Background: Key questions regarding the training and physiological qualities required to produce an elite rock climber remain inadequately defined. A paucity of research exists on young climbers.
Purpose: To critically review climbing literature alongside relevant literature characterising physiological adaptations in young athletes. Evidence-based recommendations were sought to inform the training of young climbers.
Method: Fifty from 200 climbing studies, and large-scale physiological studies highlighting specific common development growth variables in youngsters were selected for appropriateness to this review. Where reported, measured mean and standard deviation values are indicated. The term youngster in this review refers to those aged 7 to 17 years.
Finding: Based on injury data, climbers aged <16 cannot participate in international bouldering competitions, and intensive finger strength training is not recommended. The majority of climbing foot injuries result from wearing climbing shoes unnaturally shaped or too small in size. Isometric and explosive strength improvements are strongly associated with the latter stages of sexual maturation and specific ontogenetic development. Improvement in motor abilities declines at ages closely associated with the second and third stages of sexual maturation. The final growth spurt in pubescence is associated with a greater incidence of physeal fractures. Climbing literature uses chronological age, rather than measures such as Tanner stages, to mark biological or pubertal maturation. It is not known whether selection, intensive training and/or disordered dietary habits can account for limited data on competitive young climbers who were shorter, lighter and with less body fat than athletic controls and normative data. Somatotyping that might identify common physical attributes in elite climbers of any age was incomplete.
Conclusion: Accomplished adolescent climbers can now climb identical grades and compete against elite adult climbers aged up to and >40 years. As the implications of a youngster’s high-intensity sports training requiring leanness can result in more significantly altered and delayed pubertal and skeletal development, metabolic and neuroendocrine aberrations, and trigger eating disorders, this should be sensitively and regularly monitored. Training should reflect efficacious exercises for a given gender and biological age.
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