Summarizing climbing research on performance from 2019

Acknowledgments: A collaboration between Tallie Casucci, Kyle Trettin, Gudmund Grønhaug, and Taylor Reed is responsible for this work.  Without collaboration, the Beta Angel Project would not be able to keep up with the pace of climbing research.

2019 research papers by the numbers

Display of 2019 (orange) research counts compared to 2018 (green) and 2017 (blue). 27 non-injury articles are displayed. 18 injury articles were omitted in order to avoid skewing the x-axis. 4 articles which were e-published in 2018 are also not included.

Below are summaries from the 49 rock climbing performance-related research papers identified from 2019. For more on the “approach” I used to identify these papers, see Beta Angel’s search strategy.

Just a quick note: these summaries are written with the belief that science is iterative; constantly updating and improving. See something you think is in error, don’t understand, or just want to improve, contact us.

How do the new Olympic sports compare with the traditional Olympic sports?  Injury and illness at the 2018 Youth Olympic Summer Games in Buenos Aires, Argentina.  

Authors: Steffen K, Soligard T, Mountjoy M, Dallo I, Gessara AM, Giuria H, Perez Alamino L, Rodriguez J, Salmina N, Veloz D, Budgett R, Engebretsen L. | Year: 2019
Summary/Results: Injuries and illnesses were recorded during the Buenos Aires 2018 Youth Olympic Summer Games.  1 male and 21 female climbers were present during this event.  Only 1 male was injured (classified as a strain/muscle rupture/tear in the shoulder/clavicle).  Climbing was one of the lowest injury incidence sports.
Reference: Br J Sports Med. 2019 Dec 3. pii: bjsports-2019-101040. doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2019-101040
Tags: Kinesiology > Injury

Effects of New Zealand blackcurrant extract on sport climbing performance.

Authors: Potter JA, Hodgson CI, Broadhurst M, Howell L, Gilbert J, Willems MET, Perkins IC. | Year: 2019
Summary/Results: New Zealand Blackcurrant (NZBC) extract has enhanced blood flow and performance in other exercises, so researchers gave 18 male recreational climbers either NZBC extract or a placebo for 7 days.  After the 7 days, researchers tested climbers’ hang time, pull-ups, and 3 bouts of treadwall climbing to exhaustion, and recorded climbers’ heart rate, blood lactate, forearm girth, and hand grip strength.  The climbers who took NZBC saw a significant (23%) improvement in duration of treadwall climbing, compared to the placebo which had an 11% decline in duration.  The researchers could not explain this improvement based upon the other measurements; moreover, the third climb saw lower indices for physiological work despite longer climbing durations.
Reference: Eur J Appl Physiol. 2019 Sep 12. doi: 10.1007/s00421-019-04226-2
Tags: Bioenergetics > Nutrition

Acute effects of kinesio taping on muscular strength and endurance parameters of the finger flexors in sport climbing: A randomized, controlled crossover trial.

Authors: Limmer M, Buck S, de Marées M, Roth R. | Year: 2019
Summary/Results: Research on kinesio taping (KT) for muscle strength and endurance is very mixed.  Within this study, 20 recreational climbers (10 Male, 10 Female) performed hand grip strength, finger hang time, and lap climbing tests with and without kinesio taping (KT).  A researcher would apply KT over the finger flexor muscles during the KT session (within 48 hours of the no-KT session).  The researchers saw no effects of KT on climbing performance or decreasing muscle fatigue.  There may be a possible connection between climbers’ ability and KT influence on fatigue, but more research is required.
Reference: Eur J Sport Sci. 2019 Jun 29:1-10.
Tags: Biomechanics > Finger Strength

Kinematic and EMG analysis of horizontal bimanual climbing in humans.

Authors: MacLean KFE, Dickerson CR. | Year: 2019
Summary/Results: The authors compared the kinematic (geometry or mathematics of motion) and muscular demands during a bimanual horizontal climbing task (i.e. monkey bars) between 15 climbers and 15 non-climbers through motion-capture and electromyography (EMG – measuring electrical activity of the muscle tissue) of the elbow, thoracohumeral, trunk, and 12 shoulder muscles. The 15 climbers presented different joint motions (specifically elbow flexion and internal rotation, and less thoracohumeral elevation) and activated the shoulder musculature at a lower percentage of their maximum, similar to previous studies on chimpanzees and other primates.  Compared to the non-climbers, the climbers used slightly more efficient climbing kinematics and reduced muscular activity, which suggests that climbing experience in modern humans can moderately lead to more efficient and evolutionarily relevant kinematics.  Beta-Angel note: A study giving more credence to brachiation’s role in climbing.  Udo should love this.
Reference: J Biomech. 2019 Jul 19;92:11-18. doi: 10.1016/j.jbiomech.2019.05.023.
Tags: Biomechanics > Quantifying Forces in Movement

Physical and Physiological Determinants of Rock Climbing.

Authors: MacKenzie R, Monaghan L, Masson RA, Werner AK, Caprez TS, Johnston L, Kemi OJ. | Year: 2019
Summary/Results: This study recruited 44 males (maximal onsight climbing 5a-8a or 5.9-5.13b) and 33 females (maximal onsight climbing 5a-7b+ or 5.9-5.12c) to be tested for physical, physiological and psychological characteristics.  In males, 23 of the 47 tested variables (50%) were correlated with climbing ability, whereas only 10 of 47 variables (20%) correlated with climbing ability in females.  Shoulder power and endurance were the main determinants of climbing ability (77% in males, 62% in females).  The main determinant test for males was maximum pull-ups and bent-arm hangs for females.  The authors did a smaller 4-week training study: 6 males (6a-6c or 5.10b-5.11c) trained maximum pull-ups (n=3) or balance (n=3), and 6 females (5a-6b+ or 5.9-5.11a) trained bent-arm hangs (n=3) or leg-raise hangs (n=3). Athletes did 3 sets to failure with 4-minute breaks, 2x/week.  When the main determinants improved (male max pull-up & female bent-arm hangs), the climbing grade increased by 2 (male) and 2.7 (female).  Improvement of other variables (male balance & female leg-raises) did not correlate with an increase in climbing grade.  This study found that the main determinants of climbing are trainable and focusing on shoulder power and endurance will improve climbing ability across sexes.  Beta-Angel note from external reviewers: The authors acknowledge that the study did not measure other variables such as technique, economy, recovery, or resistance to fatigue, which other studies have shown to influence climbing ability (the authors acknowledge this).  There’s a significant difference between 7b+ (5.12c) and 8a (5.13b), so it would be interesting to see how/if the results would change when 7c-8a (5.12d-5.13b) female athletes are included.  Finally, the training portion of this study was restricted to beginner-intermediate level climbers.
Reference: Int J Sports Physiol Perform. 2019 Oct 14:1-12.
Tags: Kinesiology > Anthropometry-Measuring the Climber

Unmanned aircraft systems enable three-dimensional viewshed-based assessment of potential disturbance to nesting raptors by recreational rock climbing

Authors: Dwyer, Austin, Bebe | 2019
Summary/Results: The researchers used drones to facilitate a three dimensional model of climbing sites and bird nesting areas and view their efforts as a step forward for conservation management decision-making.   They were interested in exploring how technology can facilitate better conservation efforts at climbing areas. 
Reference: Journal of Unmanned Vehicle Systems, 2020, 8(1): 11-18

Semi-dynamic MRI of climbing-associated injuries of the finger.

Authors: Schellhammer F, Vantorre A. | Year: 2019
Summary/Results: Injuries to the A2 and A4 pulleys are common amongst climbers and are readily detected by static MRI.  Identification of A3 lesions (wounds) remains challenging.  22 fingers (14 volunteers & 3 injured climbers) were scanned using a sagittal (divides left and right) T1 turbo spin echo sequence (a reference to a high-speed MRI technique) in 5 consecutive finger positions ranging from stretched to fully flexed.  The sagittal T1 turbo spin echo sequence enabled the researchers to discriminate the tenophalangeal (tendon-to-bone) distance, which may help identify A3 pulley lesions.
Reference: Skeletal Radiol. 2019 Sep;48(9):1435-1437. doi: 10.1007/s00256-019-03216-x.
Tags: Kinesiology > Injury

Physiological demands and nutritional considerations for Olympic-style competitive rock climbing

Authors: Michael, Witard, Joubert | Year: 2019
Summary: The authors analyze climbing literature in order to identify potential recommendations for elite climbing competition.  They recommend “nutrition periodization” in order to match their training and competition schedule to their nutritional needs.  The authors start with an estimation of ~10-11 kcal/min of energy expenditure during climbing, and make recommendations for different types of competition (speed vs. lead/bouldering) as well as macronutrients (e.g. carbohydrates for general training should be 3-7 g/kg of body weight per day but recommend augmenting with ~20-30 g/hr during a climbing session). Please see their extensive, practical tables for more.  Beta-angel note: If you have a nutritionist or are considering getting one, I’d recommend handing this open-source overview of climbing-specific analysis to them.  Additionally, this may be the first climbing-specific study may need a “moderate energy deficit in order to reduce body weight for a competition”, following a “train heavier” cycle, that I’m aware of.  However, it’s important to note context: that the authors have anecdotally read about instances of “extreme energy restriction” and thus appear to have a desire to moderate the impact of what they assume to be a cultural practice.
Reference: Cogent Medicine, Vol 6 (1), 2019
Bioenergetics > Nutrition

Changes in blood lactate and muscle activation in elite rock climbers during a 15-m speed climb.

Authors: Guo F, Wang Q, Liu Y, Hanson NJ. | Year: 2019
Summary/Results: Surface electromyography (sEMG – measuring electrical activity in the muscle through the surface of the skin) and video signals were used to record 12 elite climbers on a 15-m speed climbing wall (avg = 8.1 ± 2.1 sec).  Blood lactate was measured before and after the climb.  The study suggests that there was more fatigue in the upper limbs, specifically biceps brachii and flexor digitorum superficialis, over the course of the climb.  Also, slower climbers had a greater rise in blood lactate concentration.
Reference: Eur J Appl Physiol. 2019 Mar;119(3):791-800.  doi: 10.1007/s00421-018-04070-w.
Tags: Bioenergetics > Energy System Responses

Performing pull-ups with small climbing holds influences grip and biomechanical arm action.

Authors: Vigouroux L, Devise M, Cartier T, Aubert C, Berton E. | Year: 2019
Summary/Results: 10 elite and higher elite males (7c-8b+ or 5.12d-5.14a) performed maximum pull-ups to exhaustion under 6 conditions: gym-bar, large climbing hold, 22mm, 18mm, 14mm, and 10mm edges.  During the pull-ups, a force plate sensor measured the force exerted by climbers and electromyography (EMG – measuring electrical activity in the muscle) recorded muscle fatigue and activation level in the biceps brachii, triceps brachii, finger flexors and finger extensors.  Additionally, velocity was measured.  There was no significant difference between the number of pull-ups for the gym-bar and large climbing hold conditions; however, co-contraction in the forearms muscles was higher for the large hold condition.  There was an inverse correlation between hold size and number of pull-ups, maximal force, maximal power, and summed mechanical work.  Beta-Angel note: this study looked at non-traditionally measured items in order to understand the relationship between the different pulling muscles in the arms.  The specifics of the hold size for a pull-up will shift the requirements for grip style as well as other factors like wrist stability, speed, and swing.
Reference: J Sports Sci. 2019 Apr;37(8):886-894. doi: 10.1080/02640414.2018.1532546.
Tags: Kinesiology > Studies of Human Movement or Biomechanics > Limbs

Outcomes following an adaptive rock climbing program in a person with an incomplete spinal cord injury: A case report.

Authors: DelGrande B, LaCoppola C, Moriello G, Sanicola K. | Year: 2019
Summary/Results: A 61-year-old male with a C6 cervical spinal cord injury completed a physical therapy (PT) session and indoor climbing session each week for 19 weeks.  The physical therapists made adjustments to the traditional PT sessions to target his climbing weaknesses (external rotation while stepping, etc.).  Muscle strength, arm girth, balance (MiniBEST), distance climbed (with and without assistance), climbing performance, and the Quality of Life Profile for Adults with Physical Disabilities were recorded.  After the 19 weeks, the man improved in most measurements, except the balance test; however, by the end he could walk independently on the compliant surface of the gym.  The researchers suggest climbing PT interventions can improve health, wellness, and quality of life in individuals with post-spinal cord injuries.
Reference: Physiother Theory Pract. 2019 Mar 14:1-10.
Tags: Adaptive Athletes; Kinesiology > injury

Effects of finger taping on forearm muscle activation in rock climbers.

Authors: Dykes, Johnson, San Juan | Year: 2019
Summary/Results: Researchers attempted to answer whether taping your fingers affects your pulling muscles by measuring activity associated with the FDS and FDP (flexor digitorum superficialis and profundus – two long flexor tendons in your forearms) with taped wrapped circumferentially around the fingers, the “H-Tape” method, and no tape.  The authors found no distinctions in the activity measured between the two flexor tendons, which leads them to suggest that their results do not support the use of tape for injury prevention purposes.  Beta-Angel note: the hypothesis was that taping may shift activation from the FDP, which has previously noted to increase in the crimp grip, to the FDS, thus facilitating injury prevention.  While the authors didn’t find this effect, it’s also interesting that they didn’t confirm the increased activation of the FDP in the crimp grip position as reported in the 2006 Vigouroux and 2011 Schweizer and Hudek studies – possibly due to the size of the sample. 
Reference: J Electromyogr Kinesiol. 2019 Apr;45:11-17.
Biomechanics > Finger Strength; Cognitive Motor Learning > Grabbing

Rock Climbing Injuries Treated in US Emergency Departments, 2008_2016

Authors: Buzzacott, I. Schöffl, Chimiak, V. Schöffl | Year: 2019
Summary/Results: The authors looked at US emergency room data for rock climbing injuries between 2008 and 2016 and classified those injuries based on a scale of 1 (mild) to 6 (immediate death).  The authors found that the number of injuries is increasing (still unknown is whether this is due to a higher injury rate or higher number of climbers), falls accounted for 60% of injuries, and that most of the falls (73%) were less than six meters, and that the most common reported injuries were fractures (27%) and sprains or strains (26%) followed by soft-tissue injuries (11%), lacerations (11%), dislocations (4%), and “other” injuries (21%).  Lower and upper body injuries were 47% and 25% respectively, with the torso and head making up 15% and 12% respectively.  Beta-Angel note: This study has some great tables and builds off the Nelson and Mackenzie study looking at data from 1990 to 2007 and uses the same criteria for evaluation.
Reference: Wilderness Environ Med. 2019 Jun;30(2):121-128
Kinesiology > Injury

Rate of force development and maximal force: reliability and difference between non-climbers, skilled and international climbers

Authors: Levernier; Laffaye | Year: 2019
Summary/Results: The researchers looked at (a) the reliability of measuring rate of force development (RFD – similar to how fast you can create force) and maximal strength and (b) the difference between two groups of climbers (Group A > 5.13; Group B = 5.12d-5.13b) and one group of non-climbers (<5.10a).  The researchers found different sessions to be reliable, especially for the 200ms timeframe, and found RFD distinctions between Group A and Group B at 24.51%, Group B and non-climbers at 34.04%, and Group A and non-climbers at 50.21%.  The authors conclude that their protocol is a good differentiator between groups and is also reliable.  Beta-Angel note: this study is from the same authors as the experimental “Four weeks of finger grip training…” study also published this year.
Reference: Sports Biomech. 2019 Apr 30:1-12
Biomechanics > Contact Strength or Biomechanics > Power

Change in geometric entropy with repeated ascents in rock climbing

Authors: Watts, España-Romero, Ostrowski, Jensen | Year: 2019
Summary/Results: 8 male and 1 female climbers (5.11a – 5.12b) climbed a single route nine time, once a week over the course of nine weeks and were tested for (1) energy expenditure (EE – analyzed from expired air and its fraction of oxygen), and (2) the geometric index of entropy (GIE – defined as movement of the center of mass away from an ‘ideal’ trajectory for the route).  The authors found that EE and GIE were associated reasonably well.  Beta-Angel note: It’s important to note the authors’ caveat (from the 1994 study by Cordier) that some highly skilled climbers have higher levels of GIE compare to lower-skilled climbers, perhaps because certain movements favor more complex skills that increase the hips’ overall trajectory.  As a result, it’s reasonable to suggest that if GIE is used as an indirect indicator of energy expenditure, it may not be an adequate proxy indicator for certain complex skills or climbers.
Reference: Sports Biomech. 2019 Jul 30:1-10.
Bioenergetics > The Association of Physiology and Technique

Long-term effects of bouldering psychotherapy on depression: benefits can be maintained across a 12-month follow-up

Author: Schwarz et al. | Year: 2019
Summary/Results: The authors sought to determine whether a once-a-week, three-hour bouldering session was effective against a control group for reducing depression, and also whether the effectiveness (Beck Depression Inventory II) remained stable across the course of a year.  Those who participated in the bouldering session had a significantly lower score than those in the control group, and the scores appear to remain stable over the long-term.  Beta-Angel note: this study was intended to build on previous research (Stelzer et al 2018 and Luttenberger 2015) suggesting bouldering is a legitimate therapeutic approach for those suffering from depression by using a more rigorous methodology.  Additionally, this study shares members with the even more rigorous protocol entitled “A German climbing study on depression…”
Reference: Heliyon. 2019 Dec; 5(12): e02929.
Kinesiology > Injury

Effects of Short Practice of Climbing on Barriers Self-Efficacy within a Physical Education and Sport Intervention in Germany

Author: Krüger, Seng | Year: 2019
Summary/Results: Researchers compared improvements in 8th graders’ perception of their ability to impact their own performance (termed: self-efficacy) in a control group and a climbing intervention group after a two-day climbing excursion.  The intervention appeared to be effective at improving climber’s perception of their own belay skills, but not necessarily the barriers to improving their climbing skill.
Reference: Sports (Basel). 2019 Apr; 7(4): 81.
Sports Psychology > Youth Specific Studies

A German climbing study on depression: a bouldering psychotherapeutic group intervention in outpatients compared with state-of-the-art cognitive behavioural group therapy and physical activation – study protocol for a multicentre randomised controlled trial

Author: Dorscht et al. | Year: 2019
Summary/Results: This paper is not a study but rather a protocol for a randomized controlled trial designed to assess a therapeutic bouldering program over home-administered exercise program and cognitive behavioral therapy – considered the gold standard.  The authors intend to test the participants using first two validated depression rating scales (MADRS and PHQ-9) and nine secondary measurements ranging from quality-of-life to body image to self-efficacy questionnaires.  Beta-Angel note: We’re crossing our fingers over here that this study gets greenlit.  It appears to be a solid study design.  The implications could be large according to the study’s authors: therapeutic bouldering interventions may encourage individuals who wouldn’t otherwise seek treatment.  Additionally, this protocol shares members with those who published “Long term effects of Bouldering psychotherapy….”
Reference: BMC Psychiatry. 2019; 19: 154.
Kinesiology > Injury

Epiphyseal Stress Fractures of the Fingers in an Adolescent Climber: A Potential “Maslow’s Hammer” in Terms of Clinical Reasoning.

Author: Halsey, Johnson, Jones | Year: 2019
Summary/Results: Case study of a 16-year old with a growth plate (stress) fracture.  The authors use the case study as a way of noting how climbing-specific literature – specifically surrounding growth plate injuries in children – may not be well-understood and may lead to either doctors not correctly diagnosing or (as suggested in this case) not providing an understanding of the consequences of those injuries.  A review of the literature informed doctor recommendations in this study to involve: seeking medical attention if pain in PIP joints do not respond to a week of rest, enhanced imaging (e.g. MRI) if the cause of pain is not determined based on X-ray, stopping climbing as well as splinting, and finally, climbing modification such as avoidance of the crimp grip.
Reference: Curr Sports Med Rep. 2019 Dec;18(12):431-433.

Kinesiology > Injury

TEST-retest reliability of kinetic variables measured on campus board in sport climbers.

Authors: Abreu EAC, Araújo SRS, Cançado GHDCP, Andrade AGP, Chagas MH, Menzel HK. | Year: 2019
Results/Summary: The authors put a force plate on the first rung hold(s) of a campus board as a proof of concept.  They tested and retested the impulse (change in movement – center of mass displacement) and peak force (highest force tested – ability to maintain force on the holds) of 22 sport climbers (5.11d to 5.13b) on two separate days using both a concentric (fire) upper-body lunge and a plyometric (drop and fire) upper-body lunge.  Both impulse and peak force were consistent between the two days of testing, demonstrating the two measures and set-up as a potential testing protocol – however, errors were higher in the “drop-and-fire” protocol, indicating the “fire”-only (concentric) protocol may be better for assessment, if not necessarily training.
Reference: Sports Biomech. 2018 May 16:1-14.
Biomechanics > Power

Characterizing cortical hemodynamic changes during climbing and its relation to climbing expertise

Author: Carius, Hörnig, Ragert, Kaminski | Year: 2019
Summary/Results: Researchers assessed the oxygenated blood levels in different regions of the brain in 13 advanced male and female climbers during simple and moderately-difficult bouldering problems.  The authors found that regions of the brain known for movement preparation, execution, and sensory processing were all involved simultaneously, and that a negative correlation with a region known for planning and preparation suggests expertise and automaticity go hand-in-hand.  Beta-Angel note: only previous NIRS work we are aware of relates to forearm oxygenation and de-oxygenation.  It’s good to see this technology has multiple potential uses.
Reference: Neuroscience Letters 715:134604 Oct 2019
Sport Psychology > Interaction of Mind and Body

Climbing Accidents-Prospective Data Analysis from the International Alpine Trauma Registry and Systematic Review of the Literature.

Author: Rauch et al. | Year: 2019
Summary/Results: Authors present data collected from the International Alpine Trauma Registry (IATR) showing statistics behind the 306 “mountain accidents” of which 12.1% were climbing-related.  The authors review the factors involved, such as belay-related (32.4%) or not using a harness (8.1%) as well as other factors, like use of helicopters or pain medication at the site of the incident.  Beta-Angel note: noteworthy for performance-related reasons due to the literature review which seeks to differentiate different types of climbing, and statistics about belaying and harnesses.
Reference: Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2019 Dec 27;17(1). pii: E203.
Kinesiology > Injury

Expertise effects on the perceptual and cognitive tasks of indoor rock climbing

Authors: Whitaker et al. | Year: 2019
Summary/Results: Climbers took part in two experiments: the first experiment (14 males, 20 females) consisted of judging their own abilities with respect to a single move, and then trying and seeing how close their judgment matched reality.  The authors found that more skilled climbers were better predictors of their ability to do isolated moves, but not necessarily better at judging reach, that more skilled and less skilled climbers were about the same in terms of predicted vs. rated ability of moves, and that more skilled climbers underestimated their abilities and less skilled climbers overestimated theirs. The second experiment (12 males, 8 females) attempted to assess judgment and performance potential across 12 routes, and remember entire sequences of those routes.  While more skilled climbers were better in all ways than less skilled climbers at remembering larger sequences, this ability is domain specific to climbing, and may not transfer generally to memory of other, more general, non-climbing related visuo-spatial tasks.  Beta-Angel note: evidence suggesting the relationship between climber perception and ability also extends to working memory of longer sequences.  This may be the best description I’ve read of how perception, action, and memory link – specifically around understanding the properties of the wall IN RELATION TO one’s own potential for dealing with those properties, and remembering them.  It is an experiment which builds off previous research from authors like Pijpers (1993), Boschker (2002), Pezzulo (2010), and Green (2011 & 2014).  Interestingly, the authors interpret the perceptual-action elements of climbing as being “unique.”
Reference: Mem Cogn (2019).
Cognitive-Motor Learning > Learning; Kinesiology > Studies of human movement

Assessment of Dietary Intake and Eating Attitudes in Recreational and Competitive Adolescent Rock Climbers: A Pilot Study.

Authors: Michael, Joubert, Witard | Year: 2019
Summary/Results: Pilot study calculated macro-nutrient (carbohydrate, fat, protein), energy, and risk of “disordered eating” in 13 youth male and 9 youth female climbers.  As a percentage of the overall study, the youth climbers in general did not meet their carbohydrate (86%) or fat (73%) targets, and were climbing in an energy deficit (82%) regularly.  However, they were at low risk for disordered eating.  Beta-Angel note: it’s worth noting that “disordered eating” is lower on the continuum than “eating disorders” in terms of frequency or severity.  This study has lots of interesting details, but counter to what I might have expected as a layman: (1) both males and females had low disordered eating scores and (2) similar energy/macronutrient profiles between males/females, and between different levels, which apparently was contrary to a study on elite youth athletes (it’s worth noting that this population only included 2 “elite” climbers as defined by the IRCRA, which is a system which may not necessarily score “elite” youth competition climbing well).
Reference: Front Nutr. 2019; 6: 64.
Sport Psychology > Youth Specific Studies or Bioenergetics > Nutrition

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 were 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.   
Biomechanics > Finger Strength

Characteristics of counter-movements in sport climbing: a comparison between experienced climbers and beginners

Authors: D. Asaskawa; M. Sakamoto | Year: 2019
Summary/Results: Researchers tested the joint angle range of motion through 5 specific phases of what they call a “counter-movement” in 9 experienced climbers and 9 beginners.  The researchers found distinctions in the joint angles between the two groups throughout the phases, primarily in the shoulder range-of-motion (ROM), constant bending of their arms, and less ability to perch and less ROM in the hip.  Beta-Angel note: Good joint angle study of a very specific movement.  Our nomenclature for this move, combined with the research findings, is as follows: (phase 1) a system move start in turn-out position (see link), emphasizing greater ROM and reach of the right arm, with lower body facilitating through hip and knee flexion on the right and less hip flexion on the left.  This is followed by (phase 2) a reverse flag with left foot, emphasizing greater ROM of both shoulders and a straightened left arm, potentially to allow positioning more over the right foot.  This move is followed by a (phase 3) cross under / semi-rose left-handed grab, emphasizing greater right shoulder ROM, and a straighter right arm, which likely allows more perching into the right knee during the cross.  This move is followed by a (phase 4) partial perch on the right foot, emphasizing a straighter right arm and more turn-out positioning over the perched right foot.  This move is followed by a (phase 5) front-pointing of the right knee into the wall, and a reach out right, emphasizing the grab with a more bent right arm.  Primary differences were in the climbers’ horizontal Center of Gravity (CoG) movement, although no differences were found in speed, total distance (possibly meaning there were more vertical or Z-axis movement), and motion time.
Reference: J Phys Ther Sci. 2019 Apr; 31(4): 349–353.
Kinesiology > Studies of Human Movement

Determinants for success in climbing: A systematic review.

Authors: Saul et al. | Year: 2019
Summary/Results: Authors reviewed 108 climbing research papers and classified them according to different climbing “requirements”: physiological (muscle, heartrate, physique), biomechanical (grip, coordination, postural control, jumping)       , psychological, training-related, and recovery-related.  Beta-Angel note: The authors attempt to synthesize different articles’ conclusions in a simple way under distinct categories.  Highly recommended to get an overview of climbing research – not a long read.   
Reference: J Exerc Sci Fit. 2019 Jul; 17(3): 91–100.
Kinesiology > Anthropometry – Measuring the climber


Authors: Meyers et al. | Year: 2019
Summary/Results: The authors received survey results about how 267 8-18-year olds at a large championship-level climbing event in the United States perceive risk.  The authors were able to distinguish between informed and uninformed athletes regarding stress fractures, and suggest that (1) youth climbers are prone to thinking about stress fractures as pulley injuries, and (2) training for speed climbing may be a risk factor for growth plate injuries.  Beta-Angel note: to determine whether a youth climber was informed or uninformed, the authors used a series of questions surrounding which injuries were most common, the “safe age” for double dyno campus training, and correctly classifying stress fractures. 
Reference: Orthop J Sports Med. 2019 Mar; 7(3 Suppl)
Sport Psychology > Youth-specific studies OR Kinesiology > Injury

Identification of Parameters That Predict Sport Climbing Performance.

Authors: Sanchez et al. | Year: 2019
Summary/Results: The authors interviewed 10 climbers in Belgium who averaged IRCRA 18-25 (5.12a – 5.13d YDS) on the performance characteristics for climbing onsight – where they ultimately ended up focusing on what makes for good route preview.  Using a process of coding the interview responses, the authors suggested that route preview consists of decision making for the climb’s progression, and strategically managing the effort of the climb.  The authors suggest that the primary strategy for the former (climb progression) is climb path forecasting, while the latter (managing the effort) involves managing or forecasting the total effort across all movement of the climb.
Reference: Front. Psychol., 31 May 2019
Sports Psychology > Route Preview

Comparison of climbing-specific strength and endurance between lead and boulder climbers.

Author: Stien et al. | Year: 2019
Summary/Results: Authors tested 16 boulderers against 15 lead climbers using measurements of maximal finger strength (peak / average force), contact strength (RFD average), isometric lock-off capability, the speed (velocity) of a dynamic pull-up, and finger endurance (7 on, 3 off, at 60% of max).  The boulderers beat the sport climbers in all tests except finger endurance – which wasn’t different between groups.  Interestingly, they also found a consistent drop to 57-69% of force between using a large “jug” hold and using a “ledge” in an open-crimp grabbing position.  
Reference: PLoS One. 2019; 14(9): e0222529.
Kinesiology > Anthropometry – Measuring the climber

A comparison of body composition assessment methods in climbers: Which is better?

Author: Arias Téllez et al. | Year: 2019
Summary/Results:  The authors studied different body composition methods on climbers, including: (1) an x-ray absorption measurement tool, (2) a method measuring electrical flow through the body, and (3) either skinfold thickness measurements or a combination of skinfold and different perimeter/diameter measurements.  When compared against the x-ray absorption measurement tool – DEXA: considered the standard for the study – the other methods either underestimated fat mass percentage or overestimated muscle mass and bone mineral content.  The authors recommend the use of the Durnin & Womersley method for fat mass percentage over the method using electrical flow when DEXA can’t be used.
Reference: PLoS One. 2019; 14(11): e0224291.
Kinesiology > Anthropometry

Evaluation of Rock Climbing Related Injuries in Older Athletes.

Author: Lutter et al. | Year: 2019
Summary/Results: The authors looked at three groups of older climbers from ages 35-49, 50-64, and 65+ in order to understand injury distributions.  They found that while the injury distributions were similar to younger age groups, there were some distinctions: notably a higher incidence of degenerative, nonreversible injuries such as shoulder impingement and osteoarthritis of the fingers.
Reference: Wilderness Environ Med. 2019 Dec;30(4):362-368.
Kinesiology > Injury

Radial extracorporeal shock wave therapy in flexor tendon pathology of the hand: a feasibility study

Author: Lutter et al. | Year: 2019
Summary/Results: The authors used pressure sensitive film to determine whether Radial Extracorporeal shock wave therapy (rESWT) will penetrate soft tissue in human hand cadavers.  The researchers believe the treatment may be promising as an alternative to corticosteroid injections for partial tears to finger tendons, but encourage further research for effectiveness of both pain mitigation and healing. 
Reference: Technol Health Care. 2019 Jul 5. doi: 10.3233/THC-191654.
Kinesiology > Injury

Doping in Sport Climbing: Status Quo in a New Olympic Discipline

Author: Lutter et al. | Year: 2019
Summary/Results: Four climbing injury researchers make recommendations about doping in climbing.  Their recommendations include increased awareness of ethics, increased antidoping education, sports medical supervision, collaboration between national climbing and sports ethics organizations, and increased monitoring and controls.  These recommendations are primarily aimed at elite climbers within both a competition and outdoor context, but also include an educational component for fans, athletes, trainers, and officials.
Reference: Curr Sports Med Rep. 2019 Oct;18(10):351-352.
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Kinesiology > Injury

Finger and Shoulder Injuries in Rock Climbing

Author: Schöffl, Simon, Lutter | Year: 2019
Summary/Results: German-language research paper primarily on incidence of climbing injuries in a large patient population.  The authors reiterate a previous point they make that they expect shoulder injuries to continue rising due to new competition types and increased interest in bouldering.  Beta-angel note: included because it has a table that compares the incidence from their 1998-2001 sample to 2009-2012 sample to a 2017-2018 sample.  Also, of note is that epicondylitis continues to drop from #2 to #5, then #8.  There could be a number of reasons for changing diagnoses, including updated methods of diagnosis, as well as increased information about certain injuries to the general climbing community.
Reference: Springer Medizin Verlag GmbH, ein Tell von Springer Nature 2019
Kinesiology > Injury

Efficacy of corticosteroid injection in rock climber’s tenosynovitis

Author: Schöffl, Strohm, Lutter | Year: 2019
Summary/Results: Authors studied the effect of corticosteroid injection in 42 patients with pain lasting 6 weeks or more or after conservative therapy failed (4 weeks).  “During climbing, 24 climbers (57%) were pain free and 18 (43%) suffered from occasional pain.”  Of those 18, half received further treatment, and the other half climbed accepted the pain and climbed with full load.  Only 7 received “satisfactory” scores indicating decreased load capacity.  Beta-Angel note: a little spooky, the wrong injection technique, or not following the doctor’s advice for rest after the injection, could lead to tendon rupture.  Splendid.
Reference: Hand Surg Rehabil. 2019 Oct;38(5):317-322
Kinesiology > Injury

What to Examine in Youth Climbing Athletes: Yearly Examination of the German Climbing Team and its Consequences.

Author: Schöffl, Lutter, Schöffl | Year: 2019
Summary/Results: Medical professionals for the German National Climbing Team report on their annual evaluation of the team’s members using 7 standards for examination: (1) sports-medical evaluation; (2) standard laboratory tests; (3) ECG Standard and Stress tests; (4) Spiroergometry; (5) Echocardiography; (6) Orthopedic examination; (7) other examinations as medically necessary (E.g. x-ray).  The team found little of note other than one athlete who needed surgery for a hip impingement, a decrease in climbers with swollen finger joints, and a slight prevalence of infection amongst the climbers.  
Reference: Sportverl Sportschad 2019; 33: 1-4
Sport Psychology > Youth Specific  Climbing or Kinesiology > Injury

Lean and mean? Associations of level of performance, chronic injuries and BMI in sport climbing

Author: G. Grønhaug | Year: 2018E (2019)
Summary/Results: Author reached 481 males and 186 females, with 49% climbing at an intermediate level (6b+-7a+), 34% at an experienced level (7b-8b), 3.5% at an elite level (8b+-8c+), and .2% at an international elite level (9a). The author found no association between climbing level, chronic injuries, training volume, and/or BMI. Beta-Angel note: this is a fascinating study which challenges some “accepted wisdom” between injuries, climbing level, and BMI.  However, the author notes that although the amount of respondents was high and their climbing level mostly representative of Norway’s climbing population, the number of climbers at the international elite level taking part inf the survey (N=1) is problematic.
Reference: BMJ Open Sport & Exercise Medicine 5(1):e000437
Kinesiology > Injury

The determination of finger flexor critical force in rock climbers

Author: D. Giles, JB Chidley, N. Taylor, O. Torr, J. Hadley, T. Randall, S. Fryer | Year: 2018E (2019)
Summary/Results: The authors studied the applicability of a new measurement tool called “critical force” in 11 climbers who climb roughly 7b – 8b+ (5.12b – 5.14a). The authors used a series of three measurements taken at 80%, 60%, and 45% of each climber’s maximum force (MVC calculated on a 20mm edge for 7 seconds) using a 7 second on, 3 second rest protocol until failure.  These three measurements allowed the researchers to calculate “critical force” (the threshold for being able to sustain work at “a certain intensity” – see note) and W’ (the duration of sustainable work above the threshold). Beta-Angel note: The excellence of the “critical force” concept needs some explanation.  It is best described in an article by Poole et al. (2016): it basically serves as an indicator of systemic fatigue during high-intensity exercise.  The two concepts (CF and W’) show how long “severe” high-intensity exercise can be sustained.  “Severe” intensity exercise is defined as a second threshold separating “heavy” and “severe” intensities and sits above the typical “lactate” threshold which separates “moderate” from “heavy” intensities.  During severe intensity, oxygen consumption rises continuously to its maximum level, oxygen delivery limits the ability of cells to convert energy from nutrients, energy reserves near depletion, blood lactate increases to exhaustion, as well as other indicators of fatigue.
Reference: International Journal of Sports Phsyiology and Performance, December 2018
Biomechanics > Repeaters (intermittent contractions)

The effects of 8 weeks of two different training methods on on-sight lead climbing performance.

Author: M. Philippe, I. Filzwieser, V. Leichtfried, C. Blank, S. Haslinger, J. Fleckenstein, W. Schobersberger | Year: 2018E (2019)
Summary/Results: Researchers studied the effect of two different 8-week training programs on a simulated world cup onsight format test in 23 athletes (12b-13b) and tested them on a 13b onsight route prior to the training, after the training, and 2 weeks after training ended. The two training protocols roughly followed (1) bouldering and power-based workouts with limited endurance climbing, and (2) different difficulties and volume of lead climbing.  Neither group was superior to one another, but both groups showed significant improvements after training ended. Beta-Angel note: this is an enjoyable synthesis of information regarding a more bouldering-based protocol and a more endurance-based protocol for lead climbing training.  The second onsight test was mirrored from the first (and 8 weeks later), and the third was the exact same as the first but 10 weeks later.  The authors appear to have chosen this format of tests to provide the same level of difficulty while attempting to maintain the spirit of the onsight format.
Reference: J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 2018 May 2.
Bioenergetics > Energy System Responses

Four weeks of finger grip training increases the rate of force development and the maximal force in elite and world-top ranking climbers

Author: G. Levernier and G. Laffaye | Year: 2017E (2019)
Summary/Results: The researchers measured “Rate of Force Development” (RFD – similar to how fast you can create force) in multiple finger grip positions on a group of French National Bouldering Team members undertaking an RFD training protocol and a national team group not under-taking the protocol.  Measurement occurred at two points: the initial change in force (100-200 milliseconds into the contraction) and a later change in force (95% of maximum).  The protocol approximates maximal sustained grip training on one hand for 6 seconds to failure, using individualized hold depths between 25 mm and 6 mm for both hands and for two grip positions: the sloper grip and the half-crimp.  Training had an impact on the initial change but not on the later change in force, suggesting that it increased the brain-muscle connection but not the underlying structure of the muscle.  On a practical note, the researchers suggest that changes in RFD may be transferable across grip positions, suggesting it may not be necessary to develop RFD in the full-crimp grip position to see gains.  Beta-Angel note: A new effect found from a protocol some climbers may already be familiar with.  Hangboarding for contact strength?!  Stay safe my friends.
Reference: J Strength Cond Res. 2017 Sep 19
Tags: Biomechanics > Contact Strength; Finger Strength; Bioenergetics; Energy System Responses

German Language Paper: [Sport climbing, bouldering and associated injuries in childhood and adolescence].

Authors: Schweizer, Schweizer | Year: 2019
Summary: German-language paper summarizing adolescent injuries in sport climbing.  The authors suggest overuse injuries are more common than acute injuries and that the epiphyseal fracture is the most common injury.
Reference: Orthopade. 2019 Dec;48(12):998-1004.
Tags: Kinesiology > Injury

Heidelberg Risk Sport-Specific Stress Test: A Paradigm to Investigate the Risk Sport-Specific Psycho-Physiological Arousal.

Authors: Frankel, Laborde, Rummel, Giessing, Kasperk, Plessner, Heck, Strahler | Year: 2019
Summary: The authors propose a protocol for stress testing climbers which they tested on 214 “novice” climbers.  The test protocol is aimed at both psychological and physiological responses to a stress fall situation.  The authors found that their psychological indicator (state anxiety – e.g. apprehension, nervousness) did increase, but that the physiological effects (e.g. cortisol and heart rate) were inconclusive.  Beta-Angel note from external reviewer: since one of the main limitations of the protocol for participants is having climbing experience of more than 5 hours, it is uncertain how well this test protocol would fair against experienced climbers.
Reference: Front Psychol. 2019 Oct 18;10:2249.
Tag: Sport Psychology > The Interaction of Mind and Body

Cartilage abnormalities and osteophytes in the fingers of elite sport climbers: An ultrasonography-based cross-sectional study.

Authors: Pastor, Fröhlich, Spörri, Schreiber, Schweizer | Year: 2019
Summary: In this cross-sectional (data from a representational sub-set of a population) study the authors found that cartilage changes in the fingers may be a result of climbing.  By using an ultrasound imaging technique, the study found that cartilage thickness is increased, especially in the middle finger PIP (second joint back from the tip) joint.  The authors discuss if this is a possible driver for injuries.  Beta-Angel note from external reviewer: Cartilage thickness is a sign of the adaptive response of the body to avoid injuries so whether this specific climbing related response in the cartilage is protective or harmful is debatable.
Reference: Eur J Sport Sci. 2020 Mar;20(2):269-276.
Tag: Kinesiology > Injury

Symptomatic epiphyseal sprains and stress fractures of the finger phalanges in adolescent sport climbers.

Authors: Bärtschi, Scheibler, Schweizer | Year: 2019
Summary: Overview of adolescent climbers with Epiphyseal (growth plate) stress fractures treated at a single clinic in the period of 12 years (2006 – 2018).   Analyses shows that male climbers are more often affected than females, middle finger are most exposed and few had severe fractures when treatment started.  All patients were treated with activity changes in a time span up to 12 months.  Most patients had no additional consequences after treatment.
Reference: Hand Surg Rehabil. 2019 Sep;38(4):251-256.
Tag: Sport Psychology > Youth Specific Climbing or Kinesiology > Injury

Retrospective survey of sport climbing injuries and self-care in the Gunma prefecture.

Authors: Asakawa, Sakamoto | Year: 2019
Summary: Overview of self-reported injuries in 85 climbers.  The authors found that overuse injuries are most common and that the fingers are the most common site of injury.  The authors suggest that given the high rate of finger injuries it may be protective to promote rest and perform “low grade tasks” and stretching of the intrinsic (thumb, little finger, lumbrical, and interossei) and extrinsic (long flexors and extensors) muscles of the fingers.
Reference: J Phys Ther Sci. 2019 Apr;31(4):332-335.
Kinesiology > Injury

Rock climbing injuries and time to return to sport in the recreational climber.

Authors: Lum, Park | Year: 2019
Summary: Authors examined 432 injuries in 237 climbers.  Most injuries do not need surgical treatment (89%).  Climbers with injuries that needed surgery took longer to get back into climbing (9.1 month) compared with those who did not need surgery (3.9 month).  There were no differences in terms of rates of climbers getting back into the sport and leaving the sport after the injury.
Reference: J Orthop. 2019 Apr 12;16(4):361-363.
Tag: Kinesiology > Injury

Closed disruption of a single flexor digitorum superficialis tendon slip: 3 cases.

Authors: Schweizer, Bayer | Year: 2019
Summary: Case studies of three flexor digitorum superficialis (FDS) tendon injuries that presented as flexor tendon injuries but had no functional deficit.  The injury was a full disruption to only one side of the tendon after the tendon branches off into two “slips.” The authors present this injury as a potential important differential diagnosis to the more commonly reported flexor tendon injury and used (in these cases) conservative treatment for full return to sport.
Reference: Hand Surg Rehabil. 2019 Apr;38(2):121-124.
Tag: Kinesiology > Injury

Role of emotional intelligence on rock climbing performance.

Authors: Garrido-Palomino, España-Romero | Year: 2019
Summary: The authors tested 28 male and 14 female climbers, broken up further into groups of 27 advanced (women: 6c-7a; men: 6b-7c) and 15 elite (women: 7a+-7c; men: 7c+-8b+), using red point performance as measured against scores on two tests of emotional intelligence.  Under one of the tests, “facilitation thought” – a reference to how emotions are used to direct attention – was found to be higher in the advanced group than the elite group.  The authors suggest that either (a) climbers higher in facilitation thought better perceive their own anxiety, which may cause them to focus on the emotion rather than the task, or (b) climbers higher in facilitation thought may have more negative emotion(s) in general.
Reference: June 2019RICYDE. Revista internacional de ciencias del deporte 15(57):284-294
Link to Research
Tag: Sport Psychology > The Interaction of Mind and Body