When I was in college, I got interested in which physical traits and abilities were consistent among high-performing climbers. At that time, in the mid-1990s, there were some basic assumptions and many things we considered common sense. It was clear that climbers had to be relatively thin, relatively strong, and somewhat flexible. We did exercises that made our arms tired, and knew that “the pump” was the key to getting fit for long routes.
A few years earlier, Dr. Phil Watts and Dave Martin (now also an exercise physiologist) did an interesting study at one of the international comps at Snowbird: They tested crushing grip strength and body composition of several of the elite athletes competing that year, and compared those numbers to performance in the competition. The results were interesting: of course the competitors all had very low body percentages, but the grip numbers didn’t correlate well. In fact, the climbers that had the strongest grip were Americans who didn’t even get to the finals, and the eventual winner, Didier Raboutou, was among the lower scores in grip strength.
Later, we did a grip test and survey at the International Climbers’ Festival, but I never did anything with the data. For one, I didn’t understand how to interpret it, and two, I’d asked the wrong questions. Some twenty years later, I finally put together a survey that I like, and we had a whole host of rock climbers fill it out. The survey confirmed much, but raised even more questions. What follows is the data we collected, and the points of interest we came across. A disclaimer: I am not a statistician, and I barely made it through college, so when you find flaws in my numbers...you’re probably right!
These data are assembled from 19 survey questions and three tests administered by our team. We tested 76 climbers who ranged in age from 16 to 67 years old. Originally, we collected surveys from climbers that “self-tested”, but I did not include these results in order to maintain consistency.