The Effect of Indoor Rock Climbing On Strength, Endurance, and Flexibility Characteristics in Novice Climbers

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Theories & Applications the International Edition

Printed Version: (ISSN 2090-5262) Online Version: (ISSN 2090-5270)

March 2011, Volume 1, No. 1 Pages (79 - 91)

The Effect of Indoor Rock Climbing On Strength, Endurance, and Flexibility

Characteristics in Novice Climbers

Maikey Lopera, John P. Porcari, Jeff Steffen, Scott Doberstein and Carl Foster

Purpose: This study was designed to evaluate changes in muscular strength, endurance, and flexibility in novice climbers following 7 weeks of indoor rock climbing and to determine if these responses are related to improvements in climbing performance. Method: Climbers (CL: n=14) and non-climbers (N-CL: n=10) were assessed before and after the study period. Tests included right and left handgrip and pinch grip strength, lat pull-down strength, arm-hang endurance, handgrip endurance, sit-and-reach flexibility, and total climbing time. The CL group completed a 7-week training protocol involving climbing 5-6 routes on an indoor climbing wall, 2x weekly. Result: The CL group had significant improvements in handgrip strength (7%), pinch strength (9%), handgrip endurance (26%), arm hang time (35%), and climbing performance (50%). There were no significant changes in the N-CL group. There were no significant correlations between improvement in climbing performance and change in muscle strength and endurance within CL. Discussion: The climbing performance of novice climbers can be improved in a relatively short period of time. However, the improvement is most likely due to improved climbing technique, than to improvements in muscular strength and endurance.

Keywords: rock climbing, physical activity, performance

Introduction

he popularity of rock climbing has increased considerably in recent years (Booth, Marino, Hill, & Gwinn, 1999; Watts, Newbury, & Sulentic, 1996). Reasons for this increase in popularity include the vast increase of indoor climbing walls throughout the United States, the development of “sport climbing,” and improved safety equipment (Paige, 1998). Additionally, climbing offers several fitness benefits making it a desirable activity (Janot et al., 2000; Wescott, 1992).

There is not single factor that can ensure

success in the practice of climbing.

Characteristics such as strength, endurance, flexibility, technique and psychological control all contribute to rock climbing performance

Maikey Lopera a clinical exercise psychologist in the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse Carl Foster, John P. Porcari and Jeff Steffen Department of Exercise and Sport Science, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, Scott Doberstein is the head athlete trainer at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.

(Binney, 2001). Most studies have focused on elite or intermediate climbers (Billat et al. 1995; Booth et al., 1999; Cutts & Bollen, 1993; Grant, Hynes, Whittaker, & Aitchison, 1996; Mermier, Janot, Parker, & Swan, 2000; Mermier, Robergs, McMinn, & Heyward, 1997; Sheel, Seddon, Knight, McKenzie, & DE, 2003; Wall, Starek, Fleck, & Byrnes, 2004; Watts et al., 1996; Watts, Daggett, Gallagher, & Wilkins, 2000; Watts & Drobish, 1998; Watts, Joubert, Lish, Mast, & Wilkins, 2003; Watts, Martin, & Durtschi, 1993), with relative lack of climbing related research targeting novice climbers. A small number of studies have reported significant anthropometric differences between elite/recreational climbers and non-climbers, sugesting small stature, low body mass and low percentage of body fat as traits characterizing elite climbers (Grant et al., 1996; Mermier et al., 2000; Watts et al., 1996; Watts et al., 2000; Watts & Drobish, 1998; Watts et al., 1993). Watts et al. (2003), working with young elite sport rock climbers, reported anthropometric

characteristics similar to their adult

counterparts.

T

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Several studies have suggested that muscular strength and endurance, especially in the forearms, fingers and shoulders, may be significant predictors of climbing performance (Ferguson & Brown, 1997; Grant et al., 1996; Watts et al., 1996; Watts & Drobish, 1998; Watts et al., 1993). An earlier work by Cutts and Bollen (1993) found hand and pinch grip strength and pinch grip endurance to be significantly higher in climbers than non-climbers. Supporting those findings, Grant et al. (1996) reported that the pull-up and bent arm hang separated the climbers from non-climbers. Studies by Mermier et al. (2000) and Wall et al. (2004) reported high grip strength values in elite female climbers, while Watts et al. (2003) reported similar results in young elite sport rock climbers. Despite these results Giles, Rhodes, & Taunton (2006) noted little correlation between absolute hand grip strength and climbing ability. Climbing related research has generally focused on elite climbers with very few research studies of recreational or novice climbers. Additionally, there is lack of research that measure changes in strength, endurance and flexibility attributable to rock climbing training, especially in novice climbers. A longitudinal study by Wescott (1992), reported “significant improvements in body composition, joint flexibility, muscular strength and cardiovascular endurance” after two months of rock climbing, 15-20 minutes twice a week. A more recent study by Baláš (2005) in the Czech Republic, reported a significant increase in the time of the bent arm hang test and in the number of pull-ups in children after 7 months of climbing activities twice a week.

Accordingly, there is a need for more research focusing in novice or beginner climbers,

especially longitudinal studies measuring

changes in characteristics believed to be

important to improve climbing ability.

Therefore, the goal of this study was to measure changes in strength, endurance and flexibility in novice climbers after 7 weeks of indoor rock climbing, and to evaluate how these changes were correlated with improvements in climbing performance.

Methods

Subjects

Twenty-eight college students volunteered to participate in this study and were assigned to one of two groups. The treatment group, novice climbers (CL), consisted of 16 subjects (n=6 male, n=10 female) enrolled in a indoor rock climbing class. The control group, non-climbers (N-CL), consisted of 10 subjects (n=5 male, n=7 female) enrolled in an active lifestyle course. All subjects completed a questionnaire about their previous climbing experience and those with less than two previous climbing encounters were considered for participation in the study. The protocol for this study was approved by the university human subjects committee and subjects provided written informed consent form prior to the study. All subjects healthy based on the Physical Activity Readiness Questionnaire (PAR-Q) given prior to the beginning of the first testing session.

Training Protocol

Subjects in the CL group were enrolled in 2 days per week, 7-week indoor rock climbing class at the university climbing facility. The duration of each class period was 2 hours. A total of six routes, graded 5.4 to 5.6 on the Yosemite Decimal System (YDS), were used by the CL group for their training program. Prior to the start of the training, subjects were provided an overview of the study, the procedures involved and proper safety and rope handling

instructions. Additionally, subjects were

provided with instruction on climbing

techniques and with climbing specific technique feedback using the verbal performance cues of McNamee and Steffen (McNamee & Steffen, 2007).

The training protocol involved climbing 5-6 routes during each class period. Subjects were allowed to climb the routes in any order during the two-hour period. The training protocol was supervised by a rock climbing instructor and the principal investigator. In addition, subjects in the CL group were given a Climbing Record Sheet with a personal climbing questionnaire, an explanation of the protocol to follow, and a climbing record where subjects were required to

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keep a record of the number of routes climbed per session.

Subjects in the N-CL group were asked to maintain their regular daily routine and to avoid climbing or performing exercise routines designed to improve the characteristics that were assessed in the study.

Testing Overview

Two testing sessions were performed on all subjects. The pre-treatment (PRE) testing session following subject recruitment and before starting the training protocol. The post-treatment (POST) testing session was repeated after the 7-week study period. Subjects on both groups were asked to abstain from any strenuous activity for 24 hours prior to each testing session.

To avoid inter-tester variability, all testing procedures were performed by the same person in a single session and following the same order for all subjects. The order of the testing was: height, body mass, arm span, skin fold thicknesses, handgrip strength, modified seat-and-reach, pinch strength, handgrip endurance, one-repetition maximal lateral pull-down, bent-arm hang, climbing performance, foot rise, and leg span tests. To avoid familiarization with the route used for the Climbing Performance Test, the training protocol and climbing performance testing were performed at different locations..

Testing Procedures

1. Anthropometrics

Height was measured to the nearest 0.5 cm using a stadiometer. Body mass was measured to the nearest 0.5 kg on a beam scale. Arm span was measured in the standing position against a wall and with the arms abducted horizontally. The greatest tip to tip distance between the extended fingers was measured with a 3.0 m tape measure and recorded in centimeters to the nearest 0.5 cm. “Ape index”, or the ratio of arm span to height, was calculated as arm span divided by height (Watts et al., 2003).

Skinfold thicknesses were measured to the nearest 0.5 mm at seven sites with a Lange

skinfold caliper (Cambridge Scientific

Industries, Inc. Cambridge, MD), following the procedures described by Maud and Foster (2006). The sites measured were triceps, front thigh, sub-scapular, abdomen, chest, supra-iliac and mid-axilla. Two readings were taking in a rotating order and if they differed by more than 1.0 mm a third measure was taken and an average value was calculated using the three measures. All skinfold thickness measurements were taken on the right with the subject in the standing position. Body density was estimated according to the equations of Jackson and Pollock (Maud & Foster, 2006). Subsequently, % body fat was computed from the estimate of body density with the Siri equation (Wang et al., 1998).

2. Muscular Strength

Bilateral maximal handgrip strength was assessed using a Jamar dynamometer (Asimov Engineering Company, Los Angeles, CA) which was adjusted according to the manufacturer’s

instructions for each subject. During

measurement subjects stood upright with their arms downward to the side and were instructed to apply maximal force for ~2 seconds. Subject were allowed one practice trial on each hand followed by three tests on each hand, alternating between the right and left hand. Measurements were recorded to the nearest pound. Handgrip strength was determined as the average of the three trials for each hand.

Pinch strength was measured using the same Jamar dynamometer placed flat on a table (Figure 1). The participant was instructed to hold the crossbars of the dynamometer between the thumb and middle and index finger; the other three fingers were not allowed to be used. Standing upright in front of the table with the arm to be tested extended, the participant then gripped the dynamometer with the thumb and middle and index finger and squeezed with maximum effort for ~ 2 seconds. The participant was given one practice trial on each hand

followed by three testing trials, alternating between hands until three values were recorded for each hand.

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Figure 1. Four common hand positions used in rock climbing: A pocket, B open, C pinch, D crimp. Upper body strength was assessed using

one-repetition maximum (1-RM) lateral pull-down test on a Magnum Fitness Systems (Milwaukee, WI) lat pull-down machine. Subjects were allowed to warm-up performing a series of three warm-up sets, 3 repetitions each, on the lat pull-down machine using 45-65% of body weight (self-selected). Following the warm up, subjects performed a single repetition per set against increasing resistance using a front overhand grip on the pull-down bar and legs under the supporting mechanism. There was a one-minute rest between attempts. Failure to complete a pull-down below the chin or failure to maintain proper form was considered an unsuccessful lift. Maximum strength was determined as the highest weight lifted successfully.

3. Muscular Endurance

Upper-body isometric muscular endurance was assessed using the bent-arm hang test on an

overhead bar. With an overhand grip,

participants were instructed to pull-up until a maximally flexed arm position (at the elbow joint) was achieved and then instructed to remain in this position for as long as possible. The test score time was defined as the point at which the participants failed to maintain their chin above the bar. Time was recorded on only one trial.

Bilateral handgrip endurance was measured by timing how long the subjects maintained 70% of

their maximum voluntary contraction

(previously measured with the maximal

handgrip strength test) using the same handgrip dynamometer used to assess handgrip and pinch strength. Time measurement started when the subjects reached the target value on the

dynamometer and was stopped when the subjects dropped to a value 5 kg below their target value (70% of their computed maximal handgrip strength).

4. Flexibility

A modified sit-and-reach test according to Maud & Foster (2006), was used to evaluate hamstring and low-back flexibility. The subjects were asked to sit on the floor with their back and head against a wall, legs fully extended, with the bottom of the feet against the sit-and-reach box. They were then asked, with their hands on top of each other, to stretch their arms forward as far as they can while keeping the head and back against the wall and hold the position for 3 seconds and the distance from the fingertips to the box edge was measured with a ruler. Each subject was allowed three tests and the average of the three scores was computed for analysis.

The foot raise test, modified from Grant et al. (1996), was used to evaluate frontal hip flexibility. For this test subjects were required to stand facing a wall with toes touching a line 25 cm from the wall. Both hands were placed on the wall at shoulder height and width. Standing on the left foot without shoes, subjects were asked to bring the right foot directly up. Then, subjects were instructed to place the toe of the right foot as high up the wall as possible without moving it laterally and while keeping the left foot completely flat on the floor. The distance the foot was raised was recorded using a tape measure. The average score of three attempts was computed for analysis. The foot raise test was assessed only on the right leg.

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The leg span measurement was used to assess lateral hip flexibility. Without shoes, subjects were laid in a supine position and extend their feet as wide apart as possible while keeping the knees straight. Leg span was measured from left to right medial calcaneus using a tape measure (Grant et al., 1996). Three consecutive measurements were recorded and average value was computed for analysis.

5. Climbing Performance Test

The climbing performance test was performed on a specially set route, graded 5.6 on the YDS, on the indoor climbing wall. Each handhold in the climbing performance test route was assigned a specific score, with scores ranging from 5 points (starting handhold) to 250 points (highest handhold). Subjects were not allowed to practice the climbing performance test route

between testing sessions to avoid

familiarization. Upon arrival to the climbing wall, subjects were provided with climbing shoes and harnesses, and instructed of their proper use. Subjects were secured with a safety rope (top-rope) to prevent injury in case of a fall. Belaying of the subjects during the test was performed by qualified personnel. Subjects who made it to the top of the route were lowered to the beginning and instructed to begin climbing immediately. The time spent off the

wall (lowering and getting back on the route) was ~10 seconds. The climbing performance test score consisted of the total number of points achieved by climbing the wall continuously until volitional failure. The last handhold reached before falling was included to compute each subject score. Also, time in seconds until volitional failure was recorded (Accusplit, San Jose, CA) to assess subjects' climbing time.

Statistical Analysis

Standard descriptive statistics were used to evaluate the characteristics of the CL and N-CL groups. Independent-samples t-test were used to determine if there was significant differences between groups for all pre-test variables. A two-way analysis of variance (ANOVA) with repeated measures was used to compare differences between groups over the course of the study. Least significant difference (LSD) post-hoc tests were used to identify pairwise

differences. Pearson product-moment

correlations were used to evaluate the relationship between changes in climbing performance (climbing score and climbing time) and those measures that showed a significant pre-post improvement in the CL group. Statistical significance was accepted when p<0.05.

Results

Subject Characteristics

Twenty-four of the original twenty-eight subjects completed the study protocol. Time constraints or unrelated injury prevented four subjects (2 from CL and 2 from N-CL) from completing the post-testing assessment. Thus, results are based upon 14 climbers (n=9 females and n=5 males) and 10 non-climbers (n=5

females and n=5 males). There were no significant differences in pre-test scores between the CL and the N-CL groups at the start the study. Characteristics, subdivided by group, are presented in Table 1. Changes in body composition over the course of the study for subjects in both groups are presented in Table 2. Table 1. Subjects characteristics of the beginning of the study.

Variable Climbers (n=14) Non-climbers (n=10)

Age (years) 20.1 ± 1.2 18.8 ± 1.3

Height (cm) 171.3 ± 12.1 174.0 ± 10.7

Body mass (kg) 70.2 ± 17.4 74.3 ± 15.3

Arm span (cm) 174.0 ± 14.4 175.8 ± 12.7

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Table 2. Changes in body composition measures over the course of the study.

Variable

Climbers (n=14) Non-climbers (n=10) Pre-test Post-test Pre-test Post-test Body mass (kg) 70.2 ± 17.4 71.6 ±18.5 74.3 ± 15.3 74.4 ± 15.2

% Body Fat 19.8 ± 7.4 19.7 ± 6.9 17.3 ± 9.4 16.9 ± 8.4

Body mass index (kg*m2) 23.6 ± 3.0 24.1 ± 3.5 24.4 ±3.8 24.4 ± 3.7 Sum of Skinfolds (mm) 115.9 ± 41.8 114.4 ± 37.8 107.1 ± 54.8 103.1 ± 44.6

Muscle Strength and Endurance

Muscle strength and endurance characteristics are presented in Table 3. The CL group increased significantly in all of the strength and endurance measures except lateral pull-down

strength. No significant improvements were found in strength or endurance for the N-CL group. There was a 1.8 kg significant decrease in left handgrip strength in the N-CL group. Table 3. Changes in strength and endurance over the course of the study.

Variable

Climbers (n=14) Non-climbers (n=10) Pre-test Post-test Pre-test Post-test Handgrip strength right (kg) 33.7 ± 8.2 35.9 ± 8.5* 39.7 ± 11.8 38.1 ± 10.5 Handgrip strength left (kg) 29.4 ± 7.7 31.3 ± 8.4* 35.1 ± 11.4 33.3 ± 10.4* Pinch strength right (kg) 10.3 ± 2.6 11.0 ± 2.6* 11.7 ± 3.2 11.2 ± 2.9 Pinch strength left (kg) 9.5 ± 2.8 10.6 ± 3.0* 10.9 ± 3.1 10.2 ± 2.9 One-rep max LPD (kg) 60.8 ± 21.0 64.7 ± 20.5 70.5 ± 23.4 71.8 ± 23.3 Average handgrip endurance (sec) 19.5 ± 12.2 24.6 ± 10.4* 17.6 ± 6.7 19.4 ± 7.7 Arm hang (sec) 15.3 ± 10.7 20.7 ± 10.5* 16.1 ± 10.0 16.0 ± 10.7

*Significantly different from pre-test (p<0.05).

Modified seat-and reach, leg span, and foot raise test results are presented in Table 4. There were

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no significant changes in any of the flexibility characteristics in either group over the course of

the study.

Flexibility

Table 4. Changes in flexibility over the course of the study.

Variable

Climbers (n=14) Non-climbers (n=10)

Pre-test Post-test Pre-test Post-test Seat-and-reach (cm) 34.4 ± 8.1 35.1 ± 6.6 34.1 ± 9.5 34.5 ± 10.8 Leg span (cm) 150.6 ±11.2 152.0 ± 12.4 150.3 ± 9.4 150.5 ± 7.4 Foot raise (cm) 89.1 ± 9.4 90.1 ± 9.9 88.0 ± 10.3 86.7 ± 13.3

*Significantly different from pre-test (p<0.05).

Climbing Performance

Changes in climbing time and climbing score are presented in Table 5. In the CL group, there was a significant increase in climbing time and

climbing score. No significant changes were observed in the N-CL group for either climbing performance measure.

Table 5. Changes in climbing performance measures over the course of the study.

Variable

Climbers (n=14) Non-climbers (n=10)

Pre-test Post-test Pre-test Post-test Climbing time (sec) 207.9 ± 95.6 311.4 ± 201.1* 218.1 ± 101.7 213.1 ± 98.4 Climbing score (points) 522.9 ± 275.5 910.0 ± 662.7* 747.5 ± 450.2 782.0 ± 529.0

*Significantly different from pre-test (p<0.05).

Correlational Analysis

There were no significant correlations between

improvement in climbing performance

(climbing score or climbing time) and changes in right and left hand handgrip and pinch

strength, arm hang, or average handgrip endurance in the CL group ( Table 6)

Table 6. Correlations (r) between changes in climbing time and climbing score and other indices of improvement in the CL group.

Climbing Time Climbing Score

Handgrip strength right (kg) -.095 .160

Handgrip strength left (kg) .115 .288

Pinch strength right (kg) .175 .126

Pinch strength left (kg) -.056 -.075

Average handgrip endurance (sec) .213 -.009

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Discussion

The main goal of this study was to determine the effect of 7 weeks of indoor rock climbing training on the enhancement of strength, endurance, flexibility and climbing performance in college age novice climbers. The secondary goal was to evaluate the relationship between changes in climbing performance (climbing score and climbing time) and the changes in the previous mentioned physiological variables. According to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM, 2006), subjects in both groups were classified as “average” in terms of mean body mass, height, % body fat, and body mass index (BMI). Body composition measures were not expected to change significantly over the length of the study and this is supported by our results. In contrast with our results, Wescott (1992) found a significant decrease in body mass (2 lb) and % body fat in a group of beginning climbers (n=20) at the end of a 7-week climbing program consisting of 15-20 minutes of climbing twice a week on a motorized climbing wall.

Muscle strength and endurance

It was expected that 7 weeks of indoor rock climbing training would result in increased muscle strength and endurance. The results of this study indicate a significant increase in all of the strength measures, with the exception of lateral pull-down strength, in the CL group. No significant increases occurred in the N-CL group. Thus, the results suggest that indoor rock climbing elicits a significant effect increasing climbing specific strength in novice climbers. In the present study, handgrip strength increased about 6.5 % in both hands, while pinch strength increased about 7.1 % and 11.7 % for the right and left hand, respectively.

According to Billat et al. (1995), periods of isometric muscular contractions can amount to one-third of the total climbing time if not controlled by researchers. Thus, these gains in handgrip and pinch strength can be explained by neuromuscular adaptations to isometric exercise in factors related to neuromuscular recruitment, muscle architecture, or metabolic enzyme

activity (Brooks, Fahey, & Baldwin, 2005). In addition, Brooks et al. (2005) suggests that most of the benefits of isometrics occur early in training, which may explain the achievement of

significant handgrip and pinch strength

improvement over the 7-week study period. Although not statistically significant, the slightly greater increase in pinch grip strength in the left hand may be explained by the greater symmetry of strength between right and left arms that occurs in climbers (Watts, 2004). Since there is a non-discriminatory use of the left hand during climbing when compared to other activities, it is expected, especially in novice climbers, to find a greater strength increase in the left hand. Additionally, the larger increase in pinch strength may be due to the dynamometer being better suited for measuring

pinch strength over handgrip strength.

According to Watts (2004), out of the four basic grips commonly used during rock climbing (Fig. 1), the pinch grip is the only grip that involves opposition of the thumb and/or palm against the fingers in a manner similar to that employed during handgrip dynamometry.

As an indicator of upper-body strength, the 1-RM lat pull-down exercise was expected to increase as a result of indoor rock climbing. However, results of the study did not show a significant increase in lateral pull-down strength despite an increase of 3.9 kg in post-test values compared to pre-test values. Although no electromyographic studies have been done to elucidate the role of upper-body muscles during climbing, one viable explanation for these results is that the1-RM lat pull-down test might lack specificity in assesing strength in the upper-body muscles that play an important role during rock climbing. Considering that the majority of the routes used for the training program were less-than-vertical, another valid reason could be that climbing those routes did not exert a high enough load to promote muscle structural changes that would lead to an increase in upper-body strength.

In contrast with our results, during a 7-week rock climbing study by Wescott (1992) found a significant improvement in arm strength in beginner climbers, as measured by a ten

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repetition maximum pull-down exercise. Wescott’s training program differed from this study training program in the use of a motorized climbing wall. Additionally, another study by Baláš (2005) found an increase in upper body strength in children. However, Baláš assessed upper body strength by a different methodology (number of pull-ups pre- and post-treatment) and used a longer climbing training program (7 months).

Upper body endurance, as measured by the arm hang and handgrip endurance tests, increased significantly over the course of the study in the CL but the N-CL group. Although there are no previous studies evaluating effects of climbing in upper body endurance in novice climbers, Watts et al. (1993) found that, among other

tests, the bent-arm hang test clearly

distinguished elite climbers from recreational or non-climbers. Thus, it was expected that upper body endurance would improve significantly in the CL group as assessed by the bent-arm hang test. In the present study, there was 36 % increase in the arm hang test. Similarly, Baláš (2005) found a significant 67 % improvement in the arm hang test. Despite the significant increase in the arm hang time after the 7-week indoor rock climbing program, average post-test arm hang time values were lower than those published by Grant et al. (1996) for recreational climbers (31.4 ± 9.0 s) or non-climbers (32.6 ± 15.0 s). However, the significant increase in time to exhaustion in the arm hang test suggests that 7 weeks of indoor rock climbing training is capable of producing an increase in the arm hang test time, which according to several studies is a significant predictor of climbing ability (Giles et al., 2006; Grant et al., 2001; Grant et al., 1996; Mermier et al., 2000; Watts et al., 1993).

In the present study there was a 26 % increase in average handgrip endurance. No previous studies have explored the changes in handgrip endurance after a rock climbing program in novice climbers. Koukoubis et al. (1995) reported a high active role of the flexor digitorum superficialis and brachioradialis muscles during hanging using four fingers of each hand and pull ups to maximum elbow flexion. Although these movements do not

replicate climbing movements (Sheel, 2004), they are similar to climbing movements used in the present study. Thus, it is possible that the significant handgrip endurance gains in the present study may be due to an increased recruitment of the flexor digitorum superficialis and brachioradialis muscles' motor units during the task of climbing these routes. In all, these gains in upper body isometric endurance can be explained by 1) neuromuscular adaptations to isometric exercise in factors related mainly to enhanced metabolic enzyme activity and to an increase in mitochondial size and number (Brooks et al., 2005); 2) adaptations to isometric exercise such as decreased blood pressure and an enhanced forearm vasodilatation capacity of the upper-body muscles (Ferguson & Brown, 1997) by means of an increased capillary density, an enhanced capillary cross-sectional area, or an improved endothelial-dependent dilator function (Grant et al., 2003).

Flexibility

In the present study, no significant improvement in the flexibility measures was achieved by either group, despite the fact that it has frequently been suggested that flexibility is an important component of climbing fitness (Giles et al., 2006; Watts, 2004). However, there was a tendency for the CL group to perform better in the post-test flexibility measures. In contrast with the present results, Wescott (1992) found a significant increase of 2.5 cm in the sit-and-reach test after a 7-week climbing program. In addition, Baláš (2005) found an increase of over 2 cm in the sit-and-reach test performed after a 7-month climbing training program in children. There are several factors that may help to explain why there were not significant changes in flexibility in the present study. First, it appears that the sit-and-reach test is not representative of body positions used during climbing and thus lacks face validity (Giles et al., 2006). For instance, two studies by Grant et al. (1996, 2001) used the sit-and-reach test to

determine flexibility among elite and

recreational climbers. No distinction was found

between elite and recreational climbers,

indicating that elite climbers do not need extraordinary back and hamstring flexibility.

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The lack of specificity of this measurement to rock climbing may explain why such flexibility was not different between the two groups (Giles et al., 2006) and may explain why the indoor rock climbing program used in the present study did little to promote flexibility improvements as measured by the sit-and-reach test.

Leg span appears to be a more climbing-specific measure of flexibility and range of motion (ROM). Grant et al. (1996) used the leg span to quantify hip adductor flexibility and found significant differences between elite climbers and recreational and non-climbers. They postulated that this type of flexibility may be important to elite climbers for bridging or stemming movements with the legs. However, these movements constitute advanced climbing techniques (Long, 2002) and are likely to be used more often by elite climbers on difficult or very difficult routes, which was not be the case the present study. This may explain why there was no significant improvement in hip adductor flexibility as measured by the leg span test. On the other hand, Grant et al. (1996) did not find significant differences in the foot raise test between elite climbers and recreational and non-climbers. Although the foot raise test mimics high step moves used in climbing, results found by Grant et al. (1996) and in the present study results suggest that climbing does not improve frontal plane hip abduction ROM, as measured by the foot raise test.

Climbing performance

After the 7-week indoor rock climbing training, climbing performance significantly improved in the CL group,reflected by a 50 % increase in climbing time and a 74 % increase in the climbing score. No significant changes occurred in the N-CL group.

One explanation for the significant

improvement in climbing performance in the CL group is motivation. It is probable that after several weeks of climbing training, subjects in the CL group were more motivated to “do better” in their post-test climbing performance testing than they were in their first (pre-test) testing. Additionally, it is possible that subjects in the CL group had more intrinsic motivation

towards climbing than subjects in the N-CL group, considering that subjects in the CL group were enrolled in a climbing class. Moreover, another factor accounting for the CL group better post-test climbing performance could be a higher pain and general discomfort threshold associated with finger-grip tasks (Janot et al., 2000) acquired after the 7-week rock climbing training program. Another factor accounting for the significant improvement in climbing performance in the CL group could be the effect of the learned verbal cues and climbing technique instruction. According to McNamee

and Steffen (2007), improvements in

performance is facilitated by providing specific skill-related feedback in the form of verbal performance cues.

The significant increases in climbing specific strength and endurance found in the present study cannot be suggested as the main reason

for the improved climbing performance

observed in the CL group. Supporting this statement, a correlation analysis of the data did not reveal any significant relationship between improvements in climbing score or climbing time and changes in right and left hand handgrip and pinch strength, arm hang, or average handgrip endurance.

In contrast with the correlational analysis results in the present study, several studies have found

significant relationship between climbing

performance and specific anthropometric,

strength and endurance characteristics. Most of these studies focused on elite climbers. For example, Wall et al. (2004) found a strong correlation between handgrip strength and 1-arm lock-off strength (similar to the bent-1-arm hang test) and route performance, results that were similar to those of Watts et al. (1993). Similarly, Mermier et al. (2000), found a strong correlation between muscular strength, power, percent body fat, and climbing skill.

Therefore, results of the present study

correlational analysis, combined with

correlational studies in elite climbers, suggest that other factors such as experience and improved technique may be more important in explaining the gains in climbing performance in novice climbers. However, after climbing

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techniques are mastered and the severity of the climb increases, gains in climbing specific strength and endurance become more important

contributing factors explaining climbing

performance.

Conclusion

The results of this study suggest that 7 weeks of indoor rock climbing training offers an appropriate stimulus to elicit improvements in climbing-specific strength and endurance and climbing performance in college level novice

climbers. However, the 7-week training

program does not appear to have any effect to

produce significant gains in flexibility

characteristics of college level novice climbers. Additionally, correlation analysis suggests that

there is not a relationship between

improvements in climbing performance and

gains in climbing-specific strength and

endurance. These results, combined with results of previous studies in elite climbers, suggest that other factors such as experience and learning the techniques necessary in climbing are more important factor explaining the improvements in climbing performance shown by the college level novice climbers in the present study. Keeping this in mind, these results lead to the conclusion that training plans and introductory programs aimed to novice

climbers should focus in fomenting

familiarization with the types of climbing, climbing techniques and more time expend on the wall, than on regimented strength training programs.

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