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I have been looking through footage of some of the top rock climbers in the world today (male & female) and what surprised me is how most of them don't physically look that strong and some even quite petite. Considering the amount of strength needed to support your body weight while climbing, I would've expected the body type/shape to be more similar to a gymnast; yet gymnasts generally have very developed upper body muscles. I can understand being smaller/thinner helping to not have to haul as much weight, or perhaps it is more endurance fitness rather than outright strength that is more important?

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The body type of proficient rock climbers does not often match what society wants you to perceive as "strong".

But, rest assured, good rock climbers have tremendously strong muscles (bilaterally) as well as incredible flexibility.

Physical height can represent an advantage as it makes it easier to reach certain holds, especially on certain routes. For most routes, however, strength and flexibility usually represent greater physical advantages.

Finally, what you can't see on the outside is often the most important: the mind. Successful rock climbing involves great mental prowess and strength. And if your route is complex, the ability to plan effectively is nothing less than essential.

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  • So is it that they are much more lean and toned which is why the muscles don't appear as developed for example like a gymnast? What parts of the body would you say need to be conditioned the most? I would imagine finger strength would be one of the most important but anything else?
    – FrontEnd
    Dec 10, 2021 at 6:52
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    @FrontEnd not sure how well it translate on TV's 2 dimensional view, but from a few years spent bouldering and seeing some really fit people doing it, one overarching impression is that of being sinewy/wiry, with very little muscle bulk. A few people were both pretty jacked and good climbers, but most people with body builder physiques rarely stuck around. Dec 11, 2021 at 0:56
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    @FrontEnd - many climbers have exceedingly defined and developed muscles, just like gymnasts.
    – Rory Alsop
    Dec 11, 2021 at 15:54
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    Also different kind of muscle, climbing is more endurance oriented while gymnastics is more explosive, just compare the legs of a marathon runner and a 100m runner both are " strong" but in a different way
    – J.R
    Dec 13, 2021 at 17:36
  • @J.R. That's a fantastic example. Next, look at the bodies of ultra-marathon runners. Lean, but incredible muscles. Now what no one has ever explained to me is why double-century cyclists are often so fat. Or maybe I just hang out with a bunch of fat, yet incredible, cyclists. ;) Dec 14, 2021 at 5:51
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There are different types of muscle fibers. Type 1 muscle fibers used for endurance sports like climbing don’t grow as big as type 2 muscle fibers that are used for short-term high power movements.

Also, muscle-to-weight ratio would be more important for climbers than in sports where absolute strength is more important. Having a low fat percentage matters for all sports where your own body weight is a highly important part of what you have to exercise force on.

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  • Thank you for adding this answer. It's interesting that rock climbing often involves both endurance and high-power movements, yet rock climbing seems to primarily develop Type 1 muscle fibers. I can speculate why this is the case, but it would only be speculation. It would be an interesting topic for someone on which to base their masters or PhD thesis. Dec 14, 2021 at 5:47
  • I guess it depend on discipline, speed climber need lot of explosiveness while lead climber need more endurance than high power
    – J.R
    Dec 14, 2021 at 7:57

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