• Photo Credit: John Wesely; @lightningsnaps; Area: RRG, KY; Climb: Believer 11b; Climber: Hannah Dwyer

Why Do I Suck At Climbing Some Days?!? Part 2: Readiness Monitoring

We’ve all had projects that get under our skin.  If you’re anything like me, this can often lead to questioning whether or not today is a good day for me to try and send.  I obsess over whether or not I’m feeling fresh enough, if the conditions are good enough, if my skin is thick enough, or if I’d be better off resting.

To help you make these decisions about whether to climb, train, or rest, here’s the second installment in the Why Do I Suck At Climbing Some Days?!? Series by Joshua Rucci.

A couple of months back we posted an article by Joshua Rucci that tried to answer the question “Why do I suck at climbing some days?”.  In this first article, Joshua examined the underlying reasons you might have an off day and gave gave us a lot of useful information about recovery to ensure that we are fresh and ready to send when we get to the crag.

However, in this article, Joshua doesn’t just talk about why you might have an off day.  Instead, gives you the tools to monitor your recovery and help you answer the question of whether or not you are recovered enough get on your project or have a hard training session.  Take a look.

Enter Joshua…

Why Do I Suck At Climbing Some Days?!? 

Part 2: Readiness Monitoring

I was pretty excited writing the first entry in the “Why do I Suck At Climbing Some Days” series. It was the first article that I wrote for the site and I wanted to convey some general information about fatigue and different recovery modalities to hopefully banish the “Sucky Day” for good!

Not having a crappy day at the crag is important, but after wading through the numerous forums and talking with other climbers, I may have missed the mark with my first article. It appears as though having the ever elusive “low-gravity” day is of much more importance. Climbers across the globe are searching for that perfect combination of training, weight management, nutrition, recovery, and perfect temps to go out and send projects.

Hopefully at some point in your climbing career you have experienced this “low-gravity” phenomenon and have had that magical day of climbing. After that magical day, did you ever stop and ask yourself how that day came to be and if it can replicated? Maybe the stars and moons just happened to line up right that day? Maybe the universe forgot to conspire against you that day? Maybe your climbing partners actually wanted to see you send and sent good vibes that day?

In this article I will make the argument that none of this nonsense is the reason for an amazing day of climbing, but rather a certain and specific set of circumstances leading up to that day are the cause. I believe that with some proper planning and monitoring you can actually replicate these days and I am going to arm you with info you need to do just that!

Introduction to Readiness Monitoring

In the last 3-5 years the popularity and need of readiness monitoring in the strength and conditioning field has led to many technological innovations and more and more strength coaches are now administering some type of readiness monitoring. One of the leaders in monitoring readiness is the company Omegawave and they do a really nice job of defining some of the relevant terminology.

  • Readiness: The current functional state of an athlete that determines the ability of an individual to effectively achieve their performance potential.
  • Management of athlete preparation: Optimization of the athlete’s overall state through training and recovery activities, ensuring the achievement of best possible results.
  • Adaptation: The process of adapting to training related and non-training related changes in environment.
  • Trainability: The ability to receive training loads and effectively adapt to them, thereby producing a positive training effect. Increasing trainability leads to in improved capacity to resist training related and non-training related changes in the environment and decreases the negatives consequences associated with training.1

Your ability to perform well and adapt to your training will vary day to day. As mentioned in my first installment; stress, sleep, nutrition, and use of recovery modalities will all affect how “ready” you are to train/perform and more importantly how your body will react to the training stimulus/stress. Pretty much anything that happens in your life can be classified under stress, either good stress (eustress) or bad stress (distress). This deserves a little more clarification.

Stress & Performance:

A stressor, good or bad, “is anything in the outside world that knocks you out of homeostatic balance, and the stress response is what your body does to reestablish homeostasis.”With this definition; any training, performance, or competition can be seen as a stressor. How your body responds to the stressor is complex however.

Hans Selye came up with the concept of the General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS) to help explain how the body reacts to physical stressors. This model is composed of three phases.

  1. Alarm Stage: Initial reaction of the body to the stressor that has disrupted the homeostasis of the body. In response to the stressor the body begins a cascade of “stress” hormones that allow you to perform physical activities that are more stressful than normal.

For climbers, the alarm stage is turned on with any training or climbing that is new or more stressful than previously completed.

  1. Resistance Stage: During this stage the stressor is no longer present or has decreased and your body’s defenses are temporarily impaired as more energy is being diverted to repair damaged tissues.

This phase is typically thought of as the adaptation phase. Given the proper stressor and time to recover/adapt to said stressor, the body will repair the tissue and restore energy stores.

For climbers, the resistance/adaptation phase is typically encountered during rest days, prolonged periods of rest, and unloading periods of training periodization.

  1. Exhaustion Stage: Exhaustion stage sets in when the stressor has been persistent over a prolonged period of time. Either the intensity and/or the duration of the stressor become overwhelming and the body can no longer combat or adapt to the stressor.

This stage is marked by abnormal fatigue, increased duration and intensity of muscle soreness, chronic joint pain, and can be accompanied by increased susceptibility to illness.

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As previously stated in my first installment, PLANNING IS PARAMOUNT!!! A well thought out training plan that properly periodizes the volume and intensity of each training day, training week, and training cycle is priceless. While planning training cycles is not a form of readiness monitoring, it greatly decreases the likelihood of reaching the exhaustion stage.

Even with a formal training plan like the ones you can get here at Training Beta, there will still be a difference between individuals in how their body reacts to a training stimulus.

Stress comes in many forms that most of the time we are completely unaware of, which will negatively affect how our body adapts to training. These may include…

  • Decrease in amount of sleep
  • Poor Nutrition
  • Road rage
  • Argument with your significant other
  • Increased work or school load
  • Anxiety
  • Worrying
  • Illness

This list could go on and on, but the take home point is that your body’s trainability is dependent upon a myriad of factors. The dynamic interaction of so many different factors makes it really hard to discern whether or not your body is in a good state of trainability.

With the GAS model in mind, training should be aimed at using the appropriate training stimulus (volume, intensity, duration) coupled with the appropriate amount of rest to allow for favorable adaptations to take place. Selye talked a lot about the adaptive energy of the body and how stress begins to deplete this energy source, which is finite. The finite nature of this energy is what leads to exhaustion, overtraining, staleness, etc. and is why proper rest and recovery is important.

Here’s the big problem with all of this jargon; how do you know when you should train and when you should rest??? By monitoring your readiness to train, that’s how!!!

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Photo Credit: John Wesely; @lightningsnaps; Area: Bishop, CA; Climb: Acid Wash Right V7; Climber: Amy Alexander

Low-Tech Readiness Monitoring:

Hopefully you are beginning to realize the need for some type of system to help monitor your trainability besides just adhering to your training program. Readiness monitoring may consist of low-tech monitoring which includes resting heart rate, neurological tap test questionnaires, and various power/strength tests. There also more high-tech monitoring systems like heart rate variability (HRV) and the aforementioned Omegawave system. I will briefly introduce these monitoring systems and how they may be applied to your training.

Questionnaires:

One of the easiest methods for monitoring readiness is the use of a daily questionnaire.

Subjective-Questionnaire

This is a basic readiness questionnaire that spawned from the research of McClean & Coutts in the International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance (2010) that has proved to be very useful for myself and my athletes. It is quick to take and easy to record.

  • You can either circle a whole number score (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) or put a slash between scores (1.5, 2.5, 3.5, 4.5).
  • Take this questionnaire every day and record your score on each metric as well as your total score.
  • Set-up an excel sheet or write down your scores in a notebook and pay close attention to how your total score varies from day to day.
  • You can always add more metrics to help you better capture your days; like a performance scale (how well did you perform that day) and an RPE scale (how hard was your training/climbing).

From day to day there will be variation in your total score which will give you an indication of your overall readiness/trainability for the day. In certain phases of your life and your training, there may or may not be a lot of variation from day to day.

Where the questionnaire really shines is when you are in a training cycle and are trying to manage rest and recovery with hard training. The key here is to be honest with yourself when you are filling out the questionnaire and to observe patterns/correlations between your readiness score and your climbing performance. If your average total score on the questionnaire is 18 and after a hard day or two of training, your score has dropped to a 14; that may be an indication that you need to take a rest day or go easy in the gym as your trainability may be low for that day.

This of course can go the other way as well. For whatever reason your score has jumped up and is above average signaling that maybe today is a good day to jump on some projects and have a high performance day.

Resting Heart Rate:

Resting heart rate is another, low-tech means with which to monitor readiness. Taking your resting heart rate in the morning and recording it can give you a good indication of your trainability.

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Heart rate is affected by the interaction between the sympathetic (excitation) nervous system and your parasympathetic (relaxation) nervous system, which together make up your autonomic nervous system. Generally speaking, an increase in parasympathetic activity will decrease heart rate and an increase in sympathetic activity will increase heart rate. Negative adaptation to training or a low trainability state involves the autonomic nervous system and may result in an altered resting heart rate.

  • Each morning wake-up around the same time and take your heart seated in a similar position. (Heart rate is affected by body position)
  • Set-up an excel sheet or write down your resting heart rate in a notebook and pay close attention to how your resting heart rate varies from day to day.
  • Do this for 2-3 weeks to establish an average. Once you have an average it will be clear if there are any significant deviations.

If your resting heart rate is significantly elevated from the average (7-10 beats), it may be a sign that you are not fully recovered from a previous workout and that your trainability may be low for that day. If resting heart rate stays elevated or begins to creep up steadily over the course of a couple of weeks, it may be indicative of poor rest and recovery and a sign that you may need to back your training down. On the flip side, if you see your resting heart rate steadily coming down, it may be indicative of easier training or that you are getting in better shape.

Keep in mind that resting heart rate is highly variable and can be affected by many external factors, specifically caffeine consumption and medications. Normal daily variation may be anywhere from 2-4 beats per minute. Try to get in the habit of doing it under the same circumstances every day and you will get better results.

Tap Test & Other Neurological Tests:

Take a minute and please re-read the section on the Central Nervous System (CNS) fatigue in part 1 of the series for a general discussion on the CNS.

Your CNS can become fatigued from neglecting rest and recovery, but the nature of hard climbing and training really sets you down the path of neural fatigue if not properly periodized and monitored.

In terms of weight lifting, the exercises that contribute the most to CNS fatigue are those movements that involve the use of more than one major muscle group at a time, explosive movements and psychologically demanding movements. While climbing, utilizes smaller muscle groups, I would argue that a hard bouldering session taxes the CNS just as much as a hard deadlift workout due to the high psychological effort present. With that said, it would be nice to be able to test and monitor our CNS to evaluate recovery and trainability.

The CNS finger tap test is quite simple to perform and there are a couple of apps out there for IOS and Android that you can download, I prefer this one. The nerves in your hands show great sensitivity to neural tone and require fine motor control, thus providing good input as to the state of the CNS.

The test is fairly self-explanatory; you rest the heel of your palm on a flat surface and begin tapping your screen with your index finger while your other fingers remain down on the flat surface. You are trying to see how many taps you can get in the allotted time.

  • Each morning wake-up around the same and perform the test on both hands making sure to be as strict as possible to the testing protocol.
  • Set-up an excel sheet or write down your score for both hands in a notebook and pay close attention to how your score varies from day to day.
  • Do this for 2-3 weeks to establish an average. Once you have an average it will be clear if there are any significant deviations.

As for your resting heart rate, you are looking for any significant deviations from the average (10% up or down would be considered significant). Deviations below your average are an indication of neural fatigue and deviations above your average may indicate increased trainability.

Handgrip Strength:

Another fairly easy way to monitor CNS readiness is through the use of a handgrip dynamometer. I am particularly fond of this method as it is more specific to climbing as opposed to some other tests that you can use to monitor CNS readiness like the standing vertical jump.

You will notice that these dynamometers utilize a crushing grip, which is not very specific to climbing, and thus is probably not an accurate measure of your grip strength as it pertains to climbing. We are not interested in the correlation between your handgrip dynamometer strength and your climbing ability however. Just like all of the other tests, we are concerned about significant deviations from the average to provide input about trainability and CNS readiness.

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Dynamometers can be quite expensive or rather inexpensive; I have been using this model with myself and my athletes and have been pleased with it. Electronic dynamometers tend to be less accurate in regards to your actual grip strength, but do seem to give reliable scores, which is really what matters in our situation.

  • Each morning around the same time perform the test on both hands making sure to be as strict as possible to the testing protocol.
  • I strongly recommend a quick warm-up prior to squeezing as hard as you can first thing in the morning (painful mistake that I made and would like you to avoid). Quick gyro ball or putty exercises should do the trick.
  • Testing Notes: When testing, your arm should be at your side and bent at 90 degrees. You can use other arms positions if they feel more comfortable to you, just be consistent with which arm position you use. Most of the normative data if based on a 90 degree bend with arm at your side.
    • The base of the dynamometer should be in the heel of your palm and the handle should rest on middle of the fingers.
  • Set-up an excel sheet or write down your score for both hands as well as the average in a notebook and pay close attention to how your score varies from day to day.
  • Do this for 2-3 weeks to establish an average. Once you have an average it will be clear if there are any significant deviations.

If your scores have declined by 2kg or more per hand, that may be an indication of inadequate CNS recovery from previous workout or workouts. If scores are up you are probably doing well with your recovery and training schedule and can be psyched for a good session.

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Photo Credit: John Wesely; @lightningsnaps; Area: Bishop, CA; Climb: Morning Dove V7; Climber: Drew Stewart

High-Tech Readiness Monitoring:

Two of the more high-tech methods of monitoring readiness include heart rate variability (Bioforce and others) and the Omegawave system which monitors numerous physiological factors.

Heart rate variability (HRV) records the variability of the intervals between your heartbeats and is a good indication of autonomic nervous system activity in much the same way that resting heart rate is. HRV is more reliable then resting heart rate however as it is affected to a lesser degree by outside factors (time of day, caffeine, medications, etc.) Based on your data this system will give you an overall readiness score with which to base your training off of.

The Omegawave system looks at a variety of physiological factors and gives you an overall readiness score as well as readiness scores for endurance, speed/power, strength, and coordination/skill. This is unique in that your overall readiness may be high for the day, but based on your data, it may be higher for speed and power training as opposed to endurance training.

Both of these monitoring systems require an upfront cost for the necessary hardware and in the case of the Omegawave system, there is a recurring cost for use of the software.

If you choose to go down either of these routes, each system has very detailed instructions and both provide training recommendations based on your data. I think they are both great in regards to readiness monitoring, but will cost you more money and take a little bit longer to administer the testing than many of the “low-tech” methods.

Nooowwwww Whhhaaaaat?????

Well that was a crap load of info I just threw at you!!! If you want to start testing the waters with some readiness monitoring, here are my suggestions…

  1. Start a training program or in the very least keep a log of your training/climbing days. It does not have to be super detailed; just write down “hard bouldering” or “easier endurance day.” It just needs to be a reminder of what you did and how hard you thought it was.

This will help you understand and make connections between the difficulty/type of workouts you are doing and how they affect your readiness.

  1. Start with the questionnaire. Keep it simple, be honest with yourself and record it somewhere. Make connections between your scores and how your training/climbing is going.
  1. If you want more info than just the questionnaire, move onto the tap test and resting heart rate. Cheap and easy to do, most apps even record your results for you!

Next step would be the handgrip dynamometer. Little more of an investment, but worth it in my opinion.

If you get really into readiness monitoring and see good results, pony up and go high-tech.

  1. If you have adopted a couple of the low-tech monitoring techniques, I would advise you to make this excel sheet and add in the variables you are using.

Here is an example of multiple readiness variables recorded in one excel sheet, which helps organize everything so you can make the proper training decisions:

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  1. Realize that this is not a fool-proof system. Some days all of your readiness data is telling you that you are fresh and should kill it, but you warm-up and still can’t send your damn projects.

The reverse can be true as well. You don’t listen to the data, which is telling you that you are in need of a day off and you end up having a great day of climbing.

These things happen; science is still far behind in regards to understanding the human body.

Overall, monitoring your readiness in the long term will prove to be very helpful and informative, even if it does get a day or two wrong here and there. Look for trends over the course of weeks and over the course of training cycles.

If a 4 week training cycle is meant to progressively get harder over the course of the weeks, then you should expect to see a gradual decline in some of your data each week. After you unload or have an easier week, you should hopefully see your numbers begin to return to normal or above normal.

Train smarter, not harder. Be honest with yourself, listen to your body, and begin to make connections between your readiness scores and how you are training. You just may just figure out that more is not always better!!!

Citations:

  1. Fomin, R., Nasedkin, V. (2013) Effective management of athlete preparation; a comprehensive approsch to monitoring the athlete’s individual readiness. Retrieved from https://omegawave.blob.core.windows.net/sitematerials/Academy/white-paper.pdf?sfvrsn=0
  2. Sapolsky, R. M. (2004) Why zebras don’t get ulcers. New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press.

About Joshua Rucci:

JoshuBio Pic3-2a Rucci is a collegiate Strength and Conditioning Coach in the Southeastern Conference. He has always
been passionate about helping athletes get better and reach their potential. Upon arriving to the southeast, Joshua quickly realized that his days of team sports were over and that he belonged in the woods mountain biking and climbing. Joshua entered the climbing game later in life at the ripe old age of 24 and for the past 9 years has been training to transform his body from a 200lb college lacrosse player to a 155lb rock climber.

Joshua’s progression has been slow and steady up to 5.13 sport and double digit boulders with limited interruption from injury or major setbacks. Amidst having to work long hours as a coach, Joshua has effectively been able to manage his time to accommodate training, getting to the crag, work, and a new addition to the family!

Joshua is passionate about strength and conditioning as well as climbing and through his blog entries he is hoping to bring the two worlds together to help climbers utilize the science and practical training that he employs with his athletes.

Joshua’s certifications include NSCA CSCS, NASM PES, SFG Level 2, FMS Level 1, and he completed his undergraduate degree at BGSU in exercise science and completed his graduate work at UGA in motor behavior

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By | 2017-09-18T06:43:28+00:00 November 17th, 2015|0 Comments

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