of "Dangling Arm" and "G-Tox" Recovery Techniques
Author: Luke Roberts
Institution: University College Chichester, West Sussex, U.K
This study looks at the physiology of Rock Climbing and more specifically
recovery strategies for such activity. The human body was not designed
to withstand the high amounts of resistance that the fingers and
forearms commonly experience in rock climbing. Over time, sport
specific training adaptations have allowed us to climb at increasing
levels of difficulty.
In recent years,
there has been a growing interest in the sport of rock climbing.
Since the early 1970's, the grading system has been slowly expanding,
as new measures of difficulty have been set. "Climbing is no
longer just a recreation; it has developed into a true sport",
Sagar (2001:p1).Advances in equipment design and technology have
helped increase performance, yet there has been relatively little
research carried out on the physiology of difficult climbing compared
with other sports.
It is clear
climbing performance is limited by physical fatigue. Fatigue can
be defined as the inability to produce the required force and is
a major factor of falling in rock climbing, (Vollestad, Sejerstad
& Saugen 1997). Fatigue related falls in rock climbing often
lead to frustration and even injury.
like runners perform in both aerobic and anaerobic conditions, using
combinations of energy systems to overcome the differing terrain
encountered, (Kascenska, Dewitt and Roberts, 1992). At high workload
intensities, by-products of anaerobic glycolysis such as lactic
acid (La+) can greatly reduce performance, especially in the sport
of rock climbing where the ability to exert maximum forces with
the fingers and forearms is greatly reduced, (Watts and Drobish,
1998). High accumulations of blood lactate (BL) concentration has
been correlated to high performance whilst difficult rock climbing,
(Booth, Marino, Hill and Gwinn, 1999). It was also suggested that
repeated high intensity contractions will deteriorate handgrip strength
and endurance (Watts, Newbury and Sulentic, 1996).
Neumann (1993) suggest that BL values of 6mmoll-1 and above can
impair an athlete's coordination, which could contribute to failure
whilst climbing. Climbers who attempt routes near their maximum
physical limit use high expenditures of energy and are required
to exert high forces with the upper body and fingers. Such forces
at high repetition can restrict blood flow (BF) to the fingers and
forearms due to smooth muscle causing vasoconstriction (Goddard
and Neumann 1991). This is dependent on the intensity of contraction;
if capillaries are closed, anaerobic glycolysis struggles to supply
blood and clear away waste products.
It is vital
that climbers should seek to improve recovery at limited rests they
encounter on route. Sagar (2001) defines recovery as the body's
ability to diminish the physiological effects of fatigue. Hard traditional
rock climbing and competitive sport climbing call for more active
awareness of the body's physical state, due to the higher stakes
involved in falling.
such as knee jamming, body jamming, bridging, arm barring and heel
hooking offer 'no hands rests' or a reduction in intensity on difficult
terrain. Understanding the human body's ability to recover whilst
rock climbing is vitally important, (Florine, 1990). Recovery in
rock climbing can be broken down into short-term recovery, medium-term
recovery and long-term recovery, (Hörst 2004, p137). Climbers
are greatly challenged to recover in the short term, due to the
sustained intensity of exercise and scarcity of rest positions.
Short term recovery is widely expressed as taking place from 10
seconds to 30 minutes following completion of muscular activity,
(Hörst 2004, p138). In the context of sport climbing, this
time could take place at the top of a cliff post-climb, mid-climb
at a stance that will allow temporary rest or between falls/attempts
whilst red-pointing a route.
There are times
when a climber really does need to recover if 'pumped', for example,
the climber could be attempting to onsight a hard traditional route
with poor protection. Taking a fall in such circumstances can be
daunting which is why it is important to maximise recovery.
promotes the G-tox shakeout to accelerate short-term recovery. G-tox
(fig 1) shakeout is an adapted version of the widely used 'dangling
arm' standard shakeout (SS), where the climber alternates the arm
over the head and below the waist. Fig 1: Illustration of the G-tox
claims to increase BF by allowing gravity to accelerate venous return;
although the technique has not been scientifically tested, many
climbers are experiencing the benefits. Note that the downward arm
position is the arm position for the SS.
Watts, Daggett, Gallagher and Wilkins (1999) determined that low
intensity active recovery (AR) reduces accumulated blood lactate
within 20 minutes following difficult climbing. Recumbent cycling
was used for active recovery. The results indicated active recovery
as more superior than passive recovery (PR); unfortunately no handgrip
(HG) data was collected during this study. Work by Watts, Newbury
and Sulentic (1996) have researched into the degree of fatigue and
time-course of recovery with sustained difficult sport climbing
to the point of a fall. Watts et al (1996) found that handgrip strength
(HGS) decreased by 22% and handgrip endurance (HGE) decreased by
57% from pre-climb to post climb for a group of 11 male climbers
(ability: 5.12a-5.13d). Failure to maintain hand contact in difficult
climbing is a primary cause of falling.
Forearm BF can be occluded to different rates depending on the intensity
of contraction. Modern rock climbers have gained physical adaptations
through dedicated practice and training. A study by Ferguson and
Brown, (1997) noted that trained climbers may possess an advanced
forearm vasodilatory capacity allowing them to make repeated sustained
contractions and sustain optimal blood flow.
to muscular strength and endurance gains, neuromuscular adaptations
have been gained through an effective training stimulus, (Gresham,
Improving short-term recovery strategies and learning physiological
impacts of such strategies may help climbers avoid injury.
The topic of
recovery during rock climbing has received little research attention.
This study intends to investigate whether or not the G-tox technique
does accelerate forearm recovery. Strategies that accelerate recovery,
increase climbers' chances of succeeding on routes near their maximum
ability, as repeated attempts are often required. In addition, accelerating
recovery may lead to decreased chances of injuries. This study will
hopefully enhance our awareness of the effects of g-tox recovery
technique in difficult climbing.
STRATEGIES FOR CLIMBERS:
Economic movement and optimal climbing technique will
limit the magnitude of fatigue in the first place. However, climbing
efficiently will aid in lowering the intensity of muscular contraction
and the total time under load. Hörst (2003). To explain Hörst's
statement, climbing efficiently will have increasing control over
muscle fibre recruitment and limit over recruitment which in turn
decreases the use of ATP. In addition, Goddard et al (1993) identify
pace as an important factor to consider in difficult climbing. The
speed at which a climber moves over difficult terrain can have a
great effect on performance and decrease muscle fatigue. In simple
terms, the shorter the length of time muscles are contracted to
execute moves, the lesser energy expended.
Warming up the body for physical activity is vital, especially in
rock climbing where the upper body is subjected to high forces.
A gradual pyramidal progression in intensity of contraction warms
up the forearm muscles and finger flexors in preparation for maximum
intensity climbing. The 'flash pump' is experienced when climbing
in cold conditions or when the climber doesn't warm up sufficiently
(cold muscles). Recovering from a 'flash pump' takes much longer
and can diminish performance and recovery capability for the entire
session/day. The act of warming up and stretching relevant muscles
increases blood flow and affects blood viscosity and muscle perfusion.
awareness of the body's physical state is a key tool to recovery
and injury avoidance in rock climbing. In the words of the world's
strongest climber; Malcolm Smith, 'always end the session when you
still feel strong,' http://www.planetfear.com/> (03/04/05).
The recovery instinct (Goddard et al.,1991,p89) can be explained
as a climber's/athlete's intuitive self-awareness of the recovery
capability of their body. Hörst (2003) describes factors such
as depletion of muscle fuel cells, accumulation of metabolic by-products
and low blood glucose levels as primary causes for fatigue in Rock
If a climber
is struggling to maintain contact with the holds whilst trying to
recover/shakeout on a route, it is a situation of diminishing returns
and the climber may as well have climbed on through the rest position
and continued to the top or to a more efficient rest.
characterizes recovery for rock climbing into 3 categories: Recharge,
refuel and rebuild defined as Short term, Medium term and Long term
The common dangling arm shakeout used by many climbers to alleviate
exerted forearms and muscular cramps has not been scientifically
tested. For this technique, arms are alternately shaken below the
waist for brief periods in order to alleviate forearm tension, the
benefits of this technique are dependant on the quality of the rest
position if any recovery is to be achieved. Although no study has
looked into the effects of this technique on forearm recovery, it
could be suggested that this method does possess some advantages
due to the high number of climbers who already use the technique
to recover. Blood pooling and visible vascularisation in the forearms
has been noticed when using this method of recovery.
The G-tox recovery
acceleration technique, suggests alternating arm positions between
over the head and below the waistline to increase venous return
and blood flow aiding active muscles. Although this technique has
never been subject to research, according to Hörst, the simple
practice of this technique provides a marked increase in recovery.
This is proposed due to the increase in venous return and an increase
blood flow to fatigued muscles, whereas, the traditional shakeout
only offers a reduction in intensity for a brief period.
that climbers practice to reduce tension in the forearms include
stretching the forearm and rapidly opening and closing fingers.
Both are widely practiced by climbers worldwide. Connective breathing,
deep muscle relaxation and meditation are some other strategies
climbers perform to increase performance pre-climb or on-route.
of self massage for recovery purposes have received no research
attention in rock climbing. Monedero and Donne (2000) studied the
effects of PR, AR, massage and a combination of the latter with
AR on 18 trained male cyclists following 5km maximal effort tests.
It was found combined recovery was the most effective protocol for
maintaining maximal performance time.
nutrition supplements are commonly used at medium term or long term
recovery periods. Creatine, Sodium bicarbonate, lactic acid buffers,
electrolyte drinks and energy products are common place amongst
highly active climbers. It is widely accepted that immediate ingestion
of carbohydrates post session/day aids recovery by refuelling glycogen
endurance routes, which require repeated high intensity contractions
increases the need to momentarily alleviate build up of metabolic
by-products such as lactic acid by increasing BF to the forearms.
Medium term recovery can be from thirty minutes to twenty-four hours
rest. This important recovery period may be overnight between climbing
days, as it is crucial time to refuel glycogen and blood glucose
stores. Long term recovery can be regarded as the period were muscle
growth and neuromuscular adaptation takes place, usually from one
to four days depending on the severity of delayed on-set muscle
soreness and micro-trauma, Hörst (2001). Rest is important
to allow muscular damage to be repaired and to rebuild the muscle
to a stronger level before the exercise stimulus. This process of
muscle repair and subsequent increased strength gain is called Super-compensation,
The method section
will follow, outlining experimental design and statistical analysis
implemented in the study into the effects of g-tox recovery.
To restate the purpose of this study, the aim was to
look at the effects of the G-tox technique upon forearm recovery
in rock climbing. BL concentration and HGS were the key variables
that were monitored throughout the climbing control and the two
different recovery controls, passive and active (G-tox). The subjects
in this study represented an intermediate ability of sport rock
Porcari and Maher (2000) reported HR data for 10 beginner climbers
and 17 recreational sport climbers during climbing and recovery.
Mean HR values for the recreational climbers (mean peak HR 146bpm)
were similar to that of the groups in the current study (mean peak
HR 152 bpm). Anthropometric data and HR values were similar to that
reported by Mermier et al., (1997) for a group of experienced climbers,
with slight differences in BF% and age. The climbing time of 3 minutes
used in the current study was close to a mean climbing time of 2.57+
0.41 min, reported by Watts et al., (2000).
was made to select well matched control groups using years of climbing
experience as the main indicator to separate the subjects. However,
it is evident from results that subjects possessed a wide range
of fitness levels. This is indicated by the differing rates of La+
production and clearance amongst individuals in both groups.
In addition, some subjects demonstrated experience of advanced footwork
technique, using higher numbers of intermediatory footholds, which
may have aided in lowering the intensity of the traverse. Video
observation could have been used to make comparisons between variables
such as pace, technique and style.
between the two recovery groups in terms of BL concentration reduction
at the time of post-recovery in P1 was 55.8%. Conversely, BL results
for post-climb BL levels indicate that only 5 (Group A: 3,Group
B: 2) subjects reached BL levels of 4 mmol-1 and above after P1
climb. Heck et al., (1985) indicate the AT as being approximately
4 mmol-1. The exact same 5 subjects displayed higher levels of BL
post P2 climb. Indicating that these subjects were unable to recover
as they experienced ongoing accumulation of by-products during recovery
and climbing. This agrees with hypotheses made by Goddard et al.,
(1991) and McKardle et al., (1997) in chapter 2.
participating in g-tox (P2) recovery experienced gains in HGS although
they possessed BL values higher than 4 mmol-1. Dodd (1984) states
performing recovery exercise above the LT offers no added benefit
and may even prolong recovery by increasing La+ formation and adding
to La+ accumulation. It would appear that reductions of BL concentration
were not possible when values were higher than 4 mmol-1; suggesting
g-tox is more effective at removing lower accumulations of La+.
This improvement in HGS may have been made possible by the reduction
of forearm muscular recruitment and an increase in venous return
studies (Watts et al., 1999, Mondrero et al., 2000 and Jemni et
al., 2003) have documented the effects of AR and PR during high
intensity exercises, the effects of milder intensity arm movement
during g-tox are still unclear.
Results suggest that g-tox facilitates blood shunting away from
the forearms towards the heart on the upward arm movement. Increases
in HR at the start of P1 & P2 recovery for group B (g-tox) indicate
increased BF circulation.
It is suggested that the upward arm movement provides a 'draining'
period for 5 seconds before dropping the arm to the down position
for five seconds allowing fresh BF to 'flush' into the forearms.
Due to accumulation
of metabolic by-products being localised in forearm muscles whilst
climbing, it would be attractive to hypothesise that mild upper
body movement acts faster at reducing the effects of forearm fatigue
as opposed to a running or cycling recovery protocol. Due to the
lower amounts of La+ accumulation in rock climbing compared with
cycling or running. Low intensity activity for recovery is preferred,
as high intensity recovery will result in an increased imbalance
between BL production and clearance rates, (McKardle et al., 1999).
It could be implied that a lower intensity activity carried out
with the upper body in climbing, serves just as well as a shuttle
run in sports which predominantly use leg muscles.
Group A experienced
a reduction of 40% HGS and group B a reduction of 32% HGS from pre-climb
to post climb in P1. Watts et al., (1996) reported decreases of
22 % in HGS after 12.9 minutes climbing for 11 elite climbers. In
comparison to intermediate climbers in this study, reductions were
much greater after only 3 minutes climbing; This highlights the
case of training adaptation (Gresham, 2005) and other physiological
adaptations such as advanced forearm vasodilator response amongst
trained climbers, (Ferguson et al.,1997)
As stated in
the method, hand-holds were varied in order to simulate a wide range
of HG postures and the recovery stance designed to allow an adequate
reduction in climbing intensity. All values display that the recovery
stance provided an adequate decrease in intensity to allow some
recovery, proving the amount of rest possible on certain holds is
determined by the amount of reduction in muscular recruitment capable,
(Goddard et al., 1991).
that the act of raising and lowering the resting arm every 5 seconds
(G-tox technique) whilst recovering, significantly contributes to
improvements in (MVC) HGS. Group A experienced a 2% increase in
HGS over the 2 minute recovery, suggesting that the common dangling
arm shakeout does provide some marginal increase in HGS. This poor
improvement experienced by group A may have been caused by blood
pooling in the forearms due to lesser frequency of arm movements,
(Mckardle et al., 1997). Compared to group B, recovery using G-tox
increased HGS by 18.4% during the same amount of time.
Some researchers, myself included, have doubted the validity of
HG dynamometers as indicators of HG performance for rock climbing.
It would appear that the HG dynamometer used in this study (Takkei)
was more specific to one kind of HG posture in climbing e.g. pinch.
Most hand postures involve a typical isometric contraction against
the hold, whereas the dynamometry required a squeezing (eccentric)
for subjects in this study ranged from 63bpm to 121bpm, with a mean
pre-climb HR of 91bpm. Studies by Hardy & Martindale (1982)
suggested that increased psychological arousal experienced in preparation
for the climbing task was a factor for elevated pre-climb HR values.
This change in pre-climb HR (Fig 13) prepares the body for physical
exertion, but could be a limitation if HR is very high at pre-climb
HR data present
in the charts in figures 14 & 15 demonstrate differing trends
of HR fluctuations upon starting recovery in both groups. The increase
in mean HR for group B could be a result of an initial increase
in BF at the onset of recovery due to maintenance of upper body
activity. Ferguson et al., (1997) noted that trained rock climbers
possessed an attenuated BP response to static exercise. This response
could be responsible for higher HRs amongst subjects. As suggested
previously, this response leads to greater dilation and blood flow
allowing efficient substrate supply and waste product removal. Other
possibilities for this change in HR could be because exercise with
the arms is known to create considerably higher systolic and diastolic
blood pressures than leg exercise at a given percentage of V02max,
(Blomqvist et al., 1982). High HR values in climbing could be a
result of inter-thoracic pressures associated with maximal upper
body action and breath holding, (Mckardle et al., 1997)
whilst performing the g-tox technique controlled the frequency of
arm movement. Although detailed recovery instructions were given
to both groups, it is possible that some subjects performed the
technique at differing paces. This could have resulted in HR and
BF differences. A metronome could have been used to ensure identically
timed arm movements between subjects.
of HR data could determine individual anaerobic thresholds using
the heart-rate deflection point (HRDP) to indicate the moments of
OBLA. This curve will show whether or not subjects entered the aerobic/anaerobic
transition zone during the field test.
there was a large difference between P1 and P2 HGS and BL values
for both groups. This may have been a result of insufficient rest
between climbs or an imbalance of individual fitness levels amongst
groups. Low hydration levels, poor technique whilst climbing and
low blood glucose levels could also be key contributors. Fig 4 shows
recovery groups elicited a different degree of response to BL concentration
when performing the opposite recovery protocol. This change in the
rate of BL clearance is indicated by a less acute curve in the BL
line graph for both groups.
In other disciplines
of climbing such as bouldering, recovery from attempts is often
spent spotting other climbers. Ironically, the nature of spotting
closely replicates upper body movement present in the g-tox technique
as the arms are periodically placed over the head.
It seems that the subject of blood flow is an important factor in
rock climbing. However, no studies have looked into the effects
of Aspirin or Viagra upon blood flow during climbing. This would
be an interesting area of research, as Aspirin reduces the volume
of blood plasma increasing BF and could affect performance whilst
rock climbing. Similarly, Creatine, Sodium Bicarbonate and Taurine
have received little research in the context of rock climbing.
It is concluded
that performing the g-tox technique during recovery from rock climbing
does accelerate forearm recovery in comparison to the traditional
dangling arm shake-out. However, it must be expressed once more
that the intensity of the recovery position is the key factor determining
the recovery potential.