“Quick Questions” and Not-So-Simple Answers

Q: Hey Steve, I just finished listening to your podcast interview (1) and I had a quick question (2) about the workouts in Logical Progression (3). It sounds like the program doesn’t have very much hangboarding (4) and I feel like this is really an important workout for me (5). Then you said something about power endurance not being a big part of the program (6) and I am confused by this. I feel like my power endurance is bad (7) and was wondering if you would recommend more of it for people who it is hard for (8)


A: Thank you for getting in touch (9). It’s important to remember that the Logical Progression book describes a training approach and not a specific plan (10). I think it is well worth your time to read the book (11), as well as spending some time reading associated research (12) and other books on periodized planning (13). It seems to me that climbers spend either way too much time planning or way too little time planning (14), and in both cases, most don’t follow the plan anyway (15). When it comes to working on a plan to ask our bodies to make a major change in physical potential (16), I think starting with simple and small changes is key (17). We can only adapt so quickly (18), and if we ask for too much, well, it’s too much (19)


(1) There are a few problems with context here. First, I have done more than one podcast interview. Despite the fact that I recorded these, I have not re-listened to most of them. Something about listening to oneself speak seems not only a waste of time, but also a boosting of the ego. Relatedly, most of the interviews I’ve done were conversational pieces with no true structure, so I had no notes prepared. They all run together. Finally, as much as I am sure this is purely my own issue, I am frustrated by climbers who don’t do their own homework. Listening to a podcast is the lowest-hanging fruit when it comes to learning. If you haven’t read at least a few articles, watched a few hours of video, and read an author’s book, it’s purely laziness that gives you the idea to ask for clarification. I guarantee that reading the author’s work will clarify most things you’re confused about in an interview. Not to mention the fact that actually learning something (rather than asking other people to do it for you) might help you understand the material better.

(2) They are never quick questions. I think that people write this because they feel like it’s a good way to avoid paying for services. Time is more valuable than money. Next time just ask me for twenty bucks.

(3) This is a book I wrote about scheduling nonlinear training sessions in order to support longer performance cycles in climbing. I am not suggesting you have to read the book to get the idea of nonlinear programming, but I do suggest that if you want further information beyond a one-hour chat on the internet that you might be well-served to read the book.

The general idea behind Logical Progression is to triage climbing and training. What do I need to do to arrive at the cliffs or boulders the most physically prepared? What kind of training should I do in order to maintain all the complex values needed for hard climbing? See…that’s the issue. If we would all just be satisfied doing a low-skill activity that requires just one primary source of energy, the training would be massively simplified. It’s not simple, and should not be seen as simple. Logical Progression simply strives to make sure that we address strength and power and endurance concurrently since climbing hard requires all of these facets to be displayed concurrently.

(4) That’s right. There isn’t much hangboarding. Over time, I have come to appreciate the idea of efficiency and economy when it comes to training—essentially, what is the least we can do? Hangboarding is one facet of training that can really be easy to implement, is quite measurable, and is quite easy to overdo. The thing is this: many climbers performing at very high grades don’t have especially strong fingers. Our natural reaction is to think “wow, how good could these people be if they were stronger…” when the real question should be “why am I climbing so poorly even though my fingers are this strong?” 

There is a double edged sword to chasing finger strength – the more you focus on it, the more you risk ignoring other parts of your preparation that, in the long run, will result in greater performance gains. If you can’t high step past your knee or keep your shit together when you’re above your last piece of gear, finger strength will only get you so far.

One hope of any good training program is education. It is getting people to try something else for a while and to learn that what they were doing before wasn’t everything they needed. On a nonlinear program, our allocation of energy is across huge domains. We have to try and learn that less finger strength training can result in greater performance over time.

(5) A trap. I allude to it above, but I’ll quote MacLeod: “Beware the enemy, your tastes.” You think you need to do a thing, most of the time, because you like the thing.

(6) Power endurance. My old friend. Power endurance is that hard enough to hang on for a whole zone where we feel really wrecked if we push to the limit. We feel wrecked by the training, and thanks in large part to Rocky training montages and Olympic athlete profiles, we seem to think that training deep into a painful pump is some kind of holy ground for gains. The issue with training this zone is that it’s too hard to recover from in a reasonable amount of time, and at the same time is necessarily lower intensity than effective strength and power training. Yes, failure to execute in this zone leaves us a sweaty mess on the floor, but training to be a sweaty mess on the floor is not the answer. Training to be so good that you don’t end up a sweaty mess on the floor is. 

We want to build high levels of strength and power in the 85%+ range, and build capacity below this zone on terrain where we can move for long periods of time without fatigue to build strong aerobic pathways. This takes a grownup attitude and a true dedication to the craft, which most of our animal instincts override. This is why I have not programmed pure power endurance sessions in nonlinear sessions in many years. It doesn’t work.

(7) Of course it’s bad. It should be bad all but about 6 weeks a year. And then it should be incredible.

(8) No. Doubling down on any training that taxes both your nervous system and your metabolism is a one way ticket. Almost without fail, the people we see who complain about poor power endurance are also generally less fit—their power endurance is in line with their aerobic endurance, their general power, and their strength, but it’s where the lack of fitness is the most apparent. Instead of adding more of it, I would look to optimize the training of it. This would include a lot of power training and a fair amount of easy general activity at first.

Climbers tend to scoff at the idea of hiking, walking, swimming, or just generally getting more movement in, but this is a very simple way to increase overall capacity. If your power endurance is “bad,” start by adding about an hour of general activity to your week. After about a month, transition that activity into climbing by simply adding easy pitches and boulders to your existing training days. Finally, add more intense pitches or boulders to this “extra hour” as you feel you can. At the end of this simple cycle of volume adding, most people’s lack of power endurance tends to drop away.

(9) To be honest, there are many days I am pissed off by the emails. It takes a moment sometimes, but It always comes back to remembering that my whole mission is to bring clarity to these subjects. More than just another annoying person, I am getting daily reminders that I didn’t educate well the first time. Hard, but useful feedback.

(10) When I wrote my first book on strength training for climbing, I sent it to Pavel Tsatsouline. Pavel is a great mind in strength and conditioning and has written more books on the subject than I can count. He told me that I was giving my readers too many options and that they would be better served if I took away their choices whenever possible. Counterintuitive, but I got the point. The less we have to make decisions, the more quickly we can just get down to the business of training. It would have been much easier for me to simply write a book that prescribes specific workouts. The more specific you are, the less work there is on the back end. People will tend to fall off the program because it’s too easy for them, or too hard for them, but it’s not your problem.

When describing a general idea, I have found that many people try to find their own exceptions to the ideas put forth rather than trying to make changes to their own program. As John Galbraith put it, “Faced with the choice between changing one’s mind and proving that there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the proof.”

(11)Reading may not be essential, but I think it has value in the amount of time it puts you in front of a subject. Listening to a podcast gives us a surface understanding of a subject and a glimpse into a writer’s ideas. When we sit down and read a book, we not only absorb that material, we commit valuable time to holding that material in our minds. If you spend 45 minutes listening to me talk about training while you walk to work, you get only so much information. If you spend 6-8 hours thinking and writing notes to yourself while you read my book—well you might find the answers to a lot of your questions.

On the subject of reading in general, I think a regular reading routine is as close to a lifehack as there truly is. It is the antidote to the attention killer that social media has become. I push all my coaches to read 30 minutes each day, every single day. This reading process involves picking a subject or area of learning, reading from a book or article, and assembling notes. If there is more to the subject that interests you, you can read a second and third and fourth source, all with the idea of building the depth of your knowledge. Imagine this: everything that any human has ever learned is available to you through reading. It’s also free on the internet. You can learn anything. And there you sit scrolling through fucking Instagram for an hour every day.

(12) I am not a scientist, nor am I a coach that pretends to be one. It is astonishing to me the amount of times I am asked for citations on research, which is by its nature extremely specific. My recommendations are based hugely on general ideas (all of which are easily researched in one’s additional reading as noted above) and on practical experience. It is essential to remember that research follows practice. If you look for research into the way climbing training works, you’ll be largely disappointed by what you find. For example, one of the most in-depth and expensive studies ever done with climbers compared two groups of climbers on the French national team. One group simply did climbing workouts for the duration of the study, one group took a bit of time each week and did focused finger strength work. In the end they compared finger strength gains between the two groups. What do you think they found? What did you think they would find? If you wait until someone does the research, the research is confirmed, and then there is a meta-study comparing similar research…well, you might as well sell your hangboard and buy a road bike right now.

(13) Even though I find Bompa’s work self-indulgent and lacking in practical application, I still contend it is essential reading, if only to anchor the idea of planned programming. Fleck and Kraemer have done good work on the subject, and Karsten Jensen’s book is not to be missed. If you love the idea of the simple model that Matveyev put forth, you can read his original work on the subject for free online, which seems to indicate he, himself, likes the model a lot less than we do. Finally, everything Lon Kilgore wrote about planning is worth your reading time. Going deep into other sports is key. I find the writings of powerlifters and of team coaches especially enlightening. If you want a long performance season—sort of the opposite of what you might get with a classical model—you want to look at athletes who perform for long periods. The NBA is a good first stop.

With this in mind, you might also want to review the current IFSC competition schedule. The athlete that masters staying fit for both boulder and lead World Cup climbing is going to be a real master. Unfortunately, I think the way the schedules are built right now limits high levels of sport performance, and we’ll be seeing a lot of people winning comps even though they are really only firing at 90%. It is probably a real hindrance to their outdoor performance, too. A sad reality is that many top climbers need to make a choice between comp seasons and performance, and it all comes down to bad planning on the part of the IFSC.

(14) Seriously. If you spend an hour planning out what you’re going to do, you should at least spend an hour doing that thing. There is also a need for planning extensively, then micro-adjusting after each session, yet continuing the same path. Don’t totally scrap a plan after just a few weeks. This derails the entire training process. Non-planners became non-planners because it worked well to act this way early in their careers. The problem is that the better we get, the smaller the target of effective overload becomes. If you have no idea how much to do, you rarely do the right amount. And if somehow you get it right, you probably won’t remember quite how it happened.

(15) Compliance is a real issue. The plans always look good on paper, but there is so much to distract the athlete on any given day that getting things done is hard. Calculating compliance is useful in telling whether you’re following a training program or not. If your compliance with a program is less than 75%, you need to accept that you didn’t really follow the program at all. You don’t suck, you just need to adjust your plans and possibly your training environment.

(16) Most people miss this. We are looking at major biological and physiological changes in an organism. Of course it’s going to be hard. And when you stop with a stimulus to change, your body will race back to a more sustainable level of muscle mass, endurance, body fat, and more. You didn’t fail, you adapted.

(17) Of course, everyone dismisses this advice. It seems like trying to change just one little thing is way too easy and we need to totally scrap and restart our diet or do a whole different training program. Research shows that most people can pull off one small change with about 70% success. Trying two things at once drops success significantly, and going up to three drops our chances down to less than 10%. Consider, then, the number of changes that go into becoming a vegan, starting an all-new training structure, or not eating a particular food. The changes are overwhelming and result in success very rarely. 

If you are going to adopt a nonlinear style of training, look at making only an adjustment in the sequence of current sessions you are doing. Once you get used to this, and it feels good to you, make an adjustment to a session, then another, then another. Most of the time when a training plan “doesn’t work” it’s because there was too much to adapt to and too much need for willpower instead of habit. Habit change is really the essence of what we do as coaches.

The obvious starting point for learning more about habit change is James Clear’s Atomic Habits. Beyond that, I would recommend Duhigg’s The Power of Habit, and Leo Babuta’s The Power of Less.

(18) Perhaps the toughest part about training is that adaptations are slow and follow long after motivation has declined. To reinforce the point above, habits and routines bridge the gulf between motivation and results.

(19) I could write a book on the disease of entitlement. The fact that we can adapt to things and improve is miraculous. The fact that you have a mind that even cares about such things is a gift. Eventually, I hope all of us end up realizing that it was never about the climbing at all, that the gift was the chance to be better and having all of these rocks to measure ourselves against. In the end, climbing is a gift. In the end, it’s what you pull from the sport that is climbing’s legacy in your life. Discipline, focus, calm, strength, and more can be yours if you don’t try to shortcut the path.

1 Comment

  1. Richard Horst on August 28, 2021 at 8:19 pm

    Thank you, your time matters and look forward to your course.

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