Sunday, March 18, 2012

Is there any Evidence that Warm Up is Necessary for Dead Hang Training?

Versión en español 

Warm-up is highly recognized as an essential part of any sports activity. The aim of warm-up is to increase muscle-tendon suppleness, stimulate peripheral blood flow, increase the temperature of the body, muscle tendon and connective tissue; and enhance free, coordinated movement.
During endurance routes, performance is enhanced by a good warm-up, because it allows your body to deliver more oxygen to the muscles right from the start of the workout, and reduces the temporary oxygen debt (Hojoblou et al, 2005)
Picture: Dani Andrada - Corazón de Ensueño, 8c FA; China. Photo by Sam Bie. Source:

However...The science about how to warm up is not well developed; we haven’t answered the big questions yet: about whether to warm up or why to warm up (Fradkin et al, 2010)...

After one of my last posts, somebody asked me:
"Since you so easily entertain all my questions I will ask another seemingly unrelated question that I think in some strange way applies to your studies and training.

I have noticed that most programs mention warm-ups, but on the other hand there are a few notable climbers who seem to jump straight onto difficult boulders and routes with no apparent warm up. In fact (not sure if you know who he is but...) boon speed of pusher developed a hangboard years ago after noticing that he was stronger from doing short hard hangs randomly (sounds a lot like your training) with no real training warm up just throughout the day hang for a few seconds and go on with your day... which seemed to work for him in sending his 8c(+) route project. To make a short story long - is there any evidence that warm ups may or may not be necessary in this type of training? it seems very curious"
It's not so easy! :-D but I apply a WIN/WIN philosophy (I LEARN/YOU LEARN) that's pretty motivating.

I ignore the exact methodology that Boone Speed used and its development as the sets went by (evolution in edge depth, EL or added weight), but let's suppose he didn't use Pavel Tsatsouline's method (He stated that if you want to get better at doing pull ups, you do more pull ups. But don't try and do 100 in a workout (setsxreps). Instead, you perform many sets of the same exercise over and over again spread along the whole day to improve performance on said exercise.What ends up happening is you end up doing 15 to 20 pull ups as many as 5-10 times a day); this would be effective when we are learning a new exercise or doing sustained climbing exercises in the gym... but not when we want to improve our maximum strength.

Instead we will suppose he did 2-3 sessions of 2-3 sets each; then:

I believe that probably the first few sets that Speed performed served him as a warmup, perhaps without him being conscious of it. Otherwise would mean he was following Pavel's, and so failing to achieve the potential benefits that he could have enjoyed by doing 3-5 sets in one session or 2-4 sets in two sessions.

It has been shown that greater scores in maximum strength and power are obtained when an appropriate warming-up protocol is followed, including the same exercise the training consists of, and several sets of submaximal loads with the same duration/reps as the training itself. Also, these acute positive effects are bigger for the stronger and/or more skilled athletes.
Double Dyno - Bleau 2009- photo: Udo Neumann - Source:

Moreover, the results obtained by Abad et al (2011),  support the advisability of performing a moderate intensity general warm-up in addition to the specific warm-up before maximum strength tests/training. The general warm-up intends to raise muscle temperature, whereas the specific warm-up aims to increase neuromuscular activation.

Nonetheless, playing devil's advocate, I will add that for boulder problems that last for more than 1', power endurance routes or power training like campus board or dynos, "less is more", because it has been observed that too long a warming-up, or too intense and without enough rest period before the actual competition can impair performance, especially when the sport level is not very high. The reason is that those types of warming-up could cause significant fatigue and impair subsequent performance because of the reduction in high-energy phosphates, which are the key substrates for performance in those activities (Hashbullah et al, 2011, Mujika et al, 2011; Tomaras and MacIntosh, 2011). 

Lastly, I find two aspects of the training you describe that are positive, and in fact are among the principles of the methodology I propose:
- Short hanging times ("a few seconds" as you recount, 3"-10'' for high level, 10"-15'' for medium and low level) and high intensity to increase maximum strength (getting neural effects but not hypertrophy).

- Complete rest periods between sets and several brief strength training sessions distributed along the day. According to the scientific literature we can optimally train our strength by doing sessions of no more than 45'-60' with a pause of 30' or more between them. By this I don't want to give the impression that it's better to do several dead hang sessions on the same day than just one session, it's not?
However, you can do a finger strength session in the morning, and a bouldering session in the evening.
Nacho Sánchez ; Bouldering World Cup. Barcelona 2011 - Photo: David Munilla
 On a related note, the effects of a good warming-up last for 45-80', and even more according to some authors (if the ambient temperature is right).
 A different issue is the psychological influence on motivation or the difficulty to stay focused across long rest periods, but that is a matter of personal preference.

When doing dead hangs we could follow this warming-up suggestions that can be found in the posters that come with Progression and Transgression fingerboards:
  1. Moving the joints of upper body, shoulders, elbows, neck and fingers;
  2. Following with 2-3 easy traverses for 2 to 5 minutes followed by 2-3 boulder problems with increasing difficulty; or several progressive sets on easy holds of the hangboard if we are at home;
  3. And then 2-3 sets of 10 seconds with 40-50%, 80% and 90% of the load used the previous session.
Anyway, remember that you will have to adapt the duration and intensity accordingly with environmental and physical conditions.

  • Abad et al (2011): Combination of general and specific warm-ups improves leg-press one repetition maximum compared with specific warm-up in trained individuals. J Strength Cond Res. Aug;25(8):2242-5. Altamirano et al (2011): Effects of Warm-up on Peak Torque, Rate of Torque Development, and Electromyographic and Mechanomyographic Signals. J Strength Cond Res. Sep 28
  • Brown et al (2008): The effect of warm-up on high-intensity, intermittent running using nonmotorized treadmill ergometry. J Strength Cond Res. May;22(3):801-8.
  • Burkett et al (2005): Effects of prior warm-up regime on severe-intensity cycling performance. Med Sci Sports Exerc. May;37(5):838-45.
  • Burnley et al (2005): Effects of prior warm-up regime on severe-intensity cycling performance. Med Sci Sports Exerc. May;37(5):838-45.
  • Fradkin et al (2006): Effects of warming-up on physical performance: a systematic review with meta-analysis. J Strength Cond Res. Jan;24(1):140-8.
  • Gourgoulis et al (2003): Effect of a submaximal half-squats warm-up program on vertical jumping ability. J Strength Cond Res. May;17(2):342-4.
  • Hajoglou et al (2005): Effect of warm-up on cycle time trial performance. Med Sci Sports Exerc. Sep;37(9):1608-14.
  • Hashbullah et al (2010): Effects of different warm-up protocols and no warm up on speed performance among football players. Science and Social Research (CSSR), 2010 International Conference on Issue Date: 5-7 Dec
  • Hawley et al, (1989): Effects of a task-specific warm-up on anaerobic power. Br J Sports Med. Dec;23(4):233-6.
  • Mujika et al (2011): Warm-up Intensity and Duration Affect Traditional Rowing Time Trial Performance. Int J Sports Physiol Perform. Dec 12
  • Saez Saez de Villarreal et al (2007): Optimal warm-up stimuli of muscle activation to enhance short and long-term acute jumping performance. Jul;(4):393-401
  • Sotiropoulos, K. et al. (2010): Effects of warm-up on vertical jump perf ormance and muscle electrical activity. Journal of Sports Science and Medicine, 9, 326-331
  • Tomaras, E.K and MacIntosh, B.R. (2011): Less is more: standard warm-up causes fatigue and less warm-up permits greater cycling power output. Jul;111(1):228-35
  • Wittekind, A. and Beneke, R. (2011): Metabolic and performance effects of warm-up intensity on sprint cycling. Scand J Med Sci Sports. Dec;21(6)
  • Wittekink et al (2012): Warm-up effects on muscle oxygenation, metabolism and sprint cycling performance. Eur J Appl Physiol. Jan 3
  • Zois et al (2011): High-intensity warm-ups elicit superior performance to a current soccer warm-up routine. J Sci Med Sport. Nov;14(6):522-8. Epub 2011 Sep 9.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Frequently Asked Questions about Progression and Finger Strength Training (III)

version en español
source: www.

Question about How to Adjust the Load when doing Dead Hangs with Added Weight 
December the 2nd, 2011
By Jorge:

Hi Eva, I have read some of your entries about finger training and I'm not sure of how to apply some of the criteria. I have been a climber for 3 years now, my time on a 20 mm edge is 38'' and this is what I am currently doing:
Twice a week, dead hangs on an edge upon which I can hang for 10''. Gradually, on a weekly basis, if I can hang for more than 10'' off the edge, then I use added weight so my time is 10 seconds again. This goes for 4 weeks, 3 to 5 sets each session. Then I rest for a week and start training without added weight, but this time I use progressively smaller edges to stay within the desired 10 seconds.

As I said, I'm not sure this is the right way to do it.
Thank you for helping self-taught people like me, who sometimes feel a bit lost in the field of training.

I'm afraid you haven't fully understood how to use the added weight yo adjust the load. Don't worry, this is normal, this method is very different from the usual ones. The same concept of adjusting the load is not very common and hard to grasp at first, but once you get it and practice it during a few sessions, you will surely become an expert.

Practice makes perfect. Source:

In your case, when using added weight you don't have to start with an edge where you can hold for 10 seconds and add weight as you gain strength; the edge depth is fixed: 20 mm (a size suitable for people who are just starting to train with added weight). Then you add weight so your maximum time is of 13'' but you hang for just 10'' (remember, this is 10''(3) from the previous entry). More experience climbers will eventually progress to 18 or even 14 mm, but they will use the same procedure to choose the extra weight.

This methodology implies a minute and constant control of the training load, such that every day -and even for every set- the added weight (or the edge size in other phases) must be adjusted.
I will end with the following example:
If some day you feel stronger and it seems like you could do 15''(3) instead of 10''(3) with the added 10 kg you used the last session, then you will have to add more kilos so your effort duration is 10''(3) again. Likewise, you would remove some kilos if that day you didn't feel as strong as the last ones.

Question about the most suitable method to Start Training Finger Strength on a Fingerboard
November th 18th, 2011
By Ángel

Hi Eva,

Congratulations on your blog. I read it a lot and I find it very interesting because you are always investigating and your answers are up to date, so here is my question.

I have been climbing assiduously for 2 years (not stopping for more than a week), and usually climb 2 days in the gym and 1 or two on rock.
My maximum boulder grade is 7a+/b, my weight 73-75 kg and I'm 182 cm tall.

Now I've decided to train a bit more, and for the past two months my training is more organized. I have started with the fingerboard and I wanted to know what the best way is to start working on it. Up until now I've been performing the "contratos method which consists of sets of pull-ups and dead hangs utilizing different grips, with varying degrees of flexion of the arms, in groups of 10-20 exercises with incomplete, or no rest period between them (similar to what they call "repeaters" in another countries:example 1, example 2...). What do you think?

Thanks a lot!

Thank you, Ángel

Your profile allows you to start training with the methods for finger maximum strength that I propose, because you have 2 years of systematic and continuous practice. The methods are described in the poster for the Progression hangboard and in this previous entry.

The most effective for you is to choose a maximum strength method that according to my studies also improves finger strength-endurance on small and medium edges. This could be explained by the fact that by increasing maximum strength, body mass represents a lower load, so there are more motor units that don't need to be recruited and can be used later. Among other things, this delays the intervention of type II fibers and the buildup of lactate, thus extending the time until fatigue.
When our maximum strength goes up, our body weight is less of a burden to our fingers, and so whe can hold for longer. Is like "Hardy transforming into Laurel".
So, in my opinion you should first develop your maximum strength, and once you reached certain level, start specifically working your strength-endurance, because it's been already tested as the most effective way to do it.
On the contrary, performing methods for strength-endurance without a well-developed maximum strength base does not have as much effect over the former, and even less over the latter.
The method you are currently following, the famous "contratos" training (similar to what they call "repeaters" in other countries) has as a main effect the increase of strength-endurance of fingers and arms, etc. This is due to the long duration of each dead hang, the high number of exercise for every group or set and the incomplete pause between them.

I must add that I don't have a very positive view of this method, because this hodgepodge of exercises, types of contraction, articular angles, types of grip, rest periods... can result in some of the effects counteracting the others. Moreover, the complexity and the high number of variables that are at play at the same time make for a really problematic control of the load, and even worse, of your own training process over time.

There are, though, some good things about it; it's really engaging and enjoyable, precisely because of that variety, and may have a general effect on pulling and grabbing strength endurance, albeit lower than if the load could be adjusted for each person and exercise. 

More detailed criticism:
Regarding one parameter that defines the load: the pause between exercises is arbitrary, because it depends on the amount of time that it takes you to complete them, with no appreciation of your capacity to perform each exercise. (In this method, you perform 1-minute sets, where you hang for some seconds, and then, rest for what is left of the minute)
Each athlete in their charge is unique. Athletes have different physiological characteristics, tolerances to environmental and training loads, rates of recovery from training stimuli, lifestyles and social pressures, psychological traits and training and competition goals  (Cross and Ellis, 2005).

The individualization of load training, one fundamental principle of a good training plan, is really impaired by the fact that you only get to choose the level in which you can complete all the exercises, no matter if some of them are harder or easier for you.

During each session you mix traction strength with finger strength, different types of grip and types of contraction... with disregard for your level on each aspect, so that if you can't finish a pull-up you won't be able yo discern if it was due to a lack of pulling strength or endurance, or because your fingers are just too tired to grab the holds. It can be the case that one of the first exercises (types of handhold/grip types) is too easy for you and then you are not really getting much work out of it, but one of the last is too hard (because hold depth or grip type), and you end up with an undesirable muscular failure that will impair strength development).

Also, the process for incrementing the load is based on doing longer dead hangs of more pull-ups while shortening the rest periods... which is a way of altering two parameters at the same time (duration of effort and rest), which in turn changes something called "workout density". This is inadvisable for those with a lower or medium level, or at least for people who don't have experience changing only one parameter at a time.

The list could go on and on... it could be mentioned that making someone perform slowly part of an exercise like pull-ups is against our interest, because it's not specific of our sport and can lead to injuries; same goes for maintaining a fixed angle of the elbow until exhaustion no matter the experience or the physical condition of the athlete... but let's drop the subject here.
In short, my main objection is that in it's current form, it is impossible to control the load and the effects of training. 

Now it's my turn to ask you: If you can't measure the effects of your training, if you don't manage it, then what's the use of it? Perhaps as an entertainment? If this is what you seek, then everything' fine.

But if your goal is to improve, and organize and optimize the time you devote to your trainig... now it's time to look for other ways of achieving it.