My position as Director of a climbing training facility in the United States’ Virginia has enabled me to meet researchers interested in facilitating climbing training. To this end, we collaborated on a user interface that integrates video and sensors attached to the human body, specifically those measuring three physiologic parameters (heart rate, breathing rate, ventilation rate) and one body movement parameter (hip acceleration). This was then time-matched to the video we took: the purpose of which is to help trainers look at the specific movement or sections of climbing wall and their impact. Next step: real time.
Researchers at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School want you to help them understand climbers’ experiences with knee injuries. Some friends of mine, Connie and Kai Lightner reached out to me to help support this and I’d love to help. Please consider checking out the survey if you meet the criteria in the post. Cheers!
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)
If you’re at all curious about a data scientist’s take on some climbing specific questions using a LARGE dataset that’s easily digestible to non-data scientists, you’ve come to the right place. Note: skip to the link in the fourth paragraph to get past my intro and direct to the good stuff.
Today I’d like to showcase the work of Charlie Andrews and theCrag.com. Charlie Andrews is a brilliant young data scientist who works hard and loves climbing. I started teaching him when he was around 12 years old. Ever since, Charlie and I have been close: I was honored to have been invited to his university graduation from MIT.
Data scientists need data, and climbing is a little starved for data. theCrag.com database is an incredibly large database of ascents with a leadership team that includes Ulf Fuchslueger. Ulf struck me as a passionate climber with an interest in seeing his team’s data used to support science within the climbing community. I connected Charlie and Ulf with the goal of diving into the data, and a match was born.
Charlie recently posted his first write-up of his look into the data. Specifically, Charlie was interested in what types of climbs climbers prefer. To start with, Charlie kept his question fairly specific: he wondered whether data from theCrag supported a popular conception that older climbers like longer, rather than shorter, routes. Asking this specific question is a step toward helping us pick routes, or helping a group like theCrag recommend routes. Broadly speaking, understanding relationships can help us understand our own preferences, so that we can enjoy our lives more by either listening to those preferences, or challenging them.
Maria Ștefania IONEL, a PhD candidate, is studying the psychological characteristics which make climbers excel at their sport and she’s encouraging climbers to fill out her survey. You can access the link here. Maria is offering incentives for those who not only fill this first survey out, but also fill out a subsequent survey which will come later.
I was invited to speak with Professor Renato Vilella, a Brazilian professor, physiotherapist, and researcher specializing in climbing risk. He was particularly interested in injury. We discussed the following four questions:
How does injury affects the performance of the athletes.
How do I deal with athletes who get injured?
How do I train or use movement training with the athletes in post-injury movement?
How can we prevent injuries, and how can we prevent negative psychological outcomes after injury?
We discussed everything from cueing athletes, to movement and training avoidance, to movement pattern shifts, to research on warming up the fingers, technology which is becoming more easily available, and other topics.
Fair warning, the video is about an hour long but during it I got a chance to speak and trade information with someone who is as passionate about climbing and performance as I am. Cheers.
The Germans have crushed it. They put together a resource with a perspective which attempts to counter what they view as the prevailing wisdom of approaching injury prevention through hypertrophic antagonist training. Their preferred method is what they call “adjunct compensatory training” or ACT which seeks to “compensate biased movement patterns and strengthen the structures of the locomotive system which undergo high strain during climbing.”
More specifically, they recommend first maintaining climbing-specific range-of-motion (ROM), and then creating more strength and control surrounding that range-of-motion.
Even more specifically, they give examples that suggest climbers can compensate around the range-of-motion needs of many common exercises, so they recommend specific exercises with subtle movements which may involve some discomfort.
For prevention, they recommend two, 20 minute sessions per week with 1-2 exercises from each grouping category they have. Each exercise has one or more functional “intents” ranging from mobility, to strength endurance, to muscle/strength building, to intermuscular coordination.
They made it easy-to-access by making it online, free, and heavily illustrated. And for that, I’m stoked. You can download a free copy (for the moment) at this link. If the link ever breaks, let me know. I’ll see if I can get permission to post a copy of the PDF. Thanks go to Eric Hörst for first pointing this out to me.
The authors include Dr. Volker Schöffl (MD/PhD), author of the original climbing injury book One Move Too Many, as well as Dicki Korb and Patrick Matros, authors of the popular Gimme Kraft training book.
It should be noted that there are other great resources out there, including Dave Macleod’s Make or Break, Dr. Jared Vagy’s Climb Injury-free, and Dr. Lisa Erikson’s Climbing Injuries Solved. Each of these resources has a perspective and a place in the overall conversation of climbing injury prevention and rehabilitation after injury.
Does the United States’ emphasis on competition at younger ages than are represented in international youth competition give them an advantage, disadvantage, or both? We have heard arguments that the US emphasis on competition before Youth-B:
gives them an initial advantage at international competitions which does not translate to the adult level.
provides early learning opportunities which translate to better preparation by the adult-level.
The United States includes two age categories not typically recognized by the International Federation of Sport Climbing (IFSC): Youth-C (Ages: 12/13) and Youth-D (Ages: 11 and under).
First, we asked whether the best countries also include a younger age category.
Second, we needed to know how to compare the youth categories.
Third, we asked whether the US does better at younger age categories they would seemingly be better prepared for (e.g. “Youth-B”) and less as other countries catch up (e.g. “Youth-Jr” category).
What do other Countries do?
The United States currently has Youth-C (12-13) and Youth-D (11 and under) go to Nationals. However, they are considering a proposal to remove Youth-D’s and give them an age-appropriate alternative.
According to a Vice-President in charge of competition in a region in France, Youth C/D (as well as a younger — “E” — category) compete in a “combined” format involving all disciplines. Specialization is allowed at Youth-B.
According to a former national team coach for a European country, there is no Youth-C (or younger) champion in most countries in Europe.
According to a national team coach in Japan, Japan has not historically held competitions for Youth-C or younger. However, it will begin holding Youth-C competition starting this year.
One reason given is the success of younger Japanese female athletes (e.g. Ai Mori, Natsuki Tanii), a topic The Beta Angel Project will explore soon in a larger write-up on how early sport specialization research may apply to climbing.
Comparing Categories – Top-25, Top-10, or Medalists
We tried three different ways of comparison: Top-25, Top-10, and Medalists. The six teams we used were the best in 2009, and the below graphs compare Female B with Female Jr across a span of 11 years.
We were concerned the Top-25 (greens bars) give an advantage to smaller teams (the U.S. historically sends a large team). The medalist (red bars) visual was also interesting, especially because it showed such marked distinctions. However, the data-set was understandably too small to compare across years and there were wide discrepancies between years and countries. As a result, we chose to use top-10 (yellow bars).
Looking at the Top-10 by nation, the United States has only broken 30% once, whereas every other country has multiple incidences. Germany has fallen off in recent years, and Slovenia has been all over the place the last three years. Also of note is that Japan has been really good for some time.
Are our numbers historically better in Youth-B and decline in older categories?
From a visual standpoint, the answer is mixed.
On the female side, female-B’s won the match-up with the older categories only 3 of the 11 years. If you include ties with only one other category, that rate jumps to 7 of 11 years. Male-B’s won 5 of 11 years, or 6 of 11 years with ties.
Compare that to 3 definitive wins by the Female Jrs, 1 by the Female A’s, 2 by Male Jrs, and 3 by Male A’s. In other words, while an argument could be made that the B’s certainly hold their own — e.g. Male B’s won 3 of the last 4 years — the data are not particularly conclusive.
Other successful structures include non-specialization before B (France), non-championship before B (Europe in general), as well as championship before B (Japan).
The other successful structures discuss Youth-C and Youth-B as starting points for national-level competition, not Youth-D.
If there is an initial advantage for starting national-level competition early, it is either non-existent or small, and more likely to be on the Male side than the Female side.
Irrespective of whether there is an initial advantage, more data is needed to understand the relationship of starting early with the adult-level.
I could use some help. Every year for the past few years I’ve been summarizing the previous year’s published rock climbing performance research, and publishing a summary as well as adding those articles to the Beta Angel Research Inventory.
My goal is to:
make sure that the rock climbing community has access to plain language summaries of the research literature.
have a working knowledge of the research in order to facilitate the growing number of requests I get every year for information about climbing research.
Without help, summarizing each year’s growing body of research literature would quickly become a burden for me alone. Last year I had help from some wonderful folks in Utah. This year I’d love to have even more help so no one has to read more than a few papers (except likely me — who loves this stuff).
If you’re interested, please contact me. All I ask is that you have some familiarity with graduate-level research papers, either through graduate-level research itself, work on a degree, or at your place of employment. Thanks, and happy holidays!