Analysis of relations between spatiotemporal movement regulation and performance of discrete actions reveals functionality in skilled climbing

Dominic Orth, Graham Kerr, Keith Davids, Ludovic Seifert*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalReview articleAcademicpeer-review


In this review of research on climbing expertise, we focus on different measures of climbing performance, including spatiotemporal measures related to fluency and activity states (i.e., discrete actions), adopted by climbers for achieving overall performance goals of getting to the end of a route efficiently and safely. Currently, a broad range of variables have been reported, however, many of these fail to capture how climbers adapt to a route whilst climbing. We argue that spatiotemporal measures should be considered concurrently with evaluation of activity states (such as reaching or exploring) in order gain a more comprehensive picture of how climbers successfully adapt to a route. Spatial and temporal movement measures taken at the hip are a traditional means of assessing efficiency of climbing behaviors. More recently, performatory and exploratory actions of the limbs have been used in combination with spatiotemporal indicators, highlighting the influence of limb states on climbing efficiency and skill transfer. However, only a few studies have attempted to combine spatiotemporal and activity state measures taken during route climbing. This review brings together existing approaches for observing climbing skill at performance outcome (i.e., spatiotemporal assessments) and process (i.e., limb activity states) levels of analysis. Skill level is associated with a spatially efficient route progression and lower levels of immobility. However, more difficult hold architecture designs require significantly greater mobility and more complex movement patterning to maintain performance. Different forms of functional, or goal-supportive, movement variability, including active recovery and hold exploration, have been implicated as important adaptations to physiological and environmental dynamics that emerge during the act of climbing. Indeed, recently it has also been shown that, when climbing on new routes, efficient exploration can improve the transfer of skill. This review provides new insights into how climbing performance and related actions can be quantified to better capture the functional role of movement variability.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1744
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Issue numberOCT
Publication statusPublished - 6 Oct 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Affordances
  • Exploration
  • Functional movement variability
  • Motor skill
  • Rock climbing
  • Skill transfer


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