The results of self-testing can be rendered into three indicators for the finger muscles: one of strength (S) and two of specific endurance, each one related to a distinct prevailing component, aerobic (AE) and anaerobic (ANAE). As a whole, these indicators configure what we’ve called the local physiological profile, a kind of “radiography” of the most determinant capacities for climbing performance: strength and endurance (1-3).
Until now, only one study (4) carried out on a sample of 32 sport climbers (from 7a/12a to 9a/14d), has assessed both of those endurance components, as it has been so far the only to consider the prevailing hemodynamic conditions during the contraction phases in the intermittent protocols. The graphs below are plotted using the data of that study, and show the relation between climbing performance and each of the raw indicators* of the physiological profile, which would be those obtained by the means described in the TRAINING SCIENCE text called “Scientific foundations behind self-testing”.
(*) The strength indicator (S) has been measured as the maximum added weight allowing to perform a 5” finger hang (MAW_5) on the same edge on which each subject was able to sustain his own body weight (BW) for 40” (MED_40). The obtained value (MAW_5) has been expressed in relation to the BW and the edge size (2) (see upmost graph). The endurance indicators (ANAE and AE, shown in the middle and lower graphs respectively) have been assessed using the force-time integral (FTI) in intermittent protocols done at two different effort:rest ratios (8”:0.5” and 10”:3”), and at an intensity, the occlusion threshold, allowing the control of the local hemodynamic conditions. The statistic treatment has been done using the IRCRA scale (International Rock Climbing Research Association, see the equivalence chart below).
To make easier the interpretation of the raw indicators, they’ve been standardized on a scale going from 0 to 10, which is the one used in the self-testing records. Strictly speaking, the raw indicators of strength and endurance shouldn’t be comparable as their units are different: (kg/mm) and (kg*s) respectively. In a way the purpose of this scale is to allow this. To set it, the average values related to these indicators, obtained from tens of climbers in different studies (4) and other assessments carried out by Pedro Bergua (Sports Science PhD, professional trainer for climbers, 9a redpointed grade), author of this App, have been considered. Here below can be found three graphs similar to those shown previously, but using the standardized indicators. The relations that are displayed seem identical.
When two variables are closely related, it is presumed that both are possibly measuring the same things. The graphs here below show a very high relationship, above 0.95 in all the cases, existing between the raw and standardized indicators previously put into graphics, meaning that in each pair of indicators both would be pointing to the same things.
The standardized indicators are used to calculate another variable resulting from the average of two or all of them, the average level of the indicators (ALI) as expressed here:
[(S+AE+ANAE)/3] for sport climbing
[(S+ ANAE)/2] for bouldering**
** Since boulder climbers usually show an unbalanced profile in terms of the (AE), the App calculate their ALI excluding that indicator when “bouldering” is selected, at the beginning of self-testing, as the usual climbing modality. Indeed, the essential physical capacity for this discipline is the grip power or Rate of Force Development (RFD)(9-11). Self-testing doesn’t assess this variable directly, as this would require a strength sensor. Instead, the strength indicator (S) is used since both have been highly related (12).
The purpose of the ALI parameter is to reflect the overall physical shape of a climber as it gathers the indicators that are considered essential for each discipline. Experimental observations have shown that the AE indicator would not be a performance factor for bouldering, therefore, it is not considered in its ALI calculation.
The next graph shows a very high relationship between the ALI and the redpoint level in sport climbers (according to the data used on the previous graphs) (4).
The chart below shows the representation scale used in scientific literature, grouping the different climbing levels (5). When the aforementioned relationship is analyzed inside each level group, it seems higher as the level is higher.
This means that the higher the difficulty is, the more the performance depends on the development of the local physical abilities, unlike to what happens on the lowest levels. What may explain this, is that as climbers reach higher levels, their efficiency abilities tend to improve and become equally good between them, even more in terms of redpointing performance, implying that a route has been tried enough times to be climbed in the most energetically efficient way. Therefore, when two high-level climbers try a route, they’ll probably be highly and equally efficient (the more tries the truer this is) (6,7), and their compared performance will depend more on their respective physical abilities. On the contrary, the lowest level climbers haven’t usually developed as much their efficiency abilities and may show differences between them on this aspect, even when trying to redpoint a route, as observed by Bertuzzi et al. (2012) (8). Knowing the adaptation level of each one of the indicators of the physiological profile allows to:
1) monitor the evolution of each capacity that determine it by comparing the value of these indicators with those obtained on previous tests, and
2) know the potential level at which one could be climbing, which is inferred from the relationship made between the climbing grade and the ALI obtained by self-testing.
The table below shows a representation, simpler than the one displayed on the previous graph, of the relationship between the climbing level (including bouldering) and the ALI, based on the results of tens of climbers.
The grade that one could potentially climb is predicted according to all these relationships. Even if approximate, it becomes an interesting reference to infer the development level of the own efficiency abilities: technical, tactical and mental. These elements have shown to be so relevant in climbing that they are considered as essential for performance (13). Therefore, a climber redpointing below the level related to his ALI, may have a deficiency on at least one of the efficiency factors. Sometimes, but less commonly, the contrary is also possible, when the efficiency factors are very developed and the actual climbing level corresponds to a higher ALI. For example:
Let’s suppose that a sport climber shows the following physiological profile: 4.6, 3.4 and 3.0 for the S, ANAE and AE indicators respectively and a resulting ALI of 3.66, corresponding to a potential level of 7b+/c (12c/d). If this climber is only able to redpoint 7a+ (12a), then he probably should focus on improving his efficiency, as his physical potential is already above his climbing level. In this case, working further on the physical capacities (which is what is essentially done with finger hangs) not only would be inadvisable, but it may limit the progression in the future as this could reinforce inefficient patterns. On the opposite, if this climber is rather able to redpoint 7c (12d), then he probably could take advantage of improving his specific physical capacities since his efficiency level may already seem acceptable. Obviously, efficiency could be better measured by a qualitative observation of each of its components. Indeed, Taylor et al., (2020) have recently published a good tool to guide this process (14). The information displayed on the previous table is only a guidance to decide which general direction should be followed in training, and the weight that more specific physical workouts should take.
On the other hand, comparing between them the indicators obtained by self-testing, which is possible since they are standardized, allows determining if a physiological profile is balanced or not, which indicates if the development of the specific endurance adaptations corresponds to the finger strength level that can be expressed. This comparison is based on a recent study (15) that revealed a higher development on sport climbers of some adaptations allowing a better recovery between grips, compared to climbers specialized on bouldering. The first ones could longer endure an intermittent test very similar those used to assess the AE indicator during self-testing, which could suggest that a typical physiological profile could exist for boulder climbers and another one for sport climbers. The difference would essentially lie in the ability to recover fast between efforts.
In practice, a physiological profile is considered unbalanced for one or two of its indicators, when any or both of them diverge more than 1.5 points in relation to the most developed one. This value is equivalent to the standard deviation according to the endurance average values associated with each level of strength. For example, a profile defined by 3.0/4.21/3.24 (S/ANAE/AE) could be seen as balanced since none of its indicators is separated by more than 1.5 points from the higher one (which, in this case, is ANAE). On the other hand, the set of indicators 5.3/4.2/3.2 could illustrate a profile with an unbalanced AE indicator that is 2.1 points lower than the S indicator. The App uses these comparisons to propose different training dynamics (available in the self-testing records) for each case, focused on compensating for an unbalanced profile, or sequentially improving the physical performance factors of the goal discipline when the profile is balanced. This can be taken into account when making a training plan, regardless of what kind of exercises are intended to be used, may they be finger hangs or not, to improve the capacities the App suggests to work on by proposing specific dynamics after self-testing.
Finally, knowing the ALI may also be useful to outline how to combine the training dynamics based on finger hangs proposed by the App with any additional content oriented to climbing.
(1) Philippe M, Wegst D, Muller T, Raschner C, Burtscher M. Climbing-specific finger flexor performance and forearm muscle oxygenation in elite male and female sport climbers. European journal of applied physiology 2012;112(8):2839-2847.
(2) Bergua P, Montero-Marin J, Gomez-Bruton A, Casajús JA. Hanging ability in climbing: an approach by finger hangs on adjusted depth edges in advanced and elite sport climbers. International Journal of Performance Analysis in Sport 2018;8(3):1-14.
(3) Baláš J, Pecha O, Martin AJ, Cochrane D. Hand–arm strength and endurance as predictors of climbing performance. European Journal of Sport Science 2012;12(1):16-25.
(4) Bergua Gómez PV. Fuerza y resistencia específica en escalada: valoración mediante suspensiones. 2016.
(5) Draper N, Giles D, Schöffl V, Konstantin Fuss F, Watts P, Wolf P, et al. Comparative grading scales, statistical analyses, climber descriptors and ability grouping: International Rock Climbing Research Association Position Statement. Sports Technology 2015;8(3-4):88-94.
(6) Donath L, Wolf P. Reliability of force application to instrumented climbing holds in elite climbers. J Appl Biomech 2015.
(7) Espana-Romero V, Jensen RL, Sanchez X, Ostrowski ML, Szekely JE, Watts PB. Physiological responses in rock climbing with repeated ascents over a 10-week period. Eur J Appl Physiol 2012 Mar;112(3):821-828.
(8) Bertuzzi R, Franchini E, Tricoli V, Lima-Silva AE, Pires FO, Okuno NM, et al. Fit-climbing test: a field test for indoor rock climbing. Journal of strength and conditioning research 2012 Jun;26(6):1558-1563.
(9) Fanchini M, Violette F, Impellizzeri FM, Maffiuletti NA. Differences in climbing-specific strength between boulder and lead rock climbers. Journal of strength and conditioning research / National Strength & Conditioning Association 2013 Feb;27(2):310-314.
(10) Macdonald JH, Callender N. Athletic Profile of Highly Accomplished Boulderers. Wilderness Environ Med 2011 6;22(2):140-143.
(11) Mladenov LV, Mihailov ML, Schoffl VR. Anthropometric and strength characteristics of world-class boulderers. Medicina Sportiva 2009;13(4):231-238.
(12) Vereide V, Kalland J, Solbraa AK, Andersen V, Saeterbakken AH, editors. Correlation between relative Peak-, isometric Force and RFD and climbing performance. 3rd Rock Climbing Research Congress. Proceedings 2016; August 5 – 7th, 2016; Colorado, USA: 3rd International Rock Climbing Research Congress; 2016.
(13) Magiera A, Roczniok R, Maszczyk A, Czuba M, Kantyka J, Kurek P. The structure of performance of a sport rock climber. Journal of human kinetics 2013;36(1):107-117.
(14) Taylor N, Giles D, PanÃ¡ÄkovÃ¡ M, Mitchell J, Chidley J, Draper N. A Novel Tool for the Assessment of Sport Climber´s Movement Performance. International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance 2020;1(aop):1-6.
(15) Warner A, Stone K, Sveen J, Draper N, Dickson T, España V, et al, editors. Forearm oxygenation kinetics, strength and endurance characteristics of boulderers and sport climbers. ; 30-Noviembre-2016; Nottingham: British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences; 2016.