Height has always been a contentious topic in climbing. And understandably so! There’s nothing quite so frustrating as watching someone reach past a move you’ve been struggling with for hours!
But how much of an advantage is it in practice? Being tall might not necessarily be an advantage as keeping body tension is trickier on steep problems, and of course height is closely correlated with weight which means taller climbers will on average be heavier than shorter climbers.
We’ve recently been doing some data analysis work with Jack Turner, a data analyst and computer scientist who’s about to start his PhD. The core of this work has been around improving the mathematical models we use for predicting climbing performance but we’ve seen some other interesting results as a spin-off. In particular, Jack noticed that if you control for climbing ability, height is negatively correlated with many of the tests we use for testing energy systems. In short, the taller you are the less strong and fit you need to be!
One of the tests we conduct as part of our Lattice Board Assessment is a maximum moves circuit on the lattice board, where you simply do as many moves as you can until your elbows go up and your forearms wilt. If we look at all the climbers who have a reported redpoint grade of 8a we can put together the following graph.
As you can see there’s a clear negative correlation here, that is as a taller climber you need to score less moves than a shorter climber to be able to climb 8a. It’s important to note that the correlation is not a strong one, though. Because the data aligns with our experience as coaches, we’re confident in saying that being taller is beneficial here, but saying precisely how beneficial will have to wait for more data.
We see a similar pattern to the above across many of the other tests we perform with one interesting exception: core strength. Note that core strength is a very broad concept and doesn’t have a nice clean definition. Our own testing in this area is still fairly basic, though we’ve found the FMS tests we currently use to be effective. Having said that, we found core strength to be positively correlated to height. That is, taller climbers need to have better core strength to climb the same grade.
So there you have it, being tall is more of a help than a hinderance in many cases! But, as with all data analysis, this comes with some caveats. In particular you’ll notice that the best climbers in the world aren’t all 7ft giants. It’s obviously quite tricky to get a good volume of data in the V15+ range, but we think it’s safe to say that being tall isn’t everything. There’s likely an optimum height where the advantage of added reach is outweighed by the disadvantages of being tall. And to all the shorties out there, don’t worry, you can always get stronger!