Background: Adult elite competitive rock climbers are small in stature with low body mass and very low body fat percentage. These characteristics have generated concern that young climbers may attempt body mass reduction to extreme levels with adverse consequences for health and performance. No published anthropometry data for young competitive climbers exist.
Objective: To describe the general anthropometric characteristics of junior US competitive rock climbers.
Methods: Ninety subjects (mean (SD) age 13.5 (3.0) years) volunteered to participate. All competed at the Junior Competition Climbers Association US National Championship. Anthropometric variables, including height, mass, body mass index (BMI), arm span, biiliocristal and biacromial breadths, skinfold thickness at nine anatomical sites, forearm and hand volumes, and handgrip strength, were measured. Selected variables were expressed as ratio values and as normative age and sex matched centile scores where appropriate. A control group (n = 45) of non-climbing children and youths who participated in a variety of sports activities, including basketball, cross country running, cross country skiing, soccer, and swimming, underwent the same testing procedures in the Exercise Science Laboratory of Northern Michigan University.
Results: Mean (SD) self reported climbing ability was 11.80 (1.20), or about 5.11d on the Yosemite decimal system scale. The mean (SD) experience level was 3.2 (1.9) years, and subjects competed in 10 (5) organised competitions over a 12 month period. Despite similarity in age, there were significant differences (p<0.01) between climbers and control subjects for height, mass, centile scores for height and mass, ratio of arm span to height ("ape index"), biiliocristal/biacromial ratio, sum of seven and sum of nine skinfolds, estimated body fat percentage, and handgrip/mass ratio. Despite significantly lower skinfold sums and estimated body fat percentage, no differences were found between climbers and controls for absolute BMI or BMI expressed as a centile score.
Conclusions: Young competitive climbers have similar general anthropometric characteristics to elite adult climbers. These include relatively small stature, low body mass, low sums of skinfolds, and high handgrip to mass ratio. Relative to age matched athletic non-climbers, climbers appear to be more linear in body type with narrow shoulders relative to hips. Differences in body composition exist between climbers and non-climbing athletes despite similar BMI values.