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Sport-specific finger flexor strength assessment


using electronic scales in sport climbers
Article in Sports Technology October 2014
DOI: 10.1080/19346182.2015.1012082

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Sports Technology

ISSN: 1934-6182 (Print) 1934-6190 (Online) Journal homepage: http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/rtec20

Sport-specific finger flexor strength assessment


using electronic scales in sport climbers
Ji Bal, Jon Mrsko, Michaela Pankov & Nick Draper
To cite this article: Ji Bal, Jon Mrsko, Michaela Pankov & Nick Draper (2014) Sportspecific finger flexor strength assessment using electronic scales in sport climbers, Sports
Technology, 7:3-4, 151-158
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/19346182.2015.1012082

Published online: 23 Apr 2015.

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Date: 23 September 2015, At: 05:30

Sports Technology, 2014


Vol. 7, Nos. 3 4, 151158, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/19346182.2015.1012082

RESEARCH ARTICLE

Sport-specific finger flexor strength assessment using electronic scales


in sport climbers

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1, MICHAELA PANA
KOVA
I BALA
S1, JONA
S MRSKOC
C
1, & NICK DRAPER2,3
JIR
1

Faculty of Physical Education and Sport, Charles University in Prague, Prague, Czech Republic, 2Department of Life
Sciences, University of Derby, Buxton, UK and 3School of Sport and Physical Education, University of Canterbury,
Christchurch, New Zealand
(Received 15 March 2014; accepted 21 January 2015)

Abstract
The aim of this study was to assess the validity and reliability of four climbing grip positions during finger flexor strength
measurement using electronic scales in sport climbing contexts. Fifty-five climbers with self-reported climbing abilities RP
(redpoint) between V and XII on the Union Internationale des Associations dAlpinisme scale volunteered to the study.
Strength measures were obtained using open grip (OG), crimp grip (CG), index middle (IM) finger, middle ring (MR)
finger on a 23 mm wide wood-edge climbing hold. The climbers were asked to stand on the scale platform and to
progressively load their maximum weight on to the tested arm. Strength for each measurement was calculated by subtracting
the lowest value shown during grip hold from the participants body mass. Intra-session reliability was calculated across three
trials and test-retest reliability through a cohort tested in a second testing session on week later. The intra-class correlation
coefficients for all grip positions ranged between r 0.88 0.97 and r 0.88 0.94 for intra-session and test-retest reliability,
respectively, indicating a high level of consistency and stability for the test scores. Criterion validity with regard to RP and onsight (OS) was highest in OG and CG. The coefficients of correlation ranged from r 0.788 to r 0.811 between OG and
CG with RP or OS performance. Criterion validity was lower between the MR position RP/OS and lower still for the IM
position (r 0.677 0.753). The use of a climbing fingers board and digital scales appears to represent a relatively
inexpensive, straightforward, reliable and valid method to assess climbing-specific finger strength using different
grip positions. The OG and CG are most closely related to self-reported climbing performance. In addition, the two-finger
grip positions might provide further information on individual variation in grip performance.

Keywords: sport climbing, finger strength, reliability, validity

Introduction
Rock climbing represents a multifaceted sport that
places significant physiological demands upon
climbers as they attempt a successful ascent of a
route. Research suggests that, of these physiological
demands, four key attributes contribute most to
performance; strength, power, flexibility and endurance (Draper & Hodgson, 2008). Watts (2004)
highlighted the need to develop sport-specific
measurements to assess these factors and as the
body of knowledge relating to rock climbing has
grown, so has the range of climbing-specific
assessment methods. In the past 5 years, details of
sport-specific valid and reliable measures of flexibility

and power have been published (Draper, Brent,


Hodgson, & Blackwell, 2009; Draper, Dickson,
Blackwell, Fryer, et al., 2011). The availability of
valid and reliable measures of strength and endurance has, to date, remained elusive.
A key aspect of strength within climbing is finger
flexor strength, and as such is considered one of the
main determinants in sport climbing performance
(Balas, Pecha, Martin, & Cochrane, 2012; Mermier,
Janot, Parker, & Swan, 2000). Finger flexor strength
in climbers is, however, a complex theoretical
concept, which has proved difficult to assess in a
practical setting. This complexity perhaps arises due
to the search for a measure that is representative of
the various grips typical in climbing (open grip (OG),

Correspondence: J. Balas, Faculty of Physical Education and Sport, Charles University in Prague, Prague, Czech Republic. E-mail: balas@ftvs.cuni.cz
q 2015 Taylor & Francis

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152

J. Balas et al.

crimp grip (CG), pinch grip, one-finger grip, etc.),


their use on different hold sizes and the changing
nature of contraction type (concentric, isometric,
eccentric). To date, handgrip dynamometry has
remained the most prevalent test used in climbing
studies, although Watts (2004) and Watts et al.
(2008) highlighted the lack specificity in relation to
climbing. Several studies have, however, assessed
finger strength using climbing-specific custom-built
devices (Grant, Hynes, Whittaker, & Aitchison,
1996; Schweizer & Furrer, 2007; Wall, Starek,
Fleck, & Byrnes, 2004). These devices are suitable
tools for laboratory testing but the tests used are
difficult to reproduce in the field and have lacked
validity and reliability evaluation.
The type of grip plays a significant role in finger
flexor activation (Watts et al., 2008). The most
frequently used grips are OG and CG (Schoffl et al.,
2009; Schweizer & Hudek, 2011). A CG is often
preferred especially on small holds, but it is
biomechanically more strenuous on the pulleys of
the flexor tendon sheaths than OG (Schweizer,
2001). Research by Fuss and Niegl (2012) provides
evidence that might explain this preference having
found variances in finger load distribution between
the four fingers during CG and OG positions. Twofinger and one-finger positions have also been
analysed to determine climbing-specific maximal
strength (Kostermeyer & Weineck, 1995; Michailov,
Mladenov, & Schoffl, 2009). Research suggests that
muscular activation during maximal voluntary contraction on two-finger holds might be higher than
during handgrip testing (Watts et al., 2008). This
higher level of muscle activation has been thought to
relate to the different nature of muscle contraction
regardless of the isometric dynamometer used.
Typically, isometric contractions have been
employed to assess climbing-specific strength.
To date, it would appear, only Schweizer and Furrer
(2007) have utilized an isokinetic device to measure
concentric and eccentric finger flexors strength. The
use of eccentric testing might be more specific to
climbing, as gripping a hold and loading it with body
mass is a typical situation in climbing. Isometric
testing should, therefore, be performed in the way
that body mass pulls the hand onto the hold, with
muscular strength serving to maintain hand position
against the external force (Watts et al., 2008). This
type of testing has higher climbing performance
criterion validity than testing without taking into
account the effect of body mass effect (Balas,
Panackova, Kodejska, Cochrane, & Martin, 2014).
A simple method which could be used in field testing
is to assess finger strength using electronic scales as was
first presented by Kostermeyer and Weineck (1995)
and repeated in studies completed by Schoffl, Einwag,
Strecker, and Schoffl (2006) and Michailov et al.

(2009). In Michailov et al.s study (2009), climbers


were asked to stand on electronic scales and to hold
onto a small edge (10 mm deep) with two fingers
(middle and ring finger) of their dominant hand. The
climbers then had to transfer their body mass from the
scales to the hold by flexing their legs. Specific maximal
strength was calculated by subtracting the remaining
value shown on the scales from the climbers body
mass. This method has not been assessed for reliability
or validity in a climbing context. Furthermore, the
most appropriate grip required to assess finger flexor
strength in climbers requires determination. The aim
of our study was to assess the validity and reliability of
four climbing grip positions during finger flexor
strength measurement using electronic scales in sport
climbers.
Methods
Participants
Fifty-five climbers volunteered to participate in the
study. The participants included physical education
students who had an interest in climbing, local
climbing club members and national climbing team
members. The climbers reported their climbing
abilities RP (redpoint) between V and XII on the
Union Internationale des Associations dAlpinisme
(UIAA) scale (4c9b French scale; 5.65.15c
Yosemite decimal scale (YDS); 1438 Ewbank scale).
RP is a style of sport climbing, where the climber
successfully completes the ascent without a fall having
climbed the route with previous practice and knowledge of the route. On-sight (OS) climbing ability was
also reported by all climbers. OS ascents are a style of
climbing, where a climber successfully finishes a route
without a fall and without previous knowledge of or
practice on the route. Climbers were divided according
to their reported climbing grade RP from lower grade,
intermediate, advanced to elite climbers (Draper,
Canalejo, et al., 2011). One high elite level male
climber was included in the elite group; however, his
results were described individually in the results
section. The characteristics of the participants are
presented in Table I. All climbers were asked to refrain
from any hard physical activity in the 48 h prior to
testing.
Finger strength measurement
A commercial wooden board with four different edge
depths was used for finger strength measurement
(AIX, Czech Republic). After pilot investigation, the
23 mm wide (30 mm with a 7 mm reduction) edge
rounded with a radius 12 mm was selected for the
measurement (Figure 1). The selected size of the
edge depth was found by climbers to present an

Sport-specific finger flexor strength assessment

153

Table I. Age and anthropometric characteristics of male and female climbers according their climbing ability.
Climbing ability group
Lower grade
Intermediate
Advanced

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Elite high elite

Sex
Male (N 7)
Female (N 8)
Male (N 10)
Female (N 7)
Male (N 10)
Female (N 5)
Male (N 5)
Female (N 2)

Climbing ability RP (UIAA)

Age (years)

Body mass (kg)

Height (cm)

IV to VI
IV to VI
VI to VIII
VI to VII
VIII to IX /X 2
VIII 2 to IX
X 2 to XII 2
IX to X

25.9 ^ 8.2
22.8 ^ 2.9
25.8 ^ 9.0
29.5 ^ 6.7
24.1 ^ 7.6
25.5 ^ 4.1
24.0 ^ 7.6
16.9 ^ 1.8

75.7 ^ 8.5
58.9 ^ 6.8
74.8 ^ 4.8
64.7 ^ 10.7
66.2 ^ 8.3
55.2 ^ 4.8
65.6 ^ 4.9
49.5 ^ 2.1

176.6 ^ 6.7
162.5 ^ 4.4
178.1 ^ 3.9
168.7 ^ 6.5
173.9 ^ 8.4
166.4 ^ 5.7
178.0 ^ 5.2
165.0 ^ 6.3

Figure 1. Wood-edge for the finger flexor strength measurement. The arrow designates the emplacement for fingers.

Figure 2. The four different grips and the position on the scale: (a) OG, (b) CG, (c) MR finger, (d) IM fingerand (e) the basic position on the
scale.

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154

J. Balas et al.

acceptable hold that was not painful to hold and


allowed the climber to complete all the selected
grip positions.
The four grip positions selected for the study (OG,
CG, index middle (IM) finger and middle ring
(MR) finger, shown in Figure 2), represented
common climbing grips. An individual warm-up, of
10 15 min duration, consisting of aerobic exercises,
climbing on a wall and hanging on the wooden edge
followed by a 5- min rest period, was completed by all
participants prior to completing the main testing.
Following the warm-up, climbers were asked to stand
on the electronic scales (Soehnle 7730.01.001,
Germany) which were interfaced with a personal
computer and computer program. The sampling rate
was set to 20 Hz and the data were recorded
throughout the measurement. Online recording was
used to verify whether the weight of the climber
during the measurement was correctly read from the
scales. The mid-point of the scales was directly under
the midline of the grip position. The climbers were
asked to stand erect on the scale platform, one hand
on the grip point on the wooden edge. Then, they
started to lower their body until the tested arm was
straight by bending their legs. From this position, the
participant attempted to progressively pull on the
hold to load their maximal weight on to the tested
arm. The time of contraction varied from 3 to 5 s.
When the climbers were able to transfer all their
weight on to their arm, they were asked to repeat the
measurement wearing a waistcoat loaded with 10 or
20 kg. The climbers were able to use chalk before
taking each grip. To ensure consistency with results,
the edge of the hold was regularly cleaned with a
brush to avoid negatively affecting the grip potential
for subsequent measurements.
Three attempts in each position with the left and
the right hands were performed with 2 min rest
between each measurement. A rest of 5 min was
completed prior to assessing strength in the next
grip position. The order of testing (grip position) was
randomly assigned. The strength measurement was
calculated by subtracting the lowest value shown on
the scale during gripping from the body mass. The
highest scores for each position from the left and the
right hands were recorded and used in the data
analysis. All measurements were undertaken at
ambient temperature, which varied between 18 and
218C during the days of data collection.
Reliability analysis
The intra-session reliability or consistency was
analysed in all participants from three trials for the
left hand and for the right hand. To assess the testretest reliability, 12 climbers repeated the same
measurement after 6 7 days. The mean scores for

the first and second measurements were computed to


assess the test-retest reliability.

Statistical analysis
It has been a common practice in climbing studies to
report the finger strength to body mass ratio as a
parameter of finger strength corrected for body mass
(Balas, Strejcova, Maly, Mala, & Martin, 2009;
Schweizer & Furrer, 2007; Wall et al., 2004; Watts,
2004). It has been shown, however, that using this
ratio penalizes heavier participants (Vanderburgh,
Mahar, & Chou, 1995) and, therefore, might be
problematic in climbing studies where comparison
between ability groups is an important aspect of the
research. As shown in Table I for this study,
participants of lower climbing abilities were substantially heavier than climbers of higher climbing abilities.
Consequently, both the standardized and strength-tobody mass ratios are reported. Reference values for
finger flexors strength were reported for lower grade,
intermediate, advance and elite climbers. Strength-tobody mass ratio scores are shown as means and
standard deviations. The scores adjusted by ANCOVA
with a common covariate body mass are reported as
marginal means and standard errors of estimates.
To assess the level of muscle activation in fourfinger positions, strength deficit was approximated
from two-finger and four-finger positions. The
strength differences between the weaker two-finger
position and stronger four-finger position were
computed as the ratio between two-finger and fourfinger positions (2/4 ratio). According to Kostermeyer and Weineck (1995), specific climbing
strength training might lead to higher muscle
activation in the four-finger position which is
associated with lower four-finger strength deficit.
The intra-class correlation coefficients ICC2,1 and
ICC2,3 (Shrout & Fleiss, 1979) were calculated to
assess intra-session reliability and test-retest
reliability of all tests for the left and right hand.
Criterion validity was evaluated by the partial
correlation between self-reported climbing ability
(RP, OS) and the grip positions, where the raw values
of strength were analysed after controlling for body
mass. The RP and OS values were transformed on
the UIAA metric scale according to Scho ffl,
Morrison, Hefti, Schwarz, and Kuepper (2010),
Draper, Dickson, Blackwell, Fryer, et al. (2011)
and Draper, Dickson, Blackwell, Priestley, et al.
(2011). The UIAA metric scale was slightly
adjusted as presented in Table II to be more sensitive
for common intergrades such as VII /VIII 2 or
IX /X 2 .
Statistical significance was accepted for results
with an a P # 0.05. The coefficient h2p was used to

Sport-specific finger flexor strength assessment

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Table II. Adjusted UIAA metric scale and comparison with YDS,
Ewbank scale and French or sport scale.

YDS
USA

Ewbank
Australia/New
Zealand

5.1
5.2
5.3
5.4
5.5
5.6
5.7
5.8
5.9
5.10a
5.10b
5.10c
5.10d
5.11a
5.11b
5.11c
5.11d
5.12a
5.12b
5.12c
5.12d
5.13a
5.13b
5.13c
5.13d
5.14a
5.14b
5.14c
5.14d
5.15a
5.15b
5.15c

9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
22
23
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
31
32
33
34
35
36
37
38

UIAA
metric

French/Sport

UIAA

1
2
3
4a
4b
4c
5a
5b
5c
6a
6a
6b
6b
6c

I
II
III
IV
IV
V
V
VI 2
VI
VI
VII 2
VII
VII
VII /VIII 2

6c
7a
7a
7b
7b
7c
7c
8a
8a
8b
8b
8c
8c
9a
9a
9b
9b

VIII 2
VIII
VIII
VIII /IX 2
IX 2
IX
IX
IX /X 2
X2
X
X
X /XI 2
XI 2
XI
XI
XI /XII 2
XII 2

1.00
2.00
3.00
4.00
4.33
5.00
5.33
5.66
6.00
6.33
6.66
7.00
7.33
7.50
7.50
7.66
8.00
8.33
8.00
8.50
9.00
9.33
9.50
9.66
10.00
10.33
10.50
10.66
11.00
11.33
11.50
11.66

describe the variability explained by the factor in the


analysis of covariance.

Results
The ICC for all grip positions ranged between
r 0.88 0.97 and r 0.88 0.94 for intra-session
reliability, respectively, test-retest reliability, indicating a high level of consistency and stability between
test scores (Table III). The intra-session reliability

155

from two trials was similar in three trials and ANOVA


results did not reveal a significant difference between
the two trials. Therefore, we conclude that two trials
are sufficient, when testing maximal finger flexor
strength.
Reference values for finger flexors strength for
male and females are reported in Tables IV and V.
Our results suggest that all four grip positions
appeared to provide valid measures of strength that
were able to differentiate between climber abilities.
As shown by the magnitude of h2p ; the differences
were larger when expressed as relative values (using
strength-to-body mass ratios).
The strength differences between the two-finger
and four-finger positions did not lead to any
significant conclusions about the relationship with
the climbing ability. However, one of the highest
differences (2/4 ratio 54%) was found in the only one
high elite climber. If the high 2/4 ratio is somehow
associated to the climbing ability in this high elite
climber remains elusive. This high elite climber
exceeded all scores in the four-finger positions: OG
773 N (1.17 kg kg21), CG 741 N (1.12 kg kg21), IM
414 N (0.63 kg kg21) and MR 492 N (0.75 kg kg21).
The values show that the test differentiates the finger
strength between elite and high elite climbers and
seems also valid for the high climbing ability groups.
With regard to criterion-related validity, the
relationship between RP and OS was found to be
highest in OG and CG positions as can be seen in
Table VI. Criterion validity was slightly lower in the
MR grip position and lowest in the IM grip position.
The high correlation among the finger positions
showed that all tests indicated one theoretical
concept, but the coefficients were not sufficiently
high, and, therefore, we can expect a uniqueness of
every position. The partial correlation with the
control for the body mass substantially increased the
relationship between finger strength and the climbing
ability, confirming a high effect of body mass on
absolute finger strength. Stepwise linear regression
was employed to predict RP performance using
OG and CG scores related to body mass
(RP 0.856 5.256 OG 4.488 CG; R 2 0.84)
as it was found that adding in IM and MR

Table III. The inter-session and the intra-session reliability for the OG, CG, IM grip and MR finger in finger flexors strength measurement.
Left hand

Right hand

Intra-session

OG
CG
IM
MR

Intra-session

Three trials

Two trials

Inter-session
Mean three trials

0.94
0.93
0.95
0.97

0.93
0.94
0.93
0.97

0.90
0.88
0.88
0.94

Three trials

Two trials

Inter-session
Mean three trials

0.93
0.96
0.91
0.97

0.93
0.96
0.88
0.98

0.94
0.95
0.91
0.94

J. Balas et al.

156

Table IV. Reference values for the OG, CG, IM grip IM and MR finger MR in finger flexors strength measurement in males. Values of
strength in kg are related to the body mass. Values in N are adjusted by a common covariate body mass. 2/4 is the ratio between two- and fourfinger positions.

OG

N
kg kg21
N
kg kg21
N
kg kg21
N
kg kg21
%

CG
IM
MR

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2/4 ratio

Lower grade

Intermediate

Advanced

Elite

hp

353 ^ 26
0.55 ^ 0.07
377 ^ 29
0.57 ^ 0.07
276 ^ 19
0.41 ^ 0.07
248 ^ 24
0.39 ^ 0.07
0.64 ^ 0.06

470 ^ 22
0.70 ^ 0.11
454 ^ 25
0.68 ^ 0.12
345 ^ 16
0.50 ^ 0.07
322 ^ 21
0.48 ^ 0.09
0.65 ^ 0.07

489 ^ 19
0.76 ^ 0.09
508 ^ 33
0.78 ^ 0.05
322 ^ 14
0.50 ^ 0.05
363 ^ 18
0.56 ^ 0.08
0.62 ^ 0.07

637 ^ 28
0.99 ^ 0.15
572 ^ 52
0.91 ^ 0.18
430 ^ 20
0.67 ^ 0.10
443 ^ 26
0.69 ^ 0.11
0.65 ^ 0.10

,0.001
,0.001
,0.001
0.001
,0.001
,0.001
,0.001
,0.001
0.702

0.598
0.669
0.452
0.542
0.520
0.591
0.519
0.580
0.048

Table V. Reference values for the OG, CG, IM grip and MR finger in finger flexors strength measurement in females. Values of strength in kg
are related to the body mass. Values in N are adjusted by a common covariate body mass. 2/4 is the ratio between two- and four-finger
positions.

OG

N
kg kg21
N
kg kg21
N
kg kg21
N
kg kg21
%

CG
IM
MR
2/4 ratio

Lower grade

Intermediate

Advanced

Elite

hp

326 ^ 24
0.50 ^ 0.07
340 ^ 26
0.53 ^ 0.11
238 ^ 17
0.38 ^ 0.06
245 ^ 22
0.38 ^ 0.09
0.69 ^ 0.12

370 ^ 23
0.57 ^ 0.06
382 ^ 25
0.60 ^ 0.08
283 ^ 17
0.45 ^ 0.07
271 ^ 22
0.42 ^ 0.06
0.68 ^ 0.09

419 ^ 31
0.66 ^ 0.10
449 ^ 33
0.73 ^ 0.05
300 ^ 22
0.50 ^ 0.07
318 ^ 22
0.51 ^ 0.10
0.65 ^ 0.06

508 ^ 408
0.86 ^ 0.01
524 ^ 53
0.90 ^ 00
331 ^ 34
0.59 ^ 0.09
421 ^ 45
0.73 ^ 0.09
0.65 ^ 0.10

0.001
,0.001
0.002
,0.001
0.001
0.004
0.002
,0.001
0.854

0.635
0.720
0.580
0.694
0.589
0.515
0.562
0.654
0.041

Table VI. Bivariate (in italic) and partial correlations (bold) among
climbing abilities (RP, OS) and finger strength in four different
grip positions OG, CG, IM finger and MR finger. The partial
correlation is used to control the effect of body mass.

RP
OS
OG
CG
IM
MR

RP

OS

OG

CG

IM

MR

Body mass

1.000
0.968
0.806
0.788
0.677
0.746

0.968
1.000
0.811
0.808
0.694
0.753

0.628
0.638
1.000
0.880
0.830
0.821

0.625
0.648
0.908
1.000
0.770
0.831

0.521
0.541
0.871
0.823
1.000
0.836

0.636
0.647
0.847
0.856
0.860
1.000

20.131
20.121
0.498
0.476
0.490
0.375

positions did not improve the predictive ability of the


equation.

Discussion
The aim of our study was to evaluate the reliability
and validity of a sport-specific measure of finger
flexor strength using different grip positions. The
participants selected for the study represented a wide
range of climbing abilities. The dependent variables
RP and OS performance was reported by climbers
within the last 3 months and should have corresponded closely to their actual climbing ability, as has
been found in previous research (Draper, Dickson,

Blackwell, Fryer, et al. (2011); Draper, Dickson,


Blackwell, Priestley, et al. (2011)).
The use of electronic scale and climbing finger
board to measure the sport-specific components of
strength, as a result of this research, appears to offer a
relatively inexpensive, straightforward, valid and
reliable measure that might be used in future research
studies. Grip position selected should represent
common climbing grips and not be painful for
climbers. The literature dealt mainly with the
biomechanical aspects of OG and CG (Schoffl
et al., 2009; Schweizer, 2001; Schweizer & Hudek,
2011; Vigouroux, Quaine, Labarre-Vila, & Moutet,
2006), few authors presented two-finger combinations to represent typical climbing holds
(Michailov et al., 2009; Watts et al., 2008). These
data suggested that the activation of flexor digitorum
profundus and flexor digitorum superficialis differs
during OG and CG with different depths of holds
(Schweizer & Hudek, 2011; Vigouroux et al., 2006).
A high activation of both muscles was found during
OG and CG when the depth of the hold attained the
distal interphalangeal joint (Schweizer & Hudek,
2011). This corresponded approximately to our
selected wooden edge depth 23 mm. The use of a
lower hold depth (10 mm) corresponding to the midnail distance, as was completed by Michailov et al.
(2009) or Nachbauer, Fetz, and Burtscher (1987),

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Sport-specific finger flexor strength assessment


may have led to substantially lower activation of
flexor digitorum superficialis and the dominant
activation of flexor digitorum profundi (Schweizer
& Hudek, 2011).
In our study, we found that all positions during
finger strength measurement provided a high level of
reliability. Although the strength scores after 1 week
were slightly higher, this difference was not significant. The results also indicated that two trials would
be sufficient to elicit a reliable measure of finger
flexor strength.
Criterion validity was highest for the four-finger
positions. The coefficient of correlation was found
to be between r 0.788 and r 0.811 with RP or
OS performance. The relationship with two-finger
positions was slightly lower (r 0.677 0.753).
The values for the four-finger positions are higher
than the relationship between handgrip strength
and climbing ability found in previous studies:
r 0.55 0.75 (Bala s et al., 2012), r 0.36
(Espana-Romero et al., 2009). In addition studies
using specific devices have only been able to
identify a moderate relationship with climbing
ability. For example, Wall et al. (2004) found a
r 0.634 0.665 correlation between finger
strength and bouldering performance test and to
the route performance test (r 0.428 0.497).
Schweizer and Furrer (2007) reported relationships between isokinetic testing of finger flexor
strength, in concentric and eccentric contraction,
and climbing performance RP varied between
r 0.215 0.570. The higher correlations found
in our study are perhaps explained by the large
sample size, across a wide range of abilities and
the high specificity of the measurements.
In agreement with the selected method, Watts
et al. (2008) found there to be higher forearm
muscle activation when hanging on a hold in
isometric contraction rather than squeezing a
dynamometer (Watts et al., 2008).
There was a high correlation between all finger
positions which confirms that all tests assessed one
theoretical concept. However, the correlation of
r , 0.8 indicates a small amount of uniqueness
(not identified in our study) of each position. The
strongest position in intermediate and elite male
climbers was OG followed by CG. This finding is in
discrepancy with those of Schweizer and Hudek
(2011) who found that a CG generated more flexion
moment than an OG, independent of hold size.
We do not have the explanation for this finding,
however, it could be speculated that this might be
connected with training preferences for OG. The
females, lower grade and advanced male climbers in
our study demonstrated higher strength in CG.
Results suggest that the four-finger positions are
able to identify strength differences between elite

157

and high elite climbers, as demonstrated through


the one tested high elite climber, who is considered
one of the best lead climbing and bouldering
climbers in the world. This climber also presented
high strength differences between four-finger and
two-finger positions. As these differences were not
found to relate to climbing ability, it might be
speculated that this difference is associated with
differences in training methods.
Kostermeyer and Weineck (1995) introduced the
concept of a unilateral and unidigital strength deficit
and the need to address such deficits. The authors
advocated for isolated finger training to
develop maximal finger strength, as they suggested
such an approach increased the muscle activation
when compared with bilateral and multidigital
training. The high differences between two- and
four-finger positions in our study might, therefore,
reveal a low finger strength deficit in any individual
climber. On the other hand low two- and four-finger
positions strength differences might be an indicator
of a need for specific training. The biomechanical
principles of strength deficit in a climbing context
were highlighted by Fuss and Niegl (2003) who also
proposed the terms private and public cross-sectional
areas for finger flexor muscles.
Our results suggest that strength when expressed
relative to body mass, as expressed as a ratio, leads
to higher differences between climbing ability
groups than scores adjusted for the effect of body
mass by ANCOVA. This might be explained by
higher body mass of lower grade climbers and the
fact that strength-to-body mass ratios penalize
heavier persons (Vanderburgh et al., 1995).
Further studies comparing climbing abilities
group should take the effect of body mass into
consideration.

Conclusions
The use of a climbing fingerboard and digital scales
appears to represent a relatively inexpensive,
straightforward, valid and reliable method through
which to assess climbing-specific finger strength
using different grip positions. The OG and CG were
found to be most specific to self-reported climbing
performance. It might additionally be worthwhile
assessing two fingers strength measures when seeking
to quantify the uniqueness of each finger position or
assess potential strength deficits.
Reliability and validity of climbing-specific
strength tests are rarely documented in the literature.
This study compares four common climbing finger
positions and their association with climbing ability.
The use of electronic scales is proposed as a simple
tool to assess finger flexor strength.

158

J. Balas et al.

Funding
The study was supported by grant of Charles
University Research Development Schemes [grant
number PRVOUK P 38].

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