It may seem obvious that men and women have different strengths and weaknesses as climbers and athletes. However, while we are quick to make generalizations about which climbs are better suited to either men or women, we don’t seem to be using our knowledge about the relative strengths and weakness of male and female climbers to inform our training decisions.
Tom Randall and Ollie Torr of Lattice Training are doing just that. Using the data they have gathered from their Lattice Assessment, Tom and Ollie are identifying and quantifying the relative strengths and weakness of male and female climbers and using this to determine what athletes of different genders should prioritize in their training.
In their recent TrainingBeta Podcast, Tom and Ollie shared their findings and made some recommendations about how male and female climbers can tweak their training according to their data. Here’s an excerpt from their episode where they outline their findings and recommendations.
Give it a read yourself and if you like what you see be sure to check out the full episode and transcript by clicking through below! This is one of our favorite podcast episodes here at TrainingBeta. So, if you haven’t listened to or read it, make sure you don’t miss out!
Lattice Training on The Training Needs of Males vs Females:
Neely Quinn: Cool. Okay so what else are you guys looking into? I know that you had mentioned to me before this talk that you’d looked at male versus female. Can we talk about that?
Tom Randall: Yeah, sure no problem. Yeah. So inevitably, with any coach, you’ll work across a range of different clients, male and female, junior and adult. I think it’s important to reflect on the differences between the physical profiles of male and female athletes that we will work with, and the types of training that we might do with those individuals as a response to that. This also goes back to the finger strength factor actually, is if you look at the female athletes and break down their results, it’s like the tall climbers- they’re also capable of achieving significantly higher grades for any level of finger strength. For example, if I was to give you a 5.13 male climber and a 5.13 female climber, the 5.13 female climber would achieve that 5.13 grade off of a weaker level of finger strength that the male climber. So therefore, as coaches, our expectations of that finger strength level should be lower if we are profiling them.
Neely Quinn: Interesting. That’s really interesting. Why do you think that is?
Ollie Torr: I think in general, what we can see as coaches, is the fact that female climbers tend to have a much better technique and tactical approach to climbing. One of the areas of technique that’s really apparent is hip mobility and use of flexibility on the wall. The amount of distance that they can keep to the wall- so saying keeping their hips close to the wall the whole time and weighting their feet- makes a marked difference on how well they can perform while climbing, which takes weight off the fingers throughout the climb.
Neely Quinn: This is fascinating.
Tom Randall: The economy of movement that we see in the assessments that we do with the female athletes- and we also score for economy of movement and movement styles when we are assessing. It is markedly higher in the female athletes, whether you are looking at a 5.12, 5.13, or 5.14 climber- across the board, much higher economy of movement.
Neely Quinn: It’s cool, because we, you know you always hear people say “Climb like a girl”, or “She climbs like a girl” or whatever. That’s the kind of thing I think we mean by that- being careful with your feet, being efficient, moving a little bit more- I don’t want to offend anybody, but maybe a little more fluidly than some men might. So you guys are actually showing us data to support this? [laughs]
Ollie Torr: Oh yeah, it’s a total compliment to climb like a girl. I highly recommend that any guy that wants to improve their climbing to go and spend bit of time climbing with some female climbers. Most male climbers will learn quite a lot from the way that females will move on the same climbs.
Neely Quinn: Mhm. What else have you learned about the differences between males and females?
Tom Randall: Another key thing is that we see in- broadly speaking- in the 5.13 to 5.14 female athletes is a big limiting factor in their forward progression in their training and their performance outside, or at competitions, is the strength and conditioning of the shoulder girdle in the female athletes. They really struggle to put that muscle mass on in their upper body. When we go into those higher grades, this certainly becomes a limiting factor in their progression very much compared to their male counterparts.
Neely Quinn: How does it become a limitation? Is it because of injuries or what?
Ollie Torr: It’s kind of in two parts. One area tends to be injuries, but what we’ve come to find is that if the shoulder girdle and the upper body isn’t in a stable position and can’t create stable positions, the amount of force that can be produced further up the arm- so in your grip strength- is going to be reduced. So in order to keep maintaining a lot of force going through your fingers, you need to have that stable upper body to actually translate that to the climb.
Neely Quinn: So instead of maybe having a female train finger strength, which she may need a little bit less of, you would maybe focus more on shoulder girdle strength and stability?
Ollie Torr: Yeah, absolutely. If that’s what the female athlete needs, or has relatively good finger strength already, then one of the ways we can express that better on the climb is improving the strength and conditioning in the upper body, especially around the shoulder girdle.
Neely Quinn: And what kinds of things would you have them do?
Ollie Torr: We tend to do a lot of engagement work. Not so much antagonistic, but more stability positions. So being able to work in isometric contractions around their scapula, and [unclear] scapula, and being able to engage their lats, because we see a lot of female athletes with dominant upper trap muscles and rounding of the shoulders, so their chest is getting involved. That means they’re really limited on wider movements.
Neely Quinn: So like, wide lat pull-downs or something? What would you have them do?
Ollie Torr: Yeah so stuff like wide lat pull-downs. Engagements, so have them hanging on a bar and engage their shoulders depressing the scapula and then relaxing again. Doing more powerful boulders, but with the intent of keeping the stability of the shoulders throughout the movements. I think that’s one big thing that’s being missed by a lot of training for climbers, is the intent of the training. That means that any one of of us could go up to a wall and start dong powerful movements, but it’s far different to go up to a wall and do those powerful movements focusing on engaging the muscles that need to be trained in the correct way.
Neely Quinn: Yeah. That’s where you guys come in, is figuring out what each athlete needs.
Full Episode/Transcript: TBP 091 :: Tom Randall and Ollie Torr on How Their Training Research Can Help Us
(photo courtesy of latticetraining.com)
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