Let’s get you caught up: In 2020, Mélissa Le Nevé made an historic ascent of Wolfgang Güllich’s Action Directe, a 5.14d (9a) first climbed in 1991, and arguably the first of its grade in the world. The climb is not only famous for being the first of the grade, it’s also associated with the campus board, a training tool Güllich created and used for his first ascent. It’s basically the original power route. Mélissa’s send was the 27th ascent, which means the climb averages fewer than one ascent per year. The recent Reelrock 15 video which showcased the ascent to the world alludes to the idea that she left the World Cup competition circuit in 2016 to focus on Action Directe.
I reached out to her coach, Guillaume Levernier, for an interview. I had met Guillaume in Chamonix, France (2018) at a climbing research conference where he spoke about his research into rate of force development (think contact strength). You can see a discussion with the Lattice Training Community here and a practical on his research team’s protocol here. I reached out for two reasons: (1) Coaches don’t get much credit for helping their athletes, but Mélissa was an outspoken advocate for his support and credited her success to his training, and (2) he’s a researcher!!!!!! OMG. Research and Practice rolled up into one awesome French crew.
— Here’s the interview —
The Beta Angel Project: “Melissa suggested you created a plan for her to go after Action Direct. Can you give us a high-level overview (big picture!) of what that plan looked like?”
Guillaume: “When I have started working with Melissa (in 2018), she was injured at fingers, elbow and shoulders. My first goal was the rehabilitate these injuries. To do so, I used specific exercises, with a fine tuning of the intensity of training sessions.
“We worked to improve the intrinsic qualities of her finger (strength and rate of force development), arms, and overall endurance. Furthermore, I used many « Pilates-inspired » exercises to train the transverse, external and internal oblique and the anterior serratus. A report is in preparation, I can give you more information about the plan later, if you wish.”
The Beta Angel Project: “That would be great, Guillaume! My next question: In the past, you’ve published climbing-specific work on the upper-limb power test (2014), training vs. morphological characteristics (2016), an experimental protocol to increase RFD using a hangboard (2017), distinctions between measuring RFD at different points on the time-force slope (2018), and a method to determine power in different types of climbers during a pull-up (2020). Did any of this research directly inform your recommendations for Melissa?”
Guillaume: “First of all, I am a trainer. Therefore, my research has been done with the understanding and optimization of performance as a main goal. The title of my PhD is : Biomechanical determinants of performance in climbing : study of the strength of the upper limbs and the force-velocity-power relationship in high level athletes. During my PhD, I had the great opportunity to work with many climbers of the French national team (bouldering, lead and speed climbing).
“I have investigated the morphological differences between both novice and elite climbers, and speed, lead and bouldering world top climbers (Laffaye, Levernier, and Collin 2016). I have also studied the impact of the training on the performance of elite climbers. Very few works did exist on this topic, and [they are] mainly focused on the maximal force a climber can produce. I have shown that another parameter was very important : the rate at which force is developed (name[ly] rate of force development (RFD)). My opinion is that this parameter is the real key of performance. Indeed, for dynamic moves, the time lapse available to produce force can be very short.”
The Beta Angel Project. “Just a quick follow-up: What were some of the practical implications you took from your research for Melissa?”
Guillaume: “In order to pass Action Direct, the key is to produce the maximal force as fast as possible. Thus, I used the results of two of my articles (Levernier and Laffaye 2019a)(Levernier and Laffaye 2019b) to optimize the training program of Melissa. Moreover, I read a lot of paper about biomechanical constraints of the fingers, function of the prehension in order to avoid possible injuries.
“But if the plan is good, the relationship with Melissa is crucial. She trusted me during these preparations and I really appreciated that. We are a good team. It’s my work to help her during hard phases (frustrations, failures). If you want to be a good coach, never forget this part. When you tried big projects during many years, the mental is crucial.”
The Beta Angel Project: “I don’t want to overstate the impact of climbing-specific research directly to training, so can you provide a sense of where you pulled research from non-climbing sources? Further, was there anywhere you wished you would have had additional research to inform Melissa’s training?”
Guillaume: “I worked during months with international climbers, Sergio Pastor (Spanish national team) and others climbers. I have now a strong experience as a trainer and as a coach. My main concern is to know how I can improve the training I am offering. To do so, my academic research is really useful, but surely not sufficient. I still need to learn, in particular by sharing experience with physiotherapist, chiropractic, etc…
“I love sharing experience with trainers, and I think this very important to improve oneself. Any trainer or climber, who may be interested to discuss with me can send me a message (guillaume dot levernier1 at gmail dot com). I would be happy to share my personal point of view about training.”
Thanks to Guillaume for sharing his thoughts. I’ll post an update if/when I receive more information, such as the alluded-to report. Here’s a short list of Guillaume’s research:
Laffaye, G., G. Levernier, and J. M. Collin. 2016. “Determinant Factors in Climbing Ability: Influence of Strength, Anthropometry, and Neuromuscular Fatigue.” Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports 26(10):1151–59.
Levernier, Guillaume and Guillaume Laffaye. 2019a. “Four Weeks of Finger Grip Training Increases the Rate of Force Development and the Maximal Force in Elite and Top World-Ranking Climbers.” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 33(9):2471–80.
Levernier, Guillaume and Guillaume Laffaye. 2019b. “Rate of Force Development and Maximal Force : Reliability and Difference between Non-Climbers , Skilled and International Climbers.” Sports Biomechanics 1–12.
Levernier, G., Samozino, P., and Laffaye, G. 2020. “Force–Velocity–Power Profile in Q1 High Elite Boulder, Lead, Speed Climber Competitors.” International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance 15(7)