Running can be contra productive


8 November 2013

"All gyms and top climbers should have a kranking machine or a rower. This would make most us get better endurance."

Running can be counterproductive

By Dr 8a, Björn Alber, MSc Training physiology and one of the best rowers in the world during the 80'ies.

Everybody will agree that maintaining grip power, pump capacity and grip strength, are the most limiting factors in performance for an experienced climber. The factors that affect this is the circulation through the forearms and the muscle mass, muscle fiber type, lactid acid tolerance and the neuromuscular function (signal efficiency between nervous system and the muscle).

In an aerobic sport (eg running) the heart pump capacity (around 40 liters per minute for the elite) is one of the most limiting factors of performance. There are around 5 liters of blood to be circulated. The blood vessel system has a capacity in access of 40 liters meaning blood has to be limited to circulate where needed. If we consider running as a viable option for improving your climbing pump we immediately see a problem.
True is the fact that running will increase your caridac output (pump capacity) but for a climber, if not extremely poorly conditioned, this is not a limiting factor in general but the local forearm circulation is! To increase forearm vascular bed and thus circulatory capacity, you need to load the circulation in the forearms for an extended period at a level of no more than 70% of maximal capacity, higher intensity will start up lactid acid accumulation. Kayaking, arm kranking, high tempo easy continuous up and down climbing etc are more suitable exercises. 

Only by loading the forearm circulatory system, the vascular bed will improve by creating bigger and more blood vessels. If you do not need to loose weight or to build a general good cardiovascular capacity, he should put time into local aerobic training exercises. Putting more time into running/biking will take energy from more beneficial training and can be contra productive. 
If your goal short term is to increase your cardiac output, run a maximum of 20-30 minutes 3 times per week at high intensity (eg interval training). Do all other aerobic conditioning by upper body exercises preferably climbing high volume. Although running as a warmup exercise will fast raise the core temperature raise it will, when taken to far, reduce the upper body blood circulation capacity.

As a elite level kayaker I often warmed up 6-10 minutes with running before getting in the kayak. In tests and subjectively, the swedish national kayaking team found running extensively was extremely counter productive booth as warming up and as aerobic conditioning, the kayaking capacity severely hampered by the redirected blood flow. Warming up through running should always be done short and high in intensity. Thereafter, to redirect the blood flow, perform circulatory exercises for the upper body and especially for the forearms, before actual climbing. I will in later communications discuss the other factors affecting pump power/grip strength.

Dr8a Björn Albersport medicine specialist, MSc Training physiology

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