I’m excited to be collaborating with Connor Davis, a climber in Canada interested in doing work with the Beta Angel Project. His first submission is on Eva López-Rivera’s latest climbing research project involving a comparison of three different hangboarding protocols. Here’s his work:
Comparison of the effects of three hangboard strength and endurance programs on grip endurance in sport climbers Authors: E. López-Rivera, J.J. González-Badillo | Year: 2019 Summary/Results: The researchers compared the effects of three different Hangboard training programs on grip endurance in advanced sport climbers (7c+/8a mean climbing ability). The three programs tested were MaxHangs (4 weeks of maximum added weight dead-hangs followed by 4 weeks of minimum edge dead-hangs), IntHangs (8 weeks of intermittent dead-hangs on minimum edge depth), and Max_IntHangs (4 weeks of maximum added weight dead-hangs followed by 4 weeks of IntHangs). Strength and endurance testing was performed at week 0, week 5, and week 9. The results showed a significant improvement in grip endurance for the IntHangs group after 4 weeks (25.2%) and after 8 weeks (45%), as well as the MaxHangs group after 8 weeks (34.1%). The Max_IntHangs group did not show a significant improvement in grip endurance. Main conclusion: IntHangs are very effective for improving grip endurance, but MaxHangs are also effective. Notes: Interesting that a strength-based program (MaxHangs) showed a 34% increase in grip endurance, but also interesting that it is 17% higher than what the researchers showed in a previous study. This previous study was performed with more advanced sport climbers (8a+/8b mean climbing ability). Contributing Beta-Angel (Connor Davis) note: lower level sport climbers may be better off using the MaxHangs protocol as they can significantly improve small-hold grip endurance while also improving maximum strength. Reference: J Hum Kinet, 66, 183. See Link.
The following are some observations of the study I had for future work by the Beta Angel Project, which Connor seems keen to collaborate on:
The authors used a 10 second on, 5 second off intermittent hang which they decided on based on analysis off 40-50 videos of climbs between 8b and 9a, where they looked at the “more intense segments of a route.” This is fairly different from the 7 seconds on, 3 seconds off recommendation by the Anderson Brothers who have a popular repeater program. And also different than the 8-4 ratio in the Medernach (2015) study. It may be helpful to understand the assumptions behind the 10-5 [observational analysis, more intense segments of a route, 60-80% of MVC (Maximum Voluntary Contraction), observed minimum time of oxygenation] and the 7-3 (observational analysis, trial and error) protocols in order to better differentiate the research papers, protocols, and effects.
The resting period the authors chose is based on two studies Connor and I are going to look into: one climbing-specific by gentleman scholar Simon Fryer and the other non-climbing specific. The studies apparently suggested 3-5 seconds of oxygenation. Connor has gamely decided to jump in on a larger project of mine with questions surrounding the efficacy of micro-resting, which tends to have significantly shorter periods of rest (less than 1.5 seconds)
Image above from the Training for Climbing Website
I’m excited to announce a partnership with Eric Hörst’s website Training for Climbing and the Beta Angel Project. Eric believes in the Project’s vision and is interested in supporting it. He has converted Training for Climbing’s Research Section to highlight news from the Beta Angel Project. In addition, he’s also going to serve as an invaluable mentor to the Project. We’re already collaborating on Project direction. Please do us a favor and check out what sections of the Project he’s decided to highlight. You can also leave a note with him about what you’d like to see in the future. Cheers!
Image of Taylor rehabbing a torn meniscus (climbing-related) and his wife, Jennifer, climbing with a brace on after ACL surgery (climbing-related).
“THOUSANDS BREAK OR SPRAIN ANKLES IN LATEST GLOBAL SPORTS CRAZE”
Dr. Peter Buzzacott requested I share the following press release. He’s the author of a 2019 study titled “Rock Climbing Injuries Treated in US Emergency Departments, 2008-2016.”
THOUSANDS BREAK OR SPRAIN ANKLES IN LATEST GLOBAL SPORTS CRAZE An international team researching rock climbing injuries have found the number seen in Emergency Departments doubled in just the last nine years. Their article in the latest issue of the journal Wilderness and Environmental Medicine reports the number is now almost 5,000 per year in the US alone. Fractures were the most common injury, at 27%, followed by sprains and strains at 26%. Falls were the most common cause of the injuries, with broken ankles the most common fracture. With the growth in popularity of indoor climbing gyms and competition climbing included as one of next year’s Olympic sports, the researchers fear the number of serious injuries will likely continue to grow. “We encourage all rock climbers to wear the appropriate safety gear, gain experience gradually and, most importantly,…” said Dr Jim Chimiak, one of the study’s co-authors, “we recommend everyone focus on a good belay. At least 60% of these injuries were from falling and a quarter of those falls were from a height more than 6m (20ft). Proper belay techniques, training for falls and optimizing the use of (protection) gear is essential.” A belay is where a climber is attached by a rope to an anchored climbing buddy who can arrest a fall before impact. The youngest climber in this study was 7 years old and the eldest was 77, but the great majority were around 25 years of age. While most climbing injuries do not require a visit to the Emergency Department, that many thousands of active rock climbers are presenting at Emergency Departments with sometimes serious injuries is of grave concern to the research team, who admit they cannot tell whether the growth in rock climbing injuries is because climbers are trying riskier manoeuvres, or because of recent growth in the popularity of rock climbing, a problem known as the “newbie syndrome”.
Chris Neve, Director of Canada Strong Climbing, Youth Development Coordinator for Climbing Escalade Canada (CEC) and Coach for Canada’s Youth National Climbing Team, has invited me (Taylor Reed) to moderate a discussion of climbing research to coaches in August. Below is the official poster for the conference.
I’ll be joining Chris as well as presenters Steve Bechtel (Strength & Conditioning), Dr. Jared Vagy (Injury Prevention), and Kelly Drager (Nutrition and Integrated Support Team). I’m excited for this opportunity, and hope you can come out and join us.
It looks like Chris will be doing something different this year, with the presentations having significantly more time for targeted discussion. I think this will be a fantastic opportunity to not only learn but push our understanding of the sport forward, and I look forward to taking what I learn back to the research community. I hope I get the opportunity to see you there! Here’s the website.
This past week, Michael Francis Brooks had me on his radio show (CLIMBTALK Radio 1190) so I could speak to his listeners about the expansion of science in climbing. I’m still learning how to chat on radio, but take a listen if you have 14 minutes. It starts around 18 minutes and lasts until minute 32. I learned a lot from doing this radio show, and I’m excited to work on my talking points.
The following is the website version of the March Newsletter – Click this link to subscribe so you can be updated automatically. We promise not to bother you often. 😉
New Section on the Beta Angel Website
While a lot of climbing research looks backward, some research studies test experimental protocols to see what kind of effect they have over time. Since the articles often write up the protocols in a fairly in-depth manner, I decided to reproduce that training for your benefit. Take a look at the first three training protocols, which include finger strength, contact strength, and core training. SEE EXPERIMENTAL TRAINING
Talent development data from a winning program is in!
The Bend Endurance Academy recently did really well at the USA Climbing Bouldering Youth National Championships (placing 8th out of 88 teams), and now we have some data on what makes their program effective. If you don’t remember the TDEQ, it takes past research on all of the non-sport specific “environmental” factors that influence elite athlete development and provides information on it in an easy-to-digest format. Bend Endurance Academy’s coach and I collaborated on the analysis and I wrote it up, in the hopes that you can take advantage. Enjoy! READ MORE
Consulting at the Bouldering Youth National Championships
The Beta Angel Project’s Director went to Bend, Oregon to consult with a handful of youth athletes at the USA Climbing Bouldering Youth National Championships.The job of a coach at these events often involves: (1) preparing athletes physically and mentally; (2) monitoring events that may require an understanding of performance issues and technical rules, and; (3) discussing new ideas and future improvement with coaches and competitors. Below are pictures of Taylor with three athletes he regularly consults with: Arabella Jariel, Charlie Osborne, and Abigail Humber. SEE CONSULTING SERVICES >
Sent from Collaborators
Tom Randall over at Lattice Training sent me a fantastic article on how we should potentially rethink how ‘atrophy’ and ‘cell death’ work. The suggestion in the article is that the cells may not be entirely gone. Since individuals frequently undergo a ‘cycle’ of muscle development and degeneration, past cell degeneration may be an advantage for later improvement. I sent the article over to a few people, including Eva López, for possible practical applications to climbing. SEE THE ARTICLE ON THE “FRONTIERS IN PHYSIOLOGY” WEBSITE
Updates to the Research Inventory
Help make the content on the Beta Angel Project a living resource! If you want me to qualify or change anything in these summaries, contact me!
As the Beta Angel Project has reached the end of its first full year of existence, I wanted to reflect back on a few quantitative and qualitative observations from the previous year, as well as some strategic insights.
In January, I am finally getting around to a creative approach I took to some data. I basically dived into how climbers rest across the course of a route, and how different it can be even for climbers who are really good. That, and an update to Beta Angel’s PubMed Search Strategy (how we find all the articles in the research inventory) from giant of climbing medicine Dr. Volker Schöffl, are available in the Data Collection section.
I published a story on Rock & Ice’s website about my trip to Tokyo, Japan to learn from the Japanese and Russian National Teams. While there, I got a chance to brief the teams on the state of speed climbing science. That article can be viewed here. I enjoyed my time in Japan immensely, learned an enormous amount about how the Japanese National Team is preparing for the Olympics, and made some great friends. Something that didn’t make it into the article is that I participated in a time honored tradition and exchanged shirts with a Russian climbing coach. Thanks Stas!
I added a consulting section to my website. If you need direction, analysis of climbing movement, and/or specific guidance about how to approach your training, get in contact with me.
Science & Community
And I added a section to my website dedicated to the relationships I’m exploring with training communities. It’s called Science & Community. There’s a lot of practical stuff there as we learn better how to bridge science and practice. If you’re interested in having me take a small part in your community, either through a single topic or an ongoing relationship, reach out.
“… to understand the complex nature of talent development, researchers and practitioners must look beyond the individual athlete and include the environment in their investigations and practice.” – Henriksen, Stambulova, and Roessler in Riding the Wave of an Expert (2011)
Climbing needs to up its game. Lately, I’ve been reading talent development studies to understand what researchers of more established sports are doing to understand the factors which contribute to success. One approach these researchers use is looking at the overall environment, as opposed to the specific individual, to understand success at the elite level. Today, I’m going to tell you about an easy-to-use questionnaire that can help us better facilitate success in our sport’s athletes – both at the elite level and below.
The Talent Development Environment Questionnaire (TDEQ) is a tool used by researchers and practitioners to assess whether the athlete’s environment can be more supportive than it currently is. I found it useful because there are 59 questions, and each question is based on peer-reviewed research with supporting evidence. Below I’m going to provide you with instructions for the questionnaire as well as some potential uses. But first, here’s a look at one part of the questionnaire:
The first step is to provide the questionnaire to an athlete. Each of the 59 questions is classified under 7 different overall headings, called “factors.” The factors are:
Does development facilitate long-term success;
Communication between coach and athlete;
The coach’s understanding of the athlete;
The athlete’s support network;
The challenges and supports in the environment, and;
Key features of the foundations of development.
Each question is answered on a 6-point scale from “agree strongly” to “disagree strongly”. Several of the questions are reversed, however, so that an answer of “Strongly agree” actually ranks a higher score (6) rather than a lower score (1). A lower overall score is better. In theory it’s possible to score as low as a 59 (all questions scored as a 1) or as high as a 354 (all questions scored a 6).
I spoke with Dr. Russell Martindale by e-mail, the researcher involved with developing the questionnaire. He recommended the easiest way to use the questionnaire is to have the athlete fill it out and then go over any items that are answered in a concerning way (e.g. such as a “5” or “6” on the scale) which may indicate weaknesses or areas for improvement. He also recommended highlighting which areas are strengths for the athlete.
I gave this questionnaire to a few of my athletes, scored them, and then sat down with them. They said it took about 15-25 minutes to complete. Scoring their answers took me only 5 minutes but speaking with them about 10-20 of those answers took about 1-2 hours. As a result, there is ample opportunity to turn this into a great multi-session opportunity to improve the athlete’s overall environmental structure of success.
I was primarily concerned with answers in the 4, 5, and 6 range, which usually (but not always) were associated with disagreeing with the question. On a few items, like “My coach is good at helping me to understand my strengths and weaknesses in my sport,” one of the kids who I consult with only “agreed a little” – a score of 3. This athlete has multiple coaches and I happen to pride myself on analysis of strengths and weaknesses. I was expecting a 1 or a 2 and instead had a rude awakening. Surprised I admitted this? Please don’t be. The Beta Angel Project prides an open culture to improve. It turned out, I had been teaching this athlete advanced concepts but had neglected to provide them feedback on what they were good and bad at. Mea culpa.
You don’t necessarily need to score the entire questionnaire to make use of it. In fact, coaches can simply read the questions to get an idea of what they could be doing differently without ever handing it to one of their students. This questionnaire provided a significant amount of personal reflection for me.
One challenge you may come across is trying to figure out how to prioritize the weaknesses or areas of improvement. Possibilities to prioritize include:
Prioritizing within factors. Look at the order of questions. The questions are ranked based on a statistical method called “factor analysis”, which essentially determines how important each question is to the factor. If you have two questions which ranked poorly, and one is the first question and the other is the tenth question, then consider prioritizing the first question.
Another area of interest may be comparing between athletes or comparing athletes between sports if you happened to have scores from other sports. This may help us determine what environmental problems are more prevalent in climbing.
Comparing between factors. If you score each of the factors separately, you might be able to get a sense of the relative priority. However, you would at the very least have to change each score into a percentage to compare due to differing numbers of questions per factor, and even then, it’s not what’s called an “apples-to-apples” comparison so consider this option last.
I wanted to know whether it would be acceptable to use this tool with climbers, so I asked Dr. Martindale. Dr. Martindale wrote to me: “Although it is clear that there are sport or context specific elements of development environments, the TDEQ is not designed to capture these. The only caveat to that, is that climbing wasn’t one of the sports that was used to develop the questionnaire. However, until there is something else more applicable, then I would say it is useful to use it.”
Dr. Martindale gave me a few papers on how researchers are diving into specific environments in order to analyze the elite level of a particular sport. These research studies include soccer (sorry, Dr. Martindale, U.S. audience) where researchers in the UK used this questionnaire to analyze the characteristics of that particular sport; and kayaking, where Danish and Swedish researchers used one analytical lens to describe the kayak-specific environment, and a second analytical lens to identify what factors provide the specific environment (in this case, a kayaking school) its success.
To make a long story short, researchers in the climbing world now have a new tool to analyze climbing success and coaches have a new tool to help their athletes. I recently provided the questionnaire to James (name changed to protect the innocent), a head coach at a climbing gym. James and I had a phone call discussion after he had gone through the questionnaire with some of his athletes. James not only found highlighting the strengths of an athlete’s environment to be particularly helpful, he was able to identify trends for improvement across multiple athletes. I was pleasantly surprised at several innovative approaches and resources he developed for his program as a result of using the questionnaire.
We have a great opportunity to keep pushing our sport and validated research can help light the way. It’s not perfect for our sport yet, but who knows, maybe an enterprising researcher will read this and decide to change that. Perhaps it’s my next project. Dr. Russell’s research is available to be read for free at this link.
What have I been up to today? Skip to the end to read my opinions about this research within the context of strength training for climbing overall.
Today, I worked on re-writing a short summary of one of the most important research contributions to date on the impact of strength training to climbing performance. The summary I had originally written wasn’t particularly good. I didn’t have access to the article so what I wrote reflected my own confusion over the training protocols. Thankfully, a beta angel eventually sent me a copy of the research so I could peruse it. However, it also represented a learning situation for me.
Espen Hermans, the Norwegian researcher who worked on the study, had e-mailed me months ago to help me but unfortunately I hadn’t returned his e-mail. I may have had over a dozen projects and a full-time job at the time, but I pushed back replying because I had struggled to understand. I normally respond quickly to researchers and climbers who contact me, but I failed on this one. Rather than ignore the fact that I was dense and slow, I’ve decided to constructively chastise myself by doing a short write-up and showcasing my mistakes, along with the research, to the world. The older pre-change summary is transcribed below:
The effects of high resistance-few repetitions and low resistance-high repetitions resistance training on climbing performance
Author: E. Hermans, V. Andersen, AH Saeterbakken | Year: 2016 Summary/Results: Researchers tested the impact of two experimental protocols: a high-resistance, low-repetition protocol vs. a low-resistance, high-repetition protocol in low- and intermediate-grade climbers over the course of ten weeks. The study also included a group that climbed/trained as “usual”, and all groups had their training controlled for intensity. While both experimental protocols showed improvement in climbing performance in spite of a 50% reduction in climbing, the improvement was not statistically significant. Beta-Angel note: We’re particularly interested in how this related to the control (“usual” climbing) group. However, we don’t have access. Note, the same author who completed “Effect of maximal- and local muscular endurance strength training on climbing performance and climbing-specific strength in recreational climbers: a randomized controlled trial” was also responsible for this study. More information on the protocols and results would be helpful. Please contact us. Reference:Eur J Sport Sci. 2017 May;17(4):378-385. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27863457
And here is the new summary:
Summary/Results: Researchers tested the impact of two protocols: a high-resistance, low-repetition protocol vs. a low-resistance, high-repetition protocol in low- and intermediate-grade climbers over the course of ten weeks. The exercises included pull-down, bench press, rowing, shoulder press, biceps curl, forearm press and forearm curl. The study also included a group that climbed/trained as “usual”, and all groups had their training controlled for intensity. Tests for performance as a result of the intervention included: climbing performance on a route, time of a 90° bent-arm hang, time of a 25 mm deadhang, and a 12 repetition pull down on a machine. While both protocols suggested improvement in climbing performance in spite of a 50% reduction in climbing, the improvement was not statistically significant. It may be more accurate to say that they “maintained” climbing performance in spite of a drop in climbing volume. Interestingly, improvement was significant for the deadhang tests across both experimental groups (however, this effect was mitigated by a post-test analysis that controls for statistical errors). Beta-Angel note: UPDATE! Received the paper! Psyched! Note, this is the same author as that of “Effect of maximal- and local muscular endurance strength training on climbing performance and climbing-specific strength in recreational climbers: a randomized controlled trial” which was presented at the IRCRA conference in 2016.
More importantly, however, is that this write-up was sent to Espen and he thought I captured the right aspects of his work. If he had hated it, thought I missed something; preferred I emphasize something else, he then could have e-mailed me and said: “Taylor, you’re being dense.” Then it’s my job to get that information to the practitioners: athletes, coaches, climbers who want to strength train, Fjord horses. My audience all.
Now, please don’t go run and take this blog post to your nearest Coach and say: “Look, Taylor showed me research that proves strength training doesn’t improve climbing performance!” That is NOT what this particular study was designed to prove. The most interesting aspect of this research was how climbing performance was able to be maintained IN SPITE OF a drop in climbing volume in both protocol groups.
Science is and always must be iterative. The author of the above study recognized a number of issues with their own work, including a smaller than desired sample size, low climbing volume among the experimental and control groups, and an inability to prove their hypothesis that their particular strength and/or endurance training protocols definitely improve climbing performance. We must all be reflective on our time and work so that science builds.
And in spite of the author’s constructive criticisms of their own work, this research is really fascinating! It is much more nuanced than my simple summary can do justice. The interesting insights came in numerous places: it used a route with progressive changes in difficulty to assess climbing performance over the period of the study, but didn’t stop there, preferring a suite of measures to test aspects directly related to climbing performance. The actual analysis is top notch, and they ran post-analysis checks to protect against certain statistical errors. And most importantly, it’s a new protocol which can be used again and improved. The authors suggest that future changes could:
“Emphasize the importance of having similar climbing training volume between the training groups;”
“Include participants with a better climbing performance level,” and;
“Examine training interventions with greater transferability and specificity than the current study by focus[ing] on local forearm fatigue training.”
Indeed, a community of climbers I am involved in saw the summary and made some constructive comments. Former Bouldering national champion, Sports Medicine Expert, and champion of strength training, Dr. Natasha Barnes, suggested that it could be interesting to do the same protocol with free weights as opposed to machine-based exercises to see how the results change.