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Back to Basics – The Power of Board Climbing

An introductory description of board climbing and the ways you can use your home wall for maximal strength gains

Years ago, board climbing was the beginning and end of all climbing training. For rock climbing, it provided the athlete with a steep angle, poor holds, and a square climbing stance. As a result, the older generation of climbers developed ludicrously strong fingers and brutally powerful forearms. It facilitates strength growth in the core, shoulders and back and is a useful substitute for the climbing gym.

That said, climbing gyms offer a few select services that are impossible to replicate on the board. Firstly, climbing gyms offer the athlete a fixed grading scale by which the climber can measure their progress. As the routes are graded by someone else, the uncertainty that comes from rating is at least partially resolved. They also offer wall angles. This is useful for hip mobility and movement. The value of wall angles is difficult overstate if you are looking to competition climb or climb outside. This is due to the fact that most climbs take place on a wall with multiple angles. In outdoor bouldering, this is especially true because of the rounded shape of many bouldering features.

As a result, it can be difficult to approach wall-training in a way that feels hyper-productive for competition climbing or outdoor projecting. This is why it must be approached as strength-training tool.

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Davey Fitz – The Lord of the board 2018 😊

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Theory Behind of Board Training

The first thing to consider when training on a board is what you are training. We already know that movements requiring heel hooks or toe hooks won’t really achieve what we want them to in terms of hip mobility. We also know that board training makes our grip stronger due to the sheer amount of weight we are putting on our hands. As a result of these two features, we should try and put as much weight on our hands as possible to isolate those aspects of our climbing that can be improved by the board. It is for this reason that ideal strength-training on a board does not use heel-hooks or toe-hooks. If you want to take it further, remove drop knees as well. This will force you to “climb square,” effectively using all of your power to simply remain on the wall.

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This style is referred to as a “square” because of the shape that forms between the hips and the shoulders. Similarly, between those points created by the hips and their opposite points on the wall. It isolates the core muscle groups, the scapular engagement of the shoulders and the climber’s grip.

Grading

With that understood, it becomes easier to look at grading. If you are climbing with multiple other climbers, you can grade by consensus, but it is possible that you will never really believe yourself when you send your projects anyway. It is important to remember that the point of training is to be able to do something that you are currently incapable of doing. In this way, it can be fun to not grade boulders and instead just view them as boulders that you “can complete” and “cannot yet complete.”

Training

There are two goals to board training:

  • The first goal is to become better at completing progressively more difficult sequences. This most directly relates to bouldering.
  • The second goal is to become better at completing progressively longer sequences. This most directly relates to route climbing.

If you wish to become better at either style, those lines which you set on your board should feature all hold types and all movements. As you become stronger, you will learn that the concept of having favourite holds will become secondary to having favourite moves. At the end of the day, everyone’s best hold is the jug. That same simplification cannot be said for movement types due to the fact that every climber has a different centre of gravity, height, and weight.

Bouldering-specific training

If you are dead-set on becoming a strong boulderer. These are a few exercises that will make you stronger.

Projecting:

  • It sounds obvious, but practicing hard moves, without the aid of heel-hooks, toe-hooks, or drop-knees allows for strong hands and a strong body. It is best to project the first day back from rest so that you are maximally strong and can learn the most about difficult movement. After you have sent your project, set a sit start to that project. Once that has gone, move onto the next boulder.

One-shots:

  • Set a series of boulder problems and strive to complete them in one try. This will force you to focus hard on each attempt and to rest long enough for that “perfect burn.”
    • Realistically, you will not flash each boulder. Give yourself three tries at a maximum before moving onto the next problem. This exercise is made better with another setter present.

Back-to-back:

  • Set between four and eight boulder problems, each about four grades beneath your limit. Send them all individually. Then, try and send them all back-to-back, giving a maximum of 30-seconds rest between each problem.

Route-specific training

If you are focused on becoming a strong route climber, try these exercises.

Bouldering:

  • All of the above exercises for bouldering are useful for routes. If you are wondering how people climb really hard on routes and end up flashing 5.13, it is by bouldering so long and so hard that the V7 crux on their 5.13 feels easy.

Stick Game:

  • That said, for endurance, training on a board is exceptional because it naturally forces power endurance due to the relatively steep angle of climbing. See how many holds you can link together. The key to endurance climbing is largely in the climber’s head. Breathing well and resting in an open-handed grip will allow the climber to move easily on the wall. The way stick game is played is simple. Give your partner a stick and have them point out holds to you as you climb. Give yourself open feet and learn how to move efficiently through the holds. Quickly, you will realize that the hardest thing about holding onto a hold is a lack of familiarity with it. Use both the bad and good holds. Adjust your foot placement accordingly. The worst the grip, the better the feet. It will feel awkward and weird the first few times you and your partner run through the exercise, but you will quickly find the movement that works best for each of you. Allow yourself as much time as you would like on each hold and force the “no-matching” rule and the “rest-as-long-as-you-want” rule. The goal is to complete the maximum number of moves per burn, regardless of how long it takes.

Injury prevention

Board climbing tends to be more aggressive than regular gym climbing. As a result, give yourself the time to recover on rest days. If your fingers begin to feel tweaky, either change the hold types you are using that day, or rest until your hands have recovered.