T Nation

Contrast Training for Pull-ups and Climbing


#1

Hello everyone, as usual I'm posting to get some good advice with respect to climbing-related training.
I have started contrast training for pull ups, and I've done the last sessions as the set in this video here:

I am focusing in staying frontal when doing one arm pull ups, because it's harder and it translates better to climbing.
I have a few questions about contrast training.
- Should the resistance excercise and the explosive excercise only share the same movement pattern, or could they be basically the same movement, like one arm pull ups and standard two arm pull ups? The only difference is that I use a very close grip in the explosive pulls because again they feel harder and hit the lats more.

  • To avoid using exactly the same movement, I was thinking about doing front levers first, as the resistance excercise, and then the explosive pulls. What do you reckon?

  • Or would it be better to do the one arm pulls first and then front lever pulls (stiff body and straight arms)? I'm afraid these aren't well suited for being perfomed explosively.

The goal is becoming more powerful in frontal one arm pulls and as a consequence gaining more pulling power for climbing.
Thank you very much for all your replies.


#2

[quote]lorenzino wrote:
Hello everyone, as usual I’m posting to get some good advice with respect to climbing-related training.
I have started contrast training for pull ups, and I’ve done the last sessions as the set in this video here:

I am focusing in staying frontal when doing one arm pull ups, because it’s harder and it translates better to climbing.
I have a few questions about contrast training.

  • Should the resistance excercise and the explosive excercise only share the same movement pattern, or could they be basically the same movement, like one arm pull ups and standard two arm pull ups? The only difference is that I use a very close grip in the explosive pulls because again they feel harder and hit the lats more.

  • To avoid using exactly the same movement, I was thinking about doing front levers first, as the resistance excercise, and then the explosive pulls. What do you reckon?

  • Or would it be better to do the one arm pulls first and then front lever pulls (stiff body and straight arms)? I’m afraid these aren’t well suited for being perfomed explosively.

The goal is becoming more powerful in frontal one arm pulls and as a consequence gaining more pulling power for climbing.
Thank you very much for all your replies. [/quote]

If you haven’t already done so, I strongly recommend reading works by Vladimir Zatsiorsky. He is the godfather of this method, so you don’t have to worry about getting second or third hand information from some author.

Once you understand the protocol as Zatsiorsky outlined it, you can experiment with your modifications.

Having said that, I’ll give you my perspectives.

The protocol I used last year was the following:

  1. Weighted Pull Ups 1-3 reps at 85-95 percent 1 rep max

  2. Rest 10-30 seconds

  3. Med ball slams 3-5 reps as explosively and violently as possible

  4. Rest 3-5 minutes

  5. Repeat

This worked to an extent - especially at the lats. However, it didn’t address forearms, biceps, rear delts, etc.

The reason my Coach (who has climbed 5.14) designed this particular one is because, after falling for the incredibly stupid idea of doing pull ups every day, my elbows weren’t in the best shape.

Once my elbows did heal properly, the pairing changed.

You didn’t mention any elbow issues and you look about 140-150 pounds in that vid. So I would recommend for your particular goal (improving as a rock climber), that the strength move and the speed move be closely related. In other words, I’m not convinced performing a front lever followed by an explosive pull up should be your main pairing. You can, of course, throw it in for variety’s sake.

One example would be:

  1. Assisted one-arm pull up (as you performed in your video).

  2. Rest prescribed time

  3. Band assisted one-arm pull up for explosive speed rep(s) using a stronger band (just be careful to not pull on the band with your non-working hand and thereby turning it in a regular pull up)

  4. Rest prescribed time

  5. Repeat

Contrast training has stood the test of time and it will never leave my tool box. It addresses the fundamental truth that Strength X Speed = Power

As for me, I don’t do contrast work all the time. I’ve been experimenting the last few months with another protocol which I won’t bore you with. The bottom line is it should still be programmed and cycled intelligently or you’ll eventually reach diminishing returns and possibly injury.


#3

Minotaur, thank you very much for the very useful reply, and congratulations for guessing my weight so accurately: I weigh in fact 65 kilos, which should be 143 pounds!
The idea of keeping as specific as possibile even with the explosive movement is absolutely right. I must admit that I am a bit scared by the idea of doing explosive one armers, even with assistance. I haven’t mentioned elbow issues, but that doesn’t mean that they’re not there…

I have been suffering from elbow problems in the last months and also had some shoulder impingement issues. They are eventually healing but I have to be careful.
Some time ago I completely stopped training one armers, because they were hurting like hell: I was using “normal” technique, that is twisting while going up so that your torso ends up being perpendicular to the bar.
I was also doing explosive one armers this way, and - beyond the fact that they are a lot harder than “grinding” ones - they really hurt my elbow and shoulder.
Anyway, touching wood it seems that frontal one armers are fine, maybe because the shoulder and elbow work more in a single plane without torsions, and that’s why I started again.

I will try your suggestion.
I am curious about periodization of this kind of training.
I prefer not to have a strict program, because I don’t have to peak in a particular moment, so I mostly go with the flow, accordingly to how I feel.
I would like to have a contrast training session every 10 days, thus being able to keep this kind of training for longer without stressing muscles, tendons and joints too much.
What do you reckon?

P.S. Yesterday I climbed a project that I had on my home board since 2012. It only took 4 goes… and three years of training. I am sure that I would have never done it without this last year and half following T-Nation. Bliss.


#4

I wish I knew more about climbing.

As far as a routine,

Day 1 or 2
Front levers, to give your elbows a break.

Day 10
Contrast stuff

  • For the faster, or easier 1 arm chin, could you just move your off hand a little higher on the assistance rope? Then do 2 fast, easier, almost one armers, in about the same time as 1 harder rep would take?

#5

[quote]lorenzino wrote:
Minotaur, thank you very much for the very useful reply, and congratulations for guessing my weight so accurately: I weigh in fact 65 kilos, which should be 143 pounds!
The idea of keeping as specific as possibile even with the explosive movement is absolutely right. I must admit that I am a bit scared by the idea of doing explosive one armers, even with assistance. I haven’t mentioned elbow issues, but that doesn’t mean that they’re not there…

I have been suffering from elbow problems in the last months and also had some shoulder impingement issues. They are eventually healing but I have to be careful. [/quote]

Oh man, you didn’t mention that in your OP so I based my first response on you not being injured.

Most definitely, I believe you should focus on getting healthy first. When I introduced contrast work, I was about 95 percent healed - meaning zero pain but not at that stage where I can perform the highest risk variations. This is why the explosive work done was the med ball slams.

If you’re like most climbers or people who do more pull ups than they should, you probably have something along the lines of golfer’s elbow/medial epicondylitis. Be sure to look this up because there is a condition known as lateral epicondylitis.

If it is medial epicondylitis, chances are your forearm extensors are weaker than the forearm flexors. Any good physical therapist will be able to perform some tests to determine this.

Once you get an accurate diagnosis, you’ll have to focus your efforts on rehab and then strengthening the extensors (the under developed muscles).

It’s NOT ENOUGH TO JUST REHAB and go back to normal training. Otherwise you’ll just hop right back on the merry-go-round of pain and frustration. You really have to stay on top of keeping the under utilized muscles strong. It’s this gap between the dominant muscles and the weaker muscles that is most likely causing the issues. Again, a good in-person exam will confirm or refute this.

[quote]lorenzino wrote:

Some time ago I completely stopped training one armers, because they were hurting like hell: I was using “normal” technique, that is twisting while going up so that your torso ends up being perpendicular to the bar.
I was also doing explosive one armers this way, and - beyond the fact that they are a lot harder than “grinding” ones - they really hurt my elbow and shoulder.
Anyway, touching wood it seems that frontal one armers are fine, maybe because the shoulder and elbow work more in a single plane without torsions, and that’s why I started again.

I will try your suggestion.
I am curious about periodization of this kind of training.
I prefer not to have a strict program, because I don’t have to peak in a particular moment, so I mostly go with the flow, accordingly to how I feel.
I would like to have a contrast training session every 10 days, thus being able to keep this kind of training for longer without stressing muscles, tendons and joints too much.
What do you reckon?

P.S. Yesterday I climbed a project that I had on my home board since 2012. It only took 4 goes… and three years of training. I am sure that I would have never done it without this last year and half following T-Nation. Bliss. [/quote]

I did mine once every seven days. However, I’m not a climber - just a guy trying to get as strong as possible and look the part.

Since you’ll be doing so much more other work that taxes your elbows, once every ten days sounds perfectly fine to me.

You have to get healthy first.

I’d suggest that since you’re not peaking for anything in particular right now, to take a few steps back, rehab the elbows and shoulders, then focus on GPP work to build a sufficient base. Then you can introduce more advanced work, peak for that climb or boulder problem, take some time off (VERY IMPORTANT), then start again from a higher base level.

Zatsiorsky will describe how he phases contrast training for his athletes and as I stated yesterday, I strongly recommend getting the info straight from him first.


#6

Cheers guys for the useful replies!
Farmer, I wish I knew more about climbing myself! I started climbing as an adult, but I come from basketball and weights! I started lifting when I was 14, for my birthday I asked a barbell and weights, to train at home when I didn’t have basketball practice! :slight_smile:

I am very poorly gifted for climbing but I love training and I know how to grind, so my approach is very simple: I want big numbers. I want to get as strong as possible on every (most) physical aspect of climbing, from fingers strength to core tension, so that I know that power isn’t - generally - a problem and so I can focus on technique for specific problems or goals.

Minotaur, thanks for the healing advice. I appreciate it. I am still unsure about my elbow, it’s on the mend now but I can still feel something deep inside the joint, I feel it’s more joint related than tendon related, if you know what I mean.
Anyway, psyche is high for contrast training, and I found Zatsiorsky and Kraemer’s book on Amazon!
Cool to know that my original plan of one session every ten days could work!

Cheers, for the info and feel free to contribute more!


#7

You’re welcome and good luck with your training,

A few things I forgot to mention yesterday. If you have the type of elbow issues I think you have, the LEAST risky pairing might be:

a) front lever (since you mentioned these don’t cause irritation) as the strength move

b) med ball slams as the speed move

Not only are these similar in movement pattern, they should also target lats, serratus, pecs, core, triceps long head, etc. Just be sure to refrain from extending the elbows on the med ball slam as this could irritate them. The swinging the arms down - with slightly bent elbows - from overhead to below waist WILL recruit the triceps long head (due to their attachment to the scaps) as well as the other muscles I mentioned. In other words, keep the elbows slightly bent and keep the angle on the bend the same throughout the move. And I strongly recommend the type of med ball that does NOT bounce. This will allow you to put everything into the concentric throw; and the stretch reflex will or should occur when you raise the ball over head, hold for a second or less, and slam that thing.

When healthy enough to graduate to the next level, you can try:

a) assisted one arm pull up as performed in your video with a slow eccentric (to help strengthen connective tissue and take advantage of the fact that the eccentric contraction is the strongest)

b) one arm med ball slam (using the non-working hand to help guide the ball; be sure only the working arm does most of the work)

OR

b) using a weak short band, keep your feet on the ground and perform speed one arm lat pull downs; vary the angle as you see fit

Then you can try more advance stuff such as:

a) weighted pull up

b) clap pull ups (just the concentric first and then - only when you’ve built a sufficient base - work into catching yourself on the way down under control before exploding back up, release the hands and clap mid air before catching the bar). This is a good one but should only be done when 100 percent healthy and fully warmed up (if doing these at a public gym, people WILL stare in envy)

AND/OR

a) one arm pull up

b) band assisted speed one arm pull ups (as described in my first post here)

These are all suggestions and I won’t be one bit offended if you don’t do them or modify them to best suit your needs; after all, no one here knows your body better than you.

One thing I am adamant about is this: Contrast Training is a great method but she’s not the only beautiful woman at the dance; be sure to cycle it properly and work in other methods.


#8

Brilliant stuff there Minotaur.
Much appreciated.
The medicine ball slams are something I’ve always wanted to try, but you can’t imagine how badly furnished gyms are in my town. I’ll buy or make one.
Plus, if you go to a gym and start using “strange” excercises, like clapping pull ups, plyometrics, or even simple snatch pulls, you’re quite likely to be labelled as a narcissistic idiot and to be asked to stop by the staff… That’s why I always train at home!
I am going to see a fellow climber who’s a sports doctor, hopefully he’ll give me some info about my elbow. As of late my shoulder problems are almost completely disappeared, so maybe the path is the right one.

Cheers again both of you guys, I will try and keep this thread up to date with new videos of the routines and hopefully of some progresses!
I believe it could be of some help for anyone who’s interested in pulling power.
Cheers.


#9

Hello everyone,
a little update.
I’ve had to tweak my contrast training schedule due to work committments that meant that I hadn’t enough time to recover before my bouldering session. I am focusing on climbing some projects on my home board and that’s the priority at the moment. I’m in good form and I’ve climbed a few of them that I’d been trying for years now. All the hardest ones left now, but I want to take advantage of this good climbing form.

So, today should have been contrast training day, but I only had a small window at lunchtime and I’m doing a board session tomorrow, so I decided to just do some frontal one armers and test the form.
I have to say that I already noticed improvements and I’m very very pleased. I am positive that this training will give me huge benefits and I’m really psyched.
Speed of the pull has improved and overall strength as well. Shoulder is fine and elbow is not too bad at all. Really really pleased!

Cheers again!
Here is a couple of videos.


#10

Sorry I think the videos didn’t embed.
Here they are, if anyone is interested. Thanks again for all the useful input.