Practice Design

Does indoor climbing support the transfer of skill to ice climbing?

Skill transfer is not only a hot topic within the skill acquisition literature but also among coaches and sport practitioners. Skill transfer refers to the extent that performance improvements transfers to new environments. Transfer is thought to be heightened when practice closely mirrors competition performance.

Ludovic Seifert and colleagues investigated the constraints on specificity of skill transfer on perception and action in indoor climbing relative to climbing on an icefall.

The Study

Twelve recreational climbers were recruited and divided into two groups. The first group completed a 10 m high route on an artificial climbing wall composing of 20 hand-holds. The second group completed a 10 m high route on an icefall with a grade 4 rating which is commonly assigned to recreational performers. The climber’s activities were collected from an IMU (i.e., a sensor that can measure movement) located at the hip and filmed using a high definition video camera.

The Findings

The results demonstrated that there was a positive general transfer of performance between indoor climbing and ice climbing (e.g. ability to reach the top of the route without falls or rests). However, the ice climbers exhibited three times more actions and it took them longer to cover the same vertical distance as the indoor climbers. This was explained by the fact that the ice climbers required more exploratory movements and functional features of tools (e.g. ice axes swinging and anchorage) compared to the constant constraints present in indoor climbing.


Skill transfer is limited by an individual’s ability to pick up and use environmental information under different performance conditions. Specifically, there are key functional and dynamical features in ice-climbing that cannot be provided on an indoor climbing wall. Adaptations that allow individuals to engage in exploratory activity may be part of an effective learning design to achieving task goals in different environments.

As a final comment, a limitation of this study is that it examined acute performance as opposed to performance improvements during practice. To demonstrate skill transfer, studies should test whether performance improvements transfers to new tasks. By demonstrating this, research findings can be better applied to the practical training environment.


Seifert, L., Wattebled, L., Orth, D., L’Hermette, M., Boulanger, J., & Davids, K. (2016). Skill transfer specificity shapes perception and action under varying environmental constraints. Human movement science, 48, 132-141

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