Climbing-specific finger flexor performance and forearm muscle oxygenation in elite male and female sport climbers

Abstract

Climbing performance relies to a great extent on the performance of the finger flexor muscles. Only a few studies investigated this performance in top class climbers and only one study compared gender-specific differences. This study investigated the climbing-specific finger flexor strength and endurance and related muscular oxygenation in 12 elite female and male climbers and 12 non-climbers. After the assessment of maximum voluntary finger flexor contraction (MVC), two isometric finger flexor endurance tests were performed at 40% MVC until exhaustion. A continuous isometric test was followed by an intermittent isometric test (10 s contraction, 3 s rest). Changes in oxygenation of finger flexor muscles were recorded using near infrared spectroscopy. MVC and strength-to-weight ratio were greater in climbers than non-climbers (P = 0.003; P < 0.001) and greater in men than women (P < 0.001; P = 0.002). Time to task failure for the intermittent test and the force-time integrals for the continuous and the intermittent test were also significantly greater in climbers (P = 0.030; P = 0.027; P = 0.005). During the intermittent test, re-oxygenation of the working muscles was faster in climbers (P < 0.05) without gender-specific differences. Close correlations were demonstrated between the best on-sight climbing performance and strength-to-weight ratio (r 2 = 0.946, P < 0.001) only in female climbers. The superior intermittent finger flexor endurance of climbers over non-climbers may be explained by the faster re-oxygenation of the finger flexor muscles during the short rest phases.

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Acknowledgments

The authors would like to thank all participants who took part in the study. We would also like to thank Heiko Wilhelm (Österreichischer Wettkletterverband, ÖWK), Engelbert Fuchs and Benjamin Gondolatsch who made it possible to test world class climbing athletes. The authors are also grateful to the reviewers who made valuable suggestions to improve the paper.

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Correspondence to Martin Burtscher.

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Communicated by Jean-René Lacour.

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Philippe, M., Wegst, D., Müller, T. et al. Climbing-specific finger flexor performance and forearm muscle oxygenation in elite male and female sport climbers. Eur J Appl Physiol 112, 2839–2847 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00421-011-2260-1

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Keywords

  • Climbing
  • Finger flexor muscles
  • Strength
  • Isometric
  • Endurance
  • Oxygenation