Effect of ability, ascent style, and route type on psychological and physiological markers in rock climbing
Thesis DisciplinePhysical Education
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
Rock climbing is thought to rely upon the interaction of various performance components, and has previously been described as a complex multi-faceted sport. It has been suggested that psychological aspects of performance, such as task perception and the interaction of resulting pre-climb anxieties, contribute greatly to the physiological responses and the overall performance during ascent. However, research which seeks to investigate both psychological and physiological responses during specific bouts of rock climbing are few in number. This thesis attempts to contribute to the novel yet limited body of field based psychophysological research relating to rock climbing. To this end, the studies contained within this thesis investigated psychological and physiological responses as a result of difficult on-sight rock climbing. Elaborating upon previous research, additonal factors which are thought to influence these responses were explored. More specifically, differences in responses between ability groups, style of ascent, and route type were investigated. In study one, differences in psychological and physiological responses with respect to ability level and ascent style were investigated, during a single on-sight ascent. Seventy-two climbers were split into ability groups defined as lower-grade, intermediate, advanced and elite based on self-reported on-sight grades (Ewbank) of ≤17, 18-20, 21-24 and ≥ 25 respectively. Each climber attempted an on-sight ascent of a designated test route set on an indoor artificial climbing wall. A separate test route was set for each ability group which targeted their self-reported ability with respect to best on-sight. Participants were randomly assigned to either a lead or top-rope ascent and climbers were not informed of their style of ascent until 15 min prior to climbing. Responses to the climbing task were measured pre, during, and post-climb using a number of psychological and physiological markers. In total fifty-two participants successfully completed their on-sight ascents, and data for successful ascents were analysed and compared. Pre-climb variables were considered together in order to investigate pre-climb state, more specifically levels of anxiety, prior to ascent. Results indicated that there were no significant differences for grouped pre-climb variables with respect to ascent style. These results suggest that irrespective of ascent style, successful climbers exhibited similar psychophysiological responses prior to attempting an on-sight ascent. Furthermore, this trend was replicated across all ability groups. These findings were thought to be indicative of the high demand and level of uncerainty imposed by the on-sight condition of ascent, lending support to previous suggestion that an on-sight ascent induces the highest anxiety response. During the climb, HR and were measured and averaged across the entirety of the ascent. When expressed as a percentage of and the average HR and responses during ascent were found to be comparable across ability groups. As such, all ability groups appeared to utilise similar fractions of maximal capacity, with elite climbers successfully ascending a route up to eight difficulty grades harder than those of lower ability, whilst still performing at the same workload intensity. It would appear that oxygen uptake during rock climbing may not be directly related to difficulty or personal ability. A technical advantage, personal climbing style, and possible physiological adaptations may be contributors to more strategic and efficient ascents resulting in the capacity to climb at higher grades of difficulty. The second study presented within this thesis was comprised of two phases of investigation; (1) to investigate whether psychological and physiological responses to competition-style climbing differed with respect to ability level, and (2) to investigate potential psychological and physiological differences based on route type and outcome (success and failure). In phase 1 of study two, intermediate, advanced and elite climbers attempted an lead on-sight ascent of a competition-style route which increased in difficulty as the climber progressed. The route was set with the intention of being just beyond the upper limits of the elite climbers self-reported best on-sight ability (~26 Ewbank). This was done in order to ensure that a fall from the route was highly likely, even for the elite climbers. All climbers failed to successfuly ascend the test route and as such all climbed to the point of failure resulting in a fall. The results obtained both prior to, and during ascent suggest that the intermediate and advanced climbers in the current study may have been limited by technical ability as opposed to physical exhaustion, or increased levels of anxiety. Elite climbers were to be able to maintain a more sustained physical effort during the more difficult phases of the climb. This appeared to be reflected in post-climb blood lactate concentration and ratings of task demand with respect to both physical demand and effort. As such it may be that elite climbers are more accustomed to maximal effort and demonstrate an increased tolerance to the higher exercise intensity required during more difficult ascents. In the second phase of study two the psychological and physiological responses of climbers in a competitive setting obtained in phase 1, were compared with those exhibited by participants during both successful and unsuccessful lead on-sight ascents in study one. The aim of study two phase 2 was to determine whether the responses of successful climbers differed from those who succeeded by reaching the top of a route, and performances in a competitive context where success is denoted by the distance achieved by a climbers on their ascent. The main findings in this instance were that although there were no significant differences observed between categories of ascent (successful, unsuccessful and competition) for grouped pre-climb variables, trends in CSAI-2R responses indicated high cognitive anxiety coupled with lower self-confidence prior to unsuccessful ascents. As such it may be that self-confidence acts as a buffer in moderating success in rock climbing, demonstrating the role of positive emotions and their impact upon performance as opposed to the detrimental effect of the negative. A second finding of this study was that there appeared to be a differing HR- relationship based on ascent category. Modest increases in were shown for all ascents, irrespective of ability level. A plateau in response was accompanied by a similar plateau in HR response during successful ascents, yet HR was shown to increase in a linear fashion until point of failure during unsuccessful ascents. It is possible that these findings highlight the presence of a climbing specific limitation.