First Stab at Defining Body Tension

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Things have been very busy so I have not had much time to dedicate to writing this week so this can hardly be considered a complete post (sorry!). Anyway I think a number of the comments on the previous post described salient features of body tension, and got at how and why body tension is difficult to define. For my part, I want to take a step back and start with three important basic points:

1) The fundamental purpose of all climbing moves is to position or move the Center of Gravity in space in such a way that will allow a limb to advance to a new hold. Defining movement in terms of the COG is important. We may be tempted to say that the purpose of a move is to advance a hand or foot to a new hold, but it’s the movement or position of the COG that makes advancing a limb possible. If the COG is not in an acceptable position, or moving through an acceptable path, the hand or foot will either not reach its target, or not be able to maintain contact with the hold after it’s been attained. Thus it’s fair to say that a good definition of body tension is going to describe how body tension seeks to influence the Center of Gravity.

2) Next, its important to note that body tension always occurs in a closed kinetic chain. As mentioned previously, a closed kinetic chain is one in which movement of one joint necessitates movement of other joints. This means that intramuscular coordination is likely to be more important than the individual strength of any given muscle, and that all parts of the chain are vital, movement in any part of the chain mean that other parts of the chain must respond. This is particularly important in the case of involuntary movement.

3) A closely related issue is the question of how and why moves fail. There are those moves where a hand or foot just slips off of a hold but I think those are less common than another kind of fall. I have been watching climbers fall on video for years, most of the time looking at the video frame by frame in order to define when a fall actually begins, what precedes it, and the relationship of the COG to the limb in motion. It is very common to see involuntary movement of the hip joint prior to, or just after, the hand or foot in motion reaches the next hold. Depending on the orientation of the climber’s body to the rock the involuntary movement of the hip is often flexion and or abduction.

For me these are important starting points and I will try to get into what they actually mean very soon.

3 Responses to “First Stab at Defining Body Tension”

  1. ChristianNo Gravatar says:

    Hi Douglas,

    Thanks for another well written and thought through post. One quick check:
    Maybe my definitions are off, or things get lost translating them into my (German) native language, but shouldn’t it be intermuscular instead of intramuscular coordination?
    The way I learned it, intramuscular coordination describes the recruiting of muscle fibres in a particular muscle, while intermuscular coordination describes how muscles work in relation to each other.

    Regards, Chris

  2. DouglasNo Gravatar says:


    Thank you so much for pointing out the error. You are right, we are talking about how muscles work in relation to each other! Proof reading, gotta love it!

  3. colinNo Gravatar says:

    Thanks for this series of posts, Doug. I forwarded links to my climbing partners.

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