Climbing by the Numbers: Assessments

Heyo guys! Dale the Data Analyst around Power Company parts, wanted to get you guys talking about the assessments in general. That could be anything from clarifying the maths behind our current assessments, when to perform the assessment in your yearly schedule, strategies for improving specific measurements from your assessment, whatever…even the idea of why you should do it in the first place. If we have really good discussions in this area/need more detail it’ll break out into individual threads specific to that. Cheers!

Dale

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Awesome, so glad you’re asking this! Because when I received my analysis, I did have some questions, mainly because I felt like I didn’t know enough about sport science and energy systems to get the max benefit from the analysis. Therefore, I would like to know more about what the PCC assessment assesses exactly. I realise you can compare data with others and get some pretty good insights that way, but I’d like to know more about what it means.

“Sport specific Strength and Power” gives the score for Max Hangs and weighted pull ups. Does that make the max hang exercise a measure for strength (continues exertion) and the weighted pull up a measure of power (strength in a short time)? What if the pullup is really slow, is it still a measure for power? Why 10 seconds for the max hang exercise, and not let’s say 5 seconds?

“Sport specific energy systems” gives scores for repeaters and continuous hang. What if you have a good score for repeaters and a relatively low score for the continuous hang or vice versa; what would this mean? Does one test anaerobic endurance and the other aerobic endurance? Do repeaters test recovery, and how does ‘recovery’ relate to the (an)aerobic endurance? Which energy system would you need to focus on in order to improve the score of repeaters or of the continuous hang?

“General fitness” gives scores for max number of pull ups and push ups. Are you really measuring fitness here? I suspect to see a huge confounding factor (weight). Once you control for weight and energy systems, do the 2 measurements in this section still have added value for the assessment?

Finally, why no measurements for flexibility or mobility? 9/10 times when I see somebody climb a route more beautifully/technically than me, they’re more flexible. Probably because most people are more flexible than me haha, but you get the idea. I’d be curious to see how useful abduction and internal/external rotation are for climbing performance.

Dale, thank you so much for asking this question! I really appreciate it.

@AmirNickname Lots to unpack here!

So for the strength and power measurements we don’t cover any power measurements in the mini assessments. However in the full client assessments we use the campus max reach distance as a power measurement. The max hang and weighted pull up are real max strength measurements and don’t factor rate of force development or velocity at all. As for time we’ve seen a range of 5-10sec for rep TUT in most hangboard training and measurement schemes. 10 is nice just because it’s within that scheme and less likely to have folks go for broke on 5sec and not “own” the hang. If we collected it for any time in those ranges it probably wouldn’t change too much.

Sport specific energy systems are complicated because they’re never really just one thing. In bouldering is a problem ever purely creatine phosphate or anaerobic and never aerobic? Probably not, inverse is probably true for sport climbing as well. But they’re useful frame works or “buckets” to put things in (mental models) so we can think about our training. Repeaters are a way of demonstrating operating between 50-100% of your max strength (usually) at an intensity you’ll have to use in your performance setting (bodyweight) repeatedly. The extent of your ability to recover in those 3seconds repetitively should demonstrate your forearm flexor muscles ability to rely on those energy systems (aerobic and anaerobic) to recover and perform the next repetition. Continuous hangs demonstrate your muscles ability to perform prolonged contraction at that same 50-100% max range and also your ability to continue performing in a stressful/uncomfortable environment. When we build predictive models including all factors we run into problems using both Max Hangs and Continuous Hangs as they’re frequently colinear…however we see individuals with relatively low maximum strength but excellent energy system measurements crush this test…and also see individuals with high maximum strength and poor energy system measurements do proportionately not so well on this test. So…there’s more going on here than just the % of max and where that should fall on an energy system sliding bar. Also we use two additional “foot-on” campus board measurements for custom plan clients as a way of seeing how individuals perform from an energy systems angle while their whole body is involved not just upper body.

General fitness…this one is least specific but can be helpful for catching a few things. If someone has measured high on sport specific measurements but low in this area that means some minimal effective dose training in this area should help bolster their overall performance y giving them some more work capacity and “general fitness” so they can get more good goes across a day and recover between sessions. Conversely if someone crushes these measurements but has relatively low sport specific measurements it usually means they’re coming from a general training background and need to dial this stuff back as their current levels in these measurements are adequate and more training this area is sapping energy that could go towards more valuable activities for them.

I hope that helps!

@AmirNickname also, for flexibility! I’m pretty sure we tried to do some exploration using the functional movement screen scores and performance (max grade) early on (2+ years ago?) And didn’t find meaningful correlation. My thought was that individuals with excellent flexibility and mobility seek out hard boulders relying on those attributes and individual with poor flexibility and mobility seek out boulders and routes that don’t rely on those attributes but that’s just hypothesis on my part.

Thank you for your answers! Really helps me understand it much better. The only thing I’m not clear on yet are the energy systems: it sounds like 7/3 repeaters and continuous hang measure pretty similar properties. If somebody does really well on 7/3 repeaters and poor on continuous hang, what properties could explain this difference? Recovery? Anything else? And what if somebody does better on continuous hangs than 7/3 repeaters, what properties could explain this?

I can see what you’re saying about flexibility! I guess that’s what I like about climbing, there’s something for everyone :slight_smile:
But in terms of improvement and assessments, it could be useful to gather data on standardised walls like the moonboard. I’m currently developing a device with a couple of sensors (accelerometer, gyroscope, distance meter) that could be useful for this, as perhaps more flexible climbers are able to stay closer to the wall. I’ll let you know once I have a bunch of data and have something other than just my own data to share.

In any case, thank you so much for your insights! Really appreciate it!

Something we discussed a long time ago, after years of back and forth with assessments and data, is that as long as we are finding strong correlations with the measurement protocol and climbing ability, we don’t need to know exactly what we’re measuring. We can guess that we’re measuring finger strength with a max hang, or various types of finger or forearm endurance with repeaters or continuous hang, but what if the shoulder is the failure point? What if resolve and willpower cause failure in the repeaters? That’s no longer a measurement of purely finger strength or endurance.

AND IT DOESN’T MATTER.

It’s a measure that correlates to climbing. That’s what matters, in my opinion. I don’t care if we are measuring your pure finger strength because there are no situations I can think of in climbing in which pure finger strength is required absent of shoulder strength, core strength, and resolve. If those things are mixed up in our measurements, GREAT. But I refuse to misrepresent it as measuring one specific energy system.

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@AmirNickname I’d be really psyched to see that data! As for flexibility and staying closer to the wall there’s a hypothesis as to why women (who score generally much better on hip flexibility/mobility but have slightly lower finger strength:weight measurements relative to men at the same grade) climb the same grades as men who (again generally) have much poorer hip mobility scores but present with slightly higher finger strength. But including the variability of boulders, routes and individuals themselves it’s really hard to design experiments that are robust and lead to conclusions about these attributes (flexibility/mobility). Again, excited to see what you find!

As for repeaters vs continuous my thought is that:

  1. in the instance of high repeaters measurement vs low continuous measurement: these individuals recover very quickly when resting and this allows them to achieve quite a bit of submax work as long as they get rest intervals even if they’re brief. However, they may not have much maximum finger strength (check max hang measurement) and when hanging near their max without rest they exhaust and drop. If their Max Hang is high it may just be a mental thing of fighting through the exhaustion which is a skill in and of itself and probably accounts for a lot of positive performance outcomes.
  2. in the instance of low repeaters measurement and high continuous measurement: these individuals may not be able to recover much in short rest periods (maybe anaerobic and aerobic systems are not super developed). Check the Max Hang measurement to see if this is high. If so their continuous hang is done at a low percentage of their max and TUT for their repeaters and continuous hang are much closer to each other (certain amount of time at a certain intensity with limited recovery between reps). If their max hang is low they may just have that ability to turn on performance when letting go is failure…again super important in climbing

@AmirNickname I do want to add to what @Kris stated. That’s a big part of why the section is “sport specific energy systems” and not more specific names (aerobic, anaerobic, etc). We’ve intentionally dodged that because it’s pretty reductionist. An example would be say someone fails at a certain time in the Repeaters measurement. Do they fail because of pump? Or could they no longer maintain tension in their shoulders? If it were called “anaerobic hangboard measurement” that really assumes a lot and forces them down a specific track that might not be where they need to go. Also strength of a bunch of components factors into any of these measurements (Kris’ point) so it’s really hard to know what is failing even if you’re the person doing the assessment. It takes a lot of self knowledge to get accurately prescriptive with this stuff and even harder for prescribing activities to others.

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I really appreciate being globally right rather than precisely wrong! However your earlier answers really clicked for me, and now I have a much better sense of what to work on. So thanks for that :slight_smile:

Edit:
To elaborate on that: the assessment found I score high for my grade on 7/3 repeaters but low on continuous hangs. I noticed on rests that I could never ‘get anything back’: by the time I was done shaking one hand the other would be pumped. I thought the problem was endurance, but sounds like I need to work on strength. And that TOTALLY makes sense given other things I know about my strengths and weaknesses. So again, it really clicked!

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I think that climbing won’t be distilled into numbers being a movement sport.

I’ll preface the rest of my post by acknowledging that I have not spent any time measuring climbers nor have I tried to correlate any data gathered by others on climbers to make statements around their performance.

Certainly, there are numbers that correlate. PCC has proven that. But, that word “correlate” is key, and it is worth emphasising just as @Kris did.

There are other sports where it is arguably easier to identify a deficit.

I would be willing to argue that the easiest sport to analyse numerically is strength. Charles Poliquin was a big believer in comparing ideal strength levels between lifts. I believe that Poliquin’s Structural Balance material presents some ratios between various strength movements.

Even then, those ratios aren’t perfect as different body types might have leverages that are advantageous for some lifts and disadvantageous to other lifts. Similarly, having more experience with one movement might make it artificially elevated. Experience is something I believe can have an impact on the measurements gathered by PCC too.

Despite this drawback ratios can be a useful tool for identifying weaknesses and figuring out where best to invest training time.

Dan John talks about this with shot putters, so now we are a bit removed from exercising strength on a measurable barbell. When I’ve heard him mention this it is usually to tell a story of someone that is beyond adequately gym strong for the sport. If you are stronger at every meaningful lift for the sport of shot putting than the current record holder, you don’t need more time in the gym, you need to spend more time throwing.

That idea I see is shared by @Pisyphus ,

But for climbing, I’m not convinced it will prove as readily distilled into numbers. I believe the intricacies of the sport makes it too hard. As @Pisyphus highlights, flexibility and mobility is great but if you have those tools maybe you are drawn to climbs where you can leverage those tools.

Before I sent my first 7A I could deadlift 2x my bodyweight, and do chin-ups with ~55% BW attached but surely there are climbers climbing higher grades without those strength feats. And, maybe there are climbers that have the same capacity for strength as I did, but they don’t have to use as much of it on a hold as I do as they position themselves better in relation to that hold. And that causes an endogeneity problem, it’ll not be feasible to tease apart which variable is at play.

I’m confident there are meaningful screens for climbing athletes to do, but maybe they’ll translate more into having a robust enough body for the demands of the sport. I’ve been seeing this recently with the Kneesovertoesguy who was mentored by Poliquin has arrived at his own metrics for athletic potential. While his focus is more on the lower body he does have some upper body standards that if you meet them, then that’s not where your problem is, at least not for the sports that he focuses on.

Leaving finger strength and pull-up prowess aside I have a gut feeling that climbing will have similarities to gymnastics. For instance, if a climber can hold a bridge and they manage that movement by having adequate thoracic extension then I believe that to be a good thing in general for climbing performance but it probably won’t be a game changer. But it might mean less shoulder injuries after climbing for ten years. And the core strength to hold a front lever probably has utility on overhangs. Being able to do an explosive one-legged squat is probably more beneficial than doing a heavy back squat.

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@AmirNickname super glad it’s helpful! If you need any help or have questions don’t hesitate to ask!

I sent Tyler a breakdown of continuous vs. repeater and sport climber vs. boulderer when he made the claim that your continuous hang and repeater would be the same. Sport climbers vs boulderers made it very clear that the 3s rest time was being used MUCH more by the sport climbers. Could be interesting to break that down in a more official way, @Pisyphus , though I would have considered it common sense until that instagram post. :slight_smile:

THIS!!! I would have never considered these aspects but they are so true. Shoulder, wrist, elbow… Not to mention side tension and core strength. Then there are always people that will hop off because it’s too hard, and people who will hold on until they literally fall off, and everyone in between. What a mixed bag!!! I love that it doesn’t matter, but it kind of does. That’s the funny part about these measurments.

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I did the assessment that is posted on the website and took a careful look at my results. I found that my weak spots (relative to my climbing levels) seem to be in endurance or capacity areas, namely the foot on campus exercises and max rep push ups.

My first question is how to go about improving these numbers. Do I train to the tests by doing foot on campusing and push-ups? I feel like these would translate but that they leave holes in other general/base fitness and capacity.

As for the data, I’m curious how the numbers break down by weight. Being relatively heavy (190lb), I feel like I have good strength and power but not as much endurance. Observations suggest this is typical but I would love to see if the numbers back that up. Any way to generate another table with only people 175lb and up?

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@pawilkes great question! I’d say it depends on quite a bit including where you are in the season and your goals. As for foot on campus measurements there are fewer ways to fail in this setting vs staying on the wall/board for a specific amount of time so you have to consider where you’re getting your skill practice. Using that same setting (foot on campus board for time) can be great if you’re focused on longer bouldering goals and need some top off in the endurance/capacity area (i.e. you’re getting skill and strength work done on the wall in other areas of your session). It also works if you’re a sport climber in season and are already getting your skill work outside and need a really time efficient way to boost this aspect. If your goals are in shorter bouldering EMOM boulders (adjust to E2-3MOM as needed) can help build capacity that’s closer to your goal. Also look at what fails when you come off the campus board: are your forearms pumped? Did you lose tension in your shoulders? Hips sagging away/loss of core tension? There’s not as much to fail on here as actually climbing but it can still tell you alot about weak points that may not be “energy systems” themselves.

As for push-ups…I’d avoid doing max rep push-up attempts frequently as they can bring out nasty elbow issues. There are a lot of ways to boost these while working submaximally and not going to failure (grease the groove, rep ladders etc) but you can also keep the reps and time commitment low and work on harder push-up variations which will help get you stronger and boost these a bit. Focusing on the technical aspects and quality of the movement at low reps can also help quite a bit if you just don’t do push-ups frequently/don’t have much training history with them. General pushing work (one arm overhead press, bench, etc) can have really good carryover here also.

Hope that helps!

I have not done the assessment but if I were to do it I’d consider the push-up number a proxy of general fitness as opposed to something that translates directly into climbing prowess.

I did this progression once to get to 50 push-ups (could maybe do 20 when I started, I don’t recall and my notes aren’t that great)

Day Reps/set Total Reps
1 2 2 4 4 12
2 3 3 6 6 18
3 4 6 8 6 24
4 8 6 4 6 24
5 10 8 6 4 28
6 5 5 2 4 15
7 2 2 4 2 10
8 6 8 10 2 25
9 8 12 10 8 38
10 4 8 4 8 24
11 12 8 10 6 36
12 16 8 6 6 36
13 14 12 14 12 52
14 5 8 5 10 28
15 10 15 10 15 50
16 5 5 10 5 25
17 20 10 10 8 48
18 8 & 15 8 8 39
19 15 10 15 5 45
20 10 20 10 8 48
21 10 14 18 10 52
22 20 5 5 5 35
23 10 20 10 10 50
24 5 10 5 10 30
25 5 15 10 10 40
26 25 15 15 10 65
27 10 10 20 8 48
28 30 5 5 5 45
29 15 15 15 15 60
30 50 50

which creates a teeter-tooter of volume throughout the 30 days culminating in a 50 rep set

image

I did not see a performance boost in my climbing as a result.

There are other calisthenic exercises that, to me, have translated better. For instance, ring dips if you want to pick an exercise that is similar. Managed to do a few mantles that I previously couldn’t do.

Ab-wheel roll-outs too, I feel have made it easier for me to keep my feet on the wall.

Yeah it’s in our “general fitness” category and works pretty well as an indicator of such. I like your push-up progression and it kind of reminds me of different twists I’ve seen on the Russian fighter pull-up program from Strong first.

The Russian Firefighter Pull-up Program is one I’d like to run if I can ever get my elbow tendonitis under control!

I take no credit for the progression. I think it is from Darebee. I think there are two different ones, one with rest days and ones without. When it comes to habits I have an easier time doing things everyday, hence that’s why I opted for that version that I posted.

Thanks for the thoughts. These numbers were from last year after a month of strength training so while I was strong, I hadn’t been doing much capacity type work. I remember feeling like I gave up early on the foot on campusing cause I was used to digging deep. I think some type of foot on campus laddering on a regular basis could help build some of that capacity.

As for the pushups, I agree that maxing out regularly sounds like a recipe for disaster. I guess I was wondering if just doing pushups sets (which would train for the test) would be less effective than other whole body capacity stuff like KB swings or something else. I was expecting my max rep pushups would be higher since I had been bench pressing but the max strength didn’t transfer to max reps as much as I had expected.

I havent tried the Russian Firefighter Pullup program but over a decade ago I did a program of pullups Every Minute on the Minute (EMOM) starting at 3 reps and eventually bumping it up to 7 reps. I stopped at 7 because I didn’t see much benefit to it. But, as @Bolognafingers said about his pushups, I didn’t see much impact on my climbing. I suspect that all this fitness stuff helps but in subtle ways. Maybe in just increasing how many good goes we can give in a day which many may not directly measure.

I’m just guessing here but if what you want is to be able to gauge your general fitness level through push-ups, then you shouldn’t do push-ups in your training as then push-ups won’t be a proxy of your overall fitness but rather it’d showcase your push-up ability.

With that said, if your training includes overall body-conditioning you’d just gauge how your times on various conditioning workouts change. For instance, you can check my log where I believe I’ve logged at least two Deck of Doom workouts and the total time has decreased indicating an increase in general fitness IMHO.

You could take any benign enough CrossFit WOD (workout of the day) and make that your “measuring tape” for general fitness, as it were. Better yet, pick 2 (A, B) that you do as “tests”. Do maybe 1 test every other week and rotate through them, and train conditioning through other WODs.

So,
Week 1. Test A
Week 2. No test
Week 3. Test B
Week 4. No test
Week 5. Test A, did you improve?
Week 6. No test
Week 7. Test B, did you improve?

FWIW, I like push-ups. As the scapula is allowed to move freely, it happens to be the only horizontal pressing I can do pain-free currently. Also, since it is possible to protract at the top in a way I don’t feel that the bench press allows for you can train the serratus anterior which should be good for general shoulder health.

Another idea rather than focusing on the number of reps is focusing on the quality. One progression for push-ups could be,

Week 1. Normal Reps
Week 2. Slow eccentric, 6 seconds
Week 3. Slow eccentric with one- to two pauses during the eccentric motion
Week 4. Same as week 3 but with pauses during the concentric action as well.

Weight-vest, rings, 2x4 push-ups (below), type-writer/archer pushups, decline/incline, … lots of modifications to be made when progress stalls.