Book Review Of Power Endurance by Steve Bechtel

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Two days ago I got Steve Bechtel’s “Power Endurance” in the mail. It’s a 60 page booklet on interval training for climbing. My overall impression of this work is very positive. Bechtel’s emphasis throughout the book is on maintaining high quality of movement in all aspects of training and he is adamant about not working at such a high level that movement suffers. This is a rare perspective and its really nice to see someone writing about fitness but keeping the emphasis on the quality of movement. Other authors pay lip service to this idea but Bechtel means it. Also, Bechtel has clearly spent a lot of time experimenting with different interval structures for climbing and has a good sense of the benefits of each workout.  In all, the book contains descriptions of fourteen different workout structures and variations.  It’s also worth mentioning that the book has a higher standard of critical rigor than most climbing titles. Bechtel understands training structures well and articulates each activity in terms that are meaningful. Just last week I blogged about how important it is understand the structure of a workout, including the intensity, the work and rest durations, the desired impact of a workout and how the results can be quantified. All the activities in this book meet that standard.

Although the booklet is about power endurance he manages to throw in a few tidbits on other forms of training. For example, the first line in the brief section on core training is “Stop the sit-ups!” (P.9). To which I respond with a hearty “Amen!” In Bechtel’s view the kinds of training for the core that climber’s need fall into several categories: Anti-rotation, Stability, dynamic-stability, and torso/hip flexion (p.9) While I may not fully agree with these categories, this very brief description lays out a conceptual model that is far better than other training books and that can be critically engaged in productive ways. You would get far more out of simply exploring and understanding the implications of Bechtel’s four categories than you would out of following other authors prescriptions for core training. The problem is, the discussion is very shot (two paragraphs) and does not include any training specifics.

At another point he writes: “We build our interval problems in three mostly-arbitrary lengths. These are short (1-4 moves), medium (5 – 20 moves) and long (20 + moves). These (very) roughly coincide with the energy systems the body uses to deliver fuel during exercise, not really because of the number of moves of climbing one does but because of the amount of time the body is under stress (and the intensity if that stress) each set.: (p. 12, emphasis mine) Rough grammar aside, I can’t tell you how refreshing it is to read this. Bechtel simply gets it, and gets it right. Counting moves only matters to the extent that it gets us to the proper duration, which gets us to the energy system we want to target. This is a basic idea but so often in climbing counting moves is understood as an end in itself, which it is not.

In another short section he discussed aerobic training for climbing and is critical of ARCing. He writes “Aerobic capacity should be instead be developed as a by-product of anaerobic training and of regular climbing. Research into the use of steady state endurance training for strength and power athletes strongly suggests that this type of training interferes with all the parameters such athletes are concerned with developing.” (p 8) This is a provocative idea, nonetheless, I would be willing to hear more. As it is, he doesn’t go into exactly how local aerobic endurance is a by-product of anaerobic training. In my experience, there is no question that its possible to train anaerobic endurance to high levels without it having any impact on local aerobic endurance.  So what is he doing that creates this relationship? To be fair, since he is pretty direct about the goals and purpose of the text, its probably best to consider his critique of ARCing as commentary, in the hopes that at some point in the future he may go into that issue in more detail.

In terms of criticisms I would say that sometimes it difficult to understand his descriptions of the workouts. This may in part be due to nomenclature. He uses different language than I am used to in his descriptions, so I find myself needing to translate what he is saying into my own terms. I also don’t understand a couple of the structures, as the work and rest durations don’t seem to me like they would do what he says they do. The book does have rough grammar at times which creates minor ambiguity here and there, and the book is expensive. The base price is $12.95 and shipping was $3.95 for a total of $16.54 for 60 pages. Also keep in mind the meat of the book is the training activities. He does not spend much time addressing program design so you will probably use the book the way I plan on using it. That is by closely examining each workout’s structure and then experimenting with the one’s that seem most interesting or appealing.

All in all, I want to say that despite the reservations I have, I fully support efforts such as this book. No two coaches are going to agree on everything (nor should they!); and Bechtel presents us with a text that is knowledgable, rigorous and consistent with scientific principles of training. So why not endorse it?  I think there are probably a number of coaches in the US who might not want to write a full length book but are capable of making a contribution in shorter form. So maybe Power Endurance can serve as something of a model for how to do that.  I recommend this book for coaches and climbers with a good understanding of program design.

12 Responses to “Book Review Of Power Endurance by Steve Bechtel”

  1. JosNo Gravatar says:

    Thanks for the review, I’ve been following Steve’s blog for some time, and last week ordered the book (not received yet). Happy to read that it would not be a waste of money :-) .

    BTW, I’ve read both your books, all books by Hörst, and Dave Mcleod’s book. I’m mostly interested in the exercise physiology aspect: to understand is to better apply ;-) . Unfortunately not much climbing specific is written about this. I guess most climbers couldn’t be bothered with the details. nor would they be able to properly understand them (as you have written, even at the highest level)…

  2. Douglas HunterNo Gravatar says:

    Jos, the other point not to be missed is that not much is known about the physiology of climbing, its an emerging field, so there aren’t a lot of things that can be written about it without speculation. Also, I am a little critical of the physiology that’s been done on climbing because it so often does not tell us anything useful. As a field of study physiology has its own agendas that frequently don’t contribute much to the central issue that concerns us, mainly program design and training efficiency. anyway, Hope you get a lot out of Bechtel’s book.

  3. EricNo Gravatar says:

    Douglas, I have your book, and have a question about ARCing. I have been doing a variation to continuous climbing that is as follows: I set the treadwall at 15 deg overhang, and will do between 60-80 ft of climbing at the most difficult I can manage. (the treadwall at the Spot Gym is huge and has 12 different routes set on it). I then reach over, hit the stop button, and proceed to recover on jugs for about a minute before repeating. I strive for between 20-30 minutes, with about 350-450 ft climbed without ever coming off the wall. How does this differ from continuous low intensity ARCing? Do I need to do continuous, or is my method of getting pumped, then recover, a method that will work for building capilarity. My reasoning is that most routes have some form of a shake every 60-80 ft, if not more often. What are your thoughts on this?

  4. DouglasNo Gravatar says:

    Eric,

    Thanks for posting. In the nomenclature that Dan and I use what you are doing sounds like moderate to low intensity local anaerobic endurance training in the form of intervals.

    This differences between that and ARCing are important. Admittedly, I have not reviewed the scientific literature on aerobic endurance for a while but assuming that there have not been significant changes it’s important to note that we can’t train anaerobic endurance and aerobic endurance at the same time. The purpose of ARCing is to increase the number of capillaries in the muscles of the forearm and to improve those muscles ability to produce energy by using oxygen. In interval training the muscles are getting more of their energy from anaerobic energy production and the purpose of anaerobic training such as intervals is to develop the ability to sustain ever greater amounts of work without much help from aerobic energy production. Further, anaerobic training apparently does not cause the same increase in capillary density that aerobic training does.

    Thus the theory behind the use of aerobic and anaerobic training, is that first we should lay down a significant base of ARC training so that we are able to increase the number of capillaries in the muscles and maximize muscle efficiency so that when we switch over to anaerobic training such as intervals the muscles are more efficient, can move more blood and thus will see better gains in anaerobic performance than less efficient muscle with fewer capillaries would.

    The most basic distinction we can make in climbing is that when ARCing we don’t work at an intensity level high enough to develop a pump. In interval training we are repeatedly getting a pump and not allowing for full recovery between efforts.

    As I noted in the book review Bechtel states that endurance can be developed as a result of interval training, which on the surface of it would be a paradox. Further, my experience shows that its often the case that a climber can have highly developed anaerobic endurance, and aerobic endurance that is below average. Anyway, to be fair to Bechtel its not a topic he goes into detail on so I do not know what lays behind his comment.

    I think there is going to be more discussion on the idea of just what kind of sport climbing is. Is it an anaerobic endurance and power activity or is there a significant local aerobic component? I think its a matter of what kind of climbing we are doing. On-sight climbing of anything other than boulder problems or extremely short routes is going to be impacted by local endurance level. Where as red pointing the typical sport route will have a minimal aerobic component.

    Anyway, did I address the meat of your question?

  5. EricNo Gravatar says:

    Thanks for your reply. I am still confused as to how I should proceed. Should I tone down the intensity to better work the aerobic energy system? Could that be done after a hard training day?

  6. DouglasNo Gravatar says:

    What you do depends on your goals and where you are in your performance cycle. Its typical to do a high volume of local aerobic endurance training early in the training year. So if you are going to start your training season now to be ready for next spring’s outdoor red points and on-sights then its fine to start building an endurance base now.

    If you are trying to get the last few hard red points in this fall before its gets too cold, you should probably just keep working on local anaerobic-endurance but make sure that the intensity level and set durations are well suited to the routes you are wanting to send.

    And yes, local aerobic endurance training can be done at the end of a climbing day.

  7. gNo Gravatar says:

    speaking of climbing physiology, if you can read french this thesis might interest you (unless you are already aware of it)
    https://sites.google.com/site/entrainementescaladeaix/archives/Memoire fatigue locale.pdf

    the most interesting conclusions and/or perspectives:

    -a big role in what we call endurance is probably played by recovery ability, i.e. what happens when each hand is allowed to relax before going to the next hold

    -when comparing three endurance-related execises or routines, the most physically taxing is the one that has the slowest tempo (less movements-per-seconds) and the most vertical displacement.

    -global variables like ear-lobe lactate measurements or heart rate are non-explicative in a lead climbing context.

  8. DouglasNo Gravatar says:

    G,

    That is a study that I was not aware of. Would love to read it but google wouldn’t translate the page, for what ever reason.

    Can you go into more detail regarding heart rate as well as how they determined what made an endurance exercise the most physically taxing? Were they looking at aerobic or anaerobic endurance? From a pragmatic point of view it does make sense that the most taxing activity would have slow tempo and higher vertical displacement as that would tend to be the leat efficient, but if you have time to give some of the details that would be great.

    The 1993 study titled “Blood Lactate Response to Competitie Climbing” comes to the same conclusing regarding ear-lobe lactate measurement. “Evidently local metabolic mechanisms in the forearm are more important than limitation to lactate tolerance of the whole system.” Not exactly earth shattering, but at least they were able to quantify the significant difference between blood lacate levles in the forearms as opposed to the whole system. They also mention that blood lactate levles of the system reach their highest point after the climbers finished. Again not suprising but still good to measure.

    I have done some observations regarding recoverability on an informal level. I don’t know if its the best term for it but in the past I’ve talked about the “motor density” of climbing, that is the work / rest pattern of the forearms as we move from hold to hold. Different paces / patterns definately impact how a climber feels after doing a route, or during endurance training, but it would be wrong for me to try to draw any conclusions from my experience because my expermenting and observations were too casual.

  9. gNo Gravatar says:

    it is a small study that does not allow strong conclusions, yet very interesting.
    they had 2 protocols.

    a)1 “hang” on a climbing hold attached to a force sensor, at 60% of the subject’s maximal, as long as possible. 30 secs rest then a second hang, still at 60%. They had EMG sensors on the forearms meausring the intensity and frequency of the nervous signal.
    This protocol is more academic but interesting as it describes the link between EMG changes and local fatigue in the climber’s forearms:
    -the signal intensity goes up as our brain tries to recruit more and more fibers at the same time.
    -the signal frequency goes down, in response to the fact that it takes longer for each fiber to contract and/or as a consequence of a different recruitment strategy

    b) three climbers are submitted the following near-maximal exercises:
    -32 move 7c/+ route (lead)
    -62 move 7c circuit on a bouldering wall
    -3 reps of a 27 move circuit, 2mn rests

    they rest 30 mins between each task. Climber 1 does route-circuit-interval, climber 2 circuit-interval-route, climber 3 interval-route-circuit.

    heart rate is measured throughout the climbing.
    lactate is measured on the ear lobe right after the climbing.
    immediately before and after the climbing the subjects are equipped with EMG electrodes and asked to hang on a specific hold of an hangboard.

    the EMG measurements, although not successful for all 3 subjects (problems due to sweating) are used as a rough guide to understand which exercise causes the most local fatigue: the biggest the difference between pre and post-exercise, the most fatigued the subject is assumed to be.
    This is what allows them to claim that the route is more taxing in terms of muscular fatigue.

    lactate: the results seem barely significant when they try to see how much is produced by each exercise (small tendancy saying routes produces the least and intervals the most)
    There is also a visible trend when the measurements are ranked by order of exercise : i.e. even with 30 mins rests, the third exercise of the day produces more lactate than the second, which produces more than the first.
    Conclusion : overall lactate levels seem linked to the total duration of the workout and possibly to energy depletion, but not to the intensity or difficulty of the climbing.

    heart rate: the only interesting corelation they found is whithin the interval training exercise. The climbers naturally went faster in their 2nd and 3rd repetitions. Now, they found a strong correlation between the frequency of displacement (moves/seconds) and the heart rate.

    finally they often use a quite subjective notion of “muscular intensity” and state that the route was the most intense (physically hard?) of the three, on the basis of the routesetting and the wall inclination i guess.

  10. DouglasNo Gravatar says:

    Thanks G for taking the time to give more details. Very interesting.

  11. JosNo Gravatar says:

    Interesting comments about the physiology here :-) .

    Anyway, I received my copy of Steve’s book, and read it through in an hour. I also wonder about ARCing. Your view makes theoretical sense to me, but is it really that way In Real Life? Steve’s experience seems to propose otherwise. Would make a nice subject for a study, methinks ;-) . But then again, how would you quantify the progress in aerobic endurance (as probably again only the local aspect and not the systemic aspect is important)? In the end, the only thing that matters is if the climber got better or not and by how much. So take a group of climbers of about the same level and time commitment, split them in two, let one group train with ARC (aerobic + anaerobic endurance) and the other without ARCing (only training anaerobic endurance). After 2 months, measure the ‘real’ improvement each group made. This can be done by any coach who has enough athletes, without the need for any fancy equipment like EMGs etc.

    Makes sense?

  12. DouglasNo Gravatar says:

    To be fair Bechtel does not go into enough detail to be considered a full treatment of ARCing or endurance. If we really want to get to the meat of the issue we need to specifically address what kind of climbing performance we are talking about. The view that climbing is exclusively a power and anaerobic endurance sport does a good job of describing bouldering or a short hard sport route, but it does not do much to explain the physiology of on-sighting a long route.

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