Saturday, February 26, 2011

Time Motion Analysis of Bouldering Comps

Could not help myself, this journal article titled, A Time Motion Analysis of Bouldering Style Competitive Rock Climbing, that was published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research sounded pretty damn interesting.  My masters and doctoral research has a lot to do with observing human movement via video and as far as I know there have been no other studies to systematically evaluate bouldering work:rest ratios.

  • Climbing/bouldering is unique due to the novel movements that are dictated by the external environment/problems.
  • Much of the research conducted on climbing has to deal with sport climbing.  Previous research has shown that physiological responses to climbing a sustained sport route (~2-7min) leads to decreased handgrip strength (~22%), decreased endurance (~57%) and an accumulation of blood lactate above baseline measures (~6mmol/L).
  • Because of the obvious differences between bouldering and sport climbing (height of problem and duration of climb), the current research which hinges primarily on measures obtained from sport climbers may not be applicable to bouldering.
  • Bouldering comp formats usually include a qualification round consisting of 6 problems and the competitor is given 6 minutes to complete the problem with a 6 minute rest between each problem.
  • This format dictates an intermittent activity pattern and anecdotal evidence suggests that primarily anaerobic energy sources are utilized.
  • 6 Elite competition climbers were filmed on two of the qualification round problems for a total of 12 climbing performances that were analyzed.  
  • Measures that were obtained include number of attempts per problem, attempt time, recovery time, climbing (sum of all attempts), hand contact with climbing hold, and reach time between holds.
  • Climbers attempted a problem 3 times in the 6 minute window.
  • Each attempt took ~30 seconds with ~115 seconds of recovery.
  • During attempts, handholds were gripped for ~8 seconds with ~0.6 second recovery reaching between holds.
  • Overall climbing time per problem was ~74 seconds.
  • During attempts, total time moving was 22.3 seconds and time spent holding static positions was 7.5 seconds.
  • The exercise-to-recovery ratio ratio during the 6 minutes was ~1:3.8 overall and ~13:1 for activity in the finger flexors while attempting a problem.
  • Differences present between bouldering and previous research findings based on sport climbing include shorter bouts of activity (30seconds vs. 2-7min); decreased static periods (25% vs. 38%), and more attempts allowed to ascend aproblem.
  • The shorter climb time is obvious due to the length of the route, but the decreased static periods is interesting. Decreased static periods indicated the route was more dynamic and there was less time spent in a static position. (Static positioning in this study indicates no hip movement upwards and does not describe the type of single movement)
  • Reasoning for the decreased static periods probably has to deal with the nature of bouldering in which hold type, patterning, and steepness are altered to rapidly increase the diffculty and physiological demands of the problem.  Hard boulder problems are typically, but not always set using a steeper angle with increasing difficulty of holds (smaller, slopey) and thus individuals may be inclined to move through problems faster due the demands of the problems.
  • This evidence points towards bouldering being one of the most physical and technical disciplines of climbing, with strength being central to performance.
  • A large difference between sport climbing research and bouldering research was the exercise-to-recovery ratio in the forearm.  In sport climbing this ratio is ~3:1 and in bouldering it ~13:1.  This increased ratio allows minimal reperfusion of muscle tissue.
  • There has been no research conducted on the use of training aids for bouldering such as a hangboard, campus board, HIT strips, and the exercise protocols suggested for these training aids.
  • This research does seem to give a bit of scientific backing to the exercise protocols typically prescribed for hangboard workouts however.  5-7 (8-10sec Static Hangs) with minimal rest between (~3-5sec).
  • Also this research could be used to better develop strength and conditioning programs specific to boulderers.  Interval/Strength training should be aimed at replicating the total body exercise-to-rest ratio of 3:1.  Circuits should be developed in which the athlete is required to complete strenuous upper body work for 30-45 seconds with 15 seconds of rest between sets, for a total of 3 to 4 sets. 
  • Keep in mind that this is particular to indoor competition climbing.  I suspect that if this same study were done outdoors with a full day of bouldering, the exercise-to-rest ratio would change significantly.  If I had to take and educated guess I would imagine that this ratio would totally flip and look more like 1:5 and would be similar to ratios prescribed for Olympic weight lifters, in which long rest times are taken between attempts to allow the central nervous system to recover.
I think performing this same study with outdoor boulderers would be really unique and with all of the videos that are on the internet right now, it may not be that tough to get some of this same data.  I am trying to find some other unique climbing studies, stay tuned.

White, D.J. & Olsen, P.D.  A time analysis of bouldering style competitive rock climbing. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 24(5), 1356-1360.

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