Thursday, March 27, 2008

Study: Rock climb for aerobic fitness

When they hear the term "aerobic conditioning," most people think of things like running and cycling. Indeed, rock climbing probably doesn't occur to many as a way to improve heart and lung function. But researchers in Italy put climbing to the test and found that it's actually very aerobic according to a report just published in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research.

The scientists enlisted 13 recreational rock climbers (8 men and 5 women) and tested their aerobic fitness (VO2max, etc) in a lab. Then the subjects strapped on a portable system for measuring oxygen uptake and climbed easy routes on an 80-foot high wall. After the climb, blood lactate samples were taken.

What they discovered was that climbers of both genders naturally choose a speed that puts us near our performance/anaerobic threshold (I don't use the term lactate threshold because it's obsolete) and maintain this level of exertion. Of course, this makes sense because we generally want to get up a route quickly without going so hard that we flame out.

This level of exertion (about 73% of VO2max) is what the ACSM considers a good level for maintaining cardio fitness. Not surprisingly, they also found that rock climbers tend to have superior aerobic fitness (VO2 max around 40), roughly in the 85th percentile of the normal population.

As many of us know, climbing in an indoor gym is a form of moderate- to high-intensity interval training (something that gets a lot of buzz in the fitness world these days). The typical length of each bout, including recovery, is 9 minutes and this is repeated 10 to 15 times per session, with two to three sessions per week. In this study, they found that climbing burned 1000 - 1500 calories per week.

The bottom line is rock climbing is both good resistance training, which we already knew, and also decent aerobic training. Of course, if you have higher goals such as mountaineering, you still have to do endurance aerobic workouts and serious resistance training (read: lifting weights).

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