13 June 2007

Eccentric training notes

Phil just emailed to ask:

I have been reading about DOMS and eccentric loading being a cause, which lead me to look up eccentric exercises (EE). Being a triathlete and climber I was mostly interested in exercises for the legs, but it got me thinking if there was a good case for climbers to find arm exercises. Clearly with down-climbing the muscles are being loaded eccentrically, but also I can envisage "normal" climbing and traversing will have an eccentric element too. Do you have some EEs that you do? Do you think that climbers could train eccentrically to reduce DOMS on trips, and to allow better control when their muscles are working in this way?”

DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) is indeed provoked more intensely with eccentric exercise than concentric. It’s other main cause is simply using the muscles at a level they haven’t been used to for a while. Which is a major bummer for those getting off the couch and starting to exercise or train – the first few sessions are pure hell!

Although the picture is not entirely clear and depends very much on the sport, training using a combination of eccentric and concentric contractions returns the biggest strength gains. Normal climbing has a reasonable eccentric component already (I’m speaking about the arms here). And those who have weak arms and need supplement their climbing with some weight training should do some eccentric work. Often this simply involves dropping back down in control after doing a pull-up! Of course any type of supplementary training with weights for the arms and body are just that – supplementary. Too many climbers get carried away here.

For me personally, I simply boulder for gaining body strength, supplemented by a very little bar training at certain times of year. The major issue in climbing is avoidance of overdevelopment of muscle, and also the importance of technique. Training body strength entirely ‘on the wall’ makes sense for most climbers because you are learning technique and neuromuscular coordination (an underrated component of muscle strength!!!) at the same time. Weights are an extremely blunt instrument which often have undesirable side effects for coordination, technique and over development of unnecessary muscle tissue. In some other sports not so dependent on body mass, such as sprint running, the overdevelopment of muscle might not be such a concern.

So in summary – normal climbing has an eccentric component anyway. For those few needing supplementary weight training, an eccentric component is certainly important. Just remember to reverse the contraction – drop down from pull-ups etc…


Anonymous said...

Interesting. I had not really thought about the direction of muscular force used in climbing. It seems complicated. Through any sequence of move you might be on either side of the contraction spectrum with opposing tension in the arms, legs, or core.

You see a lot of training schemes that used down climbing/lowering through campus moves/lock offs/ which would seems to fit into eccentric type moves.

I think you are right that weight training has done little to improve my climbing (with the exception of top side forearm work to reduce injury).


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