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For most of us, a trip to the top of a tall building
means a long ride in the lift.
But a superhuman might choose a different way to the top.
A superhuman might choose to go up the outside!
You'd need to have amazing climbing skills, incredible grip strength,
be fearless at heights and have the ability to hang about all day.
You'd need the power of a real-life superhero.
A superhero like Spider-Man!
Who can climb any building and never get scared.
Well, I've heard of a real-life Spider-Man...
Alain Robert is the world's most famous free climber - that's someone
who climbs without the aid of ropes, harnesses or even a safety helmet!
Known as the French Spider-Man, Alain has scaled
more than 100 of the world's tallest buildings and structures
using only his hands and feet, and a small chalk bag!
Tim's travelled to Qatar to find out more about this superhuman.
And here he is!
-Alain, it's a pleasure to meet you!
-It's a pleasure to meet you too!
You're the man they call the Spider-Man...
It seems I am a kind of human Spider-Man.
-Have you ever fallen off?
-I fell seven times.
The major one, I was 19,
and I fell head-first from 15 metres
and I have landed on my wrist on some stones,
so both wrists have completely smashed.
See, I'd look at a building and go, "That's a nice building!"
And you're looking at it and going, "I could climb that!"
At first, when I was young, I was scared of heights,
but I just wanted to become a kind of hero.
We've searched the world to try and find somebody
to measure up against you.
And there isn't anyone. There's nobody! So, it's me.
-Is that OK with you?
-That's fine. Great! Let's do it!
This is Dr Megan John - she's an expedition doctor
and has kept people alive while they've attempted
some of the most dangerous activities you could imagine.
She's devised three Super Tests to work out what exactly makes
Alain's abilities so unique!
Tim, Alain, I've brought you to Doha, the capital of Qatar,
to this climbing wall.
For today's Super Test,
I'm going to be assessing the strength of your muscles,
particularly in your hands.
You'll both be climbing this climbing wall,
which we've had fitted with special holds - they will get smaller
the higher you get, making it harder and harder...
Yeah, that looks really tough! It overhangs!
Do you think I'm going to be able to do that?
To be honest, I don't think you can make it.
Climbers often use artificial walls to train on,
and Dr Megan is using this 9-metre high one
for Super Test One.
The challenge is simple - who can reach the top without falling off?
During this test, I'll be assessing Alain and Tim's grip strength
using this special piece of equipment called a dynometer.
As they grip it, the data will come up on my screen,
so I can analyse it.
The holds at the bottom will be using their full-hand grip,
and as they get higher up,
they will have to use the pincer grip for the smaller holds.
It's our pincer grip that allows us to be such a successful species.
It means we can write, create beautiful art
and even climb high walls.
I'll be doing the readings before and after the test.
-It'll be interesting to see how they change.
-So, hold it like this?
Dr Megan can see from the test that Tim's results
are exactly what she would expect from an average guy.
However, it's a very different story with Alain's results.
Because of his injuries to his wrists,
Alain's pinch grip is about a half the strength of an average man's.
And, incredibly, his full-hand squeeze is only about a quarter!
That's the maximum I can do.
-I'm sure that Tim was stronger than me...
You're dead right! But how will this affect his climbing in the test?
Alain's famous around the world
for climbing without any safety equipment,
but there's no way Dr Megan's letting him do that here -
he'll be wearing the full kit.
The guys are getting fitted up with their specialist equipment.
They will be wearing harnesses and safety helmets for protection.
They are also going to be supervised
by a specialist climbing safety team.
The average person isn't used to climbing up walls.
You use your hands to grip and your arms and legs to pull yourself up.
Soon your muscles will start to tire and ache.
Your grip strength will weaken
and you won't be able to hold on as well.
You might start to make mistakes and slip off the wall.
Eventually, your muscles will become so exhausted,
they stop working, and you'll fall off,
and without a safety rope, you would be seriously injured or even die.
So, Tim, you're all ready to start the test. How are you feeling?
OK, as ever, Doc, I'll do my best for you!
Tim's off the ground, at least!
At the bottom, the holds are quite large,
so they shouldn't be too difficult.
There aren't many holds, but near the bottom, they should be very big
and should be easy for Tim to hold or get a climbing shoe onto.
Poor Tim. He's not making this look easy.
Remember, you should never climb anything too high
without safety ropes. It can be very dangerous.
You have over 600 muscles in your body,
and they all have a very specific job.
The muscles that move your body are called skeletal muscles
and when these muscles get longer and shorter, they move your bones.
Muscles are attached to your bones by long,
flexible cables called tendons.
Tendons are incredibly tough
and grow right into your bones and muscles,
making the connections super strong.
Your hands are packed full of tendons
which allow you to grip things tightly.
He's doing brilliantly! Tim's afraid of heights.
You can see the amount of pressure going through his hands
to support his weight.
This is taking a lot of concentration.
He's probably already starting to get a bit tired.
Tim's at about 3 metres, but he's still got another 6 to go.
You can see that the next hold he's got up there is smaller
than the ones at the bottom.
It's making it harder for his muscles to grip them.
His fingers are supporting a lot of his body weight,
but your hands don't have any skeletal muscles in them at all.
You move your fingers using large, powerful muscles in your forearm.
These muscles are connected to each of your finger bones
by very long, strong tendons.
Each finger has one tendon that runs to the end
connecting to each bone as it goes.
As this tendon shortens, your finger bones are all pulled
at the same time, and your fingers curl up.
By using the combined power of your muscles and tendons,
you can do amazing things like hang from a climbing wall
using just your fingers.
I don't know if you can see there, but his arms are starting to shake.
That's because the muscles are having to work so hard
to keep his grip.
Ooh! Nearly went there!
You're doing really well, Tim! How are you feeling?
I don't know if I can make this... My body's trembling...
Tim hasn't made ANY progress for quite a while now.
Hand's going on...
Tim, you're doing brilliantly! About halfway now!
I can't find another hold.
Even if he isn't climbing any higher,
Tim's muscles are getting more tired just hanging on.
My fingers have got cramp!
No, Tim can't stay on for any longer!
OK, Tim, really well done!
If you come down, we'll see how your grip readings are now.
Tim reached 4.5 metres and was climbing for a painful 4 minutes 20.
Now, Dr Megan wants to test his grip strength straightaway
before he starts to recover.
Great, if you're ready to do the pincer grip now?
Tim's results show that he's lost
more than half of the strength in his hands during the test.
That shows just how hard he found the climb!
Now, it's Alain's turn!
You can see, even at this early stage,
that the way Alain's climbing is technically completely different
from the way Tim did. Everything's very calculated and accurate.
Already at this stage, Tim was starting to shake,
and his muscles were working really hard.
Alain looks completely comfortable!
Alain is now over halfway.
No muscle shake despite all his previous injuries -
he's looking as relaxed as a mountain goat!
How heavy you are has a big impact on how much grip strength you need.
Alain is about the same weight as me - about half what Tim weighs.
He explained to me that he has to keep himself so light
so that he doesn't have to lift so much weight.
This is one of the reasons that Alain is such a super climber.
When your arm muscles are holding your body weight,
they'll eventually get tired, and you'll have to let go.
But Alain is ultra-light.
In fact, an average man is a whole 30kg heavier than him.
To make him the same weight, Alain would have to carry
the equivalent of a Labrador dog!
Because he is lighter,
his muscles don't need to work so hard to hold him up
and they don't get tired so quickly.
He is also a very skilled climber
and he knows how to find the best hand and foot holds
and how to support his body to use less energy.
All this means Alain can climb higher and higher
and longer than the average human.
He's making it look easy and he's nearly at the top.
As he gets higher, the holds are getting harder and smaller.
It's amazing to watch Alain - he really does look like a spider man!
There he is! Well done, Alain!
If you can come down and we can get your readings?
Alain easily climbed to the top of the 9-metre wall
in only 3 minutes and 7 seconds.
Full grip? Go!
Although Alain's readings were not high before the test,
due to his previous injuries, incredibly,
his readings were even higher after the test!
That's how effortless the climb was for him!
So, this is fantastic -
you've adapted your technique and your way of climbing
-to utilise your strengths.
-Yeah, very much like that.
First of all, I am very strong mentally,
also I am using my body in a different way
from most of the people who are climbing.
Maybe being a superhuman, it's not only being super-duper strong.
It means being very strong mentally.
I would have done so much better in Super Test One
if I'd had more climbing experience.
Like the people of St Kilda.
Every day for hundreds of years,
on the Scottish Island of St Kilda,
islanders climbed steep cliffs to hunt for sea birds
and collect their eggs to eat.
One slip from the 300-metre high cliffs
would have meant certain death.
St Kildans climbed in their bare feet,
a skill they learnt from childhood.
Their ankles and toes became stronger
and more flexible than normal,
allowing them to grip the rock with their feet as well as their hands.
Their exceptional climbing skills
allowed their families to survive on this,
the most remote island in the UK.
In Super Test Two,
I'm going to be looking at the stamina of your muscles.
That's how long they can keep doing an exercise,
like holding your weight on a bar, over a period of time.
So today, you're both going to be hanging around a bit...up there!
To be a top climber, you need to have more than strong muscles.
You need to have stamina to keep climbing to the top!
Super Test Two is simple - who can hang on these bars
the longest without falling off?
Holding themselves up on the bar
will require the boys' muscles in their arms to work really hard.
That will cause a build-up of a chemical called lactate.
I'll be recording the lactate levels in their blood
before and after the test using these lactate analysers.
This will give me a marker
of how hard their muscles will have had to work during the challenge.
Everybody has a different normal lactate level in their blood.
Dr Megan is measuring this in Tim and Alain before the test,
so she can see how it's changed after the test.
OK, then, guys, let's get you up there!
Like any activity off the ground,
Super Test Two is potentially dangerous.
These bars have been rigged by climbing professionals
to hold an adult's weight.
You mustn't try anything like this,
as you could fall and seriously hurt yourself.
Once again, Alain and Tim will be wearing full safety gear
and be supervised by our team of experts.
-OK, guys, are you both ready?
Three, two, one, GO!
Tim and Alain are wearing harnesses, which won't support them
during the test but will catch them when they fall...
They've now been up there for about 10 seconds.
Tim's already starting to look quite uncomfortable.
How are you doing, Tim?
Yeah. The tube is spinning slightly, which is not very helpful.
Well, it doesn't seem to be a problem Alain's having.
In fact, he's so comfortable, he's wearing his slippers!
But Tim, on the other hand...
Oh, there it goes again! It's spinning.
Tim thinks the bar is spinning, but it's not.
His hands are slipping, because they can't get a good grip on the bar.
Your hand grips a bar best when your fingers and thumb
overlap around the bar.
Your hand has several different types of grip
that let you do many different jobs with your hands,
like throwing a ball or making a hook for a shopping bag.
Everyone's hands are different sizes, and many tools
and sports equipment are made in different sizes,
so you can find the perfect size for your hands.
When you're gripping something too big or too small,
your hands can't grip at their strongest.
Your muscles tire more quickly, your grip will weaken,
and your hands will start to slip.
It's gone again! It's really spinning now...
Tim's face is really starting to grimace.
As he's having to work harder, it's releasing lactate,
which causes the burn and pain.
Alain can hang from the bar, which gives his muscles a brief break.
But Tim's grip is slipping, so he can't do this,
so his muscles are always tensed up making them get tired.
Usually, when your muscles are working, they get shorter and fatter
and longer and thinner,
and this movement helps blood flow through them.
Your blood carries oxygen and sugar to your muscles
which they use in a chemical reaction to make energy.
But when you grip something tightly,
your arm muscles are tensed and don't ever relax.
They stay short and fat,
and this stops the blood flowing through them.
Your muscles now can't get enough oxygen.
They start to use sugar by itself,
but this reaction makes a chemical called lactic acid.
Lactic acid makes your muscles ache,
and eventually you'll have to let your muscles relax.
A minute and a quarter now,
and Alain's still looking very comfortable.
-How are you doing now, Tim?
How are your arms feeling?
They're fine, but I can't grip the tube.
I've only got my fingers on it. I can't do it...
Tim's fallen off after only 1 minute and 25 seconds.
But Alain's patiently hanging around
while Dr Megan tests Tim's lactate levels.
What story will Tim's blood tell? All will be revealed shortly.
Alain is still hanging on
and he's been up there now for over 3 minutes.
Alain's been up there over double the time Tim has.
I think he's proved his point. Alain! Do you want to come down now?
OK, take me, I stop, OK?
Now it's Alain's turn to get his lactate tested.
So, guys, you both did really well!
I've got the data here from your lactate readings.
Tim, you went from 1.4 before the test,
to 8.9, your lactate reading straight after.
So that shows how hard your muscles in your arms were having to work
to keep you up there!
8.9! Poor Tim! His muscles must have been in agony!
So, Alain, after 3 minutes, I called you down.
You did really, really well and you were still looking comfortable -
your reading before the test was 1.6.
After, when you came down, it was 4.1.
So that's less than half what Tim's was,
and, Tim, you did half the time.
A lifetime of climbing has given Alain super stamina.
It was really tough hanging on in Super Test Two,
but sometimes in life-or-death situations,
people do incredible things!
Adventurer, Takeyasu Minamiura was paragliding in Pakistan,
from the top of one of the most treacherous
rocky spikes in the world, when disaster struck.
His paraglider snagged on a rock,
and he found himself hanging several kilometres above the ground.
Rescue helicopters couldn't reach Takeyasu.
They could only throw food until finally a block of cheese
became wedged above him. After six days,
Takeyasu was so hungry that he managed an incredible climb
without any safety ropes up to the cheese.
Luckily, where cheese had landed was a small ledge.
He climbed onto it, and this meant the rescue teams
could save him at last.
In Super Tests One and Two, we saw that strength
and stamina are important to be a climber.
In my Super Test Three,
you'll both be getting a chance to put these into action, in style!
You're going to be climbing...THAT!
That or rather this is a hotel called the Torch Doha
and it's designed to look like an Olympic torch.
At 318 metres tall, it's about the same height
as the Eiffel Tower in Paris.
It's covered in wire mesh and has a swimming pool that sticks out
a third of the way up at about 100 metres.
Dr Megan has placed rope safety specialists at this level,
and if they get this far,
Tim and Alain will need to change safety ropes
if they want to climb any higher.
If they do, things will get harder, because at about 200 metres,
the building curves outwards making it even more difficult to climb.
Because this is so dangerous, Dr Megan has a huge team
of safety professionals and climbing experts
to oversee the safety ropes and harnesses,
and she has medics on standby as well.
Climbing a building like this is incredibly dangerous
and actually illegal without special permission.
You should never attempt anything like this.
Climbing a building makes your heart work faster,
and you'll start to sweat, making it harder to grip.
Soon, your muscles will start to tire and ache.
As you climb higher, your brain knows you could fall
and triggers the average person to get scared.
You might start to make mistakes and slip off.
If you lose your grip before you get to the top, you will fall off,
and without a safety rope, you will be seriously injured or even die.
And today, there's an extra challenge from the weather.
Is this wind going to help me?
Maybe. It may...pushes you all the way to the top!
Really? This is not sailing, Alain!
You're dead right, Tim. It's the moment of truth.
How high will Tim be able to climb?
Will he even make it to the 100-metre platform?
Oh, this is horrendous!
Tim is on the first ledge, but he can't even get started
on the mesh that covers the outside of the building.
I can't even get my feet in...
When they built this building,
they hadn't designed it with climbers in mind!
But Alain's on hand with some helpful advice.
Use the cracks in between!
You jam the tip of your foot inside it!
It is what you will have to use for your foot...
Yeah, that's the way, Tim!
Tim, you're doing really well! How are you feeling now?
It really hurts the feet.
Tim seems to have got the hang of squashing his feet
into the tiny gaps in the mesh.
It hurts your feet, it hurts your fingers...
But he's starting to feel the pain.
He's starting to shake all over. He's getting tired and nervous.
When you're nervous and stressed,
your body sends out all sorts of strange nerve impulses,
which is one of the things that's making him shake.
He's not graceful, but he is making progress!
Tim's up about 20 metres now - he's doing really, really well!
He is doing really well, but there's still 300 metres to climb.
Oh, this is horrendous!
Alain must really love this stuff to go through this...!
So, he's been going 11 minutes now.
If you remember in Super Test Two, we were testing the lactic acid -
as you get tired, your body releases a chemical called lactate,
which is what causes the burn when you exercise really hard.
There's another nice ledge.
We can see him shaking it out.
Climbing uses your flexor muscles, and when you stretch them out,
you're trying to extend them back out again.
I'm really surprised how well Tim's doing!
Tim's been climbing for 12 minutes.
In Super Test One, he didn't even last for 4 and a half minutes,
-so he is doing really, really well.
-I'm getting tired now.
My feet are not responding as well as they did.
And my leg muscles are feeling it.
The combination of physical pain
and the exhaustion of getting up there,
plus the mental strain of being frightened of heights...
It's getting quite a lot for Tim to cope with.
I don't know how much longer I can do this!
Hips in! Push upwards, not out!
When he stops, he's shaking,
and Ross, one of our climbing supervisors,
was having to talk to Tim to try to motivate him to carry on up...
Amazingly, Tim manages to dig deeper and find some extra energy.
He's getting closer to that 100-metre platform.
Take your time! Shake those arms out!
Keep feeding your arms...
I'm just resting... I'm just resting...
My arms are now throbbing.
They really are...
If he can't go on from there, we'll just haul him up...
Surely he's not going to give up now?
Final push now!
He's nearly made it to the swimming pool ledge!
Yes, Tim, come on! He's still got something left!
Tim's so close, everyone can see him
from the pool platform, but he's not quite there yet!
You're going to get this! One panel!
Tim's been climbing for 35 minutes.
He's done incredibly well, but he's exhausted,
and the pool at 100 metres is as far as he's going to get.
Poor Tim! He looks completely exhausted, but he's done it.
He's made it to the swimming pool! Incredible!
-I dunno, how you do this...
-Here we are, Tim!
TIM GASPS FOR BREATH Let's hug it out, guys!
Let's hug it out.
Oh, am I glad to see you two guys!
Wow, that was tough!
Tim did incredibly well, but let's see how Alain does it.
Alain looks so at ease as he climbs.
But then, he is one of the world's most famous climbers.
In Super Tests One and Two, we learnt how incredible
Alain's technique and his stamina are in his muscles.
You were already shaking at this point. You did really, really well!
That may not have been muscle strength, Doc,
that could have been nervousness!
Watching someone else do it, I can't quite believe I did it...
It's phenomenal! Absolutely phenomenal...
After only 15 minutes,
Alain is already nearing the 100-metre point that Tim got to.
That's more than twice as fast as Tim and he doesn't even seem tired.
He said up until the swimming pool,
he considers that the easy part of the climb -
so he's warming up, before he does the overhang bit.
That's going to be really tough.
Alain easily reached the 100-metre point
and after a rope change, he's happy to carry on climbing.
He's an absolutely fantastic example
of how adaption can work to your benefit.
He's worked his climbing technique out to take into account
the injuries he's sustained and the weakness he's got in his grip.
As Alain takes a moment to chalk his hands up
and give his legs a wee stretch,
it's easy to forget that he's 200 metres off the ground!
Next, the hardest part of the climb. The overhang!
I know nothing about climbing,
but even I can see that when you're at that angle, that's helpful.
If you're at that angle, that's not helpful!
At this height, the building bends back on itself,
making it much harder to climb,
because you can't rely on your legs to carry as much of your weight.
He must be getting on for 300 metres up now.
Oh, I think, definitely.
For us, he's wearing full safety gear, just like you did -
the harness, the helmet, he's on the ropes.
But you've got to remember that this guy normally has so much confidence
in his technique and ability, that he does this type of thing
WITHOUT any safety precautions!
Yeah. His mental focus must be...unbelievable!
Alain's had nearly 40 years training and experience in climbing.
You should never climb ANYTHING
without the proper training and equipment!
It's the last few moves for Alain.
Incredibly, he's climbed over 300 metres now.
It's just seemed effortless for him!
That's him! That dot at the top of the building, that is Alain!
He's made it!
I came to Doha looking for a superhuman.
A real-life Spider-Man.
I found one.
Alain Robert, you are superhuman!
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
Tim Fitzhigham meets the humans who defy science and puts their powers to the test - against himself. Tim meets Alain Robert, aka the French Spider-Man. Alain is famous for climbing the world's tallest buildings using no climbing equipment except for a small bag of chalk and a pair of climbing shoes.
Tim and Alain travel to Qatar, in the Middle East and go head to head in three super tests. Will Tim match up to Alain at the climbing wall, on the hanging bars and when they face the ultimate test - climbing the 300 meter high Torch, Doha? These tests are as dangerous as they sound, so Tim uses state-of-the-art technology and his very own mission doctor as he prepares for his challenges.
Is Alain Robert the real life Spider-Man? Prepare to be amazed by Super Human Challenge!