Authors: Justin Mabe* and Stephen L. Butler, Ed.D.
Justin Mabe is a graduate student of the United States Sports Academy and a faculty member of Howard Community College where he instructs in lifetime fitness and health science courses. Previously running a rock climbing wall for the Y, Justin developed an interest in the application of sport and conditioning techniques to rock climbing.
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This review seeks to centralize research on contemporary training techniques and their purpose in the development of training programs for elite level climbing. A needs analysis determined that elite level rock climbing demonstrates a need for muscular strength, endurance, and flexibility (namely in the hip joint) to be enhanced in order to improve performance in rock climbing.
Current research into sport specific exercises for rock climbers focuses on maximal strength in the finger flexor and forearm muscles with respect to body weight. Additional attributes that contributed to performance are the shoulder girdle and core muscles, flexibility in the hip joints, and enhanced anaerobic energy pathways.
The sport specific exercises identified for development of sport specific attributes are: hang board, campus board, system training, and hyper gravity training. Through an informal movement analysis, three phases of climbing were determined: stabilization, preparation, and displacement. Potential application of the sport specific exercises can be derived from these phases of movement. Exercises that closely replicate certain phases of movement present greater likelihood of improving performance.
Future research in performance enhancement of rock climbers needs to evaluate the efficacy of hang board, campus board, system training, and hyper gravity training in order to reliably demonstrate the value of these exercises. Furthermore, little research has been conducted evaluating the effect of leg and core strength on elite level rock climbing.
In order for coaches and athletes to apply these findings, close evaluation of climbing movement must be conducted in order to best match training apparatus to weaknesses in the athlete’s training. All of the exercises will improve maximal voluntary contractile strength in the finger flexor and forearm muscles. Improving this attribute alone will only assist in the stabilization phase of climbing movement, while each exercise can serve to improve aspects of the other phases of movement.
KEYWORDS: rock climbing, performance, system training