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1st International Rock Congress

University of Canterbury - 28th November and 2nd December 2011.


The Congress was attend by 45 researchers from around the world including NZ, Australia, USA, Switzerland, Spain, Canada, Austria, South Africa and Wales. The Congress included keynote addresses, oral presentations, poster presentations and an activity session in each day including mountain biking, bouldering, climbing and walking/hiking/tramping!


The Congress proved to be a very successful first meeting of a number of the lead researchers in the field, with one of the delegates commenting 'congratulations on organising a highly successful conference, which was the most focused, yet also the most diversified (in terms of activities) conference I ever experienced'.

Research from the 2011 Congress


Franz Konstantin Fuss, Aleksandar Subic & Rabindra Mehta

Guest Editorial

Nick Draper

Injuries to the upper extremity in rock-climbers

Andreas Schweizer & Hans-Peter Bircher

Sports Technology, 5(3-4), 77-89.

Rock climbing and bouldering are highly popular upcoming sport disciplines. The majority of climbers perform their sport as a recreational activity in the indoor climbing gyms that can be found throughout the country. Different new pathologies like the closed flexor tendon pulley rupture of the finger and other syndromes caused by overuse appeared which should be known to physicians and therapists interested in sports medicine. The purpose of this article is to give an overview of the most common and most specific climbing injuries of the upper extremity as well as its diagnosis and treatment options.

The importance of friction between hand and hold in rock climbing

Franz Konstantin Fuss & Günther Niegl

Sports Technology, 5(3-4), 90-99.

Friction is one of the key parameters of climbing. The further away the centre of mass is from the wall, the more friction force is required at the hands. The more weight is shifted from the hands to the feet, the smaller is the friction force at the hands and the closer is the climber to the point of impending slippage. The more experienced a climber is, the closer is the friction coefficient (the ratio of friction to normal force) to the point of impending slippage. The coefficient of friction contributes together, and combined with, other performance parameters (impulse, smoothness factor) to the overall climbing performance. Sixty-four per cent of the coefficient of friction cannot be explained from an influence of other performance parameters. Powder chalk on the hand and fingers alone enhances the coefficient of friction, whereas chalk on both hand and holds reduces the coefficient of friction.

The effects of two maximum grip strength training methods using the same effort duration and different edge depth on grip endurance in elite climbers

Eva López-Rivera & Juan José González-Badillo

Sports Technology, 5(3-4), 100-110.

Nine experienced rock climbers (mean climbing ability of 8a+/b) were randomly assigned to Group A (n = 5) and Group B (n = 4). Both groups trained dead hanging using two different methods. One method consisted of using the minimum edge depth (MED) they could hold the weight of their body; the other consisted of using a bigger edge (18 mm) with maximum added weight (MAW). Group A performed MED from Weeks 1 to 4, and then performed MAW the following 4 weeks (termed as MED–MAW group); Group B performed MAW from Weeks 1 to 4 and then performed MED the following 4 weeks (termed as MAW–MED group). Maximum grip strength and endurance tests were conducted initially (ST1; ET1), following 4 weeks (ST2; ET2), 8 weeks (ST3; ET3), 2 weeks (ST4; ET4) and 4 weeks (ST5; ET5) completion of training to determine the effects of detraining. The 9.6% improvement in grip strength (p>0.05) in MAW–MED group in ST2 and 6.9% in ST4 was greater than in MED–MAW group. In terms of grip endurance, MAW–MED group in ET2 (16.69%) and in ET3 (19.95%) improved more than MED–MAW group (p>0.05). Significant positive correlation was found between ST and ET, and between changes in strength and changes in endurance at all stages, controlling for body weight in all cases. The present data suggest that the most effective sequence of finger strength training methods is MAW–MED.

Effect of style of ascent on the psychophysiological demands of rock climbing in elite level climbers

Tabitha Dickson, Simon Fryer, Gavin Blackwell, Nick Draper & Lee Stoner

Sports Technology, 5(3-4), 111-119.

The aim of this study was to examine the physiological and psychological responses to an on-sight lead in comparison to an on-sight top rope ascent in elite level rock climbers. Fifteen (14 male, 1 female) rock climbers took part in the study, and were included based on having a self reported on-sight ability of ≥ 25 (Ewbank). Climbers attended three separate testing sessions; a maximum oxygen uptake test (VO2max), baseline session, and an attempt at one randomly assigned climb (lead or top rope) at the limit of their ability on an indoor artificial climbing wall. Before climbing perception of anxiety (Revised Competitive State Anxiety Inventory-2), blood lactate and plasma cortisol concentration were measured. Climb time, heart rate, oxygen consumption (VO2), blood lactate, plasma cortisol concentration and task load (National Aeronautics and Space Administration Task Load Index) were measured in response to the climb. Results indicated there were no significant differences in levels of somatic or cognitive anxiety, coupled with non-significant differences in plasma cortisol concentrations measured at various intervals during the climbing trial. Despite a 32 second difference in climb time between lead and top rope ascents there were no significant differences in blood lactate concentration, total average heart rate and VO2 between climbs. When reviewing VO2 averaged at each clipping point, lead climb VO2 was significantly lower at clips 1, 3 and 5 (P < 0.05). Task load was reportedly similar, with no significant differences in physical and mental demand between climbs. Our results indicate that the physiological and psychological responses of elite level climbers do not differ for lead and top rope on-sight ascents.

Computer models offer new insights into the mechanics of rock climbing

Shawn D. Russell, Christopher A. Zirker & Silvia S. Blemker

Sports Technology, 5(3-4), 120-131.

Three computer models of varying complexity were developed in order to investigate the kinematics, kinetics, muscle operating ranges, and energetics of rock climbing. First, inverse dynamic models were used to investigate the joint angles and torques used in climbing and to quantify the total mechanical work required for typical rock climbing. Climbing experience was found to have a significant effect on the kinematics used in climbing; however, there were no significant differences in mechanical work. Second, a musculoskeletal model of the whole body was developed, this model combined with the kinematic data was used to analyze the operating ranges of the upper and lower limb muscles during climbing. In general, the experienced climbers employed kinematic motions that corresponded to muscle fibers used for climbing operating much closer to their optimum length than the kinematics of inexperienced climbers. Third, a forward dynamic model was developed to predict the metabolic goal of climbing. The results of this model suggest that an experienced climbing style minimizes the fatigue of muscles while an inexperienced climbing style minimizes the total joint torques generated.

Climbing as if you care: rock climbing at Kura Tawhiti/Castle Hill as a place-based approach to sustainability

Chris North & Brad Harasymchuk

Sports Technology, 5(3-4), 132-142.

This article explores ways that climbers engage with climbing areas and highlights opportunities that climbing offers to develop, through place-based education approaches, an ethic of care for these places. Challenges include moving people beyond the notion that climbs are resources to be ‘consumed’ by making them aware of the need to engage in culturally and environmentally respectful practices when climbing in natural environments. Opportunities include the revisiting of familiar problems over time to develop ongoing associations, the physicality and sociality of the climbing, and opportunities to experience beauty and spiritual connections. This study focuses on an area in Aotearoa New Zealand called Kura Tawhiti/Castle Hill, famous for its world class bouldering. The article ends with the conclusion that even though climbers connect to places in different ways, setting these connections within the context of place-based education still has the potential to foster the ethic and care that underpins practising sustainability.

The effect of technique and ability on the VO2–heart rate relationship in rock climbing

Simon Fryer, Tabitha Dickson, Nick Draper, Mark Eltom, Lee Stoner & Gavin Blackwell

Sports Technology, 5(3-4), 143-150.

Previous studies have speculated that the disproportionate rise in heart rate for a given VO2 may be due to anxiety, increased time spent in isometric contraction and the possible presence of the metaboreflex. The current study measured time spent in isometric contraction, rest time, pre-climb anxiety, heart rate and VO2 responses in advanced (n = 11) and intermediate (n = 11) rock climbers performing at or near their maximum self-reported on-sight grade (19/22 Ewbank). Results showed a non-significant difference (p>0.05) between groups for climb time, pre-climb heart rate and state anxiety. Throughout the majority of the climbs, it was observed that the intermediate group's heart rate per VO2 ratio was significantly greater (p < 0.05) than that seen in the advanced group. Advanced climbers spent a significantly greater period of time (p < 0.05) in an isometric position but interestingly spent a significantly greater period of time (p < 0.05) shaking out and actively resting the arms. It would appear that pre-climb anxiety played no part in the disproportionate rise in heart rate per VO2. However, the significantly increased rest time (p < 0.05) and the ability to make tactical route decisions may have increased recovery forearm blood flow, reducing metabolites and the presence of the metaboreflex.

Finger load distribution in different types of climbing grips

Franz Konstantin Fuss & Günther Niegl

Sports Technology, 5(3-4), 151-155.

When holding small ledges, rock climbers use different types of grips, such as the closed and open crimp grip and the open handgrip. A measurement device consisting of four tri-axial force transducers was developed in this study, which can be mounted on a climbing wall and measures the individual vertical and normal finger forces. The finger load distribution of the three grips was measured in climbers when ascending a route, and the normal and friction forces as well as the coefficient of friction were compared between the four fingers and three grips. In the closed crimp, the normal force of the index finger dominates over all other fingers, followed by the middle, ring and little fingers. In the open crimp and open handgrip, the normal force of the middle finger is the largest, followed by equal forces in index and ring fingers, and the little finger with the smallest normal force. The coefficients of friction in the index finger in closed and open crimps are similar, yet far larger compared to the open handgrip.

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