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What makes a great climber?

Climbing is a sport that has recently become increasingly popular, making its debut in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. But what do you need to do to become a good climber? The climbing sports consists of the following: ice climbing, mountaineering, traditional climbing, sport climbing and bouldering.

Climbing involves a range of physiological, biomechanical and psychological characteristics and the type of climbing demands each of these to varying degrees. Ice climbing requires specialised motor co-ordination with intuitive adaptation where experience here is crucial. Bouldering on the other hand is thought to be based on strength, muscle endurance and low body fat percentage.

In biomechanical studies, the most important characteristics that elite climbers exhibited were whole-hand grip strength and endurance, postural stability with high centre-of-mass oscillations, anticipatory postural adjustments, optimised kinematic motions, high jumping velocity and chalky hands on a clean surface. Physiologically, forearm flexor plays a large part in climbing ability, which can be observed as their strength-to-weight ratio, aerobic capacity, and re-oxygenation rate. Psychologically, climbers typically have an 'iceberg profile' meaning they score low on tension, depression, anger, fatigue and confusion scales and above normal on vigour.

The best way to succeed in climbing is consistent training, with a focus on fingerboard training and dynamic concentric and eccentric exercises. Recovery should be active using cycling and easy climbing routes to allow the body to replenish its energy stores and repair microtears within muscles.

Saul, D. et al. (2019). Determinants for success in climbing: A systematic review. Journal of Exercise Science and Fitness. 17(3): 91-100.


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