18 February 2010

Measuring gains

My last post and comments from them reminded me of a significant problem in training for climbing, or anything where you train component skills/strengths away from the competitive arena of the sport - measurement of gains. 
KT was just commenting noting good gains from training anaerobic endurance on a fingerboard - great! In my head my immediate question was - where was the gain measured? On the fingerboard? Or in the ‘real’ climbing? It made me realise that the significance of this question might not be immediately apparent.
If you train on a fingerboard for climbing, then gains measured on the fingerboard (personal bests on the exercises) give useful information that the training is working or not. However, if gains are happening on the fingerboard but not the ‘real’ climbing, then there is information about whether it’s been the right kind of training.
Naturally, It’s necessary to obsessively monitor both, and any other measure you can get your hands on. Measuring changes in performance variables in as many different situations as possible allows you to make many deductions and useful monitors about the effectiveness of the training choices and how well you are adapting to it.
Some important points linked to this:
The ultimate measure of training effectiveness is the final climbing performance, and this measures both the adaptation of the component skill being trained, and also how much it’s contributing overall. For example if you put a lot of time into improving raw finger strength on a fingerboard over a year or two, but climbing ability actually goes backwards (quite common) then maybe the time taken to achieve the strength gain has caused losses in far more influential areas. Maybe there is some information in there about your real weaknesses.
That said it’s easy to underestimate the value of basic strength or endurance gains from a basic strength exercise because it takes time to work it’s way into your climbing technique. In my book I discussed this effect - The body needs to ‘learn’ that it has the new strength and this only happens when you leave the hangboard and go back to performing for an extended period. An extended period means anything from a month to a year or more.
While you measure gains in one area, remember the ones you are neglecting are going backwards, not staying still. Take this into account when measuring effects in overall climbing performance. Similarly, if your training is improving several separate areas at once, as is normal, don’t be too quick to attribute gains to one possible cause, when it could be the other(s).
The common tendency is for sports people to only measure one or two components of their game - the ones they like training the most, and put all gains or losses in ability down to these.
- Climbers who use campus boards a lot tend to know their personal bests on a given board very well, even if they are climbing well but haven’t been campusing they go back on the board and when unable to touch a previous PB, feel they must have got weaker and their good climbing form must be down to other factors like technique etc. Not necessarily.  The specificity of basic strength exercises is not to be underestimated, and strength measured on one piece of apparatus is only truly a measure of strength on that apparatus, not strength generally.


frank said...

you kinda lost me there...what are you saying? If you train one thing, say fingerboard, you start sucking at real climbing because you miss out on climbing on real rock? If you climb more in the gym, you starting to suck outdoors?
Not sure I know what you mean...
your training should make you a better climber.

Anonymous said...

Not sure why you are lost, the article is well written and pretty straight forward. Its quite obvious that if you are not climbing then technical gains will be lost. "your training should make you a better climber." Only if you are training the right skills. Otherwise, you will plateau and may even decline.

Anonymous said...

Understood it perfectly.

mabu said...

Well written articel :)
You can observe this at your gym or climbing group - e.g. people who like to boulder very much will have a lack of endurance, but will be able to climb hard routes with cracy moves - if the route are short ;)

Jeff said...

Nice article. I think all forms of training should be employed but gains should be measured on the rock/plastic because it encompasses technique, power and experience. But if you want to measure gains via strength a finger board and campus board as described in this lovely article would be perfect.

Anonymous said...

Great article Dave! When you write 'The body needs to ‘learn’ that it has the new strength...' it reminded me of something else.

I recently bought a fingerboard and I've been using it for a few weeks now. What I didn't expect however, was that it would already change the way I was climbing! You see: subconsciously I was avoiding two finger pockets. But thanks to the fingerboard I'm now a lot more confident on these. So although I probably gained zero strength, it did make a big difference psychologically. Now I'm targetting slopers :o)

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