Mend Physical Therapy Blog and Injury Information

Eccentric Loading Creates Greatest Finger Pulley Stress While Rock Climbing

July 17, 2023

As climbers, we know that finger strength and endurance are key factors in our performance on the wall. That’s why it’s essential to stay informed about the latest research on the finger pulley system—the intricate network of tendons and ligaments that support our finger joints. In this article, we will explore the findings of a impactful study by Schoffl and colleagues, which investigates how different types of loading affect the finger pulley system. By understanding these results, we can optimize our training routines and reduce the risk of finger injuries while rock climbing. So, let’s dive in!

 Let’s define some terms:

-Isometric crimping: holding the crimp position without making any changes to your finger joint position. This is most crimping we do.

-Concentric crimping: holding the crimp while your fingers curl further into flexion. This happens when you bear-down when doing a particularly hard climbing move.

Eccentric crimping: holding the crimp while your fingers become more extended or open. This happens most commonly when your foot pops and you have to suddenly hold on to the crimp harder. It also happens when you’re slowly sliding off a crimp because you’re pumped!

The Study:

Schoffl’s study focused on comparing the effects of concentric and eccentric loading on the finger pulley system. Concentric loading involves contracting the muscles, while eccentric loading refers to controlled muscle lengthening. To investigate these loading types, the study included 30 participants with varying levels of climbing experience.

Key Findings:

The study’s findings highlight the significant impact that both concentric and eccentric loading have on the finger pulley system. However, the study showed that eccentric loading exercises impose a higher load on the pulley system than concentric exercises. This suggests that crimping while your foot pops or when you’re slipping off when tired, may place greater stress on the finger pulleys, potentially making them more vulnerable to injury.

Interestingly, the research also discovered that experienced climbers demonstrated a higher load tolerance on the finger pulley system compared to novices. This suggests that consistent climbing and training can lead to adaptation and increased resilience of the pulley system.

Implications for Climbers:

Understanding the influence of different loading types on the finger pulley system has important implications for climbers like us. Here’s what we can take away from Schoffl’s study:

Diversify Your Training:

While concentric loading exercises are essential for building finger strength, it’s crucial to incorporate eccentric exercises into your training routine as well. Controlled eccentric crimping, such as slowly lowering yourself from a hang or from campus boarding, can help improve both your strength and the resilience of your finger pulleys.

Gradual Progression:

When incorporating eccentric loading exercises, it’s essential to progress gradually. Start with lighter loads and shorter durations, allowing your finger pulleys to adapt and strengthen over time. Avoid overloading them with excessive stress too soon, as it may increase the risk of injury.

 Experience Matters:

Experienced climbers demonstrated a higher load tolerance on the finger pulley system. This suggests that consistent climbing and training can help condition and strengthen the pulley system. However, it’s crucial to strike a balance between challenging yourself and avoiding overuse or excessive strain.

Listen to Your Body:

Pay attention to any signs of discomfort or pain in your fingers. If you experience persistent or worsening pain, it’s essential to seek professional medical advice. Early intervention and proper management of finger injuries can prevent long-term complications and downtime.


Schoffl’s study provides valuable insights into the effects of different loading types on the finger pulley system. By incorporating a balanced training approach, including both concentric and eccentric loading exercises, climbers can enhance their finger strength, endurance, and resilience. Remember to progress gradually, listen to your body, and prioritize injury prevention in your training routine. Stay informed, train smart, and enjoy the thrill of climbing while keeping your fingers healthy and strong!

If you’re a rock climber experiencing pain or looking for improved climbing performance, schedule an appointment with a rock climbing specialist at Mend. We have locations in Boulder and Lafayette, Colorado. Many physicians, surgeons, and physical therapists do not understand the sport of rock climbing and may give incorrect or ill-advised advice on whether or not to return to climbing. The rock climbing specialists and Mend understand the sport and know when and how to safely return to rock climbing.