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Antifragility in Climbing: Determining Optimal Stress Loads for Athletic Performance Training

Hill, Y., Kiefer, A. W., Silva, P. L., Van Yperen, N. W., Meijer, R. R., Fischer, N. & Hartigh, den, R., 11-Mar-2020, In : Frontiers in Psychology. 11, 272.

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In the past decades, much research has examined the negative effects of stressors on performance of athletes. However, according to evolutionary biology, organisms may exhibit growth under stress, a phenomenon called antifragility. For both coaches and their athletes, a key question is how to design training conditions to help athletes develop the kinds of physical, physiological, and behavioral adaptations underlying antifragility. An answer to this important question requires a better understanding of how individual athletes respond to stress or loads in the context of relevant sports tasks. In order to contribute to such understanding, the present study leverages a theoretical and methodological approach to generate individualized load-response profiles in the context of a climbing task. Climbers (n = 37) were asked to complete different bouldering (climbing) routes with increasing loading (i.e., difficulty). We quantified the behavioral responses of each individual athlete by mathematically combining two measures obtained for each route: (a) maximal performance (i.e., the percentage of the route that was completed), (b) number of attempts required to achieve maximal performance. We mapped this composite response variable as a function of route difficulty. This procedure resulted in load-response curves that captured each athlete’s adaptability to stress, termed phenotypic plasticity (PP), specifically operationalized as the area under the generated curves. The results indicate individual load-response profiles (and by extension PP) for athletes who perform at similar maximum levels. We discuss how these profiles might be used by coaches to systematically select stress loads that may be ideally featured in performance training.
Original languageEnglish
Article number272
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Volume11
Publication statusPublished - 11-Mar-2020

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