The Covid-19 crisis has climbers everywhere changing the way they train. If you’re still motivated and training at this point, chances are you’ve had to adapt your training around not having access to all the equipment you’re used to.
I wrote the TrainingBeta At-Home Training Program Ebook with the goal of giving climbers who are dealing with minimal/different equipment options a framework for thinking about their training. Inherent in changing how you train and the implements you’re using, however, is the fact that you’ll be trying out and learning new movements in new exercises. This process can be extremely beneficial for your training, not only during these challenging times, but in the long term.
That said, I’m aware that it can be an overwhelming situation and forces us outside our comfort zones. Some training modalities, like bodyweight training, feel approachable, while others, like weight training, can feel intimidating. What follows are some ideas about the process of learning new movements. I hope they help no matter how you’re currently approaching your training and what training modality you’re starting to explore.
Start Slow, Fundamentals First
Learning new exercises or movements inherently asks us to do something we’ve never done before. This requires stepping outside our comfort zone. It may not feel comfortable, but the important thing is that we give ourselves a chance to learn by starting. Whatever new movements you are currently trying to learn, I suggest you see it as an opportunity to invest in your future self.
Look at it this way, no one was born knowing how to hold a front lever or perform a perfect deadlift. Both exercises are movements that were learned through trial and error. Perfecting them takes time and practice. My suggestion here is to look at your first attempts to do a new movement as a process of trial and error. Chances are you aren’t going to nail it on your first attempt and that’s ok. Learn from it and try again.
Having established that learning any new movement takes practice and a certain amount of trial and error, where should you start?
First, I recommend that you start slow. If you’ve never deadlifted before or done an ab rollout on the TRX, you don’t know how your body is going to respond to it. It’s a new stimulus. Keep the volume low and focus on learning the movement. There will be plenty of time for increasing the volume and intensity later.
Second and most importantly, learn the fundamentals involved in performing the movement well. In other words, how can you expect to perform a pistol squat perfectly if you don’t even know what goes into a good pistol squat?
This second point is a big sticking point for most people. This is where they get worried about form/injuring themselves and never end up starting the process of learning a new movement as a result. Yes, in an ideal world, you would have an expert coach standing by your side teaching you these movements. Let’s be honest with ourselves, though: That’s obviously not possible during our current covid lockdown, but chances are you weren’t going to seek out that kind of one-on-one instruction in normal times either.
So where does that leave us? How should you learn these fundamentals? Should you just enroll in Youtube University and hope for the best? Not exactly. Instead, search out QUALITY advice from EXPERTS in the field. This is far from an exhaustive list but here are some organizations, youtube channels, and Instagram accounts that I believe in:
- Climb Strong
- Strong First
- Natasha Barnes
- Paul Corsaro and Crux Conditioning
- Samsara Mountain Training
- Core Strong
You’ll still be watching and learning from videos, but at least you’ll know the information, cues, and demonstrations you’re receiving are high quality.
One final note on getting started, a lot of people never experiment with learning new movements because they are scared of getting hurt. The fear is that if you don’t do movements with proper form you’ll injure yourself. While there’s no disputing that proper form is important, form is more important when it comes to force production and maximizing the effectiveness of your training than it is for injury prevention. Injuries occur when we increase the volume or intensity of an exercise too quickly. Remember, start slow. Give yourself a chance to learn good form.
Time Spent Learning Is Never a Waste
The goal of learning a new movement is to be able to use it effectively in your climbing training. This means being able to load the lift heavier, hold the position longer, or move onto a more challenging version of the exercise. However, being able to progress a movement and implement it effectively into your climbing training is something that’s earned. It’s earned through practice and this takes time.
Time and time again I see climbers resist training in new ways because they aren’t yet able to use these modalities optimally. My challenge to you here is to shift your thinking and take a longer-term view. Yes, learning how to swing a kettlebell, if you’ve never done so before, is going to require you to start with a lighter bell and spend time learning the mechanics of the lift. Rather than seeing the time you invest in practicing this new movement as a waste, view it as investing in your future training. The practice reps swinging a light kettlebell may not directly improve your climbing, but they are how you learn the movement, and the process of working your way up to a heavier bell will make you stronger and help your climbing.
As we’ve established, this process takes time. We’ve established that this time isn’t a waste but an investment. The next obvious question is how can we be as efficient as possible in this learning process?
I’ve got two suggestions:
First, once you’ve learned the basics of the movement in question, use higher rep counts. Simply put, mastering a movement requires repetition. You’ll have to keep the load/intensity lower initially, but you’ll accumulate a lot more practice if you’re doing sets of twelve rather than sets of three.
Second, make sure you are getting feedback. Practice and accumulated reps are what are going to engrain the proper movement mechanics, but how are you going to know what to focus on improving without feedback. This is again where it would be nice to have a coach standing next to you correcting things in real-time. Even though that’s not a reality right now, you can still get highly effective feedback. Phones these days are incredibly powerful tools. Film yourself. Send it to your coach if you have one. Have a friend with more training experience watch it. Most importantly, watch it yourself, critically compare yourself to the expert videos you’re taking advice from, and try to improve next time. It’s certainly not essential, but tools like The Coach’s Eye App can be really helpful in improving the quality of the feedback you’re getting.
Progressions and Regressions
A big part of what can be intimidating about trying to learn a new movement is how impossible it can seem at first. Take the example of a one-arm-one-leg pushup. If you don’t have a lot of experience with bodyweight training, this movement probably seems completely unachievable and a massive step up from a normal bodyweight pushup. That’s because it is a big step up. The issue here is that you are looking at a really advanced progression of this exercise. What you aren’t seeing are the many steps or regressions that can be used to systematically work your way towards the higher-level expression of strength. Regressions like the one-leg pushup or the one-arm pushup done on an incline can all be used to build the required strength for a one-arm-one-leg pushup.
This same concept of progressions and regressions can be applied to exercises in any training modality. In the At-Home Training Ebook, I included exercises that utilize kettlebells, TRX/suspension trainers, and bodyweight movements. Every one of these exercises can be regressed or progressed to the appropriate intensity for each individual:
- Kettlebells: Progression and regression on the exercise level is determined primarily by the load. In other words, if it’s too hard, use a lighter bell. If it’s too easy, use a heavier one. If you find yourself stuck between sizes, build volume with the lighter bell into your training.
- TRX/Suspension Trainers: The height of the handles/rings and your starting position relative to the anchor point can both be used to control the difficulty of the movement. It differs exercise to exercise, but in general the more horizontal to the ground you get, the more difficult the exercise will be. For more in-depth information about progressing or regressing TRX movements, check out Mark Campbell’s Youtube channel.
- Bodyweight: Progression and regression differ here from movement to movement. This is an oversimplification, but here goes. For stability exercises, removing points of stability makes a movement more difficult while adding them makes it easier. For push/pull/squat/hinge movements, modifying the range of motion and amount of external assistance can be used to fine-tune the intensity of a movement.
So far we’ve covered progressing and regressing an individual exercise. It’s important to note, however, that this same process can also be done on the movement pattern level. For example, the box squat, goblet squat, air squat, and pistol squat are all squat movement pattern exercises. They are listed here in increasing levels of difficulty. If a training program calls for a pistol squat, but even the easiest variation of this movement is too difficult, that’s fine. Simply regress the movement by selecting an easier squat movement pattern exercise that’s at the right intensity for you. This same process can be done for all the major human movement patterns of pull, press, hinge, squat, and trunk stability.
Ultimately, progressions and regressions, whether they are done at the exercise or movement pattern level give you a lot of control over intensity. Leverage them to give yourself more control over your learning process and to fine-tune a training program to your individual needs.
Aim for Mastery, Not Just More Load
Once you’ve learned the basics, invested time in learning the movement, and find an appropriate progression or regression for your current strength level, you’re up and training. These steps took time and that’s ok. Remember, the time you invested wasn’t a waste. Now you’ve got a new tool in your training toolbox and you can implement it into your greater training program. Hopefully, you’re feeling accomplished and proud of what you’ve learned. The most important thing now is that you need to see this as a starting point, not an endpoint. Now you have to go about the business of training, and training well.
It’s pretty well established in the climbing world that we need to achieve progressive overload to keep making progress in our training. This simply means that doing an exercise for the same number of sets/reps and at the same load/intensity is only going to give you the necessary stimulus to improve for so long. You need to keep progressing things to keep improving.
The above is a critical point and it’s the only way you can ensure that you don’t end up just spinning your wheels. That said, when it comes to learning new movements, there’s a pitfall here you need to avoid and that’s constantly chasing heavier weights or more intense versions of your exercise. Yes, you want to get there eventually and going heavy now may make your ego swell, but be patient. Before you rush to add another plate to the barbell, pick up the next heavier kettlebell, or move to a more advanced progression of your bodyweight exercise, make sure you’ve mastered the load or progression you’re at first. Own it. Feel confident that you can do every rep perfectly every time. Really dig into perfecting your movement, your body tension, and whatever else goes into performing this particular movement well. I use the saying “quality not quantity” over and over again in my coaching. This is what “quality” looks like.
Please don’t take this as a caution to never go heavier or advance a movement in your training. You should be doing that. It’s ok to try for a heavier lift and fail to complete the prescribed reps. Save those efforts, however, for the movements you’ve already mastered or are at least more comfortable with. Remember, we’re still talking about an exercise that’s relatively new to you. Even though you may have learned the basics, mastery takes time. Focus on it. Give yourself time to really learn. There’ll be a time for pushing the intensity. If you’ve really mastered the movement, you’ll be ready to do it well and you won’t just be moving a heavy weight around poorly.
About The Author, Matt Pincus
Matt is a boulderer and a sport climber based out of Jackson, Wyoming. He splits his time between training at home in Jackson and traveling to pursue his climbing goals around the world. Matt is also TrainingBeta’s head trainer. He’s a seasoned climber and coach who can provide you with a climbing training program from anywhere in the world based on your goals, your abilities, the equipment you have, and any limitations you have with time or injuries.
Train With Matt
Matt will create a custom training program designed to help you target any weaknesses so you can reach your individual goals. Whether you need a 4-week program to get you in shape for an upcoming trip or a 6-month program to make gradual strength gains, he’ll create a weekly schedule of climbing drills, strength exercises, finger strength workouts, and injury prevention exercises tailored to your situation.
Matt is still currently taking clients during the covid pandemic and is seeing great results with his athletes. If you’re motivated to train, Matt is here to help no matter how little equipment you currently have available.