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Is a MoonBoard for You?

A brief discussion of the MoonBoard and the strength gains that can occur when used as a training tool

Photo by: Erik Karlsson of Kajsa Rosen

Perhaps you have heard them: the subtle grunts of your gym’s strongest tearing down the 40-degree problem generator at the back of the gym. Sure it looks cool, but does MoonBoard really make a difference? I mean V5 is V5… surely…

In 2005, Ben Moon would transform the classically sandbagged School Room into the world’s first standardized training board. Since then, there have been numerous reincarnations, the most famous of which exhibited in the 2016, 2017, and 2019 MoonBoard sets.

Why has it become so popular? It is the embodiment of difficult climbing. It is the replication of outdoor climbing in an indoor environment. It is a worldwide network.

How does it work?

To begin, the MoonBoard offers the climber a nearly infinite range of boulder problems. These problems are split between three unique MoonBoard set ups: the 2016, the 2017, and the 2019. Though some holds are shared between set ups, the orientation of each is unique between boards. This allows for maximal variety between board set ups and gives the athlete a unique opportunity to climb anywhere in the world on a standardized board.

The boards are set for two angles. The 40-degree angle and the 25-degree angle. We will be discussing the most popular of the two MoonBoard angles, the 40-degree board.

The Grips

The holds are made out of either wood or polyurethane depending on which year of hold set you end up with. In either case, the holds become worn with time, increasingly texture-less and, as a result, even better for training. Unlike the tension board, the holds are irregularly shaped, forcing unique finger placements and exceptionally precise beta. It is regularly compared to a hangboard due to how finger intensive this style of climbing is.

Unlike a fingerboard, however, the MoonBoard is a wall that you climb on. Additionally, the MoonBoard targets grips strength as well as finger strength with its oddly shaped grips. Just like outdoor climbing, these holds create a seeming infinity of potential grip options for each boulder.

The Benchmarks

Perhaps what has made the MoonBoard most famous is its international community. Anyone that downloads the free Moon Climbing app has the ability to set any boulder problem of their choosing and grade it whatever they wish to. However, the grade of the MoonBoard problem is not fixed. Instead, it is dependent upon what other climbers think of its difficulty. As such, any user can upgrade or downgrade a climb.

A Benchmark boulder problem is that which the community has deemed fair for the grade. The MoonBoard Benchmarks are notoriously sandbagged. To sandbag a boulder problem is to propose a grade that is lower than the boulder problem’s actual difficulty. Though this can be tough on the ego, the MoonBoard is a training tool. It is about becoming stronger, not about climbing your v-grade limit.

Difficulty is not all that defines MoonBoard Benchmark boulder problems. These problems are included in an international online ranking system as well. Various points are allotted for each difficulty, allowing the athlete to rank themselves against all users in the world. Each MoonBoard set has its own leaderboard. Though V10 is ranked higher than V4 in terms of points, to climb to the top of the leaderboard, the climber will have to complete literally all of the benchmarks eventually. To add to that, extra points are given for the flash, second go, or third go of any boulder problem.

This means that you can climb quite high up the leaderboard before ever leaving V4. With that said, completing every V4 is not easy.

Sandbagging for Training

At first, it is tough on the ego. You might be a V10 climber, and even still, there will be V4s that take you a number of tries. The reason for this is that everything is graded by the climbers that do the problem. This is to say that if enough tall climbers complete a boulder problem and grade it V4, it means that for tall climbers it feels like V4. A short climber might try the same boulder problem and find it to be three grades harder than V4. The reverse effect can also be the case with some boulders forcing small-box movement.

Though not every V4 will feel accessible at first, it is this level of inaccessibility that makes the board so useful. Outdoor boulder problems have each had grades for a long time. Sometimes V4 feels like jugs and sometimes it feels impossible. By getting shut down on boulders beneath your limit, the climber learns about the subjectivity of grades.

To that effect, the aforementioned, oddly shaped holds force the climber to complete uncomfortable movement at times. Sometimes the movement is ludicrously powerful, or incredibly subtle. The shape and angle of the holds, however, makes it very hard to relax on any of the moves. Where a gym climb is meant to be comfortable and to flow nicely, the MoonBoard is designed to push you out of your comfort zone, make you unbalanced. It forces the user to deal with this insecurity, trying hard in an effort to send. This ensures that the next time they are on a comfortable climb, completing the movement will be easy.

This is especially useful for people training for outdoors as outdoor climbing holds regularly force the climber through some fairly odd sequences.

What does the MoonBoard target?

Well, everything that you might use in climbing. Though it will not make you a slab master, the Moonboard will ensure the improvement of grip strength, contact strength, crimp strength, pulling power, one-arm hang strength, core strength (especially in the lower back), shoulder strength, and footwork.

Though you might see an indefinite number of people cutting loose on the MoonBoard, the best users will maintain their footwork when and where possible. This is because some of the grips require this level of focus and body control.

Does it work?

Yes. Almost too well. Though the awkward and heartless movement of the MoonBoard will definitely make you stronger, it is tweaky and should be approached with caution. The MoonBoard requires a lot and therefor it might be best to alternate days when working on it. In accordance with a Reddit suggestion from Miles Adamson, climbing three days a week, if you are only climbing on a MoonBoard, might be best. Anymore, and your body has difficulty recovering in time for your next session. It is best to think about it as a substitute for hangboarding. Would you ever hangboard more than three times in a week? The answer might be yes, but you would certainly be a more advanced climber that is hyper aware of their ability.

Should you MoonBoard?

Frequently, climbers feel too weak for the MoonBoard and stray away from it. Don’t worry. Everyone is too weak for the MoonBoard when they start off. In the same way that bouldering is training for route climbing, as it is so much more demanding of the tendons than route climbing tends to be, MoonBoard is training for bouldering. It feels hard for modern boulderers because, unless you have spent a lot of time on a board before, it is a completely foreign type of climbing.

Instead of friction, it is all about grip strength, making it the perfect training tool for everyone that has not used it before. It is best to begin after you feel comfortable on gym V4. The 2017 set has difficulties ranging from V3-V13. You will notice increases in strength immediately, but it is important to note that rest, including extra rest days, is important when you are MoonBoarding.

If you need a reason to give it a go, simply look at the leaderboard for your country, all of the climbers in the Top 50 are strong, and the Top 10 likely includes some of your country’s strongest climbers.

Canada’s Top 5 on the 2017 set are:

  1. Samuel Tiukuvaara
  2. Jake Scharfman
  3. Stephan Salvador
  4. Brennan Doyle
  5. Miles Adamson

Each of these climbers have climbed upwards of V12 outdoors and they have all competed internationally. Correlation does not equal causation, but it speaks volumes that each of these climbers would have decided to spend so much time on this board in training.

Lead photo: Erik Karlsson of Kajsa Rosen