Date: August 9th, 2018
About Steve Bechtel
Steve Bechtel is a well-known climbing trainer, and I’ve had him on the podcast 3 other times now (here, here, and here). He’s a regular on the show because we all love listening to his common sense advice, his illustrative metaphors, and his wry humor so much.
Steve runs ClimbStrong.com, a website where he writes articles and training programs for climbers. He also runs a gym in Lander, WY called Elemental Performance and Fitness, where he works with climbers and athletes of all kinds. He also founded the Performance Climbing Coach Seminars, which are live events that educate climbers and trainers about the fundamentals of climbing training. I teach nutrition at these events, and our next one is in Minneapolis on October 10-12th, 2018. Go to the Performanceclimbingcoach.com site to learn more and use code “Neely50” for $50 off your registration fee.
Steve is also a prolific writer. It seems like every year he puts out another book about training. We have a couple of his ebooks available on TrainingBeta, including his Strength fundamentals book and his Logical Progression book, which is all about how to create a sustainable training program to fit your needs and your schedule.
This episode is all about training endurance in climbing. It’s a big and confusing topic, so we decided it needed its own episode. I hope this clears things up for you!
Steve Bechtel Interview Details
- What we can draw from other sports about training endurance
- Different kinds of endurance explained
- Why we’re confused about training endurance
- Why linear periodization works for some sports but not ours
- Different drills to increase endurance and power endurance
- Training above and below the anaerobic system for best results
- Low end training and high end training drills
- When to put each into your training program
- When to increase intensity of endurance training
Steve Bechtel Links
- Blog post about upcoming seminar in Minneapolis
- Steve’s eBook, Logical Progression
- Steve’s ebook on Strength
- Do a training seminar with Steve
- Instagram: @climb.strong
- Facebook: www.facebook.com/climbstrong
- Lots of Videos on his YouTube channel
- Elemental Performance and Fitness gym
Learn more about our upcoming Performance Climbing Coach seminar in Minneapolis on Oct 10-12th, 2018. Steve wrote a blog post about what the event is all about, who it’s for (every climber), why he created them, and what you can expect to learn at the 2-day live event from him and all the other instructors, including me.
Training Programs for You
Do you want a well-laid-out, easy-to-follow training program that will get you stronger quickly? Here’s what we have to offer on TrainingBeta. Something for everyone…
- Personal Training Online: www.trainingbeta.com/mercedes
- For Boulderers: Bouldering Training Program for boulderers of all abilities
- For Route Climbers: Route Climbing Training Program for route climbers of all abilities
- Finger Strength : www.trainingbeta.com/fingers
- All of our training programs: Training Programs Page
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Neely Quinn: Welcome to the TrainingBeta podcast where I talk with climbers and trainers about how we can get a little better at our favorite sport. I’m your host, Neely Quinn, and I don’t really have too much going on.
I will say that in a couple weeks I’ll be in Ten Sleep, Wyoming, climbing. I’ve just been climbing a lot outside around here trying to prepare for that and training in the gym and I’ve been having a really good time doing that. Hopefully my trip will go well and then I have another trip planned to go to the Red for a few weeks in October and November.
It’s been really cool actually being able to train now that my shoulders are doing better and actually use the stuff that I talk to all these people about on the podcast because for the past four years I really haven’t been able to train at all. I’ve just been talking about it and now I can do it so that’s pretty exciting.
One of the things I’ve been working on is actually endurance, so power endurance and regular old endurance. It’s a little bit confusing for me. I’m still not sure how to train it. Steve Bechtel and I were chatting recently and we decided we wanted to do another podcast episode. He said that he’s been doing a lot of research and studying about endurance training for rock climbers. I was really excited about that.
We decided to make this episode be all about that topic because we talk about ARCing – I mean, Steve and I don’t but people on the show and I have talked about ARCing – and 4×4’s and circuit training and all these different things and it’s just really hard to figure out what to do and when to put it in your training schedule, how often, and all those things. We’re going to spend the next hour talking about endurance.
Here’s Steve Bechtel. I’ll let him do the explaining. I’ll talk to you on the other side.
Neely Quinn: Alright, welcome back to the show, Steve. Thanks for talking with me today again.
Steve Bechtel: Yeah, thanks for having me on. I always have such a good time when we’re talking and hopefully we can cover some things that we haven’t talked about before.
Neely Quinn: Yeah, and I actually asked you to pare it down to one topic today and I’m kind of excited about that today because it’s a big topic.
Before we go there, how have you been?
Steve Bechtel: I’ve been good. We got to sneak off to Ceuse for a month this summer and that was really great. I had a good trip with Ellen and the kids and then we just had to come back to the states and try to get fit again because it seems like every time I go traveling I get weaker.
Neely Quinn: Weaker and fatter?
Steve Bechtel: I know. It’s so crazy. I thought you were supposed to drink wine.
Neely Quinn: I know. It’s the French paradox. Drink wine and eat bread and cheese and be thin.
Steve Bechtel: No, I was more like the Hemingway French person. I was drunk and angry. I need to limit my trips there to a couple of weeks.
Neely Quinn: Nice. But you’ve been doing some educational stuff for yourself recently.
Steve Bechtel: Right, and it’s interesting because when you get to a certain point in your career you think that you know everything. I remember when I came out of college in the mid-90s I was like, ‘Woah. I know everything there is to know about exercise science.’ I had spent four or five years getting a degree and I felt like I really had this stuff dialed.
Then, you get to this – my friend, Matt Jones, just sent me this great graphic that actually shows this – there’s this place in the middle where you think you know everything and then you get to this point further along your career and you start realizing you know nothing.
One of the things that we try to do with our coaches here at the gym is to continue to educate internally. We have coach meetings, we have discussions on books and things like that, but we also try to get out and get educated. Everybody tries to go at least once a year, more if they can, and go to seminars. Also, really trying to pay attention to interviews and books because there’s always a better way to teach this stuff. There’s not a whole lot of brand new, ‘Oh my gosh this is incredible,’ but it’s always a better way of learning to teach principles. That’s what I’ve been focusing on, really learning more about energy system development or endurance training.
Neely Quinn: Right. On that same vein I think you carry that through into your own clinics, right? Teaching things in a really useful way that people can understand and delving into important topics.
Do you want to talk about the upcoming clinic that we have going on?
Steve Bechtel: Oh yeah. It’s funny to talk about these because I know people will listen to this after that time, but in October of 2018 – it’s 10/10-12 – we’ve got a performance climbing coach seminar going on at the Minneapolis Bouldering Project. It’s a stacked crew of presenters. It’s Neely, me, Kris Hampton, Charlie Manganiello, Kevin Perrone, Tyler Nelson, and so we’ve got a whole good crew there.
We’ve added another half day of material and we’ve got a pre-registration before August 22. It saves you $200 so that’s a really good deal. Because I really like the TrainingBeta podcast we’re going to do a special coupon code for people that register before the 22nd and use the code ‘NEELY50’ to get an extra $50 off.
Neely Quinn: [laughs] I was like, ‘Why 50?’ That makes sense.
Steve Bechtel: No, Neely40 would be if we were going to do the age, wouldn’t it?
Neely Quinn: Come on! So $50 off the $200 they would already be saving? How much would it be total?
Steve Bechtel: Fifty additional bucks. Don’t make me do the math on that. The pre-registration discount is $695 so you’d save an additional $50 on that. Pretty good deal.
Like I said it’s a big event. Lots of coaches there, networking opportunities, plus you get to go to a super cool new gym so I’m really looking forward to it. I think it’ll be our biggest event ever.
Neely Quinn: Well, yeah. What is big? How many people do you think will be there?
Steve Bechtel: I don’t know. They have got the capability of having 40-50 coaches. They’ve got a big enough room for it so we’re just going to keep it open until we can fill that slot. That’ll be really great.
Neely Quinn: You don’t have to be a coach or a trainer or anything to go to these events.
Steve Bechtel: No, definitely not. We learned that the last couple. At first it was like, ‘Yes, we’re going to teach this to coaches,’ and that’s who it’s aimed at but really, probably half or even more of the people that were at the last event in Maryland were just psyched climbers that were interested in learning about training.
We do cover things like program design, athlete management, habit change, and so it still is aimed at being better coaches but it could also be being better at being a self-coached person.
Neely Quinn: Would you say that, in the feedback that you’ve gotten from people, do people feel more equipped from trying to create their own programs or creating programs for other people after they do the seminar?
Steve Bechtel: Yeah. The main feedback that we’ve gotten is that questions get answered. People go in with a general idea. They may have their own training program, they might have a training program that they use in their gym with their youth athletes, and then they get there and whether it’s in the presentations or in the big periods of just open discussion that we have, they’re able to answer those questions. They’ll say, “Oh, okay. Here’s how this super successful team does things.”
At the last event we were really fortunate to have Brad Hilbert there from the Triangle Rock Club. He’s got a really successful program there and he was able to share that with the other participants.
I think that even though we’ve got these presenters that are standing up front, there’s a ton of value that comes from the other people that are sitting in the audience and we do have a lot of time built in for networking there.
Neely Quinn: Yeah. I love these events. I can’t wait.
Steve Bechtel: Yeah.
Neely Quinn: Okay, that’s good information for people. If you want to go to this event or check it out more, what is the website that they go to?
Steve Bechtel: It’s www.performanceclimbingcoach.com and there’s a whole bunch of information there. If the information you need isn’t there there’s a contact thing and you can ask a question and that helps us improve the website, so it’d be great if people went and checked it out.
Neely Quinn: Alright. Thank you for putting those together. I’m sure it will go well.
Steve Bechtel: Yeah, you should really thank Amanda. I don’t really do that much anymore. Amanda Simpard [sp?] is sort of the director of those things and she does a much better job of organizing things than I ever would.
Neely Quinn: Yeah, she’s pretty good.
Today we’re going to be talking about endurance, like we said. How do you want to begin this?
Steve Bechtel: Well, the thing with endurance is that we’re very confused on how it can be improved but most rock climbers are very familiar with when it runs out. There’s a really interesting combination of things that happen when you get pumped on a route. You get to the top of this climb so you’re fairly high off the ground. You’re starting to feel a lot of fatigue which causes an increase in panic. Even a cyclist or a runner will show that these athletes are starting to panic more so if you’re way off the ground and you’re looking at taking this big whip, you can imagine this increased level of panic. Panic causes increased respiration and increased heart rate so you get this sort of terrible positive feedback loop of, ‘Oh my gosh. Things are going to go south in a big hurry.’ You can see where people just sort of come apart and then take the huge ride.
We react to that and we’re like, ‘You know what? I know how to train.’ We have an inherent ability or thought that we know about training, which is to subject ourselves to the same type of situation. You go: ‘If I’m going to do something that makes me breathe hard, get pumped forearms, and be in this highly elevated state like going to a climbing gym and doing laps on the auto belay, then I’m training my endurance well.’
That’s the thing. If you’re too weak to hold onto holds, you hold onto those same little holds lots and lots and lots of times on the hangboard and you get stronger. But I think there’s a little bit of a disconnect about the best way to handle endurance versus the way that we actually do it in climbing. We all know about training power endurance and doing 4×4’s and all that sort of stuff. I think that that’s somewhat of a misdirected way of training.
Neely Quinn: Okay, let’s back up. When you say “endurance” I’m still confused about this. I’m still confused about what is endurance and what is power endurance, and then I’m looking at this article that you wrote on Climb Strong and it’s called ‘Endurance 3.0.’
Steve Bechtel: 3? That’s about five versions ago of my thought processes.
One of the things that’s interesting is I get a lot of shit about, ‘Why did you change your mind on this? Why did you change your mind here?’ It’s important to understand that changing your mind is what we do when we learn. As little kids we change our mind about how math is done and then we learn how to do it correctly.
When we look into these different versions of endurance – let’s look back historically on how we’ve thought of endurance in climbing. First off, we’ve kind of divided it up into endurance and even stamina. Being able to climb El Cap in a day or in one push would be what I would call stamina or long endurance. Something where you’re climbing at a relatively low intensity for a very, very long time. Climbing the Cassin Ridge on Denali. Those are big power outputs but those would be considered low intensity aerobic activities.
Then we get into rock climbing, where we get into single pitch endurance. Our endurance is limited by the height of the cliff or the length of our rope. If it’s pretty much sustained without any super hard moves, we would mostly refer to that just as an endurance route. I’m just going to have to be able to hang on and fight the pump, you know? Red River Gorge style. Then, we get into what climbers would call ‘power endurance’ and power endurance and strength endurance are simply the ability to display strength or power over a prolonged period of time.
What that means is you’ve actually got to do these high intensity contractions like bouldering-style moves but without recovery in between. That’s where we get into power endurance. Usually that would be things that are 45-90 seconds of continuous or difficult movement. That’s where we’re doing 4×4’s or we’re chasing that super high intensity pump. Hard labored breathing, all that kind of stuff.
Then at the very, very high end of performance we’ve got strength and power, which are things that are displayed like the smallest hold that you can hold onto for five seconds or the furthest you can dyno. Big explosive movements. We usually think of bouldering or hangboarding as the strength and power exercises.
That would be our original continuum or way of looking at things.
Neely Quinn: Okay wait. Hold on. I just want to recap. We have long endurance, which is stamina, like all day events that are not super high intensity.
We have single pitch endurance, which is like an endurance route. A long route that is below your level of strength but you’ve just got to hang on for a long time.
And then power endurance or strength endurance, which you’re saying those are the exact same thing, correct?
Steve Bechtel: Well, they’re similar. We know strength and power are different because strength is the ability to generate force and power is force with a speed component, but yes, they’re in the same energy system and they’re trained a similar way.
Neely Quinn: I think we need a different name for these things because we always group power endurance and strength endurance together it seems like.
Steve Bechtel: Well, here’s the really crazy thing, Neely. We will use both of those things at the same time. This gets into the weeds a little bit but when I’m holding onto a little tiny edge and then I do an explosive movement off of that edge to another edge, my fingers are displaying strength but my upper back and hips and everything are displaying power. They’re exploding, even though my fingers are just kind of holding the same position. Then, if I do that for 12 moves in a row, my fingers are displaying strength endurance and my body is displaying power endurance. It’s kind of hard to differentiate them.
Neely Quinn: In climbing, yeah, that makes sense.
Steve Bechtel: It’s funny. You’ll go to some of these textbook – I get these emails or links to training discussion forums on Mountain Project and there will be some textbook-trained physiologist saying, “There’s no such thing as power endurance,” and they’ll give some reason for it based on which textbooks they’ve read. We know those things are displayed and we can call it anaerobic endurance. We can call it glycolytic endurance and refer more to the energy systems, but climbers understand these terms and they can see what you mean when you’re saying them, so I think it’s okay to continue to use those terms, even though it does get kind of challenging.
I have a way, and we’re going to talk about it in today’s interview, that’s going to make it a little bit more simple to understand.
Neely Quinn: Okay, well you actually just explained it better than anybody has ever explained it to me and now I understand, so thank you. [laughs]
Moving on. So, power endurance/strength endurance, those are hard moves without rest and you can do it on boulders or on routes, right? That can be displayed on either. Then there’s strength and power, which are the smallest hold you can hang onto, the biggest dyno, the hardest move.
Steve Bechtel: Right. So then a bouldering move, again, will display both strength and power, right? What’s really interesting is campus boarding we think of as powerful but it’s strangely not that fast a movement. The unloaded movement of the hand is somewhat fast but then when you catch the hold, we’ll use the term ‘contact strength’ but I really like what Will Anglin refers to as ‘finger power.’ That’s that reactive ability of the fingers to catch in a really fast movement. It gets really crazy and that’s not important.
What we have to remember is strength and power can be trained concurrently and they both display the same energy system so it doesn’t matter if we differentiate between the two.
Neely Quinn: Okay. Do you want to talk about long endurance? Do you want to talk about single pitch? What do you want to talk about?
Steve Bechtel: Let’s talk just a little bit about how we’ve tried to train endurance. One of the things that’s stuck out to me is years ago I read – there’s a classic book called The Science and Practice of Strength Training. With The Science and Practice of Strength Training, one of the things that was put forth is that there are two ways to train for endurance. One of the ways to train for endurance is to get better at handling highly acidic loads. A tolerance to what’s called ‘an unfavorable internal environment and to high nervous stimulation.’ That’s the way Zatsiorsky put it.
Basically, we’re pushing your physiological tolerance limits – blood buffering, tissue adaptation, hypoxia – all these things that we feel as we’re getting pumped, and then your psychological tolerance like how well can you handle that state of fatigue? I think that both of those things are things that climbers have gotten really good at handling and so we go, ‘Oh, I just need to get pumped more often so that I can get super duper good at endurance.’
But there’s another category that determines your endurance and it’s the functional capacity of your systems. Really, the question that came up that they put forth was: what if we trained so that we never got into that unfavorable environment? What if we made our systems so good that we didn’t ever have to worry about getting pumped? That’s where the emphasis of my interest in training endurance has come.
To step back a little bit, and we’ll start by using a little bit of science but I’m going to take these terms down a little bit, we have three energy systems. The three energy systems would be what’s called the anaerobic alactic system, and that is high intensity activities that last up to somewhere around 10 seconds. That’s the first energy system we use and we would call that first gear in a car. It’s high power, you’re leaving the stop light, and that’s what you’re using when you’re pulling the tractor. You’re using a whole lot of power but it doesn’t have a whole lot of stamina.
After about 10 seconds we’re still anaerobic but we switch to the lactic anaerobic energy system. That’s the second energy system and that’s the one where we’re working with the pump. It’s things that last about 10 seconds to around 100-120 seconds so let’s say two minutes. You can imagine that. That’s in 4×4’s, that’s in climbing out the steep 45° wall.
Then, beyond about two minutes the primary energy system becomes the aerobic, or oxygenated, energy system which uses fat. It uses oxygen as a primary substrate and we can then hang out in that system almost indefinitely. That’s where most long pitches of climbing, we end up somewhat aerobic in there.
It’s alactic, lactic, and aerobic, right? Those are the three main energy systems but let’s just look at them as first, second, and third gear.
Neely Quinn: Ooh, I had it as first, second, and fifth gear.
Steve Bechtel: Yes, that’s fine, too. It really is, or maybe we can call it first, third, and fifth gear? Aerobic is the same thing as fifth gear in your car. If you just try to go aerobic on a boulder problem it’s like trying to start your car at that stoplight in fifth gear. Boom – nothing happens, right? You just don’t have the power. It’s a low power, high endurance energy system.
So all of these energy systems are important. All of them take part in performance climbing so this is a really important thing when it comes to program design because when we look at traditional programming, like if we’re copying our programming from other sports, and we say, “Oh, I’m going to use a straight periodization program,” that sport is almost invariably a sport that used only one energy system in its performance, like Olympic lifting. If I use a traditional training cycle trying to peak for absolute power, one time a year, that’s really fine but when you get into climbing you have to display all three of these energy systems. We can’t just partition them and train them for four months at a time and just hope that they’re going to work.
When we look at these first, second, and fifth gears, we need to be training them or maintaining them year round, okay? That’s the first important thing to understand, is that we have these three energy systems and all of them are used on almost every climb. If we think about bouldering as just being strength and power, well most boulder problems take longer than 10 seconds, right? You start to bleed into that next energy system. Maybe a power endurance route has a headwall on it so you climb two minutes of power endurance but then you get a shakeout and you go up the headwall so we’re really in that aerobic endurance thing.
We start to mesh all these energy systems together and it gets really, really ugly from a coaching and programming point of view.
Neely Quinn: Yeah, and just to stop you for one second, you mentioned power lifting as this very one-dimensional sport. I think this is why it’s so hard to glean information from other sports but when you’re looking at it, what other sports are you actually taking good information from for climbing?
Steve Bechtel: Right, and that’s a really important thing. When we look at our – we’ll go back and review really quickly specificity. When we look at specificity there are two facets. There’s motor specificity, things that are similar in movement, and then there’s metabolic specificity which are similar in duration and intensity.
If you’re like, ‘Oh, I’m going to read this book about long distance running and apply it to climbing,’ long distance running usually takes place over a longer period of time than a single pitch of climbing. It also uses a single muscle group and usually it’s almost purely aerobic. You will use anaerobic during the kick at the end, during the start, running up little sections of hill, but it’s not nearly as erratic as climbing is.
That’s a really important thing. When we look at other sports we look at things that last for under 10 minutes, use lots of different movements and lots of different muscle groups, and we look for things that are acyclic. When I say “acyclic,” acyclic activities are ones that you don’t do the exact same thing over and over like rowing. Crew is very, very cyclic. It’s the exact same thing over and over. Road cycling or bicycling are very, very cyclic. I’m moving my legs at the same cadence in the same movement.
Things like wrestling, mixed martial arts, Ninja Warrior stuff, you can see these guys are doing different things with soft skills rather than hard skills and they’ve got to have a whole broad breadth of abilities there. That’s a really important place to look. Where the money is is in fighting. You can get a lot of information from boxing, from martial arts, and mixed martial arts training because there’s some amount of science that’s going into that.
Neely Quinn: And those are the main ones that you would look at? Obviously, there’s no research being done on American Ninja Warrior yet, or maybe there is, but…
Steve Bechtel: Well, actually there is some stuff I’ve seen. I haven’t really read much on it but it is the same thing if you think about it. The duration of the runs through those things, the fact that climbers just kick the crap out of that is real interesting. I’d say half of the qualifiers are people that have quite a bit of experience with climbing because it’s similar, not only like grip strength and things like that but in energy systems. Being able to run up and down between endurance, get recovered really quick, and all that kind of stuff.
Neely Quinn: Okay.
Steve Bechtel: Okay, so we’ve got that metabolic specificity. When we train strength and power, there’s a huge central nervous system fatigue afterwards. You’re kind of wiped out from a hard bouldering day or hard weight lifting. Then, when you train endurance, if we just go in and do a bunch of easy pitches, like you and I go into the climbing gym and you do two laps, I do two laps, and we’ll each do six rounds of that for a total of 12 pitches, we could probably do that day after day after day.
Aerobic activity is really easy to recover from but in between, when we get into the second gear, into that lactic or glycolic zone, the middle zone, that zone is really challenging. It’s a little bit too difficult to recover from quickly but it’s not intense enough to make us stronger or more powerful. When I go in and I do a hard set of 4×4’s, I might need two or three days to fully recover from that. While I’m doing that my strength and power start to decrease and my endurance doesn’t improve quite as much as I would like it to.
When we look at training endurance we want to be training really for route climbing. I want to make sure that I highlight that this is for route climbing primarily because for bouldering we really can just stay in that really high intensity zone. There’s not a super solid reason to do a bunch of volume for bouldering. Then also for mountaineering or big wall in-a-push things, we don’t need as much pure power. We need more of this total work capacity. Those things kind of fall to the outside so when we talk about high/low training, training in both the high intensity zone and the low intensity zone and avoiding that middle zone, I would say it applies primarily to single pitch rock climbers. Then we want to spend as much time training on both ends of that zone as possible.
When I started learning about endurance and trying to get better at it, this Zatsiorsky stuff kept coming up. Why not get better at not ever getting anaerobic? Why not improve our ability to deliver fuel with oxygen? And why not have a level of strength at such a place that we don’t get into that difficult zone?
I started studying that and I studied a couple things. There was a great Canadian track coach named Charlie Francis and he wrote quite a bit about this with his sprinters. What he found with his 100-meter sprinters is that after about 60 meters they started slowing down. What was really interesting with that is that at about 60 meters, many of them were around 8 seconds and that’s where they started transitioning out of first gear and into second gear. He thought: well wait a second, if I can just keep them in first gear they won’t go into second gear where they are getting this highly anaerobic or lactic effect, which is damaging to the mitochondria, damaging to the muscles, hard to recover from.
He just started training his 100-meter sprinters with 60-meter sprints so they would just be doing this high, high power stuff. Then, when it came time to perform over 100 meters, he would take a couple of weeks, ramp them up to the distance, and then his guys would go out and win all these races.
Neely Quinn: Really?
Steve Bechtel: Yeah. He’s just absolutely legend in the track and field circles. What’s interesting is the backstory or the side note of that whole thing is that he was Ben Johnson’s coach. Ben Johnson was famously caught for doping during the Olympics and stripped of his gold medal when he set the 100-meter world record but it’s important to understand that all of the athletes that were in that race were also doping. Now when we look back historically, they gave Carl Lewis the gold and he had had doping suspensions. Everybody that was in that race, it’s interesting, they’ve gone back and looked at it and said, “Okay, maybe Ben Johnson really was the fastest guy in the world, even though he, too, was doping.”
Neely Quinn: It’s like Lance Armstrong.
Steve Bechtel: Sure, yeah, exactly. The sports stay dirty even though we pretend that they’re clean. Cross country skiing, cycling, but anyway, going back to Francis, he was just a fascinating and really, really good coach. He did a lot for sprint training and many, many of his principles are still used today, 30-40 years later.
I got real interested in that and I learned a lot from an MMA coach named Joel Jameson. Same kind of thing. He just found that gassing his athletes was not helping them. They were not getting better fast enough. We’ve learned that in climbing, too. Just burning people out on getting crazily pumped didn’t really make them better.
Most recently I’ve been studying Pavel Tsatsouline’s work and I went to a conference that he gave this spring called ‘Strong Endurance.’ It’s the same idea. Let’s train above and below this anaerobic lactic energy system to improve the endurance. Basically, you’re really narrowing down the zone that you spend in that damaging energy system. We’re improving our strength and power on the top end and we’re improving our low endurance on the bottom end. The need to get super duper pumped in training, I believe, is really not as paramount as it used to be.
Neely Quinn: Yeah, it’s so 2017.
Steve Bechtel: It totally is. It’s like back when 15c was hard.
Neely Quinn: [laughs] Right. Can you tell me more about Pavel Tsatsouline? I think that’s what you said his name was.
Steve Bechtel: Yeah, so Pavel Tsatsouline is Russian and he is largely credited with popularizing kettlebell training in the United States. He’s really good at taking complex subjects and building programs that people can utilize these subjects in or understand those subjects. He’s done a lot of work on figuring out how to develop maximum body weight strength, how to incorporate body tension in increased strength without having to add muscle mass.
Neely Quinn: What athletes does he work with?
Steve Bechtel: He works a lot with military, a lot with martial arts, but he’s the chairman of Strong First and they do a lot of kettlebell, barbell, and bodyweight training. He’s written, oh, I don’t even know, a dozen or so books on strength training. It’s really fascinating to learn from him because between him and another guy named Craig Marker, they have really dialed this stuff in. What they need is to have these athletes that can fight day after day after day.
As rock climbers we are such little prima donnas but he’s dealing with these operators that may have to go into combat 20 days in a row or they might have 20 days where they don’t see any combat, but they have to be ready every single time so there’s a lot of: how do we train these athletes to a high level without having them tapped out? They can’t just be like, ‘Oh yeah, I can’t go on this mission. I need a rest day.’
Neely Quinn: [laughs] Yeah.
Steve Bechtel: Right? It’s very much like big wall climbers. Big wall free climbers are super tough and they’ve got to be up there and be ready to climb at a hard level day after day after day, no warm-up, their shoes don’t fit, they don’t have their protein drink or whatever, they still have to do it. There’s a whole bunch to preparation on the ability to perform outside your comfort zone and that’s where we talked about the idea of fragility in athletics. We can talk about that some other time.
Neely Quinn: Okay.
Steve Bechtel: So yeah, let’s go back to these energy system things. If you’re going to train above and below the lactic energy system, how do we do that? That’s the thing. We can talk in these science terms and talk about these general principles but what people generally want is: give me the workout. How do I make this work?
When we look at endurance, we have to remember that long, slow, plodding along endurance is really about oxygen delivery. If I go for a run or a ski or a bike ride, just because I’m breathing hard during it and I also breathe hard during climbing doesn’t make that appropriate. We really want our endurance training to be specific.
When you start to train this longer, slower endurance, it does need to be total body stuff. You can use a skier or a rowing machine or an Air bike, but the more like real climbing it is the better. Ultimately, we would be at the crag tied into a rope because we don’t really care too much about delivery of oxygen. That’s never the limit. The limit is the oxidizing ability of the muscles, the mitochondrial density in the muscles, and the health of those muscles. We need to train specifically in those terms.
When we’re training on the low end, you can train easy endurance even up to six days a week. What I really like to do is keep it simple and keep it short. What I mean by that is we don’t need to think about doing a mega session and we don’t need to mimic pro jock. I’ve looked at some of these guys training programs and detailed training programs from pro climbers and if I tried to do that stuff I would be injured like day one. I need to look where I am and then I need to add on from where I am as a climber.
We would start with taking your normal climbing day. You’re a gym climber and you’re going to go in and you’re going to go try to do two warm-ups, redpoint your 5.12 project three or four times, and then most people cash in and hit the showers. What we’re going to do at the end of that day, at the end of every single climbing day, is to add in about 20-30 minutes of medium to low intensity climbing. When we talk about medium to low intensity climbing we want to not get into a state of labored breathing, we don’t get into an inability to talk, and we don’t get into a state of being pumped.
Now, I’m a huge advocate of keeping it high-skill climbing. ARCing, aerobic restoration capillary training, some people will just traverse along or climb open feet on the treadwall and we dumb down our skills there. If you’re going to do this kind of training you can do it really easily. At the end of a climbing day, back off about eight letter grades or eight European grades from your current redpoint limit. For you, you’re a mid-5.13 climber. You’re trying to do a 13b project. We’re going to take you back to 11b at the end of that day and you’re going to do two or three laps on something aiming at keeping a really good pace going, breathing well, keeping your high-skill movement. You don’t want to get where you’re getting stupid and flailing.
You can also do this training on its own but with the same rules. It needs to be something that you don’t have to take rests on, you’re not breathing hard, you can speak the entire time, and it lasts about 20-30 minutes. That’s going to be your low end training. We can keep goosing that up and we can keep pushing that forward. As you’re able to tolerate it we can do more and more of it. That is something that we can just add onto any normal climbing day, okay? The athletes can do that up to six days a week.
Neely Quinn: Six days a week? Nobody is climbing six days a week that you’re training, are they?
Steve Bechtel: Up to, right? If they want to do it they can do it and there’s not a real limit to it because it’s low enough intensity, right? I don’t recommend it. I’d say three days a week is plenty but I want to contrast that six days a week with strength and power, which we have to limit to 2-3 days a week.
Neely Quinn: So you could do this after a strength session, after a power session, after any session?
Steve Bechtel: You could, yeah. The main thing is you’ve got to be warmed-up for it so it needs to be at the end of a session or after a big long warm-up. We want the blood vessels fully dilated and we want these people to be able to keep moving at this really steady rate.
Neely Quinn: You were saying I would do three laps on a 5.11a with as perfect form as possible. How many times would I do that?
Steve Bechtel: Just three at the end of the day.
Neely Quinn: Oh, that’s it.
Steve Bechtel: You’re climbing at, say, shit I don’t know, something at the VRG and then you walk back over to your warm-ups and you do your warm-up 11a three times. That’s the discipline part. Everybody thinks that they’re too good for it or too cool for it and that’s where we really run into problems with this. Consistency is the thing. One of the really important factors in any training is being consistent with doing the training over the long period.
I’m going to quickly delve into a little bit of research which is really interesting and this is a strength training study but it applies to endurance. They had a group of athletes doing 20 sessions of training and then they stopped training. It was about three days a week so this was maybe six weeks of training. They stopped training and after six months they were back to a total loss of strength. They went back to their baseline values. Makes sense. We train hard for six days a week then we stop training completely and have a total loss of strength.
But they had another group that did 40 sessions so we can assume that’s about 12 or 13 weeks. The total loss of strength didn’t occur for those people even after a year.
Neely Quinn: Woah.
Steve Bechtel: The consistency of training – it wasn’t harder training or anything else, they were just consistent for longer. The consistency really mattered. What’s really interesting about this is someone will try a session and be like, ‘Oh yeah man, I was sore after that. It was a good workout,’ and then they move on to just doing their normal shit again.
One of the workouts that we’ll program in the same zone for aerobic capacity would be route 4×4’s. This is something I talked to Alex Barrows about. You’ve had an interview with him. You go in and, again, you do a route that’s about eight grades below your level and do it four laps. If you’re in the climbing gym, lead it and just top rope it the next three times. You do it four times, switch out and let your friend do the same thing, then you do that four sets. You get a total of 16 pitches that climbing day with big rests in between and the we can slowly push that forward.
What these idiots will do is they’ll hear about these workouts and they’ll go in and try to do something super hard where they’re just pumped out of their minds. Guys that climb 13a have a really hard time climbing a 5.11. There’s a big ego thing there and especially to just be lapping an 11a doesn’t make you look cool.
I think it’s really important to understand that the consistency over time, over many, many, many sessions of this is how you’re going to build up endurance. It’s not something that happens really quickly.
Neely Quinn: Okay.
Steve Bechtel: Especially with keeping endurance. When we look at capacity it’s really a chronic long-term adaptation where you can ramp up your power endurance real quick. In 2-3 weeks you can be within 90% of your absolute max and you can hold that for just a little while but guys that can do this kind of capacity, they’re going to be able to climb at that high, high level for a very long time and they’re going to be stronger off the couch.
Now, the flip side or the second part of this is training above that intensity. We do need to strength train. We want to do hangboard stuff, we want to do high intensity power like limit bouldering, campusing, and so all of that stuff is on the top end of it. We can also do a few different things that would be things like intervals of hard bouldering or on the campus board.
What that might look like would be if you – let me see. Let’s say you went in and you went into the bouldering wall and we’re going to do boulder problems on the minute. What I would do is have you start something that’s about your onsight level. Say you boulder V8 or something. Maybe this is around V4 or V5. You would do a boulder problem and then rest the remainder of the minute and then you would do another boulder problem and rest the remainder of that minute. You’d do that for 10 or 15 minutes. Then you could take a big break, probably about the same time, 10-15 minutes, and then you would repeat it again.
We’re doing this somewhat high intensity work with pretty good rest periods and then we can continue to increase the total number of repetitions of that. You can add more sets of it so you’re getting more and more and more but we don’t want to be decreasing the rest. The easy way to make yourself feel tired would be to decrease your resting period but with this one we just want to keep increasing the total amount of work that gets done so your sessions get slightly longer.
Neely Quinn: So you wouldn’t want to increase the difficulty?
Steve Bechtel: You could increase the difficulty. You can increase the duration of the problems eventually but you don’t ever want to decrease rest. Decreasing rest is a classic way in high intensity interval training to tire out your athletes. You’ve heard of tabata intervals?
Neely Quinn: Yeah.
Steve Bechtel: The tabatas are negative rest ratios. It’s 20 seconds of work to 10 seconds of rest or a 2:1 work-to-rest ratio, but the whole idea of interval training is to reduce the fatigue associated with high intensity training. The tabata protocol, although it’s a really genius thing and we’ve learned a lot from it, is a terrible way to try to train for long term endurance.
Neely Quinn: This is so confusing, Steve. Before we just started talking I was reading everybody’s articles on this. I was listening to all their videos and the Anderson brothers would decrease their rest time in order to increase their endurance. Why would they do that?
Steve Bechtel: Well, that’s the thing. We do that but we only do that when we’re trying to come to a glycolytic peak. If I train like that or I try to train like that chronically, it’s too fatiguing to recover from. If I was looking at my year, I’m going to spend probably two months trying to develop strength and power. I’m going to be working primarily on bouldering, on explosiveness, on the hangboard, all those sorts of things. We need to always be developing strength and power because there’s really good correlations between someone being stronger and their ability to endure submaximal loads. I can spend a lot of time working strength and power.
Then I’m going to take about a month after that. I’ve spent about eight weeks working strength and power and I’m going to take about four weeks and I can combine in some of this low intensity interval stuff at the end of sessions and stuff like that. Then, we go into a glycolytic peak. That’s when Mike and Mark would reduce rest periods and that’s when we can put in all of these basic things like boulder problem 4×4’s, linked problems, all those sorts of things but understanding that that’s this last little thing. It’s the frosting on the cake. If you’re a Mad Max fan, that’s the nitrous. The last little boost you give your engine but you can’t run the nitrous all the time or you’re going to burn the engine out.
Neely Quinn: Okay. That makes sense. That’s a great explanation.
Steve Bechtel: I’m glad I was able to get an analogy in there because my friend Lawrence will be really psyched about it.
Neely Quinn: I think you’ve gotten like 15 analogies so far.
Steve Bechtel: Good. I’m trying to not do them as much because I want people to understand the actual things rather than trying to think about cooking and Mad Max.
So we can peak and we can still do this stuff, this high intensity stuff, but it has to be used sparingly. Chronically, the Neely Quinn training program and especially as we get older as athletes, we need to continue to develop strength and power as best we can. What’s really important is that we learn skill in the highest intensity movements that we have. You don’t learn to do perfect body positioning if you’re climbing on V3. If you’re climbing at your limit, V9 or V10, then you’re going to be like, ‘Woah. I have to do this exactly right.’ We need to keep our skills up and we do that with high intensity stuff, strength, and power.
Then we go back and we can start adding in this endurance stuff, the low end of the high/low training. Again, 4-6 weeks. You can go longer than that, it just really depends on the athlete. The more highly developed the athlete, the longer the cycles need to be. We can do glycolytic peaking for a couple of weeks, three weeks before we need that. But again, if you’re just going to climb long endurance routes you might not need that glycolytic peak, right? If we’re just climbing enduro jug hauls, Pipe Dream kind of stuff, you might not need a whole lot of power endurance so you won’t need to peak that but you can use any of those methods like Mike and Mark have. They have very detailed and very good methods. 4×4’s are fine, alactic circuits are fine, there’s a whole bunch of things we can do to beat that stuff but it can’t be a chronic, long-term training program.
Neely Quinn: Okay, I just want to clarify something. You said, “Two months of strength and power, one month you add in the low intensity,” and you said, “and the intervals.” You’re saying you would do these low intensity three laps or whatever and you would do the intervals of hard bouldering on the campus board or boulders on the minute, that kind of thing, in that same month?
Steve Bechtel: Right, but remember those things I’m talking about usually have a work-to-rest ratio of 1:4 or 1:5. Boulder problem on the minute should take you about 15 seconds to do the boulder problem and then you rest 45 seconds, right? We’ve got a big rest period. Then when we get into stripping the rest periods away towards the end of that four-week cycle, that’s when I would say we would worry about glycolytic peaking or stripping away rests or combining problems, things like that.
Now let me give you a real world example of how this works. You’re trying to do BOHICA at the Red River Gorge.
Neely Quinn: That’s on my tick list!
Steve Bechtel: Yeah, right? It’s a fairly consistent long endurance route. At first, you can do it in four sections, right? They’re little intervals of 15 moves, hang on the bolt, rest a little while, do 15 moves, hang on the next bolt, rest a little while. Eventually you’ll be able to combine those or strip away your rest periods like we’re talking about with Mike and Mark to do it with two hangs. And then you do it with one hang and all of a sudden you get to put it all together into one. That’s the combination of many, many things taking place.
That happens in the real world in real world training and what I’m talking about is just let’s get ahold of that and make it happen more effectively and more frequently.
Neely Quinn: Right, so you don’t have to go to the Red and spend many, many days on it to get to that point.
Steve Bechtel: Right, because nobody likes to spend that many days in the Red. I’m just kidding. I’m joking.
Neely Quinn: Okay, so we have this high-end training, the low-end training, is there anything else that you need to mention about that?
Steve Bechtel: I think that the really important thing is that you need to look at it in the long term. Anything that’s promised to you in four weeks is probably a lie, whether it’s a fast way to make money or a fast way to gain endurance. I think people need to look at it and go, ‘Hey, I’m going to build my capacity as an endurance athlete and I’m going to take a few seasons to do it.’ Have some patience with the process. It really does work but it takes some time.
Neely Quinn: Oh, I had a question about the high-end training. You said that the low-end training you can do after any session but when would you put these high-end training sessions in?
Steve Bechtel: I would say those would be, for the most part, instead of a normal climbing day. Say you were a weekend warrior, you could do it on Tuesday and Thursday and then you could even put the low-end stuff at the end of those sessions. You would do them maybe Tuesday night, Thursday night, and Saturday morning or something. Then the low-end training you could also do on the Tuesday and the Thursday and you could do it on the Wednesday in between. The low-end training shouldn’t tap you out.
Neely Quinn: Yeah, it should feel pretty easy I guess.
Steve Bechtel: Yeah.
Neely Quinn: Just to be clear, I’m thinking about my friend right now. We were talking about his training program and he’s training for this route called Shine here. It’s a – I’m probably going to get this wrong – 13d and I think it’s 40 or 50 feet. It’s not long. It’s mostly a boulder. He would want to train the same, basically, as I might be training for the Red?
Steve Bechtel: Yeah, and as you get closer to the event you’re going to make it more and more specific. For him, we would go: what’s the angle of the route? What are the hold types? And he’s going to get good at holding onto those holds in his hangboard training and he’s going to get good at those types of moves in his boulder training, then he needs to get to the point of where he’s climbing these 40 feet at a time at 11d and getting a lot of work there.
Once he’s really, really good at that and it’s easy maybe he picks a 12a to move up, then a 12b, and so he can slowly move his aerobic capacity up in the intensity that he can do. He’s also getting stronger and stronger on the boulders so he’s not having to pull as hard move for move. When those things meet we get redpoints.
Neely Quinn: Okay. This might be one of my last questions because in the beginning of this you basically said that some of us have been doing this all wrong for a long time. I just want to be really clear about what you’re saying we should not be doing.
Steve Bechtel: Sure thing. What we should not be doing is chasing the pump. A couple of years ago Jonathan Siegrist lived here for the summer and I got to climb with him a bit. I was really psyched because he’s clearly a motivated guy, but he would finish the day with a couple of laps on this 5.13 at Wolf Point. I was like, ‘Oh, yeah man. I should do that but I’ll do it on a different route.’ It was maybe 12c. Jonathan is climbing 14+ and finishing up the day on 13a, right? This is very similar to the endurance recommendation I just gave but I’m climbing on 5.13 and then I’m trying to finish the day at a really high skill level for me. I should have been finishing the day on an 11a or 11c, where I’m at a comfortable enough level that I can climb well, that’s not near my skill limit, and that I’m going to be successful.
Neely Quinn: He would do it a couple or three times or something?
Steve Bechtel: Right, because at 5.13a he’s still very much in his aerobic zone, he’s very much in a low skill level, so you just have to look at where that would be relative to your current ability. What can I realistically do lots and lots of volume on and not have bad skill based on my fatigue?
We used to do burnouts. We’d get on 5.12 in the Killer Cave at Sinks Canyon and do many, many laps at the end of the day until you just fell off and you were pumped crazy. You know what happens when you’re there is you get so pumped that tomorrow has to be a rest day, your climbing goes to shit and so you learn bad skills, and what’s really interesting about skill development is you learn the last things very, very well. You learn bad beta on these routes. Your body also learns that when I get to this section I start to flail, even though it’s something that should be very, very easy for you. Climbing deep into that state of fatigue is probably not the best advice.
Neely Quinn: Okay. This is awesome. I’m going to tell everybody I know to listen to this one.
Steve Bechtel: This is really hard for me because I’ve studied this stuff for a long time and I’m just now starting to figure out how to apply it in climbing. I’m working on a series of articles about it and we’ll do a couple of videos but I honestly believe that with the high skill level of our sport and the fact that we use several energy systems in an acyclic way, meaning that no two moves are ever the same, we need to address our endurance training different than we would if we were cyclists or triathletes.
Neely Quinn: Last question that I forgot to ask you before: when you said that I would be doing those three laps on an 11a I think you said something about not doing it on a treadwall because of something. Are there parameters for that?
Steve Bechtel: No, the thing I see with a lot of ARC training, when people are like, ‘Oh, I’m going to ARC for 30 minutes,’ is that they’re just going to climb on whatever holds and they put their feet on the biggest blobs in the easy places. If you’re going to do laps on a treadwall, as long as you follow marked feet or what we would call high skill climbing, you’re going to be okay. It’s very, very important that you continue to display high skill because we want to be doing high steps and having to turn our hip in and to pull correctly on those holds rather than just going biggest hold to biggest hold to biggest hold. If you do that you’re no better than an aid climber.
Neely Quinn: Okay. You can do this with three laps or you can do it with 4×4’s on routes?
Steve Bechtel: Yeah. The route 4×4 one would be a discrete session on its own. The three laps would be at the end of a climbing day so I would still get the good training out of you, that low intensity training. If you were going to just do this as a training day, route 4×4’s would be plenty because that ends up being 16 pitches.
Neely Quinn: Yeah, that’s a lot of climbing.
Steve Bechtel: Yeah, especially if you’re climbing at Indian Creek or something. [laughs]
Neely Quinn: Yeah. Okay, this is awesome. Thank you very much.
Steve Bechtel: Yeah. I hope it answered more questions than it raised but I’m not sure that’s going to be the case.
Neely Quinn: No, I think it did, for me at least. It’s easy to get lost in these conversations and you made it very easy to follow, but if people do have questions – do you answer people’s questions in emails or on social media?
Steve Bechtel: Yeah, I’m good at emails. Social media is terrible. Instagram is a terrible place to ask questions because usually I’m not on the receiving end of that. I don’t usually spend a lot of time looking at it so I’m terrible. I’ll be months late in answering something but email is really good. If you really want to delve deep I don’t want to sell too hard but I will be presenting on energy system development at the PCC and at the Canada Strong Coach’s Conference in Calgary, which is at the end of September.
Neely Quinn: Oh, nice. Once again, they can go to www.performanceclimbingcoach.com to find out more about the seminar and use the coupon code ‘NEELY50’ to get money off of that. Anything else going on?
Steve Bechtel: Gosh, not that I know of. Things are great, everybody’s sending hard stuff, it’s a good training season.
Neely Quinn: Awesome. Thanks again and I’ll talk to you soon.
Steve Bechtel: Thanks a lot, Neely.
Neely Quinn: Alright, I hope you enjoyed that interview with Steve Bechtel. I hope it explained power endurance, endurance, strength endurance, and all of the things that he talked about. I hope that he helped make it clear for you because I think that’s what he’s really good at doing. He definitely made it clearer for me and gave me some great ideas for what I’m going to do in my gym sessions to prepare for the Red in October and even these next couple weeks before I go to Ten Sleep.
If you like the way that he speaks and how he explains things you’re definitely not alone. I’ve interviewed him three other times on the podcast and those three episodes are in the top seven or eight most downloaded episodes. People love Steve. I’ll put links to all his other episodes on this episode page on www.trainingbeta.com.
If you want to read more from him you can go to www.climbstrong.com. He has a blog that he regularly updates there and he also has training programs. He has a whole membership site for training over there.
If you want to know more about the seminar you can go to www.performanceclimbingcoach.com and you can sign-up there but you can also just look and see what it’s all about. Remember that the coupon code is ‘NEELY50’ so you get $50 off the pre-registration price.
Okay, moving on. I told you last week that I was going to have Matt Pincus on this week. I’m really sorry. I wanted to sneak Steve in this week and then next week I’ll have Matt Pincus on talking about how to fit everything in your training schedule, which is not possible, so he’ll tell you what to prioritize in your training schedule.
Then after that I go to Ten Sleep but after that I’ll have Mina Leslie-Wujastyk – sorry if I did not say that right. She’s a really strong British climber and I interviewed her about how she trains and prepares and mental training and all that. That will be great.
Then I also just did an interview with Dru Mack. He’s a pretty well-known Red River Gorge climber. He’s really good at power endurance. He’s very strong and climbs 5.14 pretty regularly. I have a lot of good stuff coming up so stay tuned for all of that.
If you need any help with your climbing training we have tons of resources for you on TrainingBeta. We have training programs that are online that you can access any time that you need them. We also do online personal training with Matt Pincus so he’ll make a training program for you no matter where you are in the world. Then I do nutrition coaching for people, also no matter where you are in the world. I see people over Skype and Facetime. With all of that combined you should be able to reach your climbing goals. If you have any questions for us just go to www.trainingbeta.com and check out the website or you can always email us at email@example.com. Both Matt and I see those emails.
I think that’s it. You can always follow us @trainingbeta on Instagram and Facebook and thank you very much for listening all the way to the end. I’ll talk to you next week.