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A psychophysiological comparison of on-sight lead and top rope ascents in advanced rock climbers


Corresponding author: Simon Fryer, University of Canterbury, Dovedale Road, Christchurch 8081, Canterbury, New Zealand. Tel: +64 3 3642987 Ext 43225, Fax: +64 3 3458131, E-mail:


Research suggests that lead climbing is both physiologically and psychologically more stressful than top rope climbing for intermediate performers. This observation may not be true for advanced climbers, who train regularly on lead routes and are accustomed to leader falls. The aim of this study was to compare the psychophysiological stresses of lead and top rope on-sight ascents in advanced rock climbers. Twenty-one climbers (18 men and three women) ascended routes near or at the best of their ability (22 Ewbank). Psychological stress was measured preclimb using the Revised Comparative State Anxiety Inventory (CSAI-2R). Plasma cortisol was sampled at six intervals. The volume of oxygen (VO2) and heart rate (Hr) were measured throughout the climbs. No significant differences were found in self-confidence, somatic, or cognitive anxiety between the conditions lead and top rope. No significant differences in plasma cortisol concentration were found between any time points. No significant relationships were found between cortisol and any CSAI-2R measures. No significant differences were found between conditions for VO2 or blood lactate concentration. During the lead climb, Hr was significantly elevated during the last part of the route. Findings suggest that advanced rock climbers do not find lead climbing to be more stressful than top rope climbing during an on-sight ascent.