Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Lock-off Strength Training (I). Does Static (lock-offs) Training have any Effect over Dynamic (pull-ups) Performance?

Versión en español

In the previous entry, we tried to answer the first part of Randy's question. No we'll tackle the second:
...It seems I've heard of so many climbers see positive benefits from lock-offs in improving pulling strength.

Undoubtedly, if we train lock-offs we will be better at locking off, but there's a catch:
We will only improve the angle we are training with. Also, to this date there is no reason to believe that a given point of an exercise's range of motion is representative of the whole motion in well-trained people (Wilson and Murphy, 1996).

Percentage gain in isometric strength of elbow flexors due to isometric training at different elbow angles. Data from C. Thèpaut-Mathieu et al, 1968. Source: Fleck and Kraemer (2004)

However, these training effects can be different in non-trained people. For example, Folland et al (2005) did a study with 33 recreationally active males (healthy nonathletes or individuals physically active without an appropriate definition of performance level) and compared the strength gains produced by isometric training at four joint angles with conventional dynamic training. The increase in isokinetic strength was similar in both legs, but we have to keep in mind that this effect happened for non-trained people.

A different issue, but crucial to our purposes, is to consider whether it is worth to specifically work this skill, and the best way to do it. At this point, as often happens, more questions arise. I'll try to arrange this and the following entries so that they address the following:
The impact of static (lock-offs) training over dynamic (pull-ups) performance; what aspects of this discussion can help us being more aware when building a firm base for our training; and, what all of the above has to do with real climbing and actual performance.
Patxi Usobiaga. Photo: Rainer Eder
1- Will we improve our pulling strength, a dynamic concept by definition, by doing lock-offs?
2- Conversely, will we improve our locking strength by doing pull-ups?
3- What about mixing dynamic contractions with lock-offs in the same exercise, like functional isometric or Cometti's static-dynamic pull-ups?
4- What is the weight of our lock-off ability in our global performance?, Is it so important to train it?
5- What kind of climber or climbing style could get the greatest benefit from lock-offs, and what would be the most effective and safe method?
J.M. Archer Thompson ( (1863-1913), a pioneer climbing with an appreciation of bouldering...Source: wwww.johngill.net
1- Will we improve our pulling strength, a dynamic concept by definition, by doing lock-offs?
Does isometric training transfer to dynamic performance? We can guess that, given that the muscular contraction mechanism is the same for dynamic and static activations, we could answer yes to the above questions. But, as usual, things are not so straightforward.

The literature suggests that the increase in strength is closely related to the way it is achieved. The gains obtained using a certain joint angle, speed, position, or activation (static or dynamic), have little transfer to performance under different ones (González-Badillo and Izquierdo, M., 2008).

Ramón Julián
The overall effectiveness of isometric training on dynamic explosive force production is relatively minor, particularly among well-trained strength-power athletes (Hakkinen, 1994).

2- Conversely, will we improve our locking strength by doing pull-ups?
It's been shown that a MIF (maximum isometric force) test is a good predictor of maximum dynamic force (1RM or 1 repetition maximum) (McGuigan and Winchester, 1998; Juneja et al, 2010).

However, according several studies, like the ones reviewed by Baker et al. (1994), after training with a dynamic exercise, the gains measured in the dynamic test did not correlate with the gains in the isometric test. And this fact was even more evident the higher was the athlete's sport level.
All of the above mean that, for example, the individuals with the biggest gains doing pull-ups with added weight did not experience the same improvement when it came to bearing weight while locking-off with a 90º elbow angle.
Source:  Historical Performances in chin-ups, pull-ups, levers, and crosses
Duchautau and Hainaud (1984) suggest that human muscle adapts differently to isometric or to dynamic training programs. According to Baker et al (1994), the mechanisms that contribute to enhanced dynamic strength appeared unrelated to the mechanisms that contribute to enhanced isometric strength.  The results of their studies demonstrated that a generality of muscle function did not exist and that modality specific results were observed.

In practice, according to the consulted scientific literature, we could suggest that even if there is some relation between pull-up maximum strength and locking-off strength at the optimal angle (Murphy et al. (1995) suggested that the best angle to use for comparison with performance scores is the one which produces peak force, 90º in our case), training lock-offs would improve our performance at the training angle, but it would not mean proportional gains in pull-ups, and vice versa.

We will try to provide further information through the following entries:
3- What about mixing dynamic contractions with lock-offs in the same exercise, like functional isometric or Cometti's static-dynamic pull-ups?
4- What is the weight of our ability to lock-off in our global performance?, Is it so important to train it?
5- What kind of climber or climbing style could get the greatest benefit from lock-offs, and what would be the most effective and safe method?

  • Baker, D.; Wilson, G. and Carlyon, B. (1994): Generality versus specificity: a comparison of dynamic and isometric measures of strength and speed-strength. European Journal of Applied Physiology and occupational Physiolog. Volume 68, Number 4, 350-355
  • Duchateau, J. and Hainaud, K.(1984): Isometric or dynamic training: differential effects on mechanical properties of a human muscle. Journal of Applied Physiology February 1, vol. 56 no. 2 296-301McGuigan, M.R. and Winchester, J.B. (2008): The relationship between isometric and dynamic strength in college football players. Journal of Sports Science and Medicine 7, 101-105
  • Folland, J.P.;  Hawker, K.; Leach, B.; Little, T.; Jones D. (2005):  Strength training: isometric training at a range of joint angles versus dynamic training. Journal of Sports Sciences; 23(8):817-24
  • Fleck, S.J, and Kraemer, W.J. (2004): Designing Resistance Training Programs. Human Kinetics.
  • González-Badillo, JJ, and Izquierdo, M. (2008): Evaluación de la fuerza en el control del entrenamiento y el rendimiento deportivo. En Izquierdo, M. (editor); Biomecánica y Bases Neuromusculares de la Actividad Física y el Deporte. Panamericana
  • Guy, M., Piatt, C.; Himmelberg, L.; Ballmann, K. and Mayhew, J. L. (1996): Isometric strength measurements as predictors of physical performance in college men. IAHPERD Journal Vol 30, 1. 
  • Hakkinen, K. 1994: Neuromuscular adaptation during strength training, aging, detraining and inmobilization. Critical Reviews in Physical and Rehabilitation Medicine 6:161-198 
  • Juneja, H., Verma, S. K, Khanna,(2010): Isometric Strength and Its Relationship to Dynamic Performance: A Systematic Review. Journal of Exercise Science and Physiotherapy, Vol. 6, No. 2: 60-69.
  • Murphy AJ, Wilson GJ, Pryor JF, Newton RJ (1995): Isometric assessment of muscular function: the effect of joint angle. J Appl Biomech 11: 205
  • Viitasalo JT (1982): Anthropometric and physical performance characteristics of male volleyball players. Can J Appl Sport Sci. Sep;7(3):182-8.
  • Wilson GJ, and Murphy AJ.  (1996): The use of isometric tests of muscular function in athletic assessment. Sports Med. Jul;22(1):19-37


  1. hola eva, existe el articulo en español o me voy a tener que volver chino con el diccionario jajaja saludos desde argentina.
    matias lopez

    1. Matías,

      Jajaja, no está mal tampoco que practiques el inglés, te alegrarás a la larga ;-)

      Pero no te preocupes, que lo publicaré en español. Esta semana publicaré en español el de "Repeticiones lentas y entrenamiento Excéntrico"; y seguramente, en 1-2 semanas más, este de los bloqueos.


  2. Hi

    Question about progression and transgression in general. I allready have a home made hangboard that has 6mm to 20mm wooden surfaces. I am super interested in your training schedule but not so much in the board. Is it possible to buy the training schedule without the board?

    love your blog

    1. Hi Johan,

      Thank you for your feedback!

      Your question is answered here

      Anyway, I think that you will be able to train well following the recommendations of this blog and some common-sense rules. Don't you think?

      Best regards and thank you for your interest

  3. Hi Miss Lopez, Steve again. AS soon as the board is available in america, I'm getting one for my local gym.

    I've been reading over and over again the post and responses to comments made about the finger strength training methodology.
    First off, I can confirm that training maximum strength by hanging 3-5'' till failure does not provide any gain (or very very little). My rigorous testing methodology ran over multiple years just proved it to me a few days ago.

    So I will give a shot to something new, I will try your methodology. I am at a level where the Transgression training applies to me. Since I don't have your board, I will be using two identical 8mm slightly in incut crimps mounted on are campus board and significant added weights to fill the recommended time of:

    I will keep you posted on the results. Of course, I will perform my standard test before and after the first and second 4 weeks.


    1. Hi Steve,

      Ok, I hope the board is available soon in America. Actually, there are a lot of people interested.

      Training maximum strength for 3-5'' until failure, i.e., using loads higher than 95% doing 1-4 repetitions, has the following characteristics:
      - Leads to fast(generally around 2-4 weeks) , big improvements, especially the first few times it's used.
      - Due to the high loads that are required, it's adequate for expert athletes.
      - It's not a method one wants to abuse, 1-2 times per year is enough.
      - The improvements that are achieved are neural, but not structural, so performance plateaus very soon. It's been observed that keeping on doing it for a long time can result in stagnant performance, loss of time and motivation and even injury.

      In order to obtain long-term gains, it's advisable to schedule methods and intensities. In your case, you could try an 8-week cycle of 10-second repetitions, training for the first 4 weeks with added weight on a flat edge 18mm-deep (using an 8mm one as you suggest will put more strain on your tissues and also yields smaller gains). The next 4 weeks would be on the smallest possible edge without added weight.
      Then you can rest for 2 weeks and repeat the cycle with 10-8 second repetitions.

      Lastly, given your current level, I recommend you to follow the cycles above with 8 weeks of intermittent dead-hangs, which improve your strength via hypertrophy along with improvements in strength-endurance (these will be noticeable after the whole 8 weeks):
      3-5 sets x 4-5reps x 10'' :5''/1'-3'

      There are two variants you can choose from:
      - Without added weight, using the smallest possible edge that allows you to finish the entire session.
      - With added weight, on larger (18-14mm) edges and with a load that allows you to carry out the whole session.
      I always recommend starting with the easiest and less agressive one, without added weight.

      Regards, and good luck.

  4. Ola Eva, como estas?
    Me gustaria ponerte una pregunta, pero no se donde ponerla en tu blog, asì que entento aquì.
    Algunas veces cuando hago suspensiones maximas de un solo brazo, prefiero no ajudarme con el otro, descargando una parte del peso, sino contraer muy forte, como si hiciera una traccion, y destacar rapidamente los pies del suelo, ententanto mantener la posicion "aerea" bloqueando la presa que en realidad no podria dominar, sin ajuda del otro brazo. Es un esfuerzo absolutamente maximo y extremamente corto, ciertamente bajo el medio segundo. Inmediatamente despues de poner lo pies al suelo hago otro.
    Piensas que pueda ser un bueno estimulo o solamente una peligrosa perdita de tiempo?
    Espero que mi pregunta pueda ser interesante por otros escaladores, asì que si quieres contestarme en tu blog seria perfecto tambien.
    Gracias por tu profesionalidad!!!

    P.s. aqui hay un ejemplo.

    1. Hola Lore,

      Ya ves que lo que comentas, sobre todo respecto al tiempo de ejecución, viene muy al caso a algo que comentó en esta otra entrada que acabo de publicar, y tu ejercicio es muy parecido a uno que propondré en la siguiente entrada y que seguro que intuirás, verdad? ;-)

      En cuanto a la seguridad...tienes razón en preguntar por el riesgo. Tirar así de un monodedo sólo será seguro en tu caso y en el de gente para los que ese canto suponga una baja intensidad, y además lo hagáis en estado descansado. Si no, podríais tener una lesión "inesperada" en esa fase que tú bien llamas "aérea". Cuidado.

      Recueda que cuando un músculo no es capaz de aguantar una carga, pueden ocurrir una de dos cosas: que se sobreestire y se rompa el músculo, o que se sobreestire el tendón y se dañe, ya que éste sólo soporta estiramientos del 2%.

      Os comentaré una variante más segura, en una entrada próxima

      Gracias a ti, suerte, y fuerza. Que la fuerza te acompañe!

      P.D. This reply, soon in English too.

  5. Same question as the above:
    some times, when doing one armed dead hangs, I prefer not to get some help from the other hand, taking off some weight, but instead I try to contract my arm as if doing a pull up; then I lift my feet from the floor very quickly, and I try to keep the "flying" position locking off a hold that otherwise I could not hang with one hand. It's a super maximal effort, and of a very short duration, surely less than 1/2 second. Just as I put my feet down, inmediately I repeat it, for a few times.
    Do you think that this could be a good stimulus or is it only a dangerous loss of time?
    I hope that many others could benefit from my question.
    Many thanks for your constant research and professinalism.

    P.s. here is a small example:

    1. Hi Lore,

      Thank you!

      As you can see, especially when looking at the effort duration, what you say is really in line with the contents of this recent entry, and your exercise is very similar to one I will comment in the next blog post, and that you'll surely work out for yourself. ;-)

      The security issue... you are right to question yourself about it. Pulling with one or two fingers as you do in your video, will be safe if that kind of grip is of low intensity for you and you are properly rested. Otherwise there would be the risk of an 'unexpected' injury during the 'flying position'. Be careful.

      Remember that when a muscle can't withstand a load, two things can follow: overstretching and rupture of the muscle, or something similar happening to the tendon. And the latter only can stretch 2-4%.

      I'll comment on a similar, safer exercise in the next entry.

      Thanks to you and goog luck!

  6. Hi Eva!

    I really enjoy reading your blog and love how you incorporate science and research in your reasoning and explanations of your training techniques. Thank you so much for all the hard work! I have been training the past couple of years using the periodization method where I would train strength first, followed by power, then power-endurance. During my finger strength training phase I performed deadhangs for 6" with a 5" rest for 6 repetitions, resting 2 minutes between sets for a total of 3 sets. I repeated this for 5 different holds. I picked this up from some articles I read on the internet and found some improvement in my climbing. However, after reading your blog, I have started to realize that this may not be the most efficient use of my training. So instead, I would like to start following your training schedule.

    I am planning to begin your 8-week cycle of 10 second repetitions, training for the first 4 weeks with added weight on a larger edge, and the next 4 weeks on the smallest edge possible without added weight. I plan on doing 3-5 sets (Which means I only hang 3-5 times, correct? This seems like a very small amount to me, especially after my previous schedule, but I will follow your advice!) and perform this 2 times a week, resting at least 48 hours before training again. Since this is a strength training phase, would you recommend performing exercises to increase pull strength at the same time as finger-strength? Would you recommend performing these pull-strengthening exercises before or after the finger-strengthening exercises? Regarding the pull-strengthening exercises, I was considering varying angles of lock-offs as well as frenchies and off-set pull ups. Do you have any thoughts on this?

    You also mention intermittent dead-hangs for strength endurance (I think this is similar to what I was doing before during my strength training phase). Do you recommend doing this during or after the first 8-week cycle of 10 second repetitions? I guess I am trying to figure out how to schedule my training so that I can peak for the sport climbing season this October. I am thinking of still incorporating the periodization schedule, but while incorporating your training methodologies. Is power something that I can train along side strength-endurance or should I wait until after? Is the periodization way of training even the best way to do this?

    So right now I am tentatively planning on starting off with the 8-week cycle of 10 second reps, twice a week while at the same time performing pull-strength exercises. I will probably follow this with intermittent dead-hangs while working on my power. Then I will finish off with power endurance training to get ready for the sport climbing season. If I am going at this the wrong way, please let me know!

    Thank you very much for taking the time to read this. I have always been interested in the science of training and since I am mainly a weekend warrior, I always want to make the best of my training so that I can climb strong during my limited time during the season. I have tried doing as much research I can on the topic of training for climbing and am very happy that I stumbled upon your blog.

    Thank you for your wisdom!

    1. Hi Brian,

      Wow, too many questions for only one blog! :-D
      I think that you need a coach online, ;-)

      I'll answer to the first three questions.

      1-The methodology you detail for finger strength training includes incomplete recovery periods and a large training volume that are more appropiate for improving power-endurance, so if you have noticed maximum strength gains they are probably due to the hypertrophy effect of this kind of training. On a side note, if you don't change parameters like the number of sets/repetitions and then hanging/rest duration as you progress, with time your performance will end up plateauing.

      2- Pull strength: I prefer to do it after deadhangs

      3- Intermittent deadhangs after the first 8-week cycle of 10 second repetitions

      I hope you enjoy the new methods if you decide to go ahead with them!

      Thank you for your confidence

  7. Hi Eva.

    Great blog. I thought I might point you in the direction of a website I have been developing. its called http://icoachclimbing.com.

    Like yourself, I am a climbing coach who studied at masters level, I mainly concentrated on psychology. As such I have used performance profiling process that I automated for climbing, and have started to build a coaching library that links to online articles.

    So far I have added my own and those that were on UKC as links. I will hopefully get round to linking to your blog soon enough, but I am busy writing a book at the moment, as well as trying to code more of the website.

    I am currently look for people who might want to advertise on the site in return for some publicity. I think your training board would be a great product to advertise, and the cost is free until next year.

    As a blog writer myself (http://lifeinthevertical.co.uk/bolgs), I have been cautious about ripping content off, so I only link to others content. Although I have chosen your blog as one that dynamically updates a coaching news page. Here a program strips out all images and gives a preview of the first 100 words, if the reader wants to carry on reading it they need to go to you RSS feed.

    Anyway, it would be nice to see what you thought of the site, and the way I am linking to content.

    All the Best.


    1. Hi Mark,

      Thank you for your comment.
      I am also very interested on sports psychology, specially on its application to climbing. In fact, some of my blog entries are about that topic. I hope to translate them into english sometime and feature them in this blog.

      Regarding your webpage, it's a good idea to gather training resources from the net. I personally thank you, however, for giving just a preview and not the whole entry as other sites do. I think it's more fair and useful for the reader, for the author, and for you who goes through the trouble of collecting from several sources.

      As for the advertising, I appreciate the offer, but I'm not personally interested on further promotion of the hangboards. I think it would be better if you contacted directly JM Climbing's marketing department, because it's them who market the boards (info@jmclimbing.com)

      Thanks for everything and good luck with your book!