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 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.