Traditional treadmill or bicycle ergometry neglects the upper-body musculature that predominantly limits or terminates rock-climbing performance (ie, the inability to continually pull up one’s body mass or “hang on”).
To develop an incremental maximal upper-body ergometer test (UBT) to evaluate climbers’ aerobic fitness and sport-specific work capacity and to compare these results with a traditional treadmill protocol.
Eleven elite sport climbers (best redpoint grade Fr.8b) performed a UBT on a vertically mounted rowing ergometer and, on a separate occasion, performed a maximal incremental treadmill test (TMT). Cardiorespiratory parameters were measured continuously. Lactate (La) samples were collected.
Peak oxygen consumption (VO2peak) and heart rate in UBT and TMT were 34.1 ± 4.1 vs 58.3 ± 2.6 mL · min−1 · kg−1 and 185 ± 8 vs 197 ± 8 beats/min, respectively, and both variables were of significantly lower magnitude during UBT (P < .001). End-of-test La levels for UBT (11.9 ± 1.7 mmol/L) and TMT (12.3 ± 2.5 mmol/L) were similar (P = .554). Treadmill VO2peak was not correlated with either upper-body (UB) VO2peak (P = .854) or redpoint and on-sight climbing grade ability (P > .05). UB VO2peak and peak power output per kg body mass were both strongly correlated (P < .05) with climbing grade ability. The highest correlation coefficient was calculated between current on-sight grade and UB VO2peak (r = .85, P = .001).
UBT aerobic- and work-capacity results were strongly correlated to climbing-performance variables and reflected sport-specific fatigue, and TMT results were not. UBT is preferred to TMT to test and monitor dedicated and elite rock climbers’ training status.