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 By: Jens Larssen  | Date: 2008-06-23  | Category: Other    | (4) Comments  

Does climbers have to be scarecrow skinny?

After reading the comments in (a about banning anorectic climbers) I thought I would be a good idea to set the record straight in a scientific viewpoint. I have professionally treated anorectic patients and published articles on the subject and I share 8a’s concern about encouraging an unhealthy way of life.


Since climbing is a lot about pulling your own bodyweight – body weight to strength ratio is a very strong determinant of your climbing ability (once you have a good technique).

Thus bodyweight will always be one of the factors a good climber will want to manipulate.

Your bodyweight is determined by the size of your body and the composition of the material it is made up of.

Since muscles weight about five times as much as fat compared to volume (and the total weight of all the bones in the body is only about 12+-2 kg) the uninformed person will easily behave in a way that looses active weight (muscles) instead of deadweight (fat).


BMI (body mass index – a division of BW (kg) with height (m) squared) will get you mostly misinformed!  A muscular person with low body fat can easily get a BMI of more than 40  (fat!) while a fat person with no muscles can go below 20 (lean!?). Swedens former prime minister, Göran Persson , an obviously fat and unfit individual actually boasts the same BMI as one of our most celebrated icehockey players (“Foppa” Forsberg), who certainly is a solid pack of muscles.

More elaborate ways of measuring body fat will be found outlined in the full version of this text (click here)

The low bodyweight race will unfortunately be more beneficial if you allow “human spiders” to take endless time scaling walls. If we instead start to enforce time limits on accents, keep the routes within reasonable length and encourage “power” routes - we will encourage behavior which leads to strong and healthy climbers.


True Anorexia is a mental disease – a very deadly one! – So it is not a bad mission to try to not lure people in to an anorectic eating behavior! Remember that, while the hospitalized anorectic patient most often have trauma in their childhood more specifically in their parental relationship, the anorectic behavior of the climber is most often induced by the misconception that it will deliver better performance. Just as for the true anorectic the anorectic climber will loose performance and increase illness with this behavior – it should however be easier to set the climber straight if he/she realizes that they are playing a loosing game, than it is to help correct the motivation that drives the true anorectic.


I am not naive enough to think that we don’t have true anorectics in our ranks; through I think they are a minority. I however think that there are many climbers that by ignorance tread the anorectic path. They will face the same consequences.


If performance is your game then;

Keep your body fat at a safe level;

Not lower than; 8% for a healthy male and 12% for a healthy female

Top competitors might drop even lower for short periods of time but that is risk taking


When loosing body weight;


Your body fat should go down but not your muscle mass – if your muscle mass goes down

 (bioimpedance will tell )

–        Rest and eat more.


 Remember that every top athlete

–        Need plenty of carbohydrates on a regular basis

–        Need at least 1 gram per kg bodyweight of protein, of high biological value, per day

–        Needs a low but steady dose of poly unsaturated fats

–        Needs vitamins, minerals at set dose every day



Some tips;



If your resting pulse starts to rise – rest and eat more

If you start to be more frequently ill (trivial infections) -– rest and eat more


If you compare your body weight with your relative waist to butt circumference (the circumference around your pelvis where the butt is most prominent) you have a much more precise tool for measuring performance weight loss – your butt should always be bigger than your waist otherwise you are loosing more muscle than fat!

If you keep you butt to waist ratio at 0.8 or below and at the same time keep your BMI above 18 (at least) you should be safe (healthy)


Loosing weight in total ignorance of these facts is simply stupid and counterproductive

Climbing is about living life to its full extent life not about denial

Climb better – loose only the deadweight by smartly applying scientific fact to practice – Don’t loose to much!

See somebody out there who has lost his or her perspective?! Help them out –point them in the right direction


Dr 8a Björn Alber


Md sport medicine PhD Sports physiology