12 October 2008
My undergraduate research project investigating determinants of finger endurance in trained climbers was recently published in the Journal of Sport Sciences. You can see the details here or access the full paper if you have access to the scientific journals through an academic or other institution. A huge thanks to Stan Grant for encouraging me to keep going with the log preparation of the manuscript for submission and to everyone that worked with me on the paper and volunteered for the research itself.
We observed that climbers were not dramatically better at tolerating occlusive isometric contractions of the finger flexors (as you get in difficult climbing), but were surprisingly good at sustaining long periods of intermittent high force isometric contractions compared to untrained people. This could be down to an ability to perfuse the muscles very rapidly and recover from the contractions while reaching for the next hold. Not surprisingly, we also observed yet another confirmation that pure finger strength, and especially finger strength to weight ratio was a strong predictor of climbing level.
The intermittent isometric muscle contractions of our fingers in climbing are not that common in strength and endurance dependent sports, and there is still much to be learned about the exact causes of failure to maintain force output and sequence of chemical events that happen deep in the exercising muscle during fatigue.
Big up to anyone out there willing to take up this mantle and help us to learn more about the physiological limitations in climbing. The continued dramatic rises in the level of ability of the worlds top climbers really shows that we are nowhere yet, either with our understanding, or what could be done with it.