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10 Tips for Comp-Style Boulder Problems

Love them or hate them, these types of problems are becoming increasingly popular in gyms everywhere

Photo by: Jan Virt/IFSC

Having a tough time with all the new “competition-style” boulder problems at your gym? These climbs are a lot different than boulder problems of old. In general, comp-style problems feature gymnastic, coordination-based movements and cryptic, funky beta. To be successful, you need an interesting mix of dynamic, explosive movement and skillful balance to send these often parkour-like problems.

If you’d like to improve at comp-style boulders, be sure to consider these 10 tips:

1. Warm up thoroughly 

Comp-style problems are taxing to the whole body. As always, warm up your fingers, wrists, and shoulders through a full range of motion. Also be sure to warm up your hips, knees, and ankles because you’re going to be putting them in lots of unusual positions and you’ll likely be falling—a lot.

2. Know how to fall safely

With coordination moves, it can be common to fall dozens of times before figuring out the beta just right. If you don’t know how to fall safely, you should not attempt these types of problems—especially so if they have dynamic cruxes up high. Get fall training from your local gym staff, a coach, or a trusted mentor.

Photo by Lena Drapella/IFSC

3. Stand on volumes with proper technique

Volumes are used frequently in comp-style setting. Standing with confidence on these large, angular holds takes a lot of practice, and some subtle techniques. The natural tendency is to stand on the portion of the volume closest to wall, but this is incorrect. Instead, you should stand on the portion of the volume farthest away from the wall. This improves your balance as you can get your hips directly over your feet.

Smear technique is also key. Get as much rubber-to-volume contact as possible in the front half of your shoe. Your heels should be lower to the ground than your toes when performing powerful smears. Make small, precise movements, and fully commit your weight to your feet. Shift your hips over your legs as you move left and right to maintain your centre of balance.

Watch Sean McColl in the video below for some volume footwork mastery.

4. Embrace the foot slip

People often let go or jump off a problem rather than let their foot slip. In comp-style problems, smeary bad feet or a tiny jib might be the only thing that’s keeping you on the wall. Foot slips are part of the game. If a particular potential foot slip is getting in your head, practice the fall from that spot (assuming it’s safe to do so) to build confidence.

5. Choose the right shoes

Softer, flexible shoes are great for comp-style problems. They allow your feet to bend, smear, and mould to the holds you’ll be standing and pressing on. They also allow you to perform little sprints and jumps in the parkour-like starts of many problems. An extremely stiff edging shoe that keeps your toes very bunched up will make all of this more difficult. Shoes with rubber on the topside of the toebox can be helpful for the frequent toe hooks encountered on these problems.

6. Read beta from the top down

Before just throwing yourself at a complex comp-style problem, take a moment to stand back and decipher the sequences. Counterintuitively, it can be helpful to analyze the end of the problem first, and then work backwards from there. If you start from the beginning of the problem you can be left with a beta that puts you in the wrong position for the next set of moves.

As you move backwards top to bottom, find all the positions that look stable/restful. Then, try to figure out the sequences between these stable body positions. Be sure to look for clues on the holds—chalk stains, thumb prints, black marks from shoe rubber—as these can often indicate the type of sequence required.

Carefully watch other climbers on the problem. Also view videos online of top climbers on comp-style boulder problems to build your awareness of comp-style movement possibilities. The IFSC’s Youtube channel is great place to start.

Photo by Dimitris Tosidis/IFSC

7. Work moves in isolation to build up to the larger sequence

It’s much easier to work individual coordination moves in isolation rather than tackle a whole five- or six-move sequence. If you have to do a series of quick foot moves over a set of volumes, for example, break it down into easier bits. Work on the first foot placement. Once it’s dialed, add in the second. Then the third, and so on.

8. Be loose and relaxed

When performing a coordination move of a few quick foot or hand movements, it’s natural to tense up as you try really hard to complete the sequence. However, this tension can ruin your sense of balance. Try your best to stay loose and flowy, allowing your nervous system to feel the intricate balance points throughout a sequence. Of course, you’ll need to tense up to grab certain holds or positions, but be relaxed and adaptive between these moments of extreme tension.

9. Commit to dynamic movement

If you want to get good at comp-style problems, you’re going to have to train your dynamic movement. Work deadpoints and dynos systematically from a variety of hold types, angles, and lengths. Practice dynamic toe catches as well as these are frequent in comp-style movement. Watch the video below for a refresher on proper dyno form.

10. Consider your movement in 3D space

When performing a standard vertical dyno, the angle or arc in which you launch determines if you catch the hold just right. If the angle of your initial launch is incorrect, you’ll hit the hold too high or too low. This concept can also be applied to more complex horizontal or diagonal coordination movements.

When moving horizontally or diagonally through a dynamic coordination sequence, don’t just think about moving left or right. Instead, think about your body in 3D space, paying careful attention to how far in or out your body is from the wall. You want to grab your final hold of the sequence in an ideal position—not all scrunched up with your chest touching the wall or way too far out desperately stretching for the hold. To put yourself in this ideal final position, you need to start the launch of your coordination sequence at the right angle or arc.

Watch a demonstration of this complex concept from Tomoa Narasaki—one of the best coordination problem climbers in the world.

Lead photo: Jan Virt/IFSC