**On Becoming Self Aware: The R-measure and you**

(This is essentially one of my two blog posts, Relative Strength Endurance (9/20/2013) turned into an article. I added a little bit at the end. I figured that after two years of not posting a single blog post I am not a Blogger.)

**Should I do more 4x4s or should I concentrate on hard boulder problems?**

At the end of the day if you’re not strong enough to do the moves then there is nothing to endure right[i]? This has led to the question: What is the best way to improve strength endurance? The answer to this question is a very non-committal, it depends. It depends on which aspect of strength is acting as the constraint, strength endurance or maximum strength? In an effort to get some numbers behind this nebulousness I looked to those folks who have maximized their ability to stave of the debilitating pump, world record holders in track and field.

Let’s assume that the 100 meter sprint time is equivalent to the strongest runner’s maximum running strength. In the case of climbing this would be the climber’s maximum bouldering strength. Usain Bolt’s blistering 100 meter time of 9.58 is like a V15 that’s a few moves long (actually it’s more comparable to a V20 that’s a couple of moves long, but that is a discussion for another day). We can use Bolt’s time to determine the maximum strength constraint on strength endurance events of differing duration.

The equation for running is:

((100 meter time x (distance run/100))/Xmeter time)x100 = upper bound of strength endurance for a given level of maximum strength

An example might be useful here:

The 100 meter world record time is 9.58 seconds. The 200 meter world record time (also held by Bolt) is 19.19. The percentage of maximum strength sustainable for 19.19 seconds of all-out effort is then:

((9.58 x 2)/19.19) x 100 = 99.8%

From this we can say that in the case of running an individual can maintain basically 100% of their maximum strength levels for about 20 seconds of effort. Drawing the analog to climbing this means that for a boulder problem that takes about 20 seconds we should be able to maintain 100% of our maximum climbing strength. Strength endurance involves sustaining strength for longer durations. Using Bolt’s time again as the maximum strength upper bound:

The world record time in the 400 meter is 43.18 seconds. When put into the strength endurance equation this yields 89% (=((9.58x4)/43.18) x 100) and using the argument above we can say that a runner can maintain 89% of their maximum strength output for about 45 seconds. Using other times:

800 meter 1:40.9: ((9.58 x 8)/ 100.9) = 76%

1500 meter 3:26: ((9.58 x 15)/206) = 70%

3000 meter 7:20 (287.4/440) = 65%

5000 meter 12:37 (479/757) = 63%

10,000 meter 26:18 (958/1578) = 61%

From these numbers above we can see that the lactate threshold[ii] of humans with the highest lactate threshold possible starts to become an issue somewhere between 20 seconds and 43 seconds (since the 200 meter percentage is basically 100% and the 400 meter is 89%). Generalizing the numbers above a little more we can say that the human body is capable of performing at 100% of maximum strength for about 20 seconds. If the duration extends to 45 seconds then the maximum output is about 89%. If the duration is up to 2 minutes the maximum output is 76% and if the duration lasts up to 4 minutes we’re looking at 70%.

The next step is to figure out what these percentages might mean in terms of rock climbing. A very rough guesstimate could be to use ones hardest boulder problem in the gym (short one takes about 20 seconds) and then compare that with ones hardest set of linked problems where the link involves jumping off the wall and moving over to the next problem (4x4 or 3x3 style). Granted, jumping off the wall before doing the next problem is sub-optimal due to the resting in between but a difficult down climb might take too much time and is bad for the elbows while an easier down climb will allow for more time under less tension and a long boulder problem requires a conversion from a route grade to V-grade which is always a dubious endeavor. Optimally there would be a top-rope route that has 4 distinct boulder problems back to back. The idea here is for an assessment of strengths and weaknesses and more people have access to a climbing gym with a bunch of different graded boulder problems than a gym filled with routes composed of boulder problems.

Using the above argument for running as a model we can attempt to construct an equation incorporating climbing variables, V-grades.

Let:

MP = Grade of hardest boulder problem (needs to be a short-ish one, 20 seconds)

MLP = Average grade of 4 boulder problems completed back to back

Then[iii]:

R=(MLP/MP)x100

For example, suppose Hank goes to the climbing gym and climbs a V8 on Monday then on Wednesday he does 4 problems in a row of V3, V4, V4, V3 which takes 2 minutes to complete. So for Hank, MP = 8 and MLP = 3.5 (=14/4). Plugging these values into R gives, R = (3.5/8)x100 = 43.75%. What this suggests is that Hank is able to maintain about 44% of his maximum strength output for 2 minutes. Using the numbers obtained from world record holders on the track as a guide (a very rough guide, there is a lot lost in translation here) we see that Hank has low strength endurance relative to his maximum strength and could improve his strength endurance by working on strength endurance.

Consider another example, Tiko has a maximum boulder problem of V6 (MP=6) and does 4 problems in a row of V3, V4, V4, V3 (MLP = 3.5) and R = (3.5/6)x100 =58.33%. Given that David Rudisha, the human being with the most strength endurance over 1:40 seconds, is putting out 76% of what is humanly possible, Tiko is approaching his maximum level of strength endurance given his present level of maximum strength. For Tiko to improve his strength endurance he needs to increase his maximum strength.

Experience(basically asking a bunch of people I know what their max problem is and what they 4x4 on) leads me to suggest that if R > 55-60% then one’s strength endurance relative to one’s maximum strength is about as high as its going to get and strength endurance improvements will be made more efficiently by increasing maximum strength. If R < 55% strength endurance improvements will be made more efficiently by increasing strength endurance directly.

**Using the R to design a training program tailored toward weakness**

So you’re sitting at your computer getting ready to layout your training program for this next training cycle and you’re wondering how much of your program you should devote to increasing your maximum strength and how much of your program you should devote to increasing your strength endurance. The R measure answers this question. If you have a low R (<55%) then you devote a larger percentage of your training program to training strength endurance and if you have a high R (>55%) then you devote a larger percentage to training maximum strength. If your R is at 55% then you can devote roughly ½ of your training to each. So the first thing you need to do is determine your R.

**Determine your R**

This test is best done at a climbing gym (but it doesn’t have to be done at a gym). If you pick your problems accurately then you’ll get this assessment done in a day. If you don’t get so lucky then this assessment may take two days and you should take a rest day in between these days.

Step 1: Locate a

*redpoint*problem for the day. A

*redpoint*problem for the day is a boulder problem that is difficult enough that you can’t do it first try but is not so difficult that you can’t do it in about 45 minutes. Basically your one day max difficulty boulder problem.

Step 2: Warm-up to try the

*redpoint*boulder problem. During the warm-up locate and do 4 boulder problems that are of a similar style as the

*redpoint*boulder problem and that you think you can do back to back to back to back with no rest. In the warm-up don’t try to do them back to back to back.

Step 3: After the warm-up try to do the

*redpoint*problem for the day problem. Try this problem until you do it. If it takes much more than 45 minutes to do the problem then stop trying the problem. If you came pretty close to doing it then count this as your max

*redpoint*problem for the day.

Step 4: After trying the

*redpoint*problem of the day for about 45 minutes move onto the four problems you did during the warm-up and try to do these problems back to back to back to back with no rest in between.

Report the following:

V-grade of max problem (MP) in a day:

Average of the V-grades of the 4 in a row problems (MLP):

Compute your R:

R = (MLP/MP) x 100

If your R < 55 then devote a larger percentage of your training time to strength endurance. If your R >55 then devote a larger percentage of your training time to maximum strength.

[i] Moffat quote I think.

[ii] The point at which the hydrogen ions build up in our forearms (or their legs) making it much more difficult to go up, leading to the oft noted excuse “I was too pumped to do the move”.

[iii] Note that R is the inverse of the equation used for running. In the case of running, as maximum strength decreases, the time of the runner increases so the denominator increases as the runner gets weaker. In climbing, the V-grade decreases as the climber gets weaker. In order to model a decrease in strength, the equation needs to be inverted.