Chalk : does climbing chalk really help you to climb better ?
We’ve known since we began climbing that ALL climbers need chalk. Some can get away without using it on some rock types (sandstone) or in the gym where holds can be extra grippy when new… But MOST of use use it because we feel like it really helps… But does it?!
Climbers chalk (Magnesium Carbonate) is the main product on the market. Used as liquid chalk and as really does help us to apply more load and to slide less while doing so. Original research in 2012 told us that there was no benefit to climbing chalk.
Used on a variety of climbing surfaces (slate, granite, sandstone), the research did not point to any real data to back up our claims. They concluded that climbers chalk had no physical benefit. And they went on to say that its utility may only have been of ‘psychological benefit.’
In 2016 in the Journal of Applied Mechanics, researchers Klingas et al. set out again to test this exact question again using apparatuses that were slightly more climbing specific. They tested 19 ‘experienced’ rock climbers wondering about the scientific questions of geometric entropy, force, and electromyography.
During this study, investigators assessed chalk’s coefficient of friction while participants were statically hanging from a hang board. Participants hanged until failure while force plates attached to the hang board measured loads. The hand was in essence laid flat (pronation) on a flat surface.
Although there were no differences in the coefficient of friction (P = .748), geometric entropy (P = .359), the ratio of the vertical forces between the hands and feet (P = .570), or muscular activity (P = .968), participants were able to hang longer after the use of chalk 62.9 ± 36.7 s and 49.3 ± 25.2 s (P = .046). So… to learn from this research, if it’s not friction that makes us hang longer, what is it?! Or IS it friction ? But we are just not able to calculate it correctly.