The National Academy of Sports Medicine defines reactive training as a quick, powerful exercise that couples a forceful eccentric contraction, followed immediately by an explosive concentric contraction. This advanced training technique (often referred to as plyometric training) holds great potential for climbers looking to increase their contact strength and power—it’s also rife with risk for those who misuse or overuse reactive training exercises such as campus training, lunging exercises, and other explosive movements.
When used properly, however, reactive training will actually strengthen tendons and ligaments—and, of course, the muscles too—and, thus, increase your resistance to injury when out climbing a physically stressful move or sequence. Consequently, I advocate a limited amount of reactive training for intermediate climbers, with an increase in volume and intensity of reactive training as one enters the elite category. One qualifying rule that no climber should overlook is that reactive training will be more harmful than beneficial if performed while injured. In particular, any finger, elbow or shoulder problems must be rehabilitated (rest and antagonist muscle training) before engaging in reactive training of any type.
First used by Russian athletes in the 1960s, reactive training was originally applied to climbing by the late Wolfgang Güllich with the advent of Campus Training. Before we get into this and other types of reactive training, let’s first look at the unique stimulus (and adaptations) created by these powerful movements. Given that reactive training involves fast, dynamic movements, the resistance used (training load) must be significantly less than in the maximum strength-training exercises above. For many climbers, the resistance will need to be less than body weight in order to allow for the rapid movement and turnover that’s essential for effective reactive training. The resultant adaptations of such speed training are primarily neural, so reactive training alone will produce little in the way of hypertrophy. Still, the numerous neural adaptations of properly executed reactive training will result in highly practical—and often surprisingly noticeable!—gains in lunging ability and contact strength.
In an upcoming series of articles I will detail several reactive training exercises of varying difficulty and injury risk. The safest, and therefore the most appropriate for non-elite climbers, are reactive exercises performed at less than body weight and with some measure of control. For example, One-Arm Lunging and Campus Touches are two reactive exercises that most healthy intermediate climbers can incorporate into their training with little risk. By contrast, reactive exercises that involve full body weight and double-handed, drop-and-catch movements are extremely stressful and appropriate only in small doses for injury-free, elite climbers. The impact forces inherent to drop-and-catch exercises like campus training Double Dynos are dangerously large and injury may result from improper execution or overuse.
Visit the Training Center in December, January, February, and March for follow-up articles on this five-part series on Reactive Training!
A portion of this article is excerpted from the just released 2nd Edition of Eric’s classic book, Training for Climbing.