Date: March 15th, 2018
About Tyler Nelson
Tyler Nelson has a lot of qualifications, so I’m going to let his website sum those up for you:
Dr. Tyler Nelson is a recent graduate of Logan University, obtaining his doctorate [of chiropractic medicine] in April of 2014 and his masters in exercise rehabilitation in September of that same year. He completed his masters internship at Brigham Young Universities under Brett Mortensen and is currently one of the chiropractic physicians for the BYU athletics department. He is currently dry needling certified and trained in sport’s performance rehabilitation with an emphasis on functional movement and neuromuscular re-education. He received his Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist certificate through the NSCA in 2015 and enjoys writing strength programs for athletes in the Salt Lake valley. Currently Tyler is an adjunct faculty member at SLCC where he teaches human anatomy and physiology. His primary interest is in neurobiological pain science and furthering the protocols and guidelines created for treating chronic spinal pain.
I met Tyler at Steve Bechtel’s Climbing Training Seminar in Lander in May of 2017, where we were both instructors. He is well-spoken and a wealth of knowledge about how the human body responds to climbing and training.
Tyler recently wrote an article for us called “Preparing to Try Hard Part 1: Isometric Testing and P.A.P.” In the article, he describes a way to use a simple scale to test your isometric strength (pulling as hard as you can on a motionless object), which can help you warm up for trying hard on climbs and determine whether or not you should be trying hard in the first place.
The article he wrote is dense and scientific, so I wanted him to come on the show to expalin it in laymen’s terms for us, which is exactly what he did.
You can find Tyler in Salt Lake City at his clinic, Camp 4 Human Performance, where he creates programs and treats all kinds of athletes.
Tyler Nelson Interview Details
- How he’s healing his finger injury with the BFR cuffs
- What isometric movement is
- How isometrics can prime your muscles for hard work
- When and how many sets/reps to train with isometrics
- How to use the scale to tell if you should be training that day
Climbing Training Seminar with Tyler Nelson, Bechtel, and Me
If you’re interested in being a student at one of Steve Bechtel’s upcoming coaching seminars, you’re in luck! There’s one scheduled for April 6-8th in Columbia, Maryland and you can find more info on it here.
–>> GET MORE INFO
Tyler Nelson Links
- Personal website: camp4humanperformance.com
- Instagram: @c4hp
- Facebook: @camp4chiropractic
- TrainingBeta Article on this topic: Preparing to Try Hard
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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 know about you but I’m pretty psyched on the warming temperatures, at least in Colorado, and I’m looking forward to getting outside and going to Clear Creek with my friend Reiko this weekend.
I’m actually thinking about skipping Rifle this year, although I’ve said that several times and haven’t done it, and kind of exploring the Flat Irons and some other things that the Front Range has to offer that I’ve never actually explored even though I’ve been here for a really long time. I’m getting ready for that.
I’m climbing a lot in the gym, my shoulder is doing really well, I’m also doing some handstand training which has been really fun. In fact, one of my good friends has been more psyched on handstand training than actual climbing. It’s fun and challenging and I think it’s really good for climbers.
Anyway, that’s a little update on me. I hope you’re hanging in there and climbing and psyched to get outside, too.
Today I’m talking with Doctor Tyler Nelson who I’ve had on the show before. He is a chiropractor, he’s a personal trainer for climbers, and he’s extremely smart. He’s also a professor so he’s kind of like a walking encyclopedia. When I had him on last time we talked about blood flow restriction training, which is something I had never heard of before he showed it to me. That’s kind of his thing. He’s on top of the research, he’s on top of new training techniques or training techniques that just climbers in general aren’t super aware of.
Today’s episode is no exception to that. He’s going to talk about – I’m not even going to try to explain it, really, but basically Tyler wrote an article for TrainingBeta and it’s called ‘Preparing to Try Hard, Part One: Isometric Testing and PAP.’ All I can say about it in layman’s terms is that it’s a way for climbers to prime themselves for trying hard without actually climbing. Like, the warm-up would be doing something totally different than what we’ve ever done before. It also is a way to test to see how much power and strength you have in you and whether or not you should be trying hard. Like, if you are going into the gym or going outside to try your hardest project or try your hardest in training even, this is a way to tell you that actually no, you need a rest day or yes, you’re ready to do it. I think it’s super valuable for coaches.
Tyler is going to tell you all about that and if you want to look at the article I’m going to put a link to it in the show notes but also you can just search TrainingBeta for Tyler Nelson and it will come up.
Before I get into the interview I want to remind you that TrainingBeta does offer training programs for boulderers, for route climbers, for people who just want to train finger strength or power endurance, and we also sell a couple of Steve Bechtel training guides. All of these things are available to you if you want a really structured plan so that you know exactly what to do in the gym. You can find those at www.trainingbeta.com. At the top there is a tab called ‘Training Programs’ and we really appreciate all the support that you give us.
So, I’m just going to get right into the interview here. Here is Tyler Nelson and I will talk to you on the other side.
Neely Quinn: Alright, welcome back to the show, Tyler. Thank you very much for talking with me again today.
Dr. Tyler Nelson: Oh yeah, I’m happy to be here.
Neely Quinn: Yeah. So, you’ve been on the show before. Some people have listened to your episode but for those who haven’t, can you tell me about yourself?
Dr. Tyler Nelson: Yeah, a little bit about me: I own a chiropractic sports medicine clinic close to Salt Lake City, just a little bit outside of Salt Lake City, so my primary clinic is as a chiropractor and then I have a side business as a strength and conditioning coach where I really focus on applying sports science to rock climbing specifically. I treat lots of other athletes as well but kind of the niche here in Salt Lake and what I like to do is climbing, so that’s a big part of my business.
Then, I’m a teacher. I’m an anatomy and physiology teacher as well on the side.
Neely Quinn: And you take part in the seminars with Steve Bechtel that I take part in.
Dr. Tyler Nelson: Yes, yep. We’re doing the third one in April in Columbia and so we’ve been creating lots of content for that seminar and just kind of fine-tuning it. Every one we have we add more to the manual.
I kind of see my role as trying to be on the cutting edge of things that we can do to help coaches. Steve has so much experience and he’s such a knowledgeable coach and he has all the real life experience, more than I do, so I kind of take it upon me to be very precise with what’s going on in sports science and applying that to climbers.
Neely Quinn: Right, which is what we’re going to talk about today but before we go there I want to just mention that before we started recording you told me that you had a finger injury. Your pulley popped, right? That’s what you said, right?
Dr. Tyler Nelson: Yes.
Neely Quinn: And that you were sort of excited about it so please explain that.
Dr. Tyler Nelson: [laughs] Yeah, that’s funny. I’ve had a lot of people say, “Wow! You’re way too optimistic about a pulley injury,” and a pulley injury diagnosis is really an assumption, right? It’s really hard to know exactly what could have popped because there’s lots of things but based on the physical exam that I’ve done on myself and had some people poke around at, it certainly feels like when you create tension at 90° the proximal phalangeal joint is when it really gets sore.
It’s very likely it was a pulley pop because it was during a crimping position. I’m not a boulderer so I don’t do lots of heinous crimping but I’ve joined an adult bouldering league here locally so I was training and doing a bunch of finger testing on myself – that we’re going to talk about – and didn’t have much of a warm-up. I jumped on something super hard, crimped really hard, and then it for sure was the audible pop.
It’s been helpful because I’ve been doing rehabilitation on myself and trying some new protocols, specifically, and a lot of times it’s not dangerous but it’s not indicated to try new things on patients so I’ve been trying some things specifically on myself.
Neely Quinn: And?
Dr. Tyler Nelson: It’s been cool. A lot of people that know me or follow me on Instagram know that I’m really into the blood flow restriction training. We use a pneumatic tourniquet, essentially, around the proximal arm, below the deltoid muscle, and you restrict all the venous flow and part of the arterial flow. Ever since the day after, twice a day…
Neely Quinn: Hold on. Hold on. Can you say that in English, please?
Dr. Tyler Nelson: I mean, it’s like a blood pressure cuff, right? A blood pressure cuff below the deltoid muscle and you pump it up so it blocks the venous return of the blood and then it partially occludes the arterial flow so I’ve been doing that twice a day for 20 minutes.
I never really – most of the literature that’s published on injuries like that you would immobilize it for 10 days. You would do some immobilization, you’d do some anti-inflammatories, you’d do some icing. I’ve done none of those things and the first day after I came in and just started getting blood to it. I’ll do finger flicks, I’ll do really light finger curls, I’ll just do flexion extension at my wrist with no weight, for up to 20 minutes, really just to make my arm and my finger swollen with blood. All of those tendons – you get the pulley pop but you also get a little bit of tear in the synovial membrane that goes around the tendons so you’re always going to get, a lot of the time, both of those together. I’ve been trying to flood those synovial spaces and all the capillaries with blood.
I’ve been amazed. I did that twice a day for a whole week and then actually climbed the week after and was able to climb up to V8 level without it really – I mean, it was definitely not 100% and I could tell that but I was able to pull pretty hard on it without any real concern.
Then, I did the same thing for the next week. I only climbed once in the week. I probably wouldn’t have climbed that hard but I had this damn bouldering league that I joined and I want to help out my team. I can’t be the weak link in the chain. I’m supposed to know what I’m doing so I climbed hard and then the second week of the same thing I was able to climb pretty hard, up to V8 level in a steep cave which is not smart, but then I dry-fired on a sloper and it made it pretty sore.
Neely Quinn: Yeah.
Dr. Tyler Nelson: But overall, every time it’s stiff and every time it hurts and I do that training, it brings blood to my tendon and then the mobility is instantly better, the pain goes away, and the range of motion is all returned. It’s just a really – there’s a lot of science on that stuff and it’s a really good way to stress the tissues very minimally and get a lot of blood there. That’s the only way we’re going to get healing to increase, by getting blood around the injured area. There’s lots of ways that we try to do that. I poke needles at people’s fingers doing dry needling, we scrape them with a tool, there’s lots of tools that people try and use. I think this one is probably the most helpful.
Neely Quinn: Yeah. Okay, a couple questions on that. You said that you were climbing up to V8. What is your normal range? How far below your max were you climbing?
Dr. Tyler Nelson: Not that much lower. I’ve bouldered V9. That’s the max I’ve ever done. I don’t boulder. I don’t like to boulder but in the gym I’ve been training to get my fingers strong for this bouldering league so V9 has been my max bouldering redpoint.
Neely Quinn: So you were climbing pretty normal?
Dr. Tyler Nelson: Yeah, I was trying hard. I was trying hard for sure.
Neely Quinn: What you were just describing kind of reminds me of PRP, platelet-rich plasma therapy. It’s kind of like doing that but without having to inject yourself with anything just because you have so much blood flowing around it.
Dr. Tyler Nelson: Yeah. It’s probably not as specific as PRP because they literally will take the platelets and inject them right into a tendon that’s injured, so it’s probably not as specific in that sense. It’s definitely not as painful. The PRP literature is kind of a flip of the coin. It’s really helpful for some cases, it’s really not helpful for other cases, and I work with a local orthopedic doctor here that I refer a lot of business to. Sometimes people get a really good response and sometimes people get no response with the PRP so it’s like any therapy.
It’s kind of/there’s a lot of factors that play into someone’s healthcare and how they feel better but yeah, the goal really is to send lots of blood there. The other thing that happens – and it’s kind of similar to the isometric thing that we’re going to talk about – when you occlude blood and you exercise muscle, that occlusion causes all sorts of chemical changes locally in the capillary beds which reduce the pH of the tissue. If you reduce the pH you’re going to increase the cardiac output so your heart’s going to work harder and then your respiratory rate is going to increase. Both of those things stimulate your testosterone and your growth hormone production so the other thing…
Neely Quinn: Nice.
Dr. Tyler Nelson: …that’s shown with the BFR training is it’s really good at stimulating protein synthesis. That’s kind of the real attempted benefit but for my office, I really think it’s important to do and a lot of the science says that people do it everyday and sometimes twice a day.
What I do for clients now is that’s how I treat finger injuries. I’ll have people leave with a pair of cuffs, because I have a bunch of them at my office, and they will use them for a week. I’ll have them, say, use them twice a day for a week and all the finger injuries I’ve done with that, people are way psyched. They’re like, ‘That feels so much better after I work with these on,’ but it’s got to be done a lot, right? Once a week is not enough. Twice a week isn’t enough. It’s got to be done a lot, everyday.
Neely Quinn: Yeah, well and that was my other question. People are probably like, ‘How can I get my hands on these?’ How do they do it?
Dr. Tyler Nelson: The easiest way is just to contact me. There’s lots of options out there. The article that the last time we talked we talked about it a little bit and the article that I wrote for TrainingBeta has some more details about it. I use a particular set of bands that I think are probably the second best brand out there. The most advanced Ritz-Carlton brand is really expensive. They’re like $3,000 whereas these ones are like $300.
People will do something as gung ho as wrapping an elastic band around their shoulder or around their arm to block the blood flow. I never suggest that to people, just for safety’s sake, so they can contact me on my Instagram account. The bands that I use are the Go B Strong bands and they are made in Park City at the Olympic training center. People can just contact me.
Neely Quinn: And, I want to mention that the first episode that we did we talked about this so if you guys listening want to check that out, just Google Tyler Nelson TrainingBeta and that will come up.
Dr. Tyler Nelson: Yeah, and I get a lot of people that ask me where they find that information. The easiest place for people to read without having to get subscription access to research journals is look online at the British Journal of Sports Medicine. That’s an open access journal so everyone can just download those PDFs at no charge. They have a couple systematic reviews on BFR training and rehabilitation. Nothing on the finger specifically but lots of stuff on ACLR/post-ACLR, so ACL reconstructive surgery, lots of things on knee osteoarthritis, so there’s some good literature about all sorts of musculoskeletal injuries that it’s been really helpful for.
Neely Quinn: Nice. Cool. Today we’re going to be focusing on – I don’t really even know how to describe it without being really technical but basically you wrote an article for us and it was called ‘Preparing to Try Hard, Part One: Isometric Testing and PAP.’ It was a really technical article. You can find it on TrainingBeta and we wanted to talk a little bit more about it to explain it. Do you want to talk a little bit about that?
Dr. Tyler Nelson: Yeah, sure. The original idea behind the article and utilization was I am in communication pretty regularly with another sports scientist that showed me an article where they used this industrial crane scale to measure the force generated in a deadlift position and they compared it in this research paper to a force plate.
In research you have to kind of test your particular tool against the gold standard so in that case, a force plate is the golden standard and they demonstrated that, using this industrial crane scale, they were able to validly and reliably reproduce the similar forces generated. They say, “Wow, that’s a really affordable piece of technology that coaches can use to measure force generated in sports-specific positions.”
The primary reason behind doing that was for climbing coaches so we can create awareness for climbing coaches, so that they have access to something that they can actually quantify force generated by athletes in positions and they can also retest and measure on a day-to-day basis, even, athlete’s readiness to climb or train on any given day.
Neely Quinn: Okay.
Dr. Tyler Nelson: An isometric muscle contraction is a really important and it’s often an overlooked type of muscle contraction. Every time you generate a force – imagine a good example is lifting a really heavy, 700 pounds off the floor. Most people can’t do that but some people can. People that could, every time until the weight gets lifted off the floor, all of that tension generated is considered isometric. Isometric contractions are utilized at the beginning of every movement.
If you imagine a different type of movement, like a drop jump or a counter-movement jump – a counter-movement jump consists of an individual standing and then they go down into a squat position really quickly and then they jump up as high as they can – the position where they’re lowering down towards the ground and they stop before they shorten their muscles to create a concentric contraction and lift off the floor is also an isometric contraction.
Isometric contractions are at the beginning of every movement and they’re at the critical bridging point between the lengthening and the shortening of every dynamic movement as well.
Neely Quinn: Can you explain that in climbing movement terms?
Dr. Tyler Nelson: So a climbing movement: if you’re on the wall and imagine someone doing a really hard crux move on a boulder, they have this tension. You’ll notice that they’ll lengthen their muscles just a little bit and then they’ll pull really hard. When they lengthen their muscles just a little bit and they stop and then they have to pull to shorten their muscles to reach for a distant hold, that brief moment in time is the isometric contraction.
It is what creates the bridge, like I mentioned, between the lengthening and the shortening of the muscle. There’s a lot of science now that says that we can train isometric muscle contractions and we can shorten that time it takes to essentially slow down the lengthening and speed up the return. That’s what it would be in a biomechanics perspective. That’s like free energy. We can shorten the time it takes for us to turn around the lengthening of a muscle to the shortening of a muscle.
Neely Quinn: In short, how do we do that? Then we’ll get into it.
Dr. Tyler Nelson: So, in terms of climbing you want to choose specific positions that climbers get into and train them at these isometric joint angles. It’s not as simple as just training isometrics, right? There’s something that’s called the ‘stretch shortening cycle’ which is all three of those actions that I mentioned. It’s the lengthening of a muscle, it’s the stopping point which is the isometric, and then it’s the shortening of the muscle which is the concentric portion. We’d have to train all of those but what I mapped out in the article is the most climbing-specific positions as an introduction to get people – the more people start doing this kind of stuff, the more insight we’ll get into doing it right, just having people and coaches try it. I have a bunch of people and coaches that have been trying it with their athletes and have been really excited about it but the more people that understand and get it out, the more it’s going to grow and we’re going to be able to build on it from there.
The positions that I chose were hip extension, so imagine sitting at a low position sit start on a hard bouldering problem. In order to get your butt off the ground and to generate tension, moving to a distant hold, you have to create an isometric contraction. Usually we can train hip extension at two knee angles, 90° or even lower and then 120° because there’s a little bit of spillover, about 20-30° in any given range of motion, that this isometric will transfer to. That’s a really climbing-specific position, something called a [unclear] and I have a unique, really easy platform that I created here to do deadlift isometrics on but the other way – because I like to measure them with a scale – that coaches can do them in a gym is they can do like they’re going to do a rack pull off the racks of a squat rack. They can take the barbell and put it underneath the racks and pull against 100% resistance. That’s a way that you can train those.
Neely Quinn: Wait. Can you say that again?
Dr. Tyler Nelson: Imagine doing a deadlift. There’s a couple of ways you could train a deadlift isometric. You could add enough weight to the bar to where you’re not actually going to move the bar. That’s one way.
Neely Quinn: Okay.
Dr. Tyler Nelson: An easier way, though, that you can do it is you can do something called a pin pull. If you set the pins on a squat rack low enough as if you were going to do a deadlift off of them, all you would have to do is take the barbell and put it underneath those pins and pull against the pins. Most gym facilities have the squat rack connected to the floor. You’re not going to physically move or displace any of that load.
Neely Quinn: Okay, got it.
Dr. Tyler Nelson: So that’s a deadlift position. The other positions that we talked about in the article were horizontal pulling. You can do horizontal pulling like we do on a seated row machine. A seated row machine is a really good set-up for that. You could pull against a really high load and hold the isometric or you could pull against 100% resistance against the chain. You could do that with horizontal pulling with a bar, you can do vertical pulling as well with a bar in two joint positions, usually 120 and 90, or even – people have lately been doing lock-off isometrics for people that have trouble and say, “I just can’t lock-off there.” I’ll get them in a locked-off position and have them pull against total resistance to train that length-to-tension relationship.
The other thing that probably seemed really technical in the article and maybe people were like, ‘Oh my gosh,’ about was the length-tension graph that kind of talked about the optimal length that muscles are at for forced generation or the positions that create the most force generation. When your muscles are really shortened like that in a lock-off position, that’s not the best position to generate force. That’s one of the worst positions to generate force so training the motor units and the nervous system to function at that position, potentially, is really helpful to people that feel like they need better lock-off strength.
Neely Quinn: Hold on one second. You said the vertical one would be in a lat pulldown sort of position, right?
Dr. Tyler Nelson: Yeah, a lat pulldown machine works great. If people are curious about these my Instagram account has tons of testing and videos about this kind of stuff. The lat pulldown machine works fantastic, both for doing an isometric but also for testing an isometric.
Then, if you’re doing a vertical pulldown I like either the Gripple, the tool that was created, or the Flash board to do vertical pulling with specific finger positions. You can use one arm or two arm, it just kind of is up to the coach’s discretion as to what they need to do. I usually train two hands at a time if I’m doing specific finger positions just because I’m not used to cranking that hard on one finger at a time.
The Flash board is really good because it has a bunch of different edges that you can use. You can use the .75” edge, the .5” edge, and then the .3” edges to kind of work your way down to try a little bit harder.
Really what you can do with this industrial crane scale is you can set the crane scale to the actual metric that you want to measure in pounds and then you can have it hold and then you can have an athlete pull down as hard as they can against this scale and it will actually measure the amount of force that’s being generated locally.
The other thing that the article talked about is…
Neely Quinn: Wait wait, I’m going to stop you because I think that I would be confused a little bit if I were listening so I just want to describe what this setup looks like. For instance, with the vertical pull with the bar, I’m looking at a picture on TrainingBeta from the article that you wrote. There’s the bar and then the bar is connected to a chain above it. Then the chain is connected to the scale which is just like a little box and then the scale is connected to something solid that it can just…
Dr. Tyler Nelson: Yep.
Neely Quinn: So you’re not actually pulling anything. You’re using the scale to measure how much you’re pulling.
Dr. Tyler Nelson: To measure how much force is being generated. You can be really specific and I think that’s a really good clarification. If you’re imagining doing it over the top of a lat pulldown machine, you have a chain over the bar that comes out over the top of the head, and then a scale clipped to that and then a chain clipped to the scale and the chain clipped to the vertical lat pulldown bar or the Flash board, whatever you’re trying to measure.
In terms of what sports scientists like to do is we like to measure in one-repetition maxes, right? We can better use a percentage of that maximum value to train athletes for strength or power. If you have a team, a large team with a lot of athletes, it’s very cumbersome and time consuming to do one-repetition max testing with traditional weight lifting exercises because everyone’s weight will be different so you have to do lots of manipulation of a harness if we’re doing pull-ups or plates on a barbell if we’re doing squats or deadlifts. This is another way that we can quickly and efficiently do repetition maximums for athletes to get those percentages. There’s not a direct transfer between the amount of isometric pull, let’s say, on a deadlift that one does translating to specifically how much they can lift off the ground but as long as we use the same measure with a repeat test, it doesn’t really matter. As long as you’re using the same method it’s easy to quantify.
The really cool thing there – let’s imagine we’re going to do a vertical pulldown test with a .75” edge, both hands at a time, isometric at 120° of elbow flexion. You’re pulling down at maximum intent and let’s say someone got 300 pounds, which is a great score, and then they climbed really hard and they came in the next day for practice and you say, “How tired are you today?” They have a power training day or something challenging and their coach is pushing them a little harder a couple days in a row. They say, “I don’t know.” “Let’s go check your test.” They do three trials and take the average of those three trials on the exact same vertical pull and they’re only getting like 240. If their force has reduced by that much, neurologically, that should really give us some insight into their fatigue and we probably should maybe do something else with that athlete on that given day instead of let them try really hard.
It’s a means of trying to better quantify athlete readiness for sport without having to use really high-tech, expensive equipment.
Neely Quinn: Okay, question: I’m having a hard time understanding, once again. If you’re pulling down on a hangboard, aren’t you just hanging your weight? Wouldn’t it just be your weight that would be the force generated? Or are you pulling?
Dr. Tyler Nelson: No. Remember that on the lat pulldown machine you have your legs underneath a pad so you’ll generate way more force. I know lots of local boulderers here that can very easily max out the lat pulldown machine in weight. Like, they can pull the max of the weight. How do you train their maximal pull strength, right? It’s really hard if they pull more than the rack has. How do you actually get them to their 90/95% intensity level to train them to better pulling strength? Maybe they don’t need pulling strength but that’s a consideration.
Neely Quinn: Okay, so with the hangboard, you’re sitting.
Dr. Tyler Nelson: It’s not a true hangboard. What I’ll use is I’ll use the Flash board which is the mobile one or the Beast Fingers Gripple thing.
Neely Quinn: Right, but you’re hanging on it. You have something basically holding you down and you’re just creating force.
Dr. Tyler Nelson: Yes.
Neely Quinn: How long are you having them hold?
Dr. Tyler Nelson: Most isometric contractions, and this is kind of where it can get super science-y and nerdy and I’ll not get too off topic but there’s a couple different types of isometrics and the benefits of doing them. Usually 5-7 seconds if you’re going really high intensity.
Neely Quinn: And you said three reps?
Dr. Tyler Nelson: Yeah, and this is the part that’s kind of up to coach’s discretion and up to coach’s expertise to really try these out and see how far they can get, right? An example with me: I’ve been doing them on my back. It has been really sore since July. When I go to the gym and I try really hard, my back has been really miserable. In order to train my fingers – because I still wanted to train my fingers but I didn’t want to hang a heavy weight off of my harness because that kind of puts your back into extension and pulling up makes you pretty sore.
The other cool thing about doing this type of testing is you can really isolate the finger flexors in the forearm without even having to pull on the shoulder. On my Instagram account there’s some other ways that you can use a squat rack and you can rest the elbows on something and pull horizontally without having to pull with the shoulders or the spine.
What I was getting at is I have been doing these sets. I was doing up to 10 repetitions on a given finger position which is a pretty good amount of volume. I was going maximum intensity.
Neely Quinn: How much rest were you giving yourself in between?
Dr. Tyler Nelson: Usually give 30 seconds to a minute between each attempt.
Neely Quinn: Okay.
Dr. Tyler Nelson: So 5-7 second isometric and then, again, those are other variables that you can train. You can train capacity if you were doing less rest with less intensity or you could do maximum intensity with maximum load. Climbers have been doing isometrics for quite a while. That’s all repeaters are, that’s all hangboarding is, is isometric contraction, right? But there’s a big difference, I think, between hanging a maximum amount of weight off your harness and hanging than it is pulling with your own fingers and your own arms. When we’re climbing, we’re pulling. It feels like you’re generating that force by pulling, not just hanging.
The difference there and the difference with this is this seems like a more specific way to engage the motor units and the neuronal pool as similar to climbing because you’re getting that engagement of the pull. I usually only do a half-crimp position of all the sizes that I’ll pull on. As soon as I feel like I can’t maintain – and it’s really hard to fail out of the half-crimp when you’re doing the isometric pulling versus the heavy hangs. It’s really hard to hold the isometric 90° half-crimp with maximum weight. It’s way hard. I think this is a little bit easier because the scale will be able to tell you how hard you’re trying. ‘Oh, that pull sucked so…’
That’s another thing I think is really fun about this. It’s a little bit more engaging and a learning experience for athletes that do it when they have the scale. You can measure every attempt. Even though an attempt feels really good it could be really submaximal and you’re like, ‘Oh, that sucked. I need to try harder,’ then you try and you get it back up again. Okay, great.
The other thing that I think is really good for the quantification is it kind of serves as a repetition cut-off. That’s the other thing that I talk about that I will do in the second part of the article that we didn’t cover in the first part. If you have a maximum value and you’re trying to train maximum strength, you want to stay within the 85-95% of your max or even 85-100% of your max. I can continue, safely I think, to do repetitions at the same time, 5-7 seconds, as long as I stay within the 85% maximum value range. As soon as I drop below that I give myself one more attempt to get it back up but if I have two attempts below 85%, I’m done training my fingers.
Neely Quinn: Why is that?
Dr. Tyler Nelson: Just because it shows that I will be neurally fatigued. It shows that my neural output is not sufficient enough to sustain that high level work. Then you’re going to get hurt. Then it’s a way to quantify how hard you’re trying and how hard you can try on a day-to-day basis. I’ve been using it on my Instagram account, too, and when I have a really hard climbing day at the gym – I came and I climbed routes. I think I did four or five routes, mid-5.12 level, and I came to the clinic and I immediately got – it was maybe a half hour in between or 45 minutes – to where I came and I tested my fingers right away. I was 50% reduced from my max value and I could not get any higher than that and I was trying as hard as I could.
It’s a really good way to show how fatigued athletes are in a climbing-specific way that coaches can maybe use so we can prevent finger injuries.
Neely Quinn: It seems like with some power endurance and some endurance work, though, that’s what you’re going for, training while fatigued.
Dr. Tyler Nelson: Yeah, so depending on your goals. The reason that I measured right after I was tired by climbing routes was because my forearms were noticeable pumped. I came to the clinic because I wanted to see how much that session specifically reduced my power output or reduced my force output. It’s not specific for velocity so it’s not as good of a measure for power but it’s a really good way to measure force and specific multi-joint exercises. That would be considered a complex isometric contraction.
There are isolation isometric contractions as well which are just across one joint. You can do those for the forearms specifically in different positions but multi-joint isometrics – they appear from the outside observer to look like there is not a lot of work going on. Microscopically, you’re still getting the contractile elements shortening, you’re still getting the fascicles to get a little bit longer, which is the connective tissue between the muscles, and you’re still increasing tensile capacity in the tendons.
A lot of the science behind the physiologic response to isometric training is you still get hypertrophy, we’re still going to get the metabolic accumulation like you would almost with the BFR training because you’re occluding the arterial blood supplies, especially if you’re going at high intensity, you get the cardiac output and the respiratory rate increases, you get the hormonal response, but it looks like it’s not very hard but these are incredibly fatiguing.
The other part of that article, the post-activation potentiation, which is what the PAP stands for, the other thing that isometrics are really, really helpful for is engaging the neuronal pool at a maximal level so the firing rates of your neurons and getting your muscles, essentially, primed for hard work doing isometrics. I’ve had a bunch of clients do this and they’ve been pretty excited. I think Matt maybe posted that on his Instagram about at the crag using something like a Flash board or something equivalent to do a couple maximal – I think Dan’s done a bunch, too, Dan Mirsky – isometric contractions on the fingers after your general warm-up.
After you’ve warmed-up generally, you’ve done some hangboarding at the crag, you feel like you’re ready to go but your project has a really hard crux, doing probably 1-3 isometrics at 100% clustered 30-60 seconds between a couple different hand positions will really kind of finalize the icing on the cake in terms of the neural priming. A lot of people do this already. I was talking to Daniel Beall. He was communicating with me about it and he was saying that that’s what he does already on the wall. He climbs near his maximal level one or two problems before a bouldering session, which is the same thing if you do it with isometric contraction if you don’t have access to a hard bouldering problem.
Neely Quinn: You mean like he’ll go – what do you mean ‘before a hard boulder?’ Isn’t that a hard bouldering session, doing your max?
Dr. Tyler Nelson: I think we were talking about before a project or before a competition. He usually gets really warm and then up to a maximal level, one or two problems spaced apart a couple minutes before he goes out and performs in a competition setting. That’s essentially doing the same thing. He’s trying and what I’m getting at is trying as hard as you can a couple times before your “try hard” project is really important to get the neuronal pool firing and that signals to those muscles so they’re ready to snap into action when you need them.
Neely Quinn: Yeah, and that’s what Pincus said in his post was he did this with you and then he went out bouldering and he bouldered harder than he had in a long time.
Dr. Tyler Nelson: Oh yeah. The athletes that I’ve done this with, Danny has done it a bunch in my office and every time they do it he goes, ‘I need to go bouldering,’ and I go,’ Great, go for it.’ Then he’s like, ‘Oh my gosh, I felt so ramped up.’ It really just ramps up your nervous system. Using multi-joint isometrics prior to a couple finger positions, I think, is really helpful. Getting that deadlift isometric really recruits everything from the ankles all the way up to the chest and the back and the pulling muscles. Doing a couple of those and then going into the finger positions is really enough to have people go out and try as hard as they can safely.
Neely Quinn: There’s so many uses for this.
Dr. Tyler Nelson: Oh yeah, there’s lots of uses. Absolutely yeah. This is for sure skimming the surface. There’s lot of functions. I mean I was talking to Dan as well about holding a 30-second isometric on a fingerboard, just using your body weight but a traditional fingerboard, hanging in a half-crimp for 30 seconds. That long term local occlusion would create a similar response as if you were doing the BFR training but it’s not as “specific” to climbing because we hold on for 5-8 seconds and then we come off.
The other thing that I’ve been doing lately since my finger got sore is I’ve been doing one arm at a time isometrics. I don’t do weighted pull-ups anymore because it’s very rare and I was watching a video of Matt Fultz climbing some V15 in Colorado, I think, and literally his right elbow was locked between 100-120°of flexion for 20 seconds. He was just holding on, his elbow was not really moving while he repositioned his feet, bumped his left hand a little bit, but he was holding it for like 20 seconds.
Neely Quinn: And that’s a boulderer. That’s crazy.
Dr. Tyler Nelson: Yeah, that’s a boulder problem so how is he going to benefit by doing really heavy weighted pull-ups? It’s just not specific to climbing as would be holding an isometric contraction maximally for – 20 seconds is probably an exceptionally long time – some of these bouldering problems, you’ve got to hang on and position your body in all of these strange positions.
Neely Quinn: That’s true. Going through the whole range of doing a weighted pull-up is totally different from just locking off.
Dr. Tyler Nelson: Just locking off and holding that position. I’ve been toying with that lately. The same thing, I would use a horizontal row or I would use a vertical pulldown. I’ve been using a vertical pulldown and I do 120° and then 90° and then lock-off position but listeners beware, the lock-off position is really stressful on the elbow and it’s pretty sore on the shoulder so you want to minimize how much full lock-off isometric you would do.
The other thing about isometrics is it really varies based on the length of the muscle and the joint angle as the physiological response so those larger joint angles, like 120°, you should get more force from those and those are less dangerous joint angles, just so people are aware of that.
There’s lots of uses. I think using the scale is not absolutely necessary but it’s really, really helpful because there’s lots of days where I will come in and train and I will feel like my effort was really good and I’ll say, “Oh, that was awesome. I crushed that.” Then, I look at my scale and I’m like, ‘That sucked.’ I did that on Tuesday or Monday and I went skiing this weekend. We went touring and I was really tired and I came in to workout and I knew that I was tired but I wanted to do the pulling anyways. My average was down below two weeks ago based on that, so it was a really good way for me to say, “Wow. I’m really tired today. Even though I feel like I’m trying really hard my numbers do not demonstrate that I’m giving enough effort. I’m really tired so I should just not train.”
Neely Quinn: Yeah, and another thing that occurred to me is that you could use this to figure out how long it takes you to recover. If you’re on a route and you’re projecting a route and there’s a rest hold on it, how long do you need to rest before you’re actually good to go? Sometimes we rest too long and whatever, so you could just do a fingerboard hang or whatever isometric and then wait a varying amount of time and then see what your next pull is like. Does that make sense?
Dr. Tyler Nelson: Oh yeah, for sure. Absolutely. You could do, and I think what you’re getting at, a certain number of moves that your project has up to the rest and then vary the rest by minutes or seconds or whatever and then test at different times to see which one allows you to recover optimally.
Neely Quinn: Yeah.
Dr. Tyler Nelson: Yeah, a lot of times you can wait too long and you’re screwed for the rest of your project or not long enough and you’re going to get pumped.
Neely Quinn: Yeah.
Dr. Tyler Nelson: I mean, I think the coolest thing behind the isometric and really training them, and I’ve been talking about this a lot on my Instagram lately, is that bridge between the lengthening and the shortening is really, really good for power production. If people – and I have lots of videos on how people can use these because we have to train our eccentrics as well and we have to train the shortening of the muscle as well but there’s optimal ways to do that aside from just doing heavy weighted pull-ups or the concentric-only pull-up. I think it’s really specific and I really like that exercise but we have to train the eccentric as well because a lot of times we hit something really hard and our feet come off and we get that quick lengthening, so we have to train rapid deceleration as well with heavy eccentrics and then that bridging point still, that short time that we can transfer the lengthening of a muscle to the shortening of a muscle, is really what should be considered the key to dynamic athletic performance. If you have not enough tension generated at that joint angle that quickly, you’re going to bleed a lot of that energy and you’re going to waste efficiency and you’re probably going to fall but if you can snap back and recoil and get that free energy back, you’re much more likely to be successful.
There’s lots of science on this stuff. Not in the climbing community but lots of science on this stuff in ball sports athletes. The counter-movement jump and the squat jump is a really good example for people to think about in their mind of how the difference is between this bridging position.
Neely Quinn: Yeah, but how would you do that with your arms for climbing?
Dr. Tyler Nelson: Do what?
Neely Quinn: How would you train the eccentric portion?
Dr. Tyler Nelson: Heavy eccentrics. A campus board is a really good way, doing drops, so specifically dropping with your body weight. The eccentric focus – is what I call it – campus routine where you start on the large rung. I wouldn’t suggest doing this on the small rungs unless people are really advanced trained and they’ve done it a bunch. Some of these high level athletes can probably do it. If you start on two rungs above and then you drop down and catch it really good, you can catch it and you can lengthen all the way or you can catch and stop at 90° so you can train the eccentric deceleration at both joint angles.
Then, to make it harder all you do is increase the height that you drop from. You can drop, pulling your hands off or you can stand above something. You can even do it on a pull-up bar. You can stand above a pull-up bar and drop and quickly absorb that force. You’re training the tendon there to absorb the force really quickly and then you can pause for a second and come down.
You would for sure cluster set those because eccentrics are pretty stressful. They require a lot of demand on the tendons so they are probably the most dangerous. Then, you would train the isometrics like we talked about a bunch at different joint angles and then you would train the concentric motion by doing campus jumps where you’re doing maximal effort concentric contractions like we do on a campus board.
Neely Quinn: Got it. Okay, which could be a whole other podcast episode. [laughs]
Dr. Tyler Nelson: Yeah, I mean training that whole range is really important. We can’t just train one thing and dismiss the other but the isometric portion – I think people think they address a lot of isometrics because climbers always talk about isometrics in the forearms but we really only think about the forearms. It’s really rare that you hear people talk about isometrics of the hip extensors, right?
Isometrics of hip extensors are probably just as important as isometrics of the finger flexors. People do planks and we feel like planks are isometric contractions of the abdominal wall. The best way to ramp up the abdominal wall in terms of motor unit recruitment and strength gains is by doing deadlifts, kettlebell swings, and back squats. If you’re doing an isometric deadlift you’re definitely getting a lot of abdominal co-contraction doing those exercises, too, so it’s a really good way to address the response in the organism as a whole.
Neely Quinn: For anybody who wants to use this tool, I want to know when they should do it, how often they should do it, and how many reps and sets and stuff.
Dr. Tyler Nelson: I think the easiest, at least if we’re talking about a multi-joint exercise like the deadlift, I don’t suggest people doing maximum effort deadlifts until they know how to do a deadlift already and they’ve already gone through a training cycle or two of performing deadlifts, just because it’s – or if they have a coach that’s willing to coach them through it I think that would probably be okay. One thing I use isometrics a lot for is back pain. One of the scariest things to do with back pain is bending over to pick something up but doing an isometric contraction against the bar at a very submaximal level is a really good behavior to learn.
For multi-joint exercises, if people really want to try hard I’d say get good at the deadlift and be comfortable with it. In terms of the pulling stuff, the vertical pulling with a bar – again, I’m hesitant to have people do them without being able to measure how hard they try. That’s why the article included the crane scale because athletes don’t really know how hard they can try until they’re measured against their peers.
I have a pretty big Excel spreadsheet with some of the best climbers around and everyone else that wants to compare their values to them. They’ll say, “Well what did they get?” and you say, “Well your value is pretty close to theirs.” “Oh no, I can try harder than that,” and then they actually do and they get up that high. Being able to measure is really helpful to perform the isometrics but the most simple starting point would be to do, after you’re warmed-up, after you have your general warm-up, after you’ve done a couple climbing moves – let’s say you’re doing it on a limit bouldering day – and you’re warmed-up pretty good and you’re ready to try hard, then you would go and you would do probably two joint angles. Let’s say at 120° and 90° and I would probably choose a .5” edge on the Flash board. Something that is an edge in the half-crimp position. I’d probably pull maximal for 5-7 seconds.
Another thing that I want to make sure people know is the amount of force that’s generated in a muscle is time dependent. You can just grab onto the thing and crank on it as fast as you can but that’s not a safe way to recruit muscle fibers for maximal effort. You gotta slowly pull down a little bit and then start to engage more units to try hard. Most of that real hard pulling is probably within 3-4 seconds but you should be able to know when you’ve tried pretty hard 7 seconds and then take a 30 second rest, try again at that position, 30 second rest, try again, and then drop it to 90° and then do the same thing.
For the deadlifting one you do the same thing. You’d probably do the two positions with 20° of knee flexion and 90° of knee flexion, doing the pin pulls against the pins or stacking enough weight onto the bar that you’re not actually going to move it and then you would try three attempts, 5-7 seconds, 30 seconds between each, and then 2 minutes rest and then lower the bar position and then try again. That’s plenty.
Neely Quinn: And then you would go and try hard on boulders?
Dr. Tyler Nelson: Yep. That would be what is considered the post-activation potentiation so you’re already warmed-up, you’re already activated, now we’re just going to potentiate. We’re going to add on top of that preparedness a bunch of neural input to those muscles so they’re ready to fire at a maximal effort.
Neely Quinn: Okay. Would a coach ever have somebody do this after a session?
Dr. Tyler Nelson: No. There’s no reason to. Well, you could do it after a session if you wanted to measure fatigue.
Neely Quinn: Just to test.
Dr. Tyler Nelson: There’s no reason. If they’re maximal/if you’re trying at a maximal level, there is absolutely no reason after you’re tired to try and do this as an exercise. That’s just a great way to get hurt. That would be like going and doing your limit bouldering session and then trying to do a one-rep deadlift max.
Neely Quinn: Would you ever try and do all of this on a day when you’re not climbing?
Dr. Tyler Nelson: Yeah, I usually do all of my finger training and my pull training and my lifting stuff when I’m not climbing.
Neely Quinn: Okay.
Dr. Tyler Nelson: I, personally – except the one exception is the post-activation potentiation that I just described. The training sets, and people can contact me on Instagram directly and a lot of people do about the training sets, and then the next article I’ll include more details about the training sets. This article was kind of an introduction to say, “Hey, this stuff is out there. We should start using it a little bit and thinking about it,” and the second one will be way more specific with training positions. I mean, for me at least, I don’t know of any other people that are doing this quantifying like that. I know Ament is out in Colorado. They use a little bit different set-up. They’re doing some testing on it and I’m not sure if Natasha has been doing it. I know she uses their set-up as well for the deadlift position so we’ve got a couple people that are using it so the more people that do it, the more we’ll learn about it.
For me, I have to try it and try really hard and see what happens. I ended up having a finger injury. My fingers were strong as hell but I did it quite a bit. I think I did eight sessions and every session my average was up quite a bit but my volume was pretty high so I was pushing it pretty hard. Someone’s got to be a guinea pig so I’ll take one for the climbing team.
Neely Quinn: Okay. Last question just because I don’t want people to get hurt. You said use a .5 edge. Is that for advanced climbers?
Dr. Tyler Nelson: That would be, and then for a non-advanced climber I use a .75” edge. On the Flash board that’s the biggest edge.
Neely Quinn: Okay.
Dr. Tyler Nelson: I think that’s plenty of an edge to warm up on as the post-activation potentiation. Sometimes I’ll use the .3 edge, the smallest one, just because those edges – if you’re going to boulder and pull hard it hurts to pull hard bouldering so sometimes that stimulus can be pretty important on the rock.
Neely Quinn: Alright. I’m going to let you go. I know you have like eight jobs to get back to.
Dr. Tyler Nelson: I don’t know. I’m trying to reduce that. You know, one of my New Year’s resolutions this year is to watch more tv.
Neely Quinn: [laughs] Only you.
Dr. Tyler Nelson: I’m pretty excited about it. I’ve been doing okay. My wife is way into the Olympics so I’ve watched some of the Olympics and we finished This is Us. I’ve been trying to go home and turn all my stuff off and just spend time with my kids, which I’ve actually been doing good at so…
Neely Quinn: That’s good. And congratulations on your new baby, Jack. That’s very exciting.
Dr. Tyler Nelson: Oh yeah. Thanks. He’s pretty cool. I snuck one picture of him in with a bunch of cams because there was no photographer at the hospital and my wife was sad. I was like, ‘Here, I’ll pose a picture for him,’ so there’s like five cams around his head.
Neely Quinn: [laughs]
Dr. Tyler Nelson: People were messaging me right after because I have a bunch of offset cams that were prototypes for Black Diamond. They’re not made and people were like, ‘Where the hell did you get those offset BD cams?’ I was like, ‘I got the hookup I guess.’
Neely Quinn: You’re like, ‘And, my baby is really cute.’ [laughs]
Dr. Tyler Nelson: Oh yeah, don’t forget about the baby. You’ve got to see the baby!
Neely Quinn: Alright, well people can contact you through Instagram. Can you just rattle that off real quick?
Dr. Tyler Nelson: Oh yeah. My Instagram account is just @c4hp which is the abbreviation for my business name.
Neely Quinn: I’ll have that all in the show notes and everything so thank you.
Dr. Tyler Nelson: Actually, compared to last time when I talked to you I’ve started a new website, too, so it should be pretty decent and up and kind of working at this point.
Neely Quinn: Which website is it?
Dr. Tyler Nelson: The website name is www.camp4humanperformance.com. There is some information on there and there is a link to the BFR bands. I’ll put the other articles up there for you too, soon, but I just haven’t had time to do that.
Neely Quinn: Okay.
Dr. Tyler Nelson: Cool.
Neely Quinn: Thank you very much, Tyler.
Dr. Tyler Nelson: Yeah, happy to help.
Neely Quinn: Thanks. Talk to you soon.
Alright, I hope you enjoyed that interview with Doctor Tyler Nelson. You can find him on Instagram @c4hp so Camp 4 Human Performance. I’ll put a link to that in the show notes for this episode and I’ll also put a link to his article that he wrote for us in the show notes. The article has a ton of photos of all the different positions that we just talked about in the interview. It’s super helpful to be able to see those and see the set-ups for all of those because it seems super complicated but it’s pretty simple when you see it in pictures.
Thank you, Tyler, for that illuminating interview. I’ll probably have him on again soon to talk about some other new and improved training technique for climbers.
Coming up on the podcast I have an interview with Sasha DiGiulian next week. That will be really exciting. We’re going to talk about her training, her climbing, her diet, and everything like that. I’ll hopefully have some other good stuff coming up on the podcast as well.
Alright, that’s all I’ve got for you today. Don’t forget to follow us on social media at TrainingBeta. We’d love to see you over there and I guess I’ll just talk to you next week. Thanks very much for listening all the way to the end.