*NEW CLIMBING RESEARCH*

This article is a longer form version of a recent Instagram post I shared. Due to lack of space in the word count, I decided to write this article to give more depth and context to my review of this new piece of rock climbing research and what practical advice we can take away.

This paper investigates the varying characteristics in advanced to elite female climbers. Data collection has been limited in the climbing literature and understanding how the characteristics of females differ at different levels can breathe new life into our understanding, training prescriptions, nutritional recommendations etc.

SUMMARY:

  • Elite climbers have significantly greater climbing and training hours per week (~12hrs/w)
  • Elite climbers express greater upper-body power (79.8cm Power-Slap)
  • Elite climbers express greater finger strength (408.4N / ~41kg)
  • Both finger strength and upper-body power are most positively associated with ability

Conclusion:

The findings of the paper support the idea that finger strength and upper-body power are important performance indicators in both bouldering and sport climbing.

The latest anthropometric data highlights the changes in the sport over the last decade, including the increase in ability levels of female climbers.

Good Points:

  • An excellent number of participants (55) for a sports science study.
  • A comprehensive testing battery consisting of anthropometric, flexibility, strength, and power tests.
  • A wide cross-section of abilities ranging from Font 4+ / French 6b to Font 7C / French 8a+.

Limitations:

The authors acknowledge that other performance factors also account for variability in performance (e.g. aerobic capacity, psychology, technique, footwork, efficiency etc.). However this is a feature of research in that it due to constraints it is not always possible to ‘test for everything’. Typically examining too few and equally too many questions or variables in research can lead to inaccurate conclusions through confounding variables. Therefore this is not really a true limitation of this paper and poses questions to be answered by future work.

MY THOUGHTS:

Whilst it may seem intuitive or even obvious that strength and upper-body power are necessary for higher ability within climbing, it is vital that we conduct the research and have the data. Only through doing this can we see the bigger picture, view potential other factors, and make better choices for training or goal setting.

One subtle feature from this current study shows that whilst both factors are necessary for elite level ability, sport climbing performance is more closely associated with finger strength, whereas bouldering performance is more closely associated with upper-body power, thereby reflecting the demands of each discipline.

From a practical perspective what we can take away from this is that female climbers who wish to improve may need to review their current volume of climbing and training, and from there focus in on specific exercises / drills that increase their finger strength or upper-body power dependent on their goals. This should always be progressive and at an individual appropriate level. Gaining the assistance of a coach may be useful to help with this.

What is encouraging in this paper is whilst elite level females had a significantly lower body fat % than the lower ability climbers, the actual figure is right in the middle of what is healthy for females (~23%). This is in contrast to the recent papers I have shared and points to the need of ongoing research into the area of fuelling for performance and de-emphasising lower body weight.

New research is being published all of the time and recently several climbing-based papers have arisen. I will continue to share useful information and practical tips coming from this research as best I can. I will also share knowledge that we might translate from other research into climbing, and have been considering reviewing older climbing papers in order to share what has changed or even stayed consistent over the years.

As always thanks for reading and if you find this useful it would be much appreciated if you shared the word about GB Performance & Nutrition with friends or family.

Reference:
Giles, D., Barnes, K., Taylor, N., Chidley, C., Chidley, J., Mitchell, J., Torr, O., Gibson-Smith, E., & Romero, V. E. (2020). Anthropometry and performance characteristics of recreational advanced to elite female rock climbers. Journal of Sports Sciences, 1–18.

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