An Overview of Power & Strength Training

Strength training results in neural and muscular adaptations that eventually enable muscle action at higher loads. Meanwhile, strength-endurance (a.k.a. anaerobic endurance or the slang term “power endurance”) training produces different adaptations like increased capillary and mitochondrial (little ATP “fuel factories” inside cells) density that enable greater volumes of exercise. Certainly climbers would benefit from enhancement in both areas, however, gains in strength training are more vitally important. As climbing icon Tony Yaniro astutely points out, “if you cannot pull a single hard move, you have nothing to endure.” So, strength training is paramount.

This notion is supported by the fact that strengthening a muscle also improves its endurance, because a stronger muscle can use a smaller percentage of maximum strength to execute a sequence of non-maximal moves. What’s more, a stronger muscle will have a higher relative anaerobic threshold when compared to a weaker muscle with higher endurance capabilities. Conversely, endurance training will not increase maximum strength one iota.

The Difference Between Muscular “Strength” and “Power”

physical-overview-1Strength is defined as the force a muscle group can exert in one maximal effort. Your ability to pull a single hard movement or grip a small, difficult handhold is a function of your maximum strength. Muscular power is more complex because it is the product of force and the distance through which the force acts. Therefore, power is the result of strength and speed.

This would be expressed as: power = strength x speed (where speed = distance/time).

So, while strength and power are clearly related, they differ in the rate at which a force is applied. A real-life example that helps clarify this distinction relates to your ability to grip a tiny hold versus your ability to quickly stick (draw in) a small hand hold at the end of a lunge. Figure 5.8 shows hypothetical force-time curves for three climbers. Climber “A” possesses the strongest grip strength and can hang on the smallest holds, but he is not very powerful. Climber “B” has less absolute strength than Climber “A”, but she is more powerful. Consequently, she can summon her strength more quickly (i.e. greater “contact strength”) and she will be more successful at throwing dynos and quickly latching onto holds. Climber “C” is neither strong nor powerful–he better stick to climbing slabs.

Obviously, it’s ideal to maximize your strength and power, much like Climber “B”. This can be achieved by cycling (long-term) through a variety of exercises that train both strength and power. I will describe several highly effect methods of training maximum strength and power in future TFC features.

Copyright 2004 Eric J. Horst. All rights reserved.