Purpose: This study investigated the hand and wrist muscle capacities among expert rock climbers and compared them with those of non-climbers. The objective was to identify the adaptations resulting from several years of climbing practice.
Methods: Twelve climbers (nine males and three females) and 13 non-climber males participated in this study. Each subject performed a set of maximal voluntary contractions about the wrist and the metacarpo-phalengeal joints during which net joint moments and electromyographic activities were recorded. From this data set, the muscle capacities of the five main muscle groups of the hand (wrist flexors, wrist extensors, finger flexors, finger extensors and intrinsic muscles) were estimated using a biomechanical model. This process consisted in adjusting the physiological cross-sectional area (PCSA) and the maximal muscle stress value from an initial generic model.
Results: Results obtained from the model provided several new pieces of information compared to the analysis of only the net joint moments. Particularly, the capacities of the climbers were 37.1 % higher for finger flexors compared to non-climbers and were similar for finger extensor and for the other muscle groups. Climbers thus presented a greater imbalance between flexor and extensor capacities which suggests a potential risk of pathologies.
Conclusions: The practice of climbing not only increased the strength of climbers but also resulted in specific adaptations among hand muscles. The proposed method and the obtained data could be re-used to optimize the training programs as well as the rehabilitation processes following hand pathologies.