Effect of climbing hold depth on biomechanical arm action during pullups

Pullups are often used by sport-climbers and other athletes to train their arm capabilities. In an original way, sport-climbers use different types of holds to reinforce finger strength concomitantly. However, the effect of grip types on pull-ups performance had not previously been investigated.

During the 4th Congress of the International Rock Climbing Researchers Association (IRCRA), Laurent Vigouroux, of Marseille University, France, presented an interesting study about pullups. This study used a vertical force platform sensor to measure the force exerted by climbers when performing pullups under six different grip conditions (gym-bar, large climbing hold, and four small climbing holds: 22mm, 18mm, 14mm, and 10mm).

The electromyography of finger flexor and extensor muscles were recorded simultaneously. And the maximal arm power and summed mechanical work were computed. The results revealed that the execution of pull-ups was strongly influenced by the grip conditions.

More precisely, climbing hold depth and grip type had several effects on the execution of pullups, including maximal finger force application, finger flexor fatigue, and muscle control of upper-limb movements. These findings are likely to be useful for quantifying training loads more accurately and designing training exercises and programs.

Pullups and climbing

Several previous studies have investigated climbers’ finger and hand capabilities. They reveale that climbers have enhanced capacities for exerting maximal forces with their fingertips (Cutts & Bollen, 1993, Quaine et al., 2003) related to greater force-generating capacity of finger flexor muscles (Vigouroux et al., 2016). Concomitant studies (Draper et al., 2011) investigated the climbers’ arm capabilities. They demonstrated that elite climbers developed more power (around 1350W) during arm-jump exercises than novices (around 40W).

To train their arm and finger capabilities, climbers usually perform pull-ups (Youdas et al., 2010). These exercises are also part of the usual training regimen for several other sports. And previous analyses in the literature concerned non-climbers (Ricci et al., 1988). One major difference between pull-ups for climbing objectives compared to fitness is the use of various types of grips. Including gym bars, as well as large and small climbing holds.

However, it was not previously known how the type of grip influenced the pull-up exercise. Although this information is needed to quantify the loading on both the arms and fingers during these exercises. The aim of this study was thus to investigate mechanical parameters of pull-ups (especially the maximal forces applied, maximal power, and mechanical work) executed by climbers under various grip-type conditions.

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