Friday, July 10, 2015

Summertime Bulking

I. Introduction
For most climbers, the term “bulking” (gaining weight, particularly lean mass) is uncharted, dangerous territory, as the single most important aspect of the sport is strength-to-weight ratio. However, although climbing when you are super lightweight has its perks and is at times quite fun (particularly the ability to so easily cut your feet and swing them back in and hold onto the tiniest crimps), I personally don't enjoy being very skinny. For one, it’s not attractive. It’s always refreshing to see girls (and guys!) with muscular rather than stick-like physiques. More importantly, having a low body fat percentage is not all that healthy (women should try not to fall below 15-25%, men 10-20%), but we as climbers tend to forget that in our never-ending quest to send, send, SEND--just look at 50% of the World Cup boulderers and 75% of the sport climbers! Either way, I decided I wanted a muscular physique over the stick-like frame, and that I needed an off season anyways, after taking no more than a week off (bagel-slicing accident) since I started eight years ago.
Body types, courtesy of I happen to be an ectomorph, which means my fast metabolism makes putting on both fat and lean muscle mass somewhat difficult. At the other extreme, endomorphs have a slower metabolism and as a result build mass easily.

II. Procedure
And so, for three months (May through July), I decided to learn the art of weightlifting. More specifically, I followed this program:
Sounds like a real bro gimmick, doesn't it? But, with the exception of preacher curls, the ridiculous amount of protein consumption (1.5-2.0 g/day), and nowhere near enough ab-work for my personal satisfaction, Dr. Stoppani had a pretty good protocol, particularly for a beginner looking for something equatable to step-by-step instructions.

The program itself followed a very standard and very much proven protocol of periodization. The entire program (macrocycle) consisted of three identical blocks (mesocycles), each of which was made up of four one-week microcycles. Each mesocycle started off high volume/low intensity and ended in low volume/high intensity:


In other words, the number of repetitions varied from week to week: week 1 was always 13-15 rep, week 2: 9-12, week 3: 6-8, week 4: 3-5. And since I didn't have to do as many repetitions in subsequent weeks, I would naturally increase my work load by 5-15 lbs per week to hit the desired range. D
ue to both strength gains and neuromuscular adaptations, I was able to lift more weight in the same microcycle of each mesocycle.

Drop sets with my bro Min (-:
I also did minimal cardio, of which Dr. Stoppani (and any "bodybuilder" for the matter), makes a very big deal. I will save the reasoning and scientific jargon behind this for a later post, but just keep in mind that if you are trying to build muscle, don't get on the treadmill, or limit it to a 20-minute HIIT (Hit Intensity Interval Training) workout. More on that in the near future!

In addition to these training guidelines, there were also very specific nutritional guidelines, because it is nearly impossible to get any results without proper fueling. Among these, the following are prioritized:

1) Protein (at least 20 grams) and fast-digesting carbs (white bread, fruit, even candy, to help the protein metabolize faster) are a MUST before and immediately (30-60 min) after a lifting (*coughcough* or climbing) workout.

2) For a bulk, aim for 0.75-1.5 grams of protein per pound of body weight. In other words, if you are a 150 lb male, try to get around 150 g of protein per day. And don't be afraid to supplement with protein powders, especially whey. They are metabolized faster, which makes them ideal as part of a post-workout meal!

Each of these foods contains 20-30 g of protein (Photo: Experience Life)

      3).That being said, you can't JUST eat protein. Carbs and fats are also very important! And if your caloric intake is below your daily energy expenditure (estimate yours here), you will NOT make any gains. For tracking macronutrients or macros (proteins, carbohydrates, and fats), I used MyFitnessPal, especially at the beginning of the program, when I had no idea how much 20 g of protein or 40 g of carbohydrate was. While at the beginning the whole concept was a bit time-consuming and stressful, it has become very easy and enjoyable, and more of a guideline than anything. Right now, I track about 75% of my meals, and rarely if I'm traveling or eating out, unless it's a chain like Chipotle that posts their menu online. And that's the great thing about IIFYM (If It Fits Your Macros)--you can eat some junk food and still hit your macronutrient requirements for that day, making it more of a lifestyle than a diet. Because really, who wants to eat chicken and broccoli for every meal?
Sample day of eating where I "hit my macros" and got all my protein from natural sources.

III. Hypothesis
So how exactly does periodization work in helping us gain strength very quickly and overcome plateaus? Well, let's take a look at the following chart, courtesy of the Resistance Training Specialist RTS Manual:

%1 RM
Rest (min)
Length (s)

Without getting too technical, keep in mind that your muscles are made of two types of fibers: slow-twitch and fast-twitch. Let's think of the slow fibers as the "endurance fibers" and the fast fibers as the "strength fibers". When more muscle fibers are activated, a greater force is generated. Unfortunately (or not), we are born with an X amount of slow fibers and Y amount of fast fibers. And, since one type of fiber does not magically convert into the other, we are very-much genetically limited, at least in this sense. (This is why elite marathon runners have a relatively high ratio of slow fibers whereas world-class power lifters have more fast fibers.) As such, Strength or Power workouts involve primarily fast fibers while Endurance workouts use both types, since fast fibers must always be activated before slow fibers. By utilizing different repetition ranges (in this case 13-15, 9-12, 6-8, and 3-5), a periodized program is able to target both types of fibers and allows sufficient rest for the fast fibers. As a result, you can increase muscle strength and size while avoiding overtraining and plateaus (Kraemer 76).

So as a climber, if you are looking to get stronger without adding mass, stick to the 3-7 rep range and use heavier weights.

IV. Results
Through this program, I gained 18 lbs of muscle and fat (mostly muscle based on skinfold measurements after the first mesocycle, which indicated that I had gained about 6 lbs of muscle and 1 lb of fat). Put simply, the program accomplished the initial goal of bulking. See for yourself:

4/19 and 4/26
5/03 and 5/10
5/17 and 5/24
5/31 and 6/07
6/14 and 6/21
6/28 and 7/07
High contrast photo to emphasize back bulges (-:
For those of you who are also big numbers nerds like myself, here is a graphical depiction, courtesy of MyFitnessPal:
All measurements in pounds. Although you can't really tell from this chart, there was a pretty big spike at the end of May, due to the fact that my home scale is off by a pound or so. So realistically I am probably closer to 118 right now.

I'm still very lean, but this is definitely a huge step up from before. I will probably continue to bulk for a while, though on my own program (now that I have a good concept of the various exercises for each muscle group), then maybe do a mini-cut for a few weeks, just to be able to really see the gains I have made. Regardless, I will post any updates on this blog.

So the critical question then becomes, what effect did this have on my climbing?

Unfortunately, this is nearly impossible to judge. Because these workouts were so time-consuming and it was my intention to take a break from climbing, my days at Prime Climb and City Rock decreased to about once every one or two weeks. Naturally, I lost a good amount of forearm and finger strength, since you don't generally use those muscles for normal day-to-day activities. However, my foot cuts stayed pretty much the same thanks to biweekly core work, while my power improved significantly. The bottom line is, I didn't wake up at the end of this unable to climb anything. After a couple weeks of getting back into it (climbing maybe twice a week), I am now back to a V7-V8 level. And who knows  what the results would have been had I been climbing consistently throughout the bulk. 

V. Conclusion
A few last bullet points to sum everything up:
  • Dr. Stoppani's "Shortcut to Size" is a very neat and concise program with lots of cool hybrid exercises, such as these Smith machine hip thrusts:
  • However, you still have to be highly critical of every exercise and every nutritional and training guideline! Don't be lazy, do the research.
  • Likewise, both MyFitnessPal and are great resources for anyone looking for advice/ideas on nutrition, exercises, structured workouts, and pretty much anything health- or fitness-related. Just because you're a climber, doesn't mean all your sources have to be climbing-specific! In fact, non-climbing-specific sources tend to be more reliable and backed by scientific studies.
  • Your climbing won't suck if you gain a couple pounds. That being said, going through cutting and bulking phases can be very beneficial for a climber prepping for a trip or a competition. In other words, keep that training weight on as long as possible, cut down a month or so before the trip, then put the weight on immediately after the trip (though be careful making any drastic, 300+ calorie changes, as that may slow your metabolism and cause you to keep the weight on or speed it up and cause you to keep the weight off). Is this the healthiest option? Definitely not, but still better than hovering at that single-digit body fat all year round.
  • Lifting is fun and I will definitely stick to it even though the program is done. I never thought I'd live to hear myself say, "Wow, that was such a good benching sesh" or, God forbid, anything vaguely positive related to leg day. Yet, here I am, having a blast doing front squats. On top of that, resistance training is necessary. Muscle-wise, climbers tend to be extremely unbalanced and constantly dealing with injuries. Yet all this is easily avoidable with a couple hours each week dedicated to antagonistic muscles, with exercises such as the shoulder press, chest press, and tricep work. Also, let's not entirely disregard legs, those are kinda important, especially as you get older and your muscles start to atrophy.
  • I learned so much just from doing this program. Lifting, nutrition, body building, power lifting, antagonistic work, how awful dips are for your arms, how awful preacher curls are for your biceps, etcetera! Don't let climbing be the end-all. You won't die from taking a small break and trying something new. On contrary, it will probably help heal those overuse injuries. Personally, I came out of this with a new-found appreciation for climbing, feeling as though I had fallen in love with the sport all over again.
  • And I did manage to get outside (-:
Photo: Ana Moiseyenko
Thanks for reading!


Optimizing Strength (2007) by William J. Kraemer

Saturday, June 20, 2015

New Training Page

Finally got around to making a Facebook Page for training/coaching. Shoot me an email if you are interested in either a Skype or in-person consultation!

Thursday, April 9, 2015

First Vlog!

Though I must admit I feel rather dirty having entered the egocentric world of vlogging, filming your day is also really freakin' fun! Definitely planning on making more! PS: Glog for Galina (-:

Sunday, April 5, 2015


I've been working on this sequence for about 2 months now. The goal is to be able to do 1.5-2.5-1.5 on both sides without any mantling. Coming up: Bishop and RMNP photo blogs!

Monday, February 2, 2015

Stay Tuned

The start of many more posts to come, this is a video filmmaker Hunter Pedane (who also did all the filming for Advanced Training for Climbing) just released, featuring some of CT's newest lines!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Fourteen Ten Sleep Revelations

Inspired by Alli Rainey’s 21 Things to Know About Ten Sleep

Arrival in Worland (Photo: Laurie DeGross)
“I’ve decided I don’t like buses,” was the last thing I texted my dad before shutting off my phone for the eight-hour drive from Colorado Springs to Worland, WY. For one, as soon as the doors opened at one of the earlier stops in Wyoming, a tight-knit veil of marijuana engulfed the "Greyhound", a real-life demeantor, or at least just as rancid. Also, everyone on the bus, and especially at the Denver bus stop, was either high, crazy, or involved in a very charged and very dense argument with their ex over child support and custody. To make matters worse, the man wearing a camouflage baseball cap sitting in front of me reeked strongly of sweat and desperation. On the upside, the Greyhound had outlets at every seat and no internet, so I was able to complete six pages of much overdue blogging. And for a mere $61, you really couldn't complain.

I had gone back and forth several times on Ten Sleep. I didn't really have much reason not to go, other than spending less time with my family back home. Still, I was skeptical. For one, the climbing at Ten Sleep was described as vertical and techy, both things I doubted I would enjoy or excel at. Additionally, there was the minor detail of the 30-hour car ride back to CT (still a cheaper alternative to flying). In the end, however, the incredible opportunity won out, 30-hour car ride and all.

Here, in no particular order, is what I learned in my week at Ten Sleep.

Photo: Karen Cydylo
On July 5, 2010, Jen Flemming onsighted every route on the Shinto Wall. On August 8, 2014, my first day of climbing, I decided I was going to onsight every route on the Shinto Wall. Dope Shinto, Left Shinto, Right Shinto, Center Shinto, I would do them all. It’d be a challenge, but entirely manageable, as none of the routes exceeded 12c. I was mainly nervous about adapting to the intricate style. However, the climbing (at least at the Shinto Wall) was very comparable to that of Shelf Road, but easier to decipher. I finished the task at around 7:00 pm, minus three chaussy 5.10s on the right side of the wall, then proceeded to tick off Pussytoes, a notoriously difficult 12d at the French Cattle Ranch (FCR). In all, I climbed nine pitches. Take that, Jen Flemming (:

I had two goals for the trip: 1) Redpoint my hardest route and 2) Onsight 5.13. I also wanted to climb as many classics as possible, which made matters more complicated, as I couldn't devote much time to grade-chasing and projecting. Although I was happy sending a couple 13s early on in the trip, neither climb took very much physical effort, and I knew I could do harder.

The Redpoint
The breakthrough occurred on Day 5, when got my first taste of the Slavery Wall--a vast and beautiful creation, split 50-50 between the opening slab and bulge end. After nearly onsighting The Burden of Immortality (12d/13a), I began to contemplate Burden of My Member (13c), a linkup that traversed left into Gold Member (13d), just below the final crux move of Burden. The traverse itself was considered the crux, although, according to Scott, hanging on until the anchors constituted the true difficulty. You would also have to skip a clip just before the traverse, meaning you were looking at a 30+ foot fall. Maybe I wasn't going to do the route after all.

But I had a change of heart over dinner that night, when Adam suggested replacing the pre-hung draw with an alpine one about double the length. This way, I would be able to clip the draw from below and avoid horrendous rope drag. I decided I was going to do the route.
Not even posing on Sleep Reaction (Photo: Karen Cydylo)

Then next day, I headed back to Slavery with honeymooners Kevin and Liesel, who I had met over pizza last night. I had just three climbs in mind: The Burden of Immortality, Burden of My Member, and EKV, a mega-classic 12c test piece.

After warming up on a single 12a, I decided to do The Burden of Immortality bolt-by-bolt in order to hang the alpine draw. Despite the limited warm-up, I felt strong on the opening sequence and ended up climbing the route to the anchors, switching out the draw on the way down. After a 40-minute rest, and against my better judgment of previewing the moves, I hopped on the linkup. By this point, I had the beginning dialed, though I still had no idea what to expect from the traverse. All I knew was there were crimps and pockets and that I could pull on them.

I clipped the alpine and entered the traverse. After going back and forth on my sequence, I made a long left-hand reach to a quarter-pad crimp rail, then came in right to a two-finger pocket, followed by a powerful reach to a decent left-hand sidepull. Somehow, I stuck it. 

Then, somehow, I also latched onto the next few crimps, hung draws, clipped, and even un-clipped to minimize drag, nearly falling multiple times due to the burning sensation crawling up my forearms. The only thing getting me through the climb was the knowledge that there was no second go.

At last I found myself on a shakeout crimp rail just before the anchors. The last few moves were not difficult, though definitely low percentage and heartbreaking if you fell. After shaking out for a few minutes, I went for it, putting my faith in two barely-visible, slopey footholds. When I hit yet another sidepull jug about three feet below the clips, I knew I had made it. I’d redpointed my hardest route to date, 5.13c, onsighting the 13c ending. I felt like laughing and crying all at once, overwhelmed by the send.

The Onsight
On my last day, when I had just about given up on onsighting 5.13, I returned to FCR with Sheldon, who I had just met that morning. After the usual one-route warm-up, I onsighted Blue Light Special (13a/b), Dances With Cows (13a), and Esplanada (stiff 12d). Success!

I took two 20-foot falls. Which isn't big by most climbers’ standards. But, considering this was about double the distance I’d previously fallen, I was quite happy with the progress.

I learned to pee without removing my harness. Thank you, Meg! Instructional photos coming soon.

The canyon and landscapes are stunning. Stunning.

The backyard.

Had to pullover for this one.
The Slavery Wall.
Otherwise, Cigar Pillar.

The weather, however, left some to be desired. It drizzled sporadically on Shinto Day and completely down poured on Saturday (my birthday) each time I hopped on a slab. But the kids sucked it out, never missing a beat to belay. Ultimately, I see this as reassurance in my decision to boycott slab. I also could not have asked for a better birthday present, even if it was a tad damp.

Russian family portrait.

Ten Sleep is a quirky little town. And ghost town on Mondays. It’s pretty great.

The infamous Saloon.

Valhalla--left, FCR--right.

The original Lodge.

Can you spot Mama Moose?

Nowoodstock Bluegrass Festival (can you spot Jose?)

Worland Aquatic Center.
Photo: Laurie DeGross

Camping in a Walmart parking lot (on the trek back to CT) is not half bad! Neither is driving 30 hours cross country. Actually, the whole tent-on-a-mulch-lot setup is rather endearing. For one, there are no wild animals, other than the rabid wave of 2:00 am shoppers. And not having to dig a poop hole in the morning is surely the standard of luxury living.

Being vegetarian is not the end of the world. Laurie and Adam don't like the hassle of keeping meat while camping, so, other than a Slopey Joe at the Bluegrass Festival, most of my meals consisted of eggs, rice or pasta, beans, and vegetables (and lots of avocados, of course). It didn't hurt that Laurie is a fantastic cook and that Adam brought a big bottle of Frank's to give everything a bit of a kick.

Since being back in Colorado, I have cooked two meatless meals, up from zero last year.

On a similar note, don't order steak from the new Lodge. Laurie and Adam asked for well-done, Jose and Karen asked for rare. Laurie and Adam got a well-done, Jose and Karen got a piece of cardboard that was more well-done than Laurie and Adam's cut. When they asked for a re-fire, the waitress brought out a blue piece of meat that was all but mooing. I realized at that moment that I had made the right choice ordering salmon.


Last food note. Red Bull makes 30+ hour car rides blissful and your blogs twice as long and double the fun. I faced a serious addiction in the following weeks but was able to recover upon returning to Colorado.

Back to the important stuff: In the course of a day, I gave out my cellphone to half a dozen people, all of whom were complete strangers just hours (minutes!) earlier. The climbers at Ten Sleep are such warm, genuine, and good-hearted people, it’s hard not to! Half my time here, I was either hooking up with random climbing groups or third-wheeling with my friends from CT. Either way, there was never any hesitation, any resentment, not even a smidge of aloofness. Between S’mores over the campfire, family dinners, birthday celebrations, 40-minute belays, and rest days in town, I was constantly surrounded by incredible people, and can only count down the days until next July, when I will see them again. Although the climbing here is absolutely phenomenal, it’s the community, not the crag, that makes it Ten Sleep.

Jose Riofrio.

Every night. Sometimes with S'mores.

Impromptu photoshoot at the lake.

"The Honeymooners". Is that a movie yet?

Pizza night at the Saloon.

"Honey, everything fit!"

Call me maybe?

Thank you to Laurie and Adam, for inviting me to this magical place, for the unconditional hospitality, for good wine (even the Pinot Grigio), and for your lovely puppies. To Karen and Jose, for omlettes at the Lodge, for hauling my water and camera, and for fun times in town. To Meg for being equally psyched on the rain and for the birthday lemonade beer (first beer I’ve ever liked!) To Kim and Pascal for campfires and company, for Whiskey Ale and Porto, and for a delightful Mexican candy concoction. To Kevin and Liesel, for letting me tag along and for cheering (and belaying me!) on the linkup. To Kyle, for much-needed chemistry advice and for keeping us up to date on the latest celebrity gossip. To Inga, Allen, and Sheldon, for showing me the shortcut to FCR and for the always heartfelt “Hi Galina’s” whenever our paths crossed. Hopefully they will cross again.

Laurie and Adam.

Jose and Karen, in an equally flattering photo.

Like I said, I’ll be back next summer. This time for two months. I don’t know where life will take me after graduation, but the road is surely going through Ten Sleep.

The ticks.

The family.

The town.

Bonus Feature: A Documentation in Selfies. To spare all the poor, overworked teens out there (yes I can now shamelessly make teenager jokes and references) the efforts of actually reading this blog.

The bus ride sucked.

I was super psyched to climb when I woke up that morning.

Until Laurie informed me our day only started at 1:00, when the cliffs went into the shade.

The lake was pretty fun.

But not as fun as the Worland Aquatic Center (I'm frowning because we had to wait over an hour for Public Swim).

Walmart camping is glamorous.

But not as glamorous as riding in a van for 36 hours.

Bella. Always Bella.