Research > Research Inventory > Bioenergetics: Energy System Responses

Differences in Oxygenation Kinetics between the Dominant and Nondominant Flexor Digitorum Profundus in Rock climbers

Author: D. Giles, VE Romero, I. Garrido, A. de la O Puerta, K. Stone, S. Fryer | Year: 2017
Summary/Results: Researchers built on past work in Germany (Donath et al. 2013 – climbers use dominant hand longer and allow it to recover less than non-dominant hand) to assess whether oxygen recovery in the long flexor tendon (which allows us to flex our fingers) was different between the two hands.  The researchers found that the dominant hand recovers 13.6% faster, and was consistent across both gender and on-sight ability (510c to 5.13b).  The researchers offer practical advice to coaches: consider incorporating some individual forearm training to ensure the same amount of time and effort is given to both hands.  Beta-Angel note: it will be interesting to see what protocols (hangboard; timing your engage hand, etc.) are built from this finding. Beta-Angel note2: the authors also suggest that better oxygenation in climbers is a function of adaptations in the capillaries (thin, branching blood vessels that convey oxygen, nutrients and wastes to and from tissues), such as increased density and waste-filtering, rather than the larger arteries or blood speed.  This may inflame the war between proponents of ARCing and the ARC-nots.
Reference: Int J Sports Physiol Perform. 2017 Jan;12(1):137-139.

Hemodynamic and cardiorespiratory predictors of sport rock climbing performance

Author: S. Fryer, D. Giles, IG Palomino, A. de la O Puerta, VE Romero | Year: 2017
Summary/Results: The authors of this paper sought to learn how much of sport climbing performance can be explained by: (1) two predictors of forearm aerobic capacity: local (forearm specific) aerobic ability and forearm recovery, and (2) one general aerobic capacity indicator of the whole body on a treadwall. The authors found that both forearm aerobic capacity and general aerobic ability on a treadwall were associated with greater red-point performance, and collectively explained 67.1% of the variance in red-point ability. Beta-Angel note: the authors note an interest in determining whether these findings are (1) adaptations caused by climbing or are (2) prerequisites to climbing, and we appreciate that the authors don’t automatically assume an answer.
Reference: J Strength Cond Res. 2017 Mar 13

Analysis of Contemporary Anaerobic Sport Specific Training Techniques for Rock Climbing

Authors: Justin Mabe and Stephen L. Butler, Ed.D.
Summary/Results: The authors prepare a review of climbing-specific training tools specific to the anaerobic energy system with research literature and cross-compare them to climbing movement phases, which include stabilization, preparation, and displacement.  The authors suggest that between hangboarding, campus boarding, system training and hyper-gravity training, system training may be the most sport-specific and it along with hyper-gravity training affect all three phases – ultimately leading to a recommendation for system board training with added weight.
Reference: The Sport Journal, June 24th, 2016, Vol 20

The effects of long term sport rock climbing training on heart rate variability in sedentary adults

AUTHORS: D. Aras, A. Bingol, B. C. Yasli | Year: 2016
SUMMARY/RESULTS: Researchers used heart rate variability (magnitude and time between consecutive heart beats) to look at the effect of an eight week sport climbing program on the heart. While no significant differences were found in the tests after the eight week program, some improvement was seen in the ability to conserve energy.
REFERENCE: 3rd Rock Climbing Research Congress. Proceedings 2016, Telluride, CO

A sport-specific upper-body ergometer test for evaluating submaximal and maximal parameters in elite rock climbers

AUTHORS: ML Michailov, A. Morrison, MM Ketenliev, BP Pentcheva | Year: 2015
SUMMARY/RESULTS: Researchers compared 11 elite sport climbers on a treadmill (a non-climbing specific energy measurement test) and an upper-body (more climbing specific) energy measurement test using a vertically-mounted rower to assess  aerobic fitness.  The researchers compared several measures, including oxygen consumption, heart rate, blood lactate (a byproduct of the body’s use of simple sugars formed in association with muscular fatigue, often associated with being “pumped”), and climbing grade ability. The climbing specific measurement test (ergometer) was strongly correlated to climbing-performance and the traditional treadmill was not.
REFERENCE: Int J Sports Physiol Perform. 2015 Apr;10(3):374-80.

The Relationship between Climbing Ability and Physiological Responses to Rock Climbing

AUTHORS: Jiří Baláš,1 Michaela Panáčková,1 Barbora Strejcová,1 Andrew J. Martin,2 Darryl J. Cochrane,2 Miloš Kaláb,1 Jan Kodejška,1 and Nick Draper3 | Year: 2014
SUMMARY/RESULTS: Researchers looked at how the body was affected by changing wall angles and different route difficulties on climbers of all abilities. Their findings suggest that focusing on the relationship of respiration and movement could help improve athletic performance, and that oxygen consumption during submaximal climbing provides a useful test with which to estimate climbing ‘economy’ or efficiency. Beta-Angel note: No, we don’t need our inhaler. We’re hyperventilating intentionally!
REFERENCE: The Scientific World Journal,Volume 2014 (2014), Article ID 678387, 6 pages

Fit-climbing test: a field test for indoor rock climbing

AUTHORS: R. Bertuzzi, E. Franchini, V. Tricoli, AE Lima-Silva, FO Pires, NM Okuno, MA Kiss | Year: 2012
SUMMARY/RESULTS: Researchers measured exhaled air, blood lactate (a byproduct of the body’s use of simple sugars formed in association with muscular fatigue, often associated with being “pumped”) concentration, handgrip strength, and heart rate in 13 climbers divided into two ability-based groups tested on a novel tool called the “fit-climbing test.” Bertuzzi et al. believe the test can be used to evaluate rock climbers because of its specificity and relation to oxygen use during movement in climbing.
REFERENCE: J Strength Cond Res. 2012 Jun;26(6):1558-63.

Influence of ascent speed on rock climbing economy

AUTHORS: A. Responi, F. Schena, A. Leonardi, P. Tosi | Year: 2012
SUMMARY/RESULTS: Authors of the study measured the energy cost of changes in the speed of an ascent by comparing the climber’s preferred speed with an increase and decrease to that preferred speed. The authors found that climbers at the same level preferred a similar speed and that climbing energy management became better as speed increased from the lowest speed to the highest speed, suggesting that the preferred speed is not necessarily the most economical – rather it may be a compromise between speeding up to avoid spending time in difficult positions and slowing down to avoid the speed and frequency of muscle contraction.
REFERENCE: Sport Sciences for Health, May 2012, Volume 7, Issue 2-3, pp 71-80 

Performance determining factors in indoor climbing: one of the contributions of Professor Maria Augusta Kiss to the development of sports sciences in Brazil (Lit Review)

AUTHORS: R. Bertuzzi, FO Pires, AE Lima-Silva, JFL Gagliardi, FR De-Oliveira | Year: 2011
SUMMARY/RESULTS: Authors reviewed the existing literature on handgrip strength and other physiological variables in rock climbing. The authors suggest that body mass, body fat percentage, handgrip strength, aerobic (oxygen) metabolism, and alactic (or cell-based muscular fuel system, vs. lactic, a system which uses glucose as a fuel) anaerobic (non-oxygen) metabolism, as well as economy of movement, are crucial to success in sport climbing.
REFERENCE: Rev Bras Med Esporte vol.17 no.2 São Paulo Mar./Apr. 2011

Climbing time to exhaustion is a determinant of climbing performance in high-level sport climbers

AUTHORS: V. Espana-Romero, FB. Ortega Porcel, EG Artero, D Jimenez-Pavon, A. Gutierrez-Sainz, MJ Castillo Garzon, JR Ruiz. | Year: 2009
SUMMARY/RESULTS: Researchers broke up two groups into expert and elite climbers and measured body composition as well as physical fitness and other factors associated with body size and function. Researchers suggest that climbing time to exhaustion is a major determinant of climbing performance.
REFERENCE: Eur J Appl Physiol. 2009 Nov;107(5):517-25

Physiological adaptation in noncompetitive rock climbers: good for aerobic fitness?

AUTHORS: A Rodio, L Fattorini, A Rosponi, FM Quattrini, M Marchetti | Year: 2008
SUMMARY/RESULTS: Researchers assessed cardiorespiratory fitness of 13 rock climbers including measures such as heart rate, maximal and steady-state aerobic power, blood lactate (a byproduct of the body’s use of simple sugars formed in association with muscular fatigue, often associated with being “pumped”) and “exercise intensity” (Vo2 steady-state as percentage of peak oxygen consumption) which was 70% in men and 72% in women. Noncompetitive rock climbing was assessed as having an excellent – superior aerobic profile based on standards set by the American College of Sports Medicine.
REFERENCE: J Strength Cond Res. 2008 Mar;22(2):359-64

Physiological and Metabolic Responses in Novice and Recreational Rock Climbers

AUTHORS: Doran, Grace | Year: 2007
SUMMARY/RESULTS: Researchers measured ten male rock climbers on three randomly assigned climbing tasks, used an arm-cycling ergometer to measure peak oxygen uptake, take heart rate and blood lactate (a byproduct of the body’s use of simple sugars formed in association with muscular fatigue, often associated with being “pumped”) samples, collect expired gas (e.g. from breathing) samples, and collect anthropometry data (age, height, and weight) and self-report climbing history (ability, experience, sessions, duration). Differences between novice and experienced climbers suggest specific metabolic adaptations which allow experienced climbers to climb further, faster, and with lower energy expenditure than novice climbers. While authors agree that climbing meets accepted standards by American College of Sports Medicine, they believe that work: rest ratios must be modified to decrease blood lactate accumulation and allow maintenance for duration of exercise.
REFERENCE: Research Institute for Sports and Exercise Science, School of Human Sciences, Henry Cotton Campus, Liverpool John Mooes University, Liverpool.

Energy system contributions in indoor rock climbing

AUTHORS: RC Bertuzzi, E Franchini, E Kokubun, MA Kiss | Year: 2007
SUMMARY/RESULTS: Researchers studied six elite climbers and seven recreational climbers across easy, moderate and difficult climbs to compare the use of three different energy systems.  The system used for power production (anaerobic alactic, or phosphagen system) and the energy system used for endurance (aerobic or oxydative systems) training were found to be utilized at a higher frequency than did the lactic energy system. We care about this because we often climb until we are pumped as a means to train the anaerobic lactic system to improve climbing performance on routes. This is challenged by the paper which gives the notion that maybe using long duration, lower intensity climbing, and also training power output simultaneously could be more useful. Summary courtesy of Tyler Nelson.
Beta-Angel note: Particularly interesting quote: “Thus, climbing economy seems to be more important for the performance of these athletes than improved energy metabolism.” Additionally, there are some interesting notes in this study about the connection of climbing economy and upper body posture control.
REFERENCE: Eur J Appl Physiol. 2007 Oct;101(3):293-300

Physiological responses to indoor rock-climbing and their relationship to maximal cycle ergometry

AUTHORS: Sheel AW1Seddon NKnight AMcKenzie DCR Warburton DE. | Year: 2003
SUMMARY/RESULTS: 6 male and 3 female elite sport climbers participated in two data collection exercises: (1) an easy and a hard indoor climb, and (2) a cycle test to exhaustion. Researchers monitored oxygen consumption, gas inhalation/exhalation from the lungs, comparison of carbon dioxide produced by the body to oxygen, and heart rate. Increasing levels of climbing difficulty give rise to both heart rate and oxygen consumption. However, heart rate rises disproportionately compared to oxygen consumption which is attributed to intermittent muscle contractions and reliance on both aerobic (oxygen system) and anaerobic (non-oxygen system) metabolism.
REFERENCE: Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2003 Jul;35(7):1225-31.

Energy cost of sport rock climbing in elite performers

AUTHORS: J. Booth, F. Marino, C. Hill, and T. Gwinn | Year: 1999
SUMMARY/RESULTS: Researchers assessed 7 climbers’ oxygen uptake, blood lactate (a byproduct of the body’s use of simple sugars formed in association with muscular fatigue, often associated with being “pumped”) concentration, and heart rate using an indoor vertical treadwall and a route climb graded 5c. Results between indoor and outdoor were compared. Researchers suggest outdoor climbs of five to ten minutes duration and moderate difficulty require a significant portion of maximum oxygen consumption compared to indoor treadwall.
REFERENCE: Br J Sports Med. 1999 Feb; 33(1): 14–18.

Energy expenditure and physiological responses during indoor rock climbing

AUTHORS: Mermier CM1Robergs RAMcMinn SMHeyward VH. | Year: 1997
SUMMARY/RESULTS: Researchers tested 14 experienced climbers (9 male, 5 female) using three separate trials: a 90 degree vertical wall, a 106 degree moderately difficult wall, and a 151 degree overhang wall, with 15 minutes of rest in between each trial. Researchers found significant differences between trials for heart rate, blood lactate (a byproduct of the body’s use of simple sugars formed in association with muscular fatigue, often associated with being “pumped”), oxygen consumption (VO2) and energy expenditure, but not for ratio of carbon dioxide produced by the body to oxygen used. Rock climbing does not elicit the traditional relationship whereby oxygen and heart rate increase in tandem characteristic of treadmill and cycling. Heart rate hit 74-85% of predicted maximal values and energy expenditure was similar for a moderate running pace. Authors conclude that indoor rock climbing is a good activity to increase cardiorespiratory fitness and muscular endurance.
REFERENCE: Br J Sports Med. 1997 Sep;31(3):224-8. or PDF at

Metabolic Responses during rock climbing in expert sport rock climbers

AUTHORS: BW Wilkins, PB Watts, A Wilcox | Year: 1996
SUMMARY/RESULTS: Description of the metabolic and physiological responses to rock climbing. Researchers used age, experience, maximum oxygen consumption (VO2 Max), and % fat, and collected expired air and blood from participants before and after two situations (long boulder problem, and 10 minutes of bouldering). Average and peak oxygen consumption represented 33-38% and 43-50% respectively. Additionally, blood lactate (a byproduct of the body’s use of simple sugars formed in association with muscular fatigue, often associated with being “pumped”) production was assessed as significant.
REFERENCE: Medicine & Sciencei n Sports & Exercise, Volume 28(5) Supplement, May 1996, P 159
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VersaClimbing elicits higher VO2max than does treadmill running or rowing ergometry

AUTHORS: CJ Brahler, SE Blank | Year: 1995
SUMMARY/RESULTS: Researchers tested maximum rate of oxygen consumption in collegiate oarswomen and coxswain on a treadmill, rowing machine, and a simulated climbing machine. Researchers suggest that whole-body climbing exercise elicits more inhaled/exhaled gas and a greater maximum rate of oxygen consumption for oarswomen and coxswain than simulated running or rowing.
REFERENCE: Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1995 Feb;27(2):249-54. or

Energy costs of rock climbing at different paces

AUTHORS: PB Watts, CA Clure, MR Hill, SE Humphreys, AK Lish | Year: 1995
SUMMARY/RESULTS: This study used a rock climbing treadmill (Treadwall) to enable evaluation of physiological responses (Heart Rate, maximum oxygen volume) and energy expenditures (measured by expired air), during climbing at slow, moderate, and fast paces. Potential conclusions include: rock climbing requires moderate to high max oxygen volume and Energy expenditure, climbing pace influences energy expenditure in a positive linear manner, and absolute energy expenditure is a function of the climber’s body mass and total distance climbed.
REFERENCE: Official Journal of the American College of Sports Medicine, Vol 27, No 5 Supplement, May 1995

Energy specificity of rock climbing and aerobic capacity in competitive sport rock climbers

AUTHORS: Veronique Billat, Pierre Palleja, Therry Charlaix, Pierre Rizzardo, Nicolas Janel | Year: 1995
SUMMARY/RESULTS: Researchers measured oxygen (VO2 Max) consumption and heart rate of climbers using a treadmill, a pulling exercise, and on two climbing routes (1st: more complex with small holds, and 2nd: steeper with bigger holds – similar difficulty). Researchers suggested that rock climbing does not require high oxygen consumption compared to heart rate elevation, and that the transformation of oxygen into energy is not as important. However, it may be more important during steeper sections of routes. Study used four elite level climbers.  Study also identified that there was a higher proportion of “hip movement” time (vs. a stationary position) on the steeper route than on the less steep route.
REFERENCE: J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 1995 Mar;35(1):20-4.