Book Review – Beyond Training by Ben Greenfield

All I’ve been posting about lately is the books I’m reading. I apologize for turning the site into ‘Journey to Reading Stuff with Matt MacPhee,’ but the weather has been shit and we’ve been climbing exclusively indoors for the last month which makes for even more boring writing (and run-on sentences, apparently).

I found this one on my shelf this morning and decided to give it a read. I`ll get this out of the way immediately and say that this book is all over the place. Chapters are self-contained and sometimes literally repeat themselves. There`s a section on protein that appears in the first 150 pages and again between 400 and 450. Greenfield states that the book is meant to give you all the tools you need to be an amazing athlete and is written with endurance athletes competing in running, biking and swimming in mind. He’s not wrong, and goes into detail on topics like ’40 meals for athletes,’ ’25 ways to know if you’re recovered,’ and ‘the 21 best kitchen tools for your home.’ Perhaps the issue lies with me. I prefer a book to read like a book and not a collection of Buzzfeed articles, but this style may suit you so check it out for yourself. It certainly gets good reviews on many reputable sites, and hey, he’s written a bunch of books and I’ve written zero so who am I to judge.

Based on some Googling, Greenfield has a strong online presence. I`m sure lots of people like his content, but I`ve never read a book that is a stranger combination of weirdo Dr. Oz-esque `biohacks` like earthing (connecting yourself to the earth with circuits or some kind of craziness) and magnets (how do they work?) with legitimately useful endurance training advice. I didn’t count but it felt like he recommended at least 50 different supplements throughout the book, because apparently you need different supplements to train strength, power, speed and mobility. And recover. And sleep. And fuck. And you get the picture.

So, how does a budding alpinist like you benefit from reading this book? Step 1: pretend that pages 66-475 don’t exist. Step 2: ignore half of what is in the first 65 pages. You’re probably wondering why I’m recommending any of this at all. Step 3: do yourself a favour and find this book.

What you have left is the perfect companion to Training for the New Alpinism. One of my major critiques about TFTNA is that it doesn’t go into nearly enough detail on exactly how hard to push during endurance training, for how long, and how often. James and I were often left scratching our heads around how much time to spend doing different types of activities like ‘zone 1’ and ‘zone 4.’ TFTNA does talk about using different heart rate zones but I found it to be hard to parse out exactly what I should be doing and when. Through my confusion, I defaulted to mostly doing low-level work with no heavy duty, all-out effort training. The heavy effort training I did do still wasn’t at the right intensity to get the desired training effect and instead left me weak and worn down. I found out in the Bugaboos that this was a big hole in my training. Greenfield goes into very readable detail on common endurance training mistakes that amateurs make and how to avoid them. These mistakes fall into two categories: spending all your time training at one pace with no variance or interval work (jogging and hiking) or training exclusively with hard intervals (all Crossfit, all the time).

One idea he talks about is how amateurs try to cram in up to 20 hours per week of training time at non-useful intensities (like us), which ends up causing over-training issues, lack of performance, lack of recovery and recovery issues (like me). When I came back from the trip I thought about going the opposite way and training nothing but high intensity using all Crossfit-style workouts. Greenfield also explains why exclusively training at high intensities is a recipe for poor performance. House and Johnston talk about these ideas too but with nowhere near the clarity and immediacy that Greenfield does. He also goes into detail about adrenal fatigue and recovery methods which people may find useful.

A main takeaway for me, which is lining up with some reading I’m doing about other training modalities, is that it may useful to cut the overall training volume and incorporate more strategic high intensity interval training (HITT) once or twice a week to help build maximum work capacity. This could then be rounded out with some, but much less than what we were doing, low intensity aerobic cardio work. I think I was actually told this at one point by one of our friends at Crossfit Ironstone but I probably wasn’t ready to hear it yet. Sorry Pat, you were right.

One thing I’ve realized through the learning process is that a person (me) has to be ready to be receptive to information before they can incorporate it for themselves. At this point you might be thinking ‘yeah, of course, you dummy,’ but this is my blog so fuck you, I’ll learn at my own pace and write what I want! It’s entirely possible I could go back and re-read TFTNA and find it says exactly what Greenfield is saying and I just wasn’t capable of absorbing it and applying it at the time. There’s so much information available it can often feel like drinking from the firehose. This is a great lesson for me to keep revisiting topics I struggle with to see if I’m in a better place to incorporate the information into whatever my current level of knowledge is. I’m also going to start reading more from regular endurance sports experts since, at the end of the day, alpine climbing is just a lot of hiking with a little bit of climbing in the middle.

So, if you were like me and found the endurance training information in the first third of TFTNA to be somewhat opaque, I recommend you seek out the first chapter from Beyond Training by Ben Greenfield for clarification.

In other news, I’m now a mere 12 days out from Kentucky. Our crew took a trip to a taller, more overhung indoor climbing wall for a rain day tuneup and I think that this is the best I’ve ever climbed. I won’t be able to say for sure until I get on some local projects and compare my progress over last year, but I’m feeling really good about where I’m at heading into this trip. Climbing is so fun.


BUY: Beyond Training 

Check out our other Book Reviews!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *