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Roger Bourne, Mark Halaki, Benedicte Vanwanseele and Jillian Clarke

This study investigates the hypothesis that shallow edge lifting force in high-level rock climbers is more strongly related to fingertip soft tissue anatomy than to absolute strength or strength to body mass ratio. Fifteen experienced climbers performed repeated maximal single hand lifting exercises on rectangular sandstone edges of depth 2.8, 4.3, 5.8, 7.3, and 12.5 mm while standing on a force measurement platform. Fingertip soft tissue dimensions were assessed by ultrasound imaging. Shallow edge (2.8 and 4.3 mm) lifting force, in newtons or body mass normalized, was uncorrelated with deep edge (12.5 mm) lifting force (r < .1). There was a positive correlation (r = .65, p < .05) between lifting force in newtons at 2.8 mm edge depth and tip of bone to tip of finger pulp measurement (r < .37 at other edge depths). The results confirm the common perception that maximum lifting force on a deep edge (“strength”) does not predict maximum force production on very shallow edges. It is suggested that increased fingertip pulp dimension or plasticity may enable increased deformation of the fingertip, increasing the skin to rock contact area on very shallow edges, and thus increase the limit of force production. The study also confirmed previous assumptions of left/right force symmetry in climbers.