by Steve Bechtel

It’s funny the questions you get after an interview. At the end of 2015, I had the great honor of talking to Neely Quinn at Training Beta for a second time, and had a good chat with Kris Hampton for his new podcast that summer. The format is challenging and I felt like I really had to shoot from the hip on a lot of questions. Needless to say, it’s easier to write articles.

I get a lot of emails and messages after these things, too. For the most part, they are pretty good questions and are simply from climbers looking for a little more detail (or a LOT more detail in my Norwegian friend Jon’s case…). I have received no fewer than fifty emails, however, regarding two questions asked in the podcasts. I was a bit taken aback by the volume, but the things we talked about were important, and deserved further details.

Which leads me to this short article – I am tired of writing and rewriting the same email over and over again. I want to answer the primary two questions in detail, and then I’ll add a few more for your entertainment.

“Can you please give me more details on the 2-4-6 rep program you talked about on Training Beta (Your second interview)?”

The 2-4-6 program is simply a strength ladder used to build strength through volume on a major lift. We use these with Presses, Squats, and Deadlifts, and look to increase to total number of reps per workout over the course of 4-6 weeks while holding the load constant. My example was one of our athletes at Elemental, who was plateaued at 200 pound for the bench press for more than a year. We had her try several different programs, but the numbers didn’t budge.

On a whim, I tried a volume ladder with her, which held her training weight to 155 for 6 weeks, and she simply alternated between 4 and 6 reps (I misstated this in the interview as 2-4-6, but either way works well), and tried to add sets each week. Total lifts per week across three sessions went from 60 to 100 over the course of the program.

These were approximately 1 hour sessions, and included several assistance exercises done at reasonable loads as well as a lot of mobility work, all done in mini-circuits. She rested as much as needed, but we tried to sequence the exercises such that the next one was reasonable to begin without too much resting. For example, one day might look like this:

Week 2 Friday
EXERCISE SET 1 SET 2 SET 3 SET 4 SET 5 SET 6
PRESS 4 6 4 6 4 6
SHOULDER MOBILITY 60sec 60 sec 60 sec
KB SWINGS 10 10 10 10 10 10
HIP MOBILITY 60sec 60sec 60sec
PISTOL 3+3 3+3 3+3
PULL-UPS 5 5 5

The main exercise was done for thirty reps. She would simply follow the progressions vertically, and adjust loads on the assistance exercises as they became easy for her. Again, the pressing stayed fixed (we used 155#, as her max was about 200. 155# is easy to load on the bench, which is why we picked that over 150…) We tried to keep the workout durations reasonable, so over time, we thinned out the assistance exercises. The pressing volume kept going up. Here is a session from the end of the program:

Week 6 Friday
EXERCISE SET 1 SET 2 SET 3 SET 4 SET 5 SET 6 SET 7 SET 8 SET 9 SET 10
PRESS 4+4 6+6 4+4 6+6 4+4 6+6 4+4 6+6 4+4 6+6
SHO. MOB. 40sec 40sec 40sec 40sec 40sec
KB SWINGS 10 10 10 10 10
HIP MOB. 40sec 40sec 40sec 40sec 40sec
PISTOL 3+3 3+3 3+3 3+3
PULL-UPS 5 5 5 5

Overall, we looked for maintenance of pulling strength, leg strength, and hip strength. Although the overall reps on the KB swings seem low, she did these with a fairly heavy kettlebell (70#). At the end of the cycle we tested her bench press 1RM and she hit 220#. She might have gone higher, but we had expected her to improve much less, so we tested her at 200, 205, 210, and 215 first…

This isn’t a perfect year-round strength program, but is a good choice if pushing loads up isn’t working. You can only reasonably do it for one lift at a time, and your focus needs to be that lift. This is the very reason most athletes can’t do such a program – they want to be focusing on six things at a time.

Think of improving facets of fitness like juggling hatchets: tossing one hatchet up in the air at a time, you’re probably going to be ok. Two, you might be able to handle. Any more than that, and bye bye fingers.

“On your interview last week you mentioned doing a weight program that is two sets of two reps. How does that work?”

When you mention a workout like two sets of two, most people get the wrong idea. This is a low-volume session for a very advanced athlete, and should be used in conjunction with other training. The basis behind 2×2, however, should not be discounted. You can get strong and stay strong with very little volume. This should help assuage fears of long hours in the weight room and the possibility of adding unwanted bulk.

We have the great advantage of being able to combine resistance training and climbing easily at our facility. When we talk about 2×2 sessions, it can be as simple as something like this:

Warm-up 15-20 minutes.

V0, V0, Front Squat 3×45

V1, V1, Front Squat 3×95

V2, V2, Front Squat 2×135

V3, V3, Front Squat 1×185

V4, V4

Session 45-60 minutes.

Front Squat 2×225

4-6 boulder problems

Front Squat 2 x 225

8-10 boulder problems

Clearly, that’s more than 2 sets, but we only count work sets when we log training, much like logging an 8-pitch day should not include your warm-ups. The above session combines strength training and bouldering, which we usually classify (right or wrong) as power.

More recently, we have been combining resistance exercise with finger strength training, which is beneficial on a whole host of levels. In fact, I am beginning to think that this is the optimal way to get your fingers strong. Such a session might look like this:

Warm-up 15-20 min.

Hang easy edge, 10 sec on, 10 sec off, 10x

Front Squat 3×45

Pull-up 8xBW

Hang easy edge, 10 sec on, 5 sec off, 10x

Front Squat 3×95

Pull-up 5xBW+20

Hang, 8 positions, 5 sec on 10 sec off, 2x

Front Squat 2×135

Pull-up 5xBW+50

Session: (2x)

Hang small edge 10 sec

Front Squat 2×225

Hip Mobility 60 sec

Pull-up 2xBW+150

Hang 2,3 pocket medium 10 sec

Shoulder Mobility 60 sec

Hanging SLR (strict) 10xBW

Hang open hand 10 sec

Again, we get 2×2 but within the framework of a finger strength session. An added benefit is that there is mobility work placed within the session…something you probably wouldn’t do on its own. The longer your strength cycles, the more persistent the adaptation. I can’t tell you how often I see athletes hit the weights 4 weeks at a time a couple of times a year. Of course it’s hard. Of course it negatively affects their other training due to fatigue and soreness. And of course they start and end each cycle in exactly the same place as before.

It’s not unreasonable for a climber working on a minimal schedule to increase strength to where he/she can do 2x bodyweight deadlifts in training, as well as a 1.5 bodyweight front squat, 1.25x bodyweight bench press, and a 1-arm pull-up (typically the easiest of the four for climbers anyway).

“You sound smart. Are you smart? My ex sounded smart but he turned out to be a dumbass.”

I kid you not. How does one even answer this question? I am reminded of this excellent graph from Simon Wardley.

When I got out of college in 1995, I thought I knew everything there was to know about training for rock climbing. I had these great charts on how long you needed to load a muscle and to rest between sets for specific adaptations, the exact amount of time to rest between intervals, you name it. I wrote an article on periodization for Climbing Magazine (back when they paid their bills) about that time, not really noting that whether I periodized my training or not, my performance was about the same.

I was clearly in the “I’m an Expert” phase. These days, I am not so sure. At every turn, there are more questions than answers, and I have a hard time giving concrete advice without some misgivings. In a lot of ways I think that makes me a crappier coach. One of the great tools in coaching is an overriding belief that your program is “the way and the light.” I guess the short answer is that I’m a dumbass.

“You say the same things every interview. How about coming up with some new material? Why did she interview you again if you are just going to say the same thing?”

My favorite part of this one was that he asked me why I said the same things in both interviews, but asked the question twice. Maybe he was being ironic? I suggested he contact Neely directly and offer to do his own interview. Or maybe just not listen next time?

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