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Strength Question

Date: 30th May 2014

I often receive emails about training, sports, life, good stuff I like. Here’s a recent one that made me think, thought others might enjoy it too. For those who didn’t read my post on what four exercises I consider critical it’s here.

On 2014-05-29, at 6:38 PM, Mike Casagrande wrote:

From: Mike C

Subject: 4 functional exercisesHey Will,

Just wondering what kind of sets/ reps you perform. I recently discovered Mark Rippetoe’s Starting Strength (same exercises, generally 3 sets, 5 reps) but I am not sure how that applies to those who engage in a variety of sports all year long.


Mike C


This mail is sent via contact form on Will Gadd http://willgadd.com



Hi Mike, thanks for the note.

Starting Strength seems really solid to me, never done it but looks logical, and those who have done it really like it and see good results so boom, I’m a fan. For those who haven’t read my old post on 4 exercises, it’s here.

What I’ve found over the years is that for me a base level of non-specific strength is really important, but also all it takes. Pushing and pushing to increase that level after a certain point doesn’t help me at all with my life or sports;  in fact, I usually have to cut back on other more relevant activities I like, or I get hurt, both of which hurt my sports and enjoyment of a very active life. So I need to be able to have all the big muscles in my body working together and well supported, but if I can comfortably and with excellent form deadlift, squat, bench and pullup with decent weight then more weight isn’t better, it’s just less of something else more important to me.

I look at my four exercises more as body “fixers” and “maintainers” than pure strength builders if that makes sense. If I’m coming off my seasonal two-three months of pure climbing I’ll do a couple of sets of light weight for relatively high reps. After a couple of weeks (four workouts or so) of that I’ll up the weight to roughly 3 sets of 10. I might then add in a heavier set or two after a warmup set. If I’m hitting a routine mid-season in one of my other sports I’m not shooting to gain strength so much as just maintain, and usually three set of 8-12 is fine, and not to failure all the time at all.

And ALWAYS, always smoothly and with rock-solid control and form. I don’t do Olympic or any other complicated lifts or motions for time anymore, that’s just a sure-fire way to get fucked up physically unless you don’t have enough testosterone to be competitive or are using so little weight that it’s pointless to use weight. Say to any athlete, “Do this as fast as possible” and they will, even if destroys them. My training is about training to perform, not training to train.

If the above sounds less than precise then yep, you’re right, but it does seem to work for me. And sometimes you have to take time off all training and do something different for a month or more. That’s where I’m at right now, but I’m still hiking mountains, climbing a bit, flying, paddling, riding, just doing stuff and letting my sports-specific over-use stuff chill out. I’ll be back in the gym next week most likely, at  low level to keep my base strength and function there.
Make a little sense? Mind if I leave your last name out of it but throw this up on my blog? Good question that made me think.



Posted in: Blog


  1. alex   May 30, 2014 12:59 pm

    Over the years I’ve noticed that the reality of climbing and almost every sport is that it takes a whole lot of work, but that work doesn’t necessarily have to be super specific training to be effective. I’ve climbed around 4 times a week for 2-3 hours per session for approximately 3 seasons and have seen my redpoint ability go from 5.9 to around 5.12. The climbing sessions have never been overly specific, but they were consistent and always full effort.

    I don’t know if you agree, but these days I am of the opinion that the best training for climbing is really just consistent, somewhat varied, but always strenuous climbing. Over thinking the process is likely more harmful than helpful for any other than the absolute top tier of climbers and athletes.

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