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The Rock Climber's Training Manual - an unneeded review


Original Post
Mark E Dixon · · Sprezzatura, Someday · Joined Nov 2007 · Points: 569

Let's face it. If you know enough to navigate to the MP training forum, you want, no, need, this book. So just buy it now before supplies run out and you have to wait for the next edition.

But just in case you got here by accident, I'll offer some observations and describe the contents.

First, Mike and Mark Anderson are fervent advocates of the supreme value of finger strength.
Second, they believe that systematic periodized training is the way to continuously improve finger strength.

I criticized "Gimme Kraft" in an earlier review for including plenty of exercises, but not offering a program to put them to best use. RCTM is the opposite, a powerful program with just a few exercises- ARC, Hangboard, Campus/limit bouldering and intervals. I'm pretty sure following the program will make you stronger. Then it's up to you to use that strength wisely!

RCTM begins with a chapter on why to train and an overview of the approach.

Chapter 2 is a fantastic explanation of goal setting. This single chapter is enough to justify buying the book, IMHO. Choose a big, hairy audacious goal (shades of Jim Collins,) figure out sub goals to get there and make it happen.

Chapter 3 covers skill training and how to incorporate it into the overall Rock Prodigy plan. Movement skills are not the brothers' main interest, but the chapter covers the basics well and the suggested exercises seem useful and appropriately climbing specific.

Chapter 4 covers the basic physiology of training. As far as I can see, the Andersons are true to what little is known scientifically about climbing training. FWIW, despite many studies, most other sports don't seem much better understood!

Chapter 5 starts the workouts, covering base fitness via ARC training.

Chapter 6, the excitement of hangboarding for strength.

Chapter 7, campusing and limit bouldering for power.

Chapter 8, various intervals for power endurance.

Chapter 9 offers some advice on rest and injury rehab. You will need this chapter if you are overly enthusiastic starting this program. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!

Chapter 10 outlines how to develop a seasonal training plan and offers two complete plans, one for novices and another for advanced climbers. If you choose to follow their plan, you can be told exactly what to train on a day to day basis for the next 4 months! They discuss various ways to customize the plans, but I get the sense they just want you to follow the plan.

Chapter 11, forget the strength stuff, just lose weight :-)

Chapters 12 and 13 cover how to prepare for and perform red points and onsights. Lots of valuable pointers, true to what I know about sports psychology. Would be the rare climber who didn't learn something useful from these chapters.

Chapters 14 and 15 tailor the plan specifically for trad climbing, bouldering and free big walls.

So that's the TOC.

My overall impression?
This will be the bible for climbing training in America.
It is also a beautiful book, great production values, photos, etc.

There are other ways to train. I'm not a big believer in periodizing and the scientific evidence isn't that robust. Nevertheless, my personal program is going to change because of this book.
There are other aspects of training that I think are just as vital, specifically mental training as in "The Rock Warrior's Way" and skill training, as in "The Self Coached Climber" perhaps.
But no other book, not even Horst's can match the systematic, straightforward program presented in RCTM.
Get the book, get strong, then "would you mind hanging these draws for me?"

Edited to add-
If you'd like to check out a few pages from the book before buying, go to the Andersons' website
rockclimberstrainingmanual.…

Worth looking around the site, lot's of valuable training info.

In particular, if you don't train yet but are thinking about starting, check out
rockclimberstrainingmanual.…

kerwinl · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Aug 2013 · Points: 130

Awesome overview, I like the chapter breakdown.

This book is a great leap forward for climbers who are interested in training and learning about the physiology and psychology of difficult rock climbing. The Anderson Bro's have done a service to the rock climbing community, I hope the book is well used.

Chris Clarke · · La Paz, BO · Joined Apr 2009 · Points: 130

I'm looking forward to reading it. Even though most of my projects are more mountain oriented at this time, having some big strength or power to apply as necessary can only help. I've been doing a variation of the program as previously revealed here on MountainProject for a few years (without the emphasis on periodization) to fill in when I'm not getting out so much and it works.

DanielRich · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Aug 2008 · Points: 5

+1 that the book rocks.

I have to admit reading through it may have made me hungry to get strong.

One of the things that I like the best is the awesome motivational pictures sprinkled throughout the book. Makes me want to plan climbing trips just to hit some of those locations. Of course they are all pictures of HARD stuff so I will need to train for a bit first.

evan h · · Denver, CO · Joined Oct 2012 · Points: 320

Yes, buy this book. Coming from someone who never trains, I crushed this book in about 3-4 days and I couldn't be more excited for this program. If Mark and Mike can balance careers, kids, not being 25, etc, and can still crush 5.14, then I'm sold. This seems like a similar, but more realistic approach than Horst's guide to training.

Charlie S · · Ogden, UT · Joined Aug 2007 · Points: 1,779

Still working through the book, although I've gotten through the first 11 chapters.

I HIGHLY recommend it. I'm just now entering my peak phase and have finally pushed that mid-5.10 plateau. I'm looking forward to improving in oncoming seasons!

The book is extremely well written, has great images, is clear, concise, and will be beneficial to anyone who uses it.

Jon Zucco · · Denver, CO · Joined Aug 2008 · Points: 245

Yep -- I finished this book about a week and a half after getting it, and am now in week 3 of the program I put together based on what I've learned.

It really is a textbook on the science of training for climbing, and how to put it all together into a focused training program. Great review, Mark & a very big thanks to the Andersons for their continuing contributions to the community.

Kenny Clark · · State College, PA · Joined Aug 2009 · Points: 130

I really liked the "Quick start guide" (can't remember the page number right now, but it's in the early part) for those who are just anxious to get started right away without reading all the nearly 300 pages. This book is big and heavy, which is awesome! I haven't been able to read it as much as I'd hoped up until now, but I'm slowly picking my way through it now and it hasn't disappointed yet.

slim · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Dec 2004 · Points: 1,107

another thing that is really handy - there is an appendix section (p298-299) that has small figures of the various schedules and individual workouts, and shows what page they are on. really handy if you are quickly wanting to go find one of them.

there is a LOT of info in this book. i really like the section on nutrition. when i was younger i could eat anything and everything, but i am starting to get to that age where this is (sadly) coming to an end.

Elijah Flenner · · Fort Collins, CO · Joined Jan 2001 · Points: 820

One of the best aspects of the book is that they tell you why you do everything and offer scientific evidence when it exists. The best book for climbing training out there, and will let you taylor your program to your goals. Sometimes I find the text a little long winded, but that is a very minor complaint.

jonathan.lipkin · · Brooklyn, NY · Joined Dec 2012 · Points: 70

I agree that this is a great book. I've read a lot of training books. They are usually the type of book that I would like someone else to read and explain to me. This book summarized a lot of what I've read in simple language, and the authors frequently encourage you to skip parts of the book, if you'd like, that do not directly relate to training.

Two recommendations for future editions:

1. Add an index. I know they are hard to do, but it would make the book much easier to navigate.
2. Remove the ads. It seems that a lot of publishers are doing this in climbing books. I can understand ads in magazines, where most of the money is made through through advertising, but it seems odd to see them in books where the income comes from the purchase price.

Even so, I'd highly recommend buying and reading the book as soon as you can.

kenr · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Oct 2010 · Points: 14,522

Just got my copy today, so I read the parts that were of greatest interest, scanned around the rest.

Very specific.
Just what I wanted ... specifics about exercises, about equipment, about rest, about periods, specific arguments to justify choices based on (the necessarily sketchy) science. I'm not looking for a new overall program, but two or three new key pointers or perspectives in each area of training that I hadn't heard of or thought of would be worth the price and time of the book (and just ignore the ones that I don't agree with, or that don't apply to my situation).

Unlike Eric Horst's Training book which tends to offer multiple approaches, e.g. like six for finger strength (which you can either take as extra value or just confusing) ...
This book focuses you really well on one approach and hammers out the details, tells you their "right" way, step by step. If you want options to mix and match with some other successful elite climber's "right" way, buy a seond book. Works for me.

specific reactions / questions:

  • My real main goal that motivates me to train systematically is big enough so I expect it to take a year or two to reach. Not sure why the 17-week program length offered in the book is a good fit for that. A couple of other sports I've trained seriously for have longer programs with longer phases. Probably this is explained somewhere in the book - (? like perhaps the authors have found ? that realistically most climbers don't have an emotional attention span to handle longer program + more delayed achieement ? so need to break up the real long-term goal ?)
  • Hypertrophy? Have not found much about Hypertrophy in the book (maybe an index would help?). Didn't notice much in the physiology explanation. Didn't see any HYPertrophy phase in the 17-week program (or is it supposed to be the same as the "Strength" phase?). My concept of a phased traiing program (from other sports) has included HYPertrophy as a specific focus, so I've been doing that since I got into serious training for climbing (though have not actually tried to measure my forearm hypertrophy) -- but I guess their concept of program phases is a bit different. Would be glad to have some discussion of that (or just point me to the pages in the book that address it).

Looking forward to picking up more great ideas from the book.

Ken
kerwinl · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Aug 2013 · Points: 130
kenr wrote:* My real main goal that motivates me to train systematically is big enough so I expect it to take a year or two to reach. Not sure why the 17-week program length offered in the book is a good fit for that. A couple of other sports I've trained seriously for have longer programs with longer phases. Probably this is explained somewhere in the book - (? like perhaps the authors have found ? that realistically most climbers don't have an emotional attention span to handle longer program + more delayed achieement ? so need to break up the real long-term goal ?)
I stand by my previous statement stating that this book moves the state of thought forward on how to train for climbing. One of the issues I see in this book is not addressing the needs of the training spectrum. The ability to get a training effect through a training cycle will vary depending on your "training age". A good graphic is shown here:



As you approach your limits of performance it will take a more longer and increasingly complex cycle or workload to achieve a training effect. A beginner may be able to derive a training effect from simply climbing, and intermediate could derive and effect from randomly hang-boarding, but an advanced/elite trainee will need a proper and maybe very long training cycle to achieve the desired training effect. The next evolution in thought in training for climbing will be how work cycles need to be adjusted based upon your current level. Practical Programming by Mark Rippetoe gives a very good intro.
kenr · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Oct 2010 · Points: 14,522
kerwinl wrote:As you approach your limits of performance it will take a more longer and increasingly complex cycle or workload to achieve a training effect.
Yes that makes a lot of sense, and it fits my experiences with other sports. But let me make sure I understand: Those graph diagrams are not from the A & A book? And you are proposing the idea of a longer-than-17-week program cycle as a further development beyond the A&A book?

Anyway ... upon further reading of the book
  • It seems like my guess about the reason for the 17-week program was wrong - (So read the book)
  • The de-emphasis of HYPertrophy feels confirmed by my further reading (like the third full paragraph on page 108) -- and perhaps has implications for the duration of the program. Well maybe this is a fit for real-world climbers in serious training -- since how many climbers ever took muscle-hypertrophy seriously enough to actually measure before and after? (I haven't seen it reported here in the years I've been reading MountainProject).

Ken
Ben Circello · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Feb 2009 · Points: 95
kenr wrote: Yes that makes a lot of sense, and it fits my experiences with other sports. But let me make sure I understand: Those graph diagrams are not from the A & A book? And you are proposing the idea of a longer-than-17-week program cycle as a further development beyond the A&A book? Anyway ... upon further reading of the book * It seems like my guess about the reason for the 17-week program was wrong - (So read the book) * The de-emphasis of HYPertrophy feels confirmed by my further reading (like the third full paragraph on page 108) -- and perhaps has implications for the duration of the program. Well maybe this is a fit for real-world climbers in serious training -- since how many climbers ever took muscle-hypertrophy seriously enough to actually measure before and after? (I haven't seen it reported here in the years I've been reading MountainProject). Ken
Ken - the entire goal of strength phase / section of the book is to achieve hypertrophy.

With regards to the "17 week" training cycle and your longer term projects, my impression is that timeframe was arrived at via diminishing adaptation to the specific phases (i.e. plateauing. For a longer term project, focus on improving from macrocycle to macrocycle.
kenr · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Oct 2010 · Points: 14,522
Ben Circello wrote:the entire goal of strength phase / section of the book is to achieve hypertrophy.

Hypertrophy is indeed described on three pages (p106-108), which finishes with their reasons for de-emphasis (second + third complete paragraphs of p108). Then for the remaining eighteen pages of the Strength chapter the word "hypertrophy" is virtually unmentioned.

EDIT: Upon further reading + digesting it gets more complicated: Exercise contraction modes which are typically associated with Hypertrophy are considered for muscle groups other than fingers/forearms, and specific exercises are given for those muscles, and details about sets and reps (p110 bottom) which might be expected to produce Hypertrophy in those other (non-finger) muscles. One exercise which applies those contraction modes to finger/forearm muscles is considered but not accepted (p109 sidebar).

Then read the 2nd + 3rd summary bullets for the Strength chapter (page 127) -- seems clear to me.

And as I highlighted in my first post, a key selling point of the new Anderson & Anderson book is that it's very specific. In this case very specific about their reasons for de-emphasizing HYPertrophy.

You can agree or disagree. But at the least they are worthy arguments, worth buying (and carefully reading) the book to learn them (I've never seen them expressed in other books or on this or other web forums)
... worth reflecting on ... worth discussing.

Exactly the sort of thing that makes me feel my purchase money was well spent (very easy nowadays thru PayPal) -- even if I'm still in the "reflecting" stage, not yet sure I agree with the book on that.

Ken
slim · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Dec 2004 · Points: 1,107
kenr wrote: Hypertrophy is indeed described on three pages (p106-108), which finishes with their reasons for de-emphasis (second + third complete paragraphs of p108). Then for the remaining eighteen pages of the Strength chapter the word "hypertrophy" is virtually unmentioned. EDIT: Upon further reading + digesting it gets more complicated: Exercise contraction modes which are typically associated with Hypertrophy are considered for muscle groups other than fingers/forearms, and specific exercises are given for those muscles, and details about sets and reps (p110 bottom) which might be expected to produce Hypertrophy in those other (non-finger) muscles. One exercise which applies those contraction modes to finger/forearm muscles is considered but not accepted (p109 sidebar). Then read the 2nd + 3rd summary bullets for the Strength chapter (page 127) -- seems clear to me. And as I highlighted in my first post, a key selling point of the new Anderson & Anderson book is that it's very specific. In this case very specific about their reasons for de-emphasizing HYPertrophy. You can agree or disagree. But at the least they are worthy arguments, worth buying (and carefully reading) the book to learn them (I've never seen them expressed in other books or on this or other web forums) ... worth reflecting on ... worth discussing. Exactly the sort of thing that makes me feel my purchase money was well spent (very easy nowadays thru PayPal) -- even if I'm still in the "reflecting" stage, not yet sure I agree with the book on that. Ken
a couple of my quick thoughts.

the hypertrophy versus strength thing: my guess is that they prefer to refer to it as strength, due to the differences between "functional" hypertrophy and "appearance" hypertrophy. climbers want functional, not appearance. strength is more important than looking big. sure, you will probably get a bit bigger with the strength based set of reps, but that really isn't the focus. we want strength.

for the supplementary exercises, most of these are going to be more climbing specific if they aren't isometric. fingers are kind of different because most (not all) of the time you are holding in more of an isometric position. this is really important because you want a good steady force application at the contact patch of the hold so that you don't have friction deviations at inopportune moments.

for long term goals, i think the book covers this really well. in order to achieve long term goals, it is a LOT more effective to oraganize a bunch of "milestone" goals that trend towards the big one. i think there is a lot of truth in this, not only for climbing goals, but for most things in life. in my experience, both climbing as well as other things, this has been a really effective method. it helps you determine what exactly you need to get to the big goal, gather those pieces, gain experience (through both success and failure), and ultimately have confidence that you have a chance at the big goal.
kerwinl · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Aug 2013 · Points: 130
kenr wrote: Yes that makes a lot of sense, and it fits my experiences with other sports. But let me make sure I understand: Those graph diagrams are not from the A & A book? And you are proposing the idea of a longer-than-17-week program cycle as a further development beyond the A&A book? Anyway ... upon further reading of the book * It seems like my guess about the reason for the 17-week program was wrong - (So read the book) * The de-emphasis of HYPertrophy feels confirmed by my further reading (like the third full paragraph on page 108) -- and perhaps has implications for the duration of the program. Well maybe this is a fit for real-world climbers in serious training -- since how many climbers ever took muscle-hypertrophy seriously enough to actually measure before and after? (I haven't seen it reported here in the years I've been reading MountainProject). Ken
Correct, that picture is not from the A&A book, it is from Practical Programming, which deals with strength training in a general, not specific to any particular sport. I am proposing the idea of a longer then 17 week cycle, only if it necessary, and a shorter then 17 week cycle if it is able to produce results. The length and complexity of a cycle is decided by how readily your body will respond to a training load. The beginner will be heavily taxed by any initial training stress, and super compensation will occur very quickly after a few sessions resulting in improved performance. The advanced trainee is able to endure a much higher workload without stressing the body in comparison to the beginner, it will take a much larger workload to properly stress the advanced trainee to induce super compensation.

It gets much trickier when the realization comes that it is easier for an advanced trainee to over-train then it is for a beginner. As the advanced trainee is able to log insane amounts of volume before they realize their performance in the gym is declining week over week. It could take weeks for an advanced trainee to recover from over-training because their workload is so high, whereas for a beginner can recover from over-training usually within a week, because the overall volume that induced the over-training syndrome was much lower. It becomes a much narrower line to walk as you move through the stages of training. In the beginning, almost anything can prove beneficial, towards your genetic limit, it is easy to over-train, and easy to not train hard enough to produce a proper stimulus.

This is all in a very general sense, I think it becomes much more complicated when we start trying to apply this model of thinking towards a sport as complex as rock climbing.

I have been reading a lot on the progression/training of olympic lifters lately, as that is a sport where in the later stages of training the actual olympic lifts themselves are not able to provide a training effect anymore and lifters must began to use other methods to develop absolute strength before applying it to their lifts of choice. Oly Lifting is also a sport where skill and technique are very important, very similar to rock climbing.

Cheers!
sle · · New York, New York · Joined Mar 2013 · Points: 0

I would feel that dance, especially classical dance is an activity most comparable to climbing, especially in terms of complexity and unnatural form. While finger strength is most important strength-wise, skill is paramount. The redpoint vs onsight difference in beginner climbers shows this especially well. So I would take any power-sport comparisons with a huge brick of salt.

slim · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Dec 2004 · Points: 1,107

i think there are several key things that really limit the length of each of the phases, and therefore the cycle for an 'advanced' trainee. note that by 'advanced' i don't necessarily mean a 5.15 climber - i mean someone who has followed a training program for a while.

first - an advanced trainee will likely start the phase at a level that is much closer to their current limit than a beginner will. what i am saying is that with the knowledge from numerous previous cycles, the advanced person will have a lot more accurate guess for the first workout. on the other hand, someone without a lot of history would (and should for that matter) err on the side of going too easy. it might take them 4 or 5 workouts just to get up to where they could have started. the advanced person will also have a better guess of how much to increase the stimulus from workout to workout, which will also keep them up closer to their current limit.

my experience with this is that my strength phase is shorter than it used to be. i used to go 10 to 12 workouts and have consistent gains. now, i get about 6 to 8 workouts before i really have to evaluate whether i should switch over to power. in the past, i also really thought that it was essential to milk every last bit of strength i could out of my phase, and do the workouts until i was completely flatlining. now, i am really convinced that it is beter to switch over a bit earlier, just when it seems i am starting to plateau.

the real reason for this is somewhat psychological and somewhat physical. i found that if i really milked the strength training too long i would start regressing. this is pretty normal (although i didn't know it way back then). this is psychologically not good - you need to go into your power phase amped, not bummed. you want to feel like you are still marching forward, not backwards. also, if my strength phase ran too long it made me really, really tired overall and did not help my performance at all.

finally, it also comes down to optimizing the decay rates versus the gain rates of the phases you are doing. you can only improve for so long, and the gains you have also decay at different rates among themselves. for example, if you do a good strength phase, but then horse around for 3 months trying to put together a power program, by the end of the power program your strength has decayed enough to not really be optimal for building the power. then you would go into the PE program, strength would have long decayed, power wouldn't be optimal and declining, etc. by the time your PE was in good shape, strength and power would be long gone.

it just all kind of works out to the time periods naturally.

kerwinl · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Aug 2013 · Points: 130

Slim good points. I agree with your classification of training stage by amount of previous training, vs. current rock climbing ability.

I am very glad to see that there are others out there beside me tracking their training and adjusting as necessary to get the best results over time. Your adjustment from a longer to a shorter strength phase is one of these adjustments. A clarifying question, during your strength phase do you apply a linear loading pattern on the fingerboard? By that I mean in general does session #[N+1] use a higher stimulus/load then session #[N], where N is sessions 1-10?

In general most fingerboard workouts I have seen and most strength phases follow a linear pattern where session [N+1], will generally have a higher load, until progress has plateaued and the focus then switches from strength -> power or something similar. There is nothing wrong with this approach as I think consistent gains can be made for a very long time this way, but I think there is an avenue to create larger gains in the strength phase through the incorporation of more complex loading patterns. The linear progression assumes that progress can be made from session to session throughout the phase, whereas an undulating loading pattern may follow a pattern such as this:

Day 1:Medium Load, High Volume
Rest Day
Day 2:Medium Load, Low Volume
Rest Day
Day 3:High Load, Medium Volume
Rest Day
Rest Day

This pattern aims to increase the loading pattern over a week of time, this undulation could be extended to a 2 week or 1 month cycle. As of yet this idea of undulating loading patterns for fingerboard/strength in rock climbing has yet to be explored in any large way, but is used heavily in other sports where strength development is needed. I am not sure the best way to began the experiment, but I have been thinking and tinkering with the ideas for some time now and would like to see these ideas start to evolve in the sphere of training knowledge for rock climbing.

Great conversation!

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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