Book Review: Unstoppable Force—Strength Training for Climbing, by Steve Bechtel and Charlie Manganiello

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UF Cover 2019-03

“You’re not dead yet, so get after it!” so inscribed Steve Bechtel, the co-author of this comprehensive, new 282-page training manual, on the inside jacket of the book he’d sent me. At 37 years old, I often feel like a geriatric compared to the boulderers two decades younger than me cranking one-arm pull-ups on my projects. The past two years, I’ve been trying to push my bouldering ability to hit the elusive #V10by40 and show those youngsters some old-man strength. As a result, I’ve dedicated myself more to training—and to studying training—than at any other point in my career. This has meant reading all the relevant books and blogs, listening to podcasts, and so on.

With two-page spread photos to keep the psyche high, detailed photographs demonstrating exercises, and practical ideas around strength training, Unstoppable Force was a welcome addition to my library. It offers a comprehensive course in strength training based on the authors’ combined 29 years of coaching other climbers: Bechtel is the author of Logical Progression, a book on training cycles for climbers, as well as a number of articles for Climbing Magazine, while Manganiello works as a resident coach at Elemental and Climb Strong, and authored The Climb Strong Deadlift Manual.

The book goes through the various stages of strength training, starting with why you should do it. Strength training benefits us by making us more efficient on the rock, addressing muscle imbalances, and helping to prevent injuries. After a general assessment and a discussion of benchmark physical abilities, the authors present a general overview of training, how to do it effectively, the tools, the locations, notations on how to record sets, reps, and effort, and how to set up an individualized training plan. The authors then present an exhaustive illustrated series of exercises, from deadlifts to front levers to squats to shoulder mobility. They then cap the book with sample training plans.

Bechtel and Manganiello work off a less-is-more philosophy: “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler,” they write in Chapter 4, The Essentials of Successful Programming. In other words, most climbers can improve through getting better sleep and drinking less beer as opposed to overly complicated programing. Unlike other climbing training books with things like in-depth 1-4-5 and then 1-3-4 campus ladder sets, the writing in Unstoppable Force sticks to the fundamentals, with an easy-to-understand format. In the chapter on finger-strength training, for example, the authors recommend three sets of 10-second hangs in three different grip positions—and sticking with this program for as long as possible. The simplicity of this meant that after a long day of punching at my keyboard, I could hang on my home hangboard without battling the mental fatigue of figuring out what percent of my body weight I needed to hang. This simple approach makes the exercises and the plans easier to execute and, ultimately, easier to stick with. The best training plans are the ones you follow through on.

$29, climbstrong.com (print | ebook)