungry (and possibly making a poor food choice as a result).
The calculator at the link below can help you decide how many blocks you should be eating each day (note that it’s only a guideline, everyone is a little different). Try following something for 30 days, then begin to tailor it to your needs:
3) Get a food scale. They’re cheap on Amazon and, trust me, you can’t accurately eyeball it no matter how slick you think you are. 1 block of broccoli or spinach (128g) is hard to eyeball.
4) Research Zone friendly recipes and PLAN AHEAD. You’re wasting your time if you’re not going to plan meals at minimum one day ahead of time. At the very least, stock your home with healthy options and all the ingredients you need to cook zone-balanced meals.
5) Speaking of planning…don’t forget to plan for healthy snack options, as well. When you get hungry during the day, go for a 1-2 block snack. (Example: 1/2 cup/3 large spoonfuls of cottage cheese (2P), 1 apple (2C), and a handful of sunflower seeds, or almonds (2F) would be a great 2 block snack)
6) Drink 32-48oz of water each morning as soon as you wake up, before you eat. This will gently wake your organs and digestive system, as well as get you ahead of the hydration curve for the day. It’s hard to do, but your body will adjust over a week of doing it and you’ll feel the difference it makes.
7) Read these articles:
8) Realize that the first 3-4 weeks will be the most difficult. If you dedicate yourself you will notice results in your first month, but understand there will be hard times. If you can make it to the point when you aren’t craving sugars anymore, know the hard part is over. Some cheat meals are ok, but get back on the horse and back to planning out your healthy meals and snacks ASAP after a cheat. One cheat can lead to two, which leads to three and after three what’s another one really going to cost you..? All of a sudden you’re not following the path you wanted. One great thing about following a zone diet is that you’re always only one meal away from getting your body back in the zone.
9) Smoked salmon…try it if you haven’t. If you have and don’t like it, try it again. When done right, the salmon not only tastes fantastic, but it packs well for snacks/lunches and contains a strong nutritious punch. I find smoked salmon with some fruit and nuts make an easy, delicious snack.
10) Finally (and possibly most importantly) remember what your goals are. Change is hard and there will tough times. Win the mental battles and you will be well on your way to optimizing your eating, athletic performance, and happiness!
A native of Minnesota who now calls Las Vegas, NV home. Andy owns and runs Origin, a state of the art climbing facility. Andy is a professional climber who has established new sport climbs up to 5.14D, bouldered V13 and won countless indoor climbing competitions.
I was able to corner him for a quick interview; check out what he has to say!
How many days a week do you train on average? Describe your average week of training…
Pretty much like clockwork I train 3 days a week, 2 indoor and one outdoor. In addition to that I have to forerun (climb routes in the gym to confirm the grades, often a mix of easy and hard climbing, but low volume) 3 different days a week as well. If I’m in bouldering season, two of the three days are power/strength and one is power-endurance. If it’s route season, two are power-endurance and one is power/strength.
What do your rest days look like?
Probably whiskey. Currently I only get one full rest day per week, but I’m honestly finding the forerunning to be fairly beneficial, because it ends up being a good warm up, but not a workout. Essentially a day where I get an active rest workout.
How does your eating and nutrition change as you approach a project?
It doesn’t. I might keep a closer watch on things, but honestly that shit is too stressful to do on your own.
What is your favorite form of recovery ? Foam roller, ice baths, etc.?
Hot tub, theracane, foam roller, lacrosse ball.
How seriously do you take sleep, how many hours do you get on average?
Sleep is hugely important. I try to get as much as I can, usually 7-10 hours is what I can get.
Describe the week directly before a project? Do you rest more, eat differently, change any of your habits?
Nah. The year before a project is what matters. Prepare, make goals, follow through.
Describe the night before, and the morning of a project, redpoint day or a competition…
The night before again is probably no different from any other. Get a good night sleep. Changing your habits in the extra short term only causes stress and can be detrimental. Unless your normal habits are shit to begin with, but therein may be a good place to improve ones performance without even having to workout.
Do you have any rituals or habits that help you get “ in the zone?”
Visualize the route, calm breathing, and focus.
Do you have a mantra you tell yourself before or during competition?
Don’t be a little bitch!
Actually, I just try to keep my mind as empty and focused as possible.
You have been competing and training for a long time, any ninja tips or rules to live by?
Get enough rest and recovery.
Plan ahead and make goals that are one year out, and follow through with your goals.
Be extremely competitive, but not too obsessive. It’s a fine line.
LEARN HOW TO ACTUALLY TRY HARD. I made a my first 14d FA this fall. I later found out that on the send I popped three ribs out of place, one wrist bone, and misaligned two vertebrae.
Do you have any quirky habits that help you succeed at your sport?
I almost without fail put on my left climbing shoe before my right. In the thousands of times that I’ve put climbing shoes on I doubt that I have skipped that more than 5 times…
watch a video of Andy Crushing rocks here :
Why We Scale
by Matt Lloyd
The Crossfit journal puts it like this: “CrossFit workouts are scaled to preserve the intended stimuli despite athlete limitations such as experience, injury, illness or range of motion.”
A properly scaled workout safely maximizes relative intensity (load, speed, range of motion) to continue developing increased work capacity despite limitations.
Don’t take it personally. You have limitations. No one has mastered every movement at all the load, speed, range of motion variations available . So we the coaches set you up to achieve the goal of a specific WOD based on your personal skill set. We do this by modifying the weight, volume or movement of a particular workout while maintaining the original intent and time domain.
We can scale a workout in several different ways. Firstly we can scale weight or volume to maintain a specific time domain ( how long the workout should take / the intensity of the workout ) . If the WOD calls for 30x 135lbs clean and jerks , we can lower the weight to 115 lbs and maintain the reps or have keep the 135lbs and have you complete 20 reps instead of 30.
The reasoning behind this is less obvious than you might think. Often athletes confuse the ability to complete a workout with ability to reach a certain intensity in the workout. The latter being much more important.
Here are two workouts and scaled versions of them.
Coach Glassman says to remember this potent but simple saying: “The poison is in the dose.”
Simple enough right? The problem arises when athletes neglects the intent of a workout when considering the scaling option.
To understand intent and intensity you need to understand fitness.
What is fitness? and how this correlates to scaling?
“Total fitness, the fitness that CrossFit promotes and develops, requires competency and training in each of these three pathways or engines. Balancing the effects of these three pathways largely determines the how and why of the metabolic conditioning or “cardio” that we do at CrossFit.
There are three metabolic pathways that provide the energy for all human action. These “metabolic engines” are known as the phosphagen pathway, the glycolytic pathway, and the oxidative pathway. The first, the phosphagen, dominates the highest-powered activities, those that last less than about ten seconds.The second pathway, the glycolytic, dominates moderate-powered activities, those that last up to several minutes. The third pathway, the oxidative, dominates low-powered activities, those that last in excess of several minutes.
The motivation for the three standards is simply to ensure the broadest and most general fitness possible. Our first model evaluates our efforts against a full range of general physical adaptations, in the second the focus is on breadth and depth of performance, with the third the measure is time, power and consequently energy systems. It should be fairly clear that the fitness that CrossFit advocates and develops is deliberately broad, general, and inclusive. Our specialty is not specializing. Combat, survival, many sports, and life reward this kind of fitness and, on average, punish the specialist. “ – Crossfit main site ( read more on this @ http://journal.crossfit.com/2002/10/what-is-fitness-by-greg-glassm.tpl )
So when we offer your a 8 min AMRAP , or a 20 EMOM or you attempt Grace you are doing a workout specifically created to illicit a change in a specific metabolic pathway. Deviating from that specific pathway alters the effect of the WOD.
Which brings us back to scaling. Lets use “Grace” again as an example.
“Grace” 30 Clean and Jerks @ 135/95 lbs for time
This workout is designed to be completed in a certain amount of time, staying firmly in a specific metabolic engine or pathway . We are aiming for this WOD to be completed in roughly sub 7 min, aiming for about 4 min. You might not know what time restraint we are looking for in a particular workout but your coach does.
Read more about grace @ http://www.cebul.la/whats-a-good-grace-crossfit-time/
Obviously these times are done by elite athletes and the very peak of there fitness.
To use myself as an example, at the RX weight it would take me around 10 min to complete RX Grace. The result of my specific skills, and limitations puts me in a different time bracket and thus effects my relative level of intensity and ultimately altering which metabolic pathway i will reside in for the WOD. The result is the programming that our coaches take so much time and effort to develop is changed and the individual athletes fitness suffers ( although you may end up working very hard anyway ) . The remedy is to scale the weight or the reps down to maintain the intensity.
“Intensity is one of those words people misuse. Intensity is defined as extreme degree of strength, force energy, or feeling. The magnitude of a quantity. CrossFit puts that into more understandable terms in its definition of Intensity: Intensity is exactly equal to average power.” —as said by the fine folks over at CrossFit Invoke.
When your coach says to scale , they are not saying you can’t lift a certain weight , although they could be, what they are saying is- we are looking for a certain intensity and that the weight or the volume has to be altered so that you can maintain that desired intensity for the workout.
“Be impressed by intensity, not volume.” —Greg Glassman
A Fat Filled Diet; Ketogenic Dieting 101
by Logan Williams
Bacon, bacon, bacon, bacon, now that I have your attention, what would you say if I told you there was a diet out there that allowed you to consume your favorite part of good ol’ porky? Well look no further for validation in your questionable eating choices and indulgences.
In recent years a new “fad” diet has been sweeping across the health, medical, and endurance sport industry, known as the “Ketogenic Diet.” Introduced by Dr. Henry Rawle Geyelin, an endocrinologist, at the annual meeting of the American Medical Association in 1921, Geyelin proposed this high fat, low carb diet to treat epileptic seizures. The science behind this was that, epileptic seizures are triggered by abnormal electrical activity in the brain. In the times of the ancient Greek’s these episodes were treated with starvation, which historically claimed to work. Geyelin decided that his study would focus on the validity of these historical theories by subjecting those tested to bouts of food deprivation. While examining blood samples he found two particular molecular anomalies, low glucose levels and a raised level of a fat metabolite (necessary metabolic substance) known as ketones. He began to search for a diet that would mimic the neurological and metabolic effects of starvation, without, well, starving. Thus marking the birth of the diet.
Before delving into the in’s and out’s of the actual diet, lets first focus on what makes this diet so damn special, the increased production of the ketones. Ketones are produced by the liver when it breaks down fat for energy, a process known as ketosis, the cornerstone theory of this diet. However, these little molecules hold a plethora of other unforeseen benefits. Ketones have been shown, in recent studies, to be anti-convulsive, treat type 2 diabetes, reduce high cholesterol, and even help prevent/treat Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Disease. This is due to the fats consumed in order to trigger ketosis are high in brain and heart healthy fats, which protect the cell sheath that carries neurological signals to and from the brain. These same fats also aid in the efficient maintenance of the neurons, which are responsible for the electrical firing of these signals from the brain to the rest of the body.
Now that we know how important these little guys are, how does one achieve a state of ketosis via dieting? Basically, to achieve a state of ketosis, one is training their body to burn fat instead of glucose derived from carbs. However, when the intake of these carbohydrates are drastically cut (roughly less than 50g’s a day) the body begins to rely on the fat generated ketone bodies for energy. The heart, brain, and muscles can all burn these ketones efficiently. To achieve this, one has to switch to a ratio of 10:70:20, meaning that 10% of calories* are carbs, 70% fat, and 20% protein. Protein amounts can be tweaked if trying to maintain or build a muscular physique. Carbs consist of whole grains or those found in nuts, leafy greens, cheese, and other foods associated with this diet. Popular meats on this diet include, bacon, red meat, salmon, and chicken. High amounts of leafy greens (spinach and kale being my favorite) are encouraged to keep things “regular.” The encouraged fats are coconut oil, heavy whipping cream, butter, olive oil, avocados, and nuts. Meals should be moderate portions and spaced 2-3 hours apart with the goal of eating at least 4-6 meals a day.
** Coffee and tea are encouraged on this diet, with the addition of heavy cream, and even oil. Bulletproof coffee is a great addition to this diet, and the morning routine. Try and stay away from processed, high sugar, and even alcoholic food/beverages since these tend to be high in carbs and simple sugars. While it may seem daunting just remember that you get to have cheese and bacon, freaking bacon.
While it sounds all good and dandy, achieving this state of ketosis takes weeks and comes at an initial cost. It takes roughly 4-6 weeks for the body to fully attain a ketosis state via dieting. Some common drawbacks are mood swings, irritability, fatigue, brain “fog,” and intense cravings. So just be a good friend and give others a heads up that your thinking about or starting this diet. No one likes a hangry monster.
Now for the final question, how does this diet pertain to physical performance, and why is this diet gaining traction within the endurance community? The answer is surprisingly simple. When the body is in a state of ketosis and optimally producing ketones, the body has efficiently been trained to burn fat instead of carbs as a source of energy. The human body can store a max of 2,500 calories in carbs, but, for example, a person who has 25 lbs. of stored fat has roughly 100,000 potential calories. A fat adapt athlete has essentially tapped a “ketone pipeline” of potential energy during times of intense exertion. This is a huge amount of available energy that could sustain the most intense workload for an un-godly amount of time that was previously thought unattainable. A few well known endurance athletes and groups have begun to tap into this source via the ketogenic diet. Examples are the U.S Special Forces, and ultra-runners Zach Bitter and Timothy Olson. Both who are record setting athletes.
So whether you’re looking at losing weight, increasing the potential fuel sources for physical activity, or just really like bacon the ketogenic offers it all. However, I must also remind everyone that dieting is much like a fingerprint, it is unique to everyone’s goal, activity level, and body type. This is merely an overview of a diet that has gained traction in the climbing community, and the reasoning for it. I have attached further readings and sources, including a mock diet example, in case this does actually sound like a relevant diet for your training goals.
*Calories are based on personal goals and activity levels, if going through a more rigorous training regime caloric intake should increase so that your body has the nutrients it needs to repair itself properly.
** Increasing meal frequency and decreasing portion size trains your body to utilize the nutrients available efficiently, and also increases one’s resting metabolic rate over time.
Join us Wednesday 1/18/17 at 8pm for an alpine climbing and skiing training class. Come in and refine your skills for winter in our 1 hour class designed to be exactly what you’re missing in your training for your winter adventures, $10 drop ins. If you have technical boots, bring them. Email email@example.com with any questions. Click HERE to signup for class.
Join the cult…buy the shoes…
by Anne Mahlman
If you are newer to CrossFit and weightlifting, you may be wondering what kind of shoes you should be wearing. To an outsider, it may seem odd that every CrossFitter has the same shoe, and sometimes all matching colors. We do admit, it adds to the cult mentality of CrossFit, however there is a very good reason that everyone is wearing that shoe.
What’s wrong with my running shoes I have right now?
Traditional running shoes that most new lifters have are great for running. They are cushioned and are designed to take the hard, frequent, and repetitive heel impacts on concrete that running creates. Conversely, they are squishy and tend to shift your weight on your toes during most lifting movements and are not very stable for carrying heavy loads or developing stable movement. Shoes designed for CrossFit and/or weightlifting are designed to provide a stable platform. They are a flatter profile (less toe to heel rise) than most running shoes and will provide you with more support than a running shoe while you are lifting. Also, even though certain shoes like the Nike Air are flat on the bottom, they are not stable and will not provide you with the amount of support that you need while weightlifting or squatting.
Disclaimer: Keep your running shoes for longer runs! Although minimalist shoes are great for lifting, they are not so great for your long weekend hike or pretty much anything over a 2-3 mile run.
What type of shoes should I look for?
There are quite a few options that are available depending on your foot type. First, you should look for a minimalistic, flat soled shoe. This does not mean there is no cushion, it just means there is less cushion and little to no heel lift. Some of the shoe brands we recommend are Reebok Nanos, Nike Metcons, and Inov-8. The Reeboks are typically better for people with wider feet and the Nike and Inov-8s will be more suited for narrower feet. The Inov-8s will also be a little more flexible than the Reebok and Nike. If you want to improve your technique for most movements you do in the gym, we recommend purchasing one of these minimalistic shoes.
Make sure you try on a few different types to ensure the size and fit is what you want. Also, many of these companies have sales a few times a year so you don’t have to pay full price for awesome shoes!
What about an Olympic weightlifting shoe?
The next question is if and when you need to purchase Olympic weightlifting shoes. This depends on your goals at the gym. We recommend you invest in a pair of minimalistic general training shoes mentioned above before diving into the world of Olympic shoes. If you use CrossFit and Kraft as a supplement to your training or you are just trying to get in shape, a stable and minimal shoe will work great for you. You do not necessarily need to spend the extra money if your focus is not to perfect your squat or Olympic lifts. However, if you are ready to take your lifting to the next level, using an Olympic lifting shoe will help get you there. They are an even stiffer platform than minimal shoes and will slightly lift your heels. The heel lift will help improve your squat depth/position and the platform will greatly increase stability while holding everything from just body weight to a significant load.
The brands we recommend are Reebok, Nike, Adidas, and Inov-8. Just like any other shoe, make sure you try some on before you invest the money, or get free returns online. They will all fit and feel a little different!
When should I wear which shoe?
If you own both Olympic shoes and minimal shoes, it can sometimes be difficult to determine when to wear what for a workout. If its a purely strength or weightlifting workout, Oly shoes are appropriate. If its a workout with a combination of heavy lifting and other movements, most of the time you should wear Oly shoes. However, if there are some bar movements at moderate to light weight with other bodyweight movements using your training shoes is appropriate. When in doubt, ask your coach until you get a feel for what your preferences are!
Anne Mahlman is an owner of a climbing training and CrossFit gym, Mountain Strong Denver. She has a track and field background and has been been doing CrossFit for over five years. She is currently an owner & coach at Mountain Strong Denver.
Training to failure
by Matt Lloyd
From climbing to CrossFit, training to failure is an extremely powerful tool to improve performance and strength. As such, understanding its basics, as well as a few nuances (including its pitfalls) can improve the efficacy and efficiency of any athlete’s training program.
Disclaimer: there is a lot of contradictory research on this subject, this is rough summary of what I’ve learned in research and personal experience.
What exactly is “training to failure?”
For our purposes we define training to failure as the achievement of complete, momentary muscle failure through intentional repetition of any particular movement. An example would be moderate weight bench press (50-80% 1RM) for as many reps as possible until you cannot push the bar up any more, or for climbers it could be running laps to failure on a route well below your redpoint max. This failure is not due to skill or technique but rather the muscles inability to continue moving a load.
Benefits of training to failure:
Reaching complete muscle failure stimulates the nervous system to create real physical changes that ultimately lead to enhanced muscle activation (improved strength and endurance). Training to failure causes stimulation of the central nervous system (just like heavy weightlifting but without as much risk of injury) which results in a beneficial condition described as “central fatigue.” You can conceptualize central fatigue as the brain’s (the central nervous system’s) response to a significant physical stimulus that indicates the our current strength is inadequate. It’s logical; we can literally change our brain and the way it interacts with our muscles by providing enough stimulus. Central fatigue is the key to how failure training improves strength and endurance. You’re not just growing the muscle (also called hypertrophy, although that also happens), you’re changing your brain’s ability to trigger that muscle.
A quick understanding of muscle fibers is needed to understand why failure training can be so productive…
“Muscle fibers are recruited sequentially based on need. That is, the lower the demand, the fewer fibers required and the greater the demand, the more fibers required. Low-demand efforts recruit the smaller, lower threshold, slower-to-fatigue motor units. When more effort is required, the larger, higher threshold, faster-to-fatigue motor units are called upon.”
When we train to failure we recruit a larger percentage of both because as the low threshold fibers fatigue and we approach failure, we start recruiting the high threshold fibers to fill in and move the load. This is also true not just for the individual muscle fibers as we just discussed but for the muscles as a whole. As our primary muscles tire and lack the sufficient energy to move the given load, our central nervous system starts recruiting other secondary muscles to help accomplish the given task. This process happens primarily as we approach muscle failure and allows us to train a larger cross-section of individual muscle fibers and full muscles. This will deliver a very potent stimulus to the muscle.
The result of this training has a specific benefit to us as athletes. In recent studies, failure training has been shown to improve localized muscle endurance. In the Journal of Applied Physiology ( http://jap.physiology.org/content/100/5/1647), they said this:
“This investigation demonstrated a potential beneficial stimulus of NRF (non-failure training) for improving strength and power…whereas performing sets to failure resulted in greater gains in local muscular endurance.”
“NRF (non-failure training) resulted in larger gains in muscle power output…whereas after RF (failure training) resulted in larger gains in the maximal number of repetitions performed during the bench press.”
How training to failure is often misused:
While training to failure can be an extremely effective tool, it should not be overused. For climbers it is often incorrectly employed as their primary training protocol (e.g. running laps to failure on a given route or climbing as many routes as possible before complete failure and reaching the point they are no longer able to recover and continue their climbing session). One of the most common mistakes made in regard to failure training is believing that any workout in which you achieve total muscle failure is optimal. This is a standard pitfall of climbers, who historically focus heavily on this type of training.
Why you should be concerned:
Training to failure can drastically increase the presence of the catabolic hormone cortisol (and if you read my last post on the endocrine system you already know why this is a bad thing). Because all bodily mechanisms are governed by our exquisitely balanced physiologies, it is quite easy to overtrain a particular movement and throw the body into a stress response that turns off its ability to grow and recover adequately. A recent Spanish study found that training to failure can lead to a dramatic increase of a chemical called nucleotide adenosine monophosphate (AMP). The build up of too much AMP is a signal that cells have been overly depleted of energy. In response, the body suppresses anabolic growth factor, which in turn leads to decreased protein synthesis (a.k.a. brain and muscle growth). It’s easy to see how this can drastically limit long term progress.
Why and how should training to failure be used:
Training to failure can often be anabolic, which leads to muscle growth and improved strength when done sparingly and with adequate recovery. If you don’t give your body enough recovery time or train to failure too often you can throw yourself into the stress response and activate the above described catabolic conditions (not good). This will end up contributing to performance plateaus. It is advisable to incorporate failure training infrequently and only at the end of a workout (this is standard practice in CrossFit, where we often do strength training before our metcon). Studies have shown failure training is most effective as a final set. Any additional exertion after the muscle reaches momentary failure will be mitigated by the muscles fatigue eliminating any potential progress of the subsequent work. In other words if you train to failure early in a workout, any strength training that will take place after will be considerably less effective.
Tips On Training to Failure:
Matt Lloyd is an owner of a climbing training and CrossFit gym, Mountain Strong Denver. He has been climbing nearly two decades, has climbed 5.14, and prides himself on always being ready to rock and doing whatever it takes to succeed.