Note: this work is adapted from a Beta Angel blog post from 2018.
Does Strength / Resistance Training affect climbing? While the general consensus from my perspective is yes, it may surprise you to note that there is only one climbing-specific study that looks at the question. It’s called:
The effects of high resistance-few repetitions and low resistance-high repetitions resistance training on climbing performance
Summary: Researchers tested the impact of two protocols: a high-resistance, low-repetition (HR-FR) protocol vs. a low-resistance, high-repetition protocol (LR-HR) 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.
Performance-related tests: 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.
Results: While both protocols suggested improvement in climbing performance (11.3% and 12.0% for HR-FR and LR-HR respectively) 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.
How Often? Two sessions per week for 10 weeks.
What did each group do? See Table below.
What was the session break down over the course of 10 weeks? See below.
The first thing you should note about the table above is the number of climbing sessions were fairly low. That’s over the course of 10 weeks. “Other Training” included endurance training and skiing.
Further Discussion: Now, please don’t go run and take this blog post to your nearest Coach and say: “Look, the Beta Angel Project showed me research that proves strength training doesn’t improve climbing performance!” That is NOT what this study was designed to prove. This is a very specific protocol. 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.”
What does the community have to say about this research? 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.
As a side note, many of the same authors worked on “The Dynamic and Locked Core” climbing experiment.