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Building strength as a typical hardgainer


Original Post
Cole Morgan · · Portland,Oregon · Joined Jan 2013 · Points: 5

As mentioned in the topic, I'm really curious about other climber's strategies for building strength as a typical hardgainer body type. Is there any specific training schedules/workouts that you have found helpful? Did building strength require more non-climbing workouts or can it be done with a combination of climbing, hangboards, and general bodyweight exercises? I should mention that I have already begun adding bodyweight exercises and hangboard routines into my schedule and I'm more just looking for suggestions, improvements, and/or favorite training strategies. I also wouldn't mind some information about eating habits that may have helped to build a bit of muscle.


Specifics:

6'0", 140lbs

flash up to .12a, redpoint .12c, boulder V5 (<-- the problem in my mind)

My week typically consists of 4-days climbing with each session lasting 2-3 hours. I typically try to warm up quickly and after ~4 routes climbing at or just below my limit for the rest of the session. After climbing I tend to do 3 sets of pushups and weighted pull ups, with core added every other climbing session. I tend to hangboard about once a week but as I stay pretty busy, it is sometimes missed.


Cheers

Ryan Hamilton · · Orem · Joined Aug 2011 · Points: 5

Looks like you need to just do more hangboarding and bouldering. Campus workouts might be good too, so you can work on contact strength, if that's an issue. Bouldering just requires so much power, both static and dynamic. I feel like it's harder to move up through the lower bouldering grades than it is the route grades. But, that might just be me. By the way, I've been in your shoes, super skinny and tall and didn't like it. Couldn't put on muscle or weight to save my life, even with a massive caloric intake and weight training. Now that I'm older, 6'3" and 200 lbs, I wish I had 30-40 less pounds to haul up a route. 

Pavel Burov · · Russia · Joined May 2013 · Points: 50

Basically there are two types of workouts when building strength. The first is toning workout, the second is developing workout (toning and developing is word-to-word translation of Russian terminology, I failed to find the direct English translation).

The corner stone of strength building is developing workout. At least 6 sets with 5 minutes of active (at about 120 heart rate) or 10 minutes of passive (read - lay down and relax) rest. Every set consists of about 6 to 8 reps. It is important to choose the weight/resistance so the last rep feels impossible (about 80% of max load). It is a good idea to build a set of exercises for different muscles groups about 10 minutes long (let's call it super set). Then you do not really need to rest. Just do 6 to 8 super sets and that's it. It is very important to adjust your hormones before the developing workout. Do a couple sets of deadlifts or squats (again, choose the load so you can do 6 yo 8 reps). You should feel a hormones punch in your system.

Toning workout is the same protocol limited to 2 to 4 reps (super sets).

The best strategy is one developing workout each 10 to 12 days + 3 to 4 toning workouts in between two developing workouts. The rule of thumb is total load of all toning workouts in between two developing workouts is slightly more vs the total load of one developing workout. Give a good rest after each developing workout. E.g., day 1 - developing workout 7 reps (super sets), days 4, 6, 8, 10 - toning workouts 3 reps (super sets), days 2, 3, 5, 7, 9 and 11 - rest. Repeat for at least 3 months.

Do not plan any hard work (both physical and intellectual) the next day after your devloping workout. You will be wasted.

An example of super set:
1. Rotating pull-up bar heavy finger rolls (add rubber band or weight to adjust the load).
2. Pull-ups (add rubber band or weight to adjust the load).
3. Front lever raises on olympic rings (add rubber band to adjust the load).
4. Olympic rings push-ups (add rubber band or weight to adjust the load).
5. Finger board hangs (7 to 10 secs, add weight to adjust the load).
6. more core strength exercise (e.g. windshield wipers).

Reserve about half an hour after workout for cool down and light stretching. The rule of thumb - you should stretch any and every muscle been loaded during the workout.

On your hard day (developing workout day) climb about half an hour. On toning day climb hour and half or so. For sure, climb before the workout.

Sleep at least 9 hours a day. Every day. Eat well. Take care of your joints (vitamins and supplements).

Most likely you will notice some degradation in your climbing. It is OK. Moreover, if your climbing does not degrade when working out your muscles it means you do not work out hard enough. When developing extra strength your climbing has to degrade (your body and mind have no idea how to use that extra strength for climbing). You will need about one month of focused hard climbing training (read - bouldering) to learn how to utilize newly developed strength in climbing applications. If you plan sport or trad climbing trip you will need about three weeks more to develop power endurance (do it after month of bouldering). The rule of thumb is: plan 5 to 6 months of training before your next sport/trad climbing trip - 3 to 4 months of conditioning, 1 month of bouldering and climbing technique workouts, 1 month of power endurance building.

The last but not the least. When building strength your immune resistance will degrade significantly. Preventing measures are the top priority when conditioning. You should not get sick during those 5 or 6 months because it will ruine all your hard work.

Pavel Burov · · Russia · Joined May 2013 · Points: 50

There is an alternative approach. Do anything. If you feel any progress your workouts are good enough.

aikibujin · · Castle Rock, CO · Joined Oct 2014 · Points: 294

What kind of strength are you trying to build? Core strength? Finger strength? Overall strength in everything?

Steve Pulver · · Williston, ND · Joined Dec 2003 · Points: 455

You're probably going to have to cut way back on your climbing volume :(, and probably replace it with a focus on just 1 or 2 exercises. You should see improvement every workout, or you're doing something wrong.  And I would guess in your case, lack of improvement would be  from doing too much climbing that you don't fully recover between workouts.

Jason Eberhard · · Atlanta, GA · Joined Apr 2015 · Points: 66

Here's a good example of a 6 week "Russian" cycle applied to football specific lifting.  Replace some of the exercises in the cycle table with pull specifics like weighted pull-ups and you should put on mass and strength.  Make sure you take a good multi vitamin and get plenty of sleep while you're doing this to maximize the gains.

https://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/teen-aaron9.htm 

Cole Morgan · · Portland,Oregon · Joined Jan 2013 · Points: 5

Thanks for all the insights!

Ryan- I definitely agree with your thoughts about bouldering more. The problem is I just don't find as much motivation for it and tend to sit around too much! Any good campus board workouts you like?

Pavel- Thats quite the comprehensive schedule! Do you suggest climbing during the 3-4 month conditioning phase? or is that strictly no climbing and only strength training? I also will definitely have to alter/replace a few of those exercises at my current fitness.

Brian- When you say no other forms of excercise do you mean climbing included? What kind of workout schedule do you suggest?

Aikibujin- Mainly upper body and contact strength. I've always found finger strength to be my strong suit as I tend towards overhanging crimp routes for most of my climbing sessions. I also may not have the strongest core, but I haven't found that to be my biggest weakness. Maybe once I gain a built of upper body strength that focus will change.

Steve- Makes sense. How noticible should the improvement be? Like increasing weight of exercises every workout? I know that in about 1 week and a half I can feel a difference in push-ups but nothing earth shattering.

Jason- Thanks for the resource! Ill check it out.

Jon Frisby · · Colorado Springs, CO · Joined Feb 2013 · Points: 120

Pavel, the English words are probably hypertrophy (developing) and recruitment (toning)

aikibujin · · Castle Rock, CO · Joined Oct 2014 · Points: 294
Cole Morgan wrote:

Aikibujin- Mainly upper body and contact strength. I've always found finger strength to be my strong suit as I tend towards overhanging crimp routes for most of my climbing sessions. I also may not have the strongest core, but I haven't found that to be my biggest weakness. Maybe once I gain a built of upper body strength that focus will change.

Yeah, limit bouldering and campusing would be the way to go for you, with some supplemental strength work. You probably don't need to hangboard but it won't hurt, especially from a long-term gain / injury prevention perspective. Cut way back on the volume and frequency of your training, and increase the intensity. I would climb one day on, and take one or even two days off. You may need two days to recover when you're not used to the intensity of your training. Limit bouldering will be very good for your climbing, but if you don't enjoy bouldering, you can try routes that are above your limit. It should be hard enough for you that you're working it bolt to bolt.

Campusing is another good training for your power, but be careful if you've never used a campus board before. Start conservatively with basic ladders (going from rung to rung without matching) or even matching ladders (match on every single rung). Just go from bottom to the top (or wherever you feel comfortable jumping) and drop off. Don't go up and down, you're not going for endurance. If the basic ladder gets too easy for you, then you can move on to skipping rungs, or other exercises on the campus board.

In terms of eating, just eat a balanced diet, get plenty of protein, preferably from real food. Rest is really important for strength gains. If you haven't listened to Tom Randall and Ollie Torr's latest podcast on training beta, you should. In it Tom talked about how he's used to training with lots of volume, often climbing 5-6 days a week, but he was frustrated that he had a hard time gaining strength. He then let Ollie take charge of his strength training, and Ollie gave him a program with something like two days of training per week (but at a much higher intensity). Tom was able to improve three grades in his bouldering in a very short amount of time. I think you're in a very similar situation right now.

JCM · · Seattle, WA · Joined Jun 2008 · Points: 95
Cole Morgan wrote:

My week typically consists of 4-days climbing with each session lasting 2-3 hours. I typically try to warm up quickly and after ~4 routes climbing at or just below my limit for the rest of the session. After climbing I tend to do 3 sets of pushups and weighted pull ups, with core added every other climbing session. I tend to hangboard about once a week but as I stay pretty busy, it is sometimes missed.


If you are climbing for 2-3 hours per session, 4 days per week, you are not really operating at your limit. I'll repeat what aikibujin says in the post above: "Cut way back on the volume and frequency of your training, and increase the intensity."

If you want to boulder harder, start spending your time trying harder boulder problems, with lots of rest (between problems, and between sessions). Suggestion would be to focus on limit bouldering two days per week, with the thrid climbing day each week climbing routes or doing volume bouldering (so your endurance doesn't totally die off). 

 No need to introduce the campus board yet, or go to any sort of complicated training scheme. Simply substituting some of your route volume for short, intense bouldering sessions should be enough. Some supplementary weights and hangboarding may be worthwhile.


Pavel Burov · · Russia · Joined May 2013 · Points: 50
Cole Morgan wrote:

Pavel- Thats quite the comprehensive schedule! Do you suggest climbing during the 3-4 month conditioning phase?

Sure. Personally I prefer to climb boulder problems of my onsight/flash limit grade when in conditioning  phase striving to climb with like perfect technique even if it means failure to flash/send.

I also will definitely have to alter/replace a few of those exercises at my current fitness.

Yep. That set of exercises is just an example (my last year's schedule).

Pavel Burov · · Russia · Joined May 2013 · Points: 50
Jon Frisby wrote:

Pavel, the English words are probably hypertrophy (developing) and recruitment (toning)

Thanks!

Pavel Burov · · Russia · Joined May 2013 · Points: 50
aikibujin wrote:

 You probably don't need to hangboard but it won't hurt, especially from a long-term gain / injury prevention perspective.

I would say hangboard is a great rock climbing conditioning injury prevention tool when is used properly.

djh860 · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Dec 2014 · Points: 110

Once you can do ten pull ups, start adding weight around your waist.  Start with 5 lbs., when you get to ten pull ups add 5 more.  This is a marathon don't go crazy and hurt a tendon.  Keep in mind they gain strength slower than muscle and recover from damage much more slowly.  This will work you entire arm the top and rear of your shoulders and your back.

Keep this up for a year.  Slowly work your way up to the point where you can do 10 pull ups with 30 lbs on your waist. If you like do the pull ups from rock rings or a hang board.  The goal is 3-5 sets of ten pull ups.  My last sets tend to be less than 10 because I'm adding more weight than I can handle. If you discover 30lbs is too easy go for more.  I topped out at 80lbs for 1 full pullup.  My back and shoulders became huge.

Do the same thing with dips.  this will work the back of your arm and to a lesser degree your chest and shoulders. As you are adding weight you will find spots where you are stuck, use a chair or a small ladder and assist yourself with a toe to complete the movement.

Make sure your movements are complete all the way up all the way down.  When you are going down do so with control.  This is an essential part of the workout don't waste this part of the movement.

Military press is the next exercise for adding bulk.  I like seated presses because It gives me better control.  if you dont have a weight bar do handstand pushups against the wall.  Your goal is a sets of 10 for military press and sets of 50 for handstand push ups.  This will work the top and front of your shoulder..

Many people have burned out on pull ups don't be one of them.  I know many old climbers that will tell you stories of 100 pull ups a day and pushing through elbow pain.  Don't be that guy.  Two days a week is plenty to start.  No more that 3 days a week once you really get into it.  Keep adding weight.  Keep forcing for ten and working to failure.  Always be sensitive to tendon pain.   Weight gain is a very slow process it takes years to build muscle mass.  This is a marathon.

djh860 · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Dec 2014 · Points: 110
Brian Carver wrote:

This is one exercise I do not understand. Nobody has ever been able to explain to me how the positives of this exercise outweigh the negatives. Yet I see climbers constantly doing them.

The back of your arms and across your back are essential for Climbing power moves

djh860 · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Dec 2014 · Points: 110
Brian Carver wrote:

I have yet for somebody to explain to me what climbing move combines shoulder flexion and elbow extension

You train elbow extension but you equally gain strength in contraction.  Don’t be so obtuse.

Nick Drake · · Newcastle, WA · Joined Jan 2015 · Points: 491
Brian Carver wrote:

That comment doesn't even make sense, elbow extension is a contraction. 

Also, my reasoning is very educated, I am being anything but obtuse. I am simply asking for someone to use science and logic to give a valid reason for someone to use dips in an exercise program. I'm open for somebody to give a valid reason as to why dips are a good idea for anybody for any reason. I have yet to hear one.

Not only are dips not specific to any activity (which by itself is not enough reason NOT to do them), but for the majority (and I'm guessing 99%) of the population deep extension of the shoulder causes anterior translation of the humerous in the gleonohumeral joint therefore putting unnecessary strain on the rotator cuff. 

With the rudimentary state of shoulder replacements paired with the fact that there are bunches of safer exercises that can strengthen the body in a much more meaningful way, why do them? 



It certainly helped me with mantles. What would you recommend that would work similar muscles without the extension of the shoulder involved in a dip? 

tenesmus · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jan 2004 · Points: 2,380

If you really are 6' and 140#'s, you have a Pro Climber Body. This stuff will come easy to you. 

Training finger strength will help but I'm guessing you'll climb 13c within a year if you simply get better technique. I have a friend with similar dimensions I met a year ago who was climbing similar grades. Sure enough, he just started climbing with people who wanted to work harder routes, picked up a ton of technique. He obviously climbed enough to build finger strength but says focusing on technique was just as important. Do the whole Arno Ilger thing.

5.samadhi · · asheville · Joined Jul 2013 · Points: 40

Eat consistently through the ENTIRE day (every 2-3 hours) and really start pounding calories near the end of the day when you no longer have to be active, until you are miserably full at the end of the day before bedtime. Train like a madman. Lift weights and climb overhanging boulder problems. Smoke/eat weed and use psychedelic drugs if you want to but steer clear of other recreational drugs (which drastically effect recovery rate from training). Limit alcohol intake. Drink a gallon of water a day with electrolyte powder. Sleep 7-8 hours a night regularly.  3-5 years of that you will no longer have a strength deficit.

Pavel Burov · · Russia · Joined May 2013 · Points: 50

Just a bit of training wisdom. I have learnt it hard way. Please make everything possible to learn it easy way.

When in training phase make your everyday life as comfortable and safe as possible.

Wear the shoes with the best anti-slipping sole available. Wear mittens when outside (not gloves). Do not fry (I ruined about a months of hard work last winter cooking a dinner, just a splash of heated oil got on my fingers and I'm out for three weeks to heal 'em). Always use potholders when cooking. Be focused on yer kitchen - thinking about this and that while cooking is a sure way to get a stupid injury. Sharpen yer knives. Hide and cover sharp objects (especially chairs - too many people get injured approaching washroom in the middle of the night colliding with forgotten chair midway). Do not climb a chair barefoot (e.g. to change a light bulb). Do not (like never) use yer freaking smartphone on the go (a big no-no). Double check crossing a street. Drive safe. Open doors slowly. Approaching any door be ready it will open all sudden. Be extra cautious with those foam/paper coffee cups. When in cafeteria think about all beautiful people around as they are approaching you to flip theirs trays on your head. Etc, etc, etc.

Any stupid injury will throw you back and ruin several weeks (or even months) of your efforts. Use caution and treat yourself as an extremely vulnerable person.

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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