How to use a bouldering gym for bigger objectives (did we say bigger forearms?)

We’ve all been there, cruising through the opening sequences of a roped route near our limit, confidence peaking as the evening sun dances off your back…THE GOLDEN HOUR, perfect time for sending and not a doubt is in your mind that you, in fact, shall send.

First crux, BAM! Second crux, BOOM! Red point crux, WHIP!!!! In a rush of frustration as you hang dog the rope- you curse the feeble ability of your forearms to ascend the rock. “But I’ve been rope climbing in the gym! Why did I fall!?” Let’s investigate.

Similar to the performance of cubicle workers, climbers stroll into the gym and kill hours of useful time. Wetting their whistle with the latest performance drink mix (coffee), talking trash to their rival (best friend) climbers, untying the bird nest of a climbing rope and getting all the “necessary” gear (camelots, ATCs, webbing, bear bell, clif bar, gopro, did we miss anything) attached to their harness for those top rope cruxes. In the blink of an eye 2 hours have gone by. Just as your partner gets climbing shoes on you get a text from the spouse- kids are crying and it’s time to come home (no spouse or kids yet? Okay, you get a text from your sig fig and they wanna scarf some vegan mac and kombucha from Trader Joes- only issue, they don’t want to go get it themselves). Your session is taking a back seat, FAST.

Okay, your rescue mission is complete- vegan mac is delivered and your back in the saddle at the gym. Your rope partner wants to go first though. They say they are working on their “sprinting” while climbing (working fast through easier moves to save energy for the cruxes). In the background you hear T Swift 1989 play a full loop, twice. Looking up you realize it’s been 2 hours as your partner crescendos at the top in a shreaking victory over the climb. “TAKE!” is shouted down and finally, just finally, it might be your turn to get pumped. Shortly after, time to pack up and go home. “Did I even rock climb today?”

Rhyan Brown on a rarely repeating highball in the Wichita Mountain Wildlife Refuge.
Rhyan Brown on a rarely repeating highball in the Wichita Mountain Wildlife Refuge.

Bouldering started as early as the 1940’s in Yosemite, California. The big wigs of the time like Chouinard (you know, the creator of your favorite aztec print fleece or skin tight briefs?) and Chuck Pratt saw the boulders in Camp 4 as a training tool for bigger objectives. The appeal of these boulder fields was obvious… no fuss, no wasted time. These boulders got straight to the point addressing weaknesses in their climbing abilities. Where they were weak, it made them strong. And it did it FAST. No messing around with ropes or gear, just them and the rock.

Fast forward 80 years, 2020 is wrapping up (thank goodness!), and you’ve got some big projects on the horizon. How do we tap into this primitive style of isolated training for rock climbing? The thought crosses your mind, “well I should just go fire some laps on ropes at the gym”, which is followed by a flood of memories- past projects where that method of enduro jug lapping in the gym just didn’t do the trick. “Should I run? Should I do interval training? Maybe surfing and mountain biking would be the best combo? No, spinach + blueberries + a healthier flora/fauna in the gut- yeah, that’ll do the trick!” A quick google search of how to improve your success for roped routes will leave you scratching your head and hiking to the crag with your tail between your legs.

Many rope climbers are now seeing the biggest return, biggest bang for the buck, training in bouldering gyms. So, what’s the deal? I mean these bouldering focused climbers are the residue of the climbing community, right? The chaff of the REAL CLIMBERS. But they’re so strong! On ropes too!

Are these climbers following a Monday through Sunday training protocol eating only spinach and blueberries? Measuring force production and performing max weighted hangs? Is there Alex Megos training videos on loop at the gym causing increasing sending ability via osmosis? The answer is no. Simply put, there is less WASTED TIME.

You know, you love it- home to the finely crafted bouldering circuits. Blocworks. Edmond, OK
You know, you love it- home to the finely crafted bouldering circuits. Blocworks. Edmond, OK

No doubt bouldering 4×4’s, circuit training, sport laps on the kilter board, a 6’er of IPAs from Frenzy (our neighbor brewery) and many other endurance training protocols will provide results.

What is often overseen is the simplicity and sport specificity of bouldering indoors. Adversely, the set backs of rope climbing indoors on performance are often overlooked as well. Like Chouinard on the boulders of Yosemite, bouldering provides the climber with immediate improvement without all the clutter. Turns out, the best way to training for rock climbing…is freaking rock climbing!! Get rid of all the other junk.

Why complicate your training? YOU would be better off just Bouldering. Get to the point and keep it simple.

Think of the last time you fell outside on a rope.

Why did the fall occur? Failure to latch the hold? Inability to hinge at the hip and get the foot super high? Forearms pumped? YUP!

Climbing on a rope in the gym doesn’t necessarily help physical ability on the rock. Bouldering and not wasting time…does.

We’ve heard before, “I just don’t like bouldering”. We would argue that means you don’t like rock climbing. In order to get better at roped climbing you must get better at movement. How to improve your movement? Bouldering.

Watch the best climber in the world train endurance on a bouldering wall here.

NEED A RE-CAP!? Simplify, simplify, simplify. Put your time in un-complicating things and watch your climbing go to the next level. Let Blocworks challenge you with a variety of movement styles in all V-Grades set by route setters who want to help you improve! Put down the rope, grab the shoes and chalk… and get to work.

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We asked some locals to sum up why climbing in a bouldering gym has helped them so much in roped climbing and bigger objectives:

Micah (old man) Metheny: “Efficient effective training that increased power endurance.”

Rhyan (one arm hand stand) Brown: “I think that given you can manage the logistical aspect of sport climbing, it’s hard pressed to find a better tool for indoor training than a good bouldering wall. No need for a partner, the work is more efficient.”

Evan (yeah, yeah I own the place) Small: “Primarily bouldering removed barriers I didn’t were there. It focused strictly on the skill of rock climbing, and improved it. Fast.”