I’ve written before about how bouldering sessions should be a regular feature of any successful training program – no matter what your climbing goals are. However, not all bouldering sessions are going to move you towards your goals equally. To ensure they do, they need to be deliberate.
Bouldering sessions can and should be fun. As we all start to emerge from the coronavirus lockdown, there’s nothing wrong with bouldering simply to enjoy moving on the wall again. However, if you really want your bouldering sessions to support your climbing goals – whether they are boulders, sport routes, or big walls – you need to be a bit more deliberate. Remember, different types of bouldering sessions challenge you in different ways physically, technically, and mentally. To make sure your bouldering sessions are working towards your goals, you need to be aware of and control these variables.
There isn’t a one size fits all perfect bouldering session. Different goals and different climbers require different approaches. That said, reflecting on the following four points will help you be more deliberate in your sessions so you can be clear with exactly what you are doing and why.
When you go into the gym, do you just climb on the most recent set of problems? If you climb in a big modern gym, chances are there are almost always new boulders for you to try. This is essentially like going to a new boulder field every day and it can be incredibly fun.
The issue, however, is that by always going to the new set you are letting the route setters and their setting schedule determine what you climb on. Route setting is an incredibly difficult job, but remember their job is to produce a commercial product (boulder problems) that keep people coming into the gym – not to help you send your next project.
Using the available boulders to work towards your goals is up to you and this requires a more intentional approach to choosing what boulders you try. Next time you go into the gym, rather than just going to the newest set, ask yourself the following questions:
- What am I trying to work on?
- Why am I climbing on this boulder?
- Am I avoiding certain walls/angles/styles?
There aren’t right or wrong answers here. The important thing is that by answering them, you’ll have a much clearer sense of exactly what you are doing during your bouldering session. With this information, you’ll then be able to make more intentional choices about how to structure your bouldering sessions so that you are actually working toward your individual goals.
Specific to Your Goals
If you have a specific project, then it makes sense to use your bouldering session to work on whatever’s holding you back on that climb. Whether that’s crimps, drop knees, long deadpoint moves, high-end power, etc., the important thing is that you work on and try to improve these areas during your bouldering. Goals can be more general as well and can be as nonspecific as “become a more powerful climber” or “get stronger.”
Having specific goals is better, but if your goals are more about general improvement, you still need to be deliberate about leveraging your bouldering sessions to move towards them. Simply put, this takes the form of seeing areas of weakness as opportunities for improvement. The logic here is simple, but sticking to it requires a major mental shift. Struggle on V4 sloper boulders but can crush V6 crimps? Then cruising crimp V6 after crimp V6 isn’t going to make you a better or more well-rounded climber in the long run. It’s just going to make your ego feel good. Conversely, putting your ego aside and investing in the V4 slopers precisely because they are hard for you is going to lead to great improvement overall.
To sum this up, work on your weaknesses and especially those weaknesses that are specific to your goals. Sounds simple, right? That doesn’t mean it’s easy and the real question is how can you do this in your bouldering sessions?
Much like bringing intentionality into your sessions, there isn’t a universal answer here. My advice, however, is to focus more on style than grades. Grades are just rough estimates of difficulty and they don’t account for our individual strengths and weaknesses. Using the example from above, which boulder is harder for you – the crimp V6 you can do every time or the slopey V4 you can’t touch?
What we have been talking about so far are ways to be more deliberate in your training to ensure that your bouldering sessions are actually helping you reach your goals. If that’s really our aim when we head into the gym for a bouldering session, then we need to keep that in perspective. Bouldering as training can still (and should) be fun, but we need to always remember that we are doing it in support of our goals and not let it become the primary goal itself.
Ultimately, this is mostly a commentary about the role of training. It’s what we do in support of and to work towards our goals. Yes, we want to see progress and when we’re bouldering that is measured by sending new boulders or doing moves we couldn’t do before. We need to remember, however, that it isn’t a performance in its own right. The time for performance will come when you’re back trying your project.
This perspective is extremely important. If you are always trying to perform, you are only measuring success based on whether or not you sent. This can quickly lead to a need to constantly feel success, which, if we go back to our crimp boulder vs sloper boulder from the last section, makes it really hard to put the work into your weaknesses that you actually need.
So how can we do better? Don’t make sending the only marker of success. Instead, look for the small victories along the way and value the feeling and signs of improvement over individual sends.
One of the biggest differences between the climbing elite and the rest of us is how hard they try. If you’ve ever seen our top-level athletes climb in person, you were probably amazed at how hard they try.
Don’t take this as an attack or a statement that you aren’t trying hard enough. Trying hard is a skill. It’s a skill that can be learned and needs to be practiced. Set your sessions up to cultivate this mindset.
There’s no denying that the details of what kinds of boulders you are trying are important, but they pale in comparison to the importance of effort. If you can make trying hard – and I mean trying REALLY hard – a regular habit, then a lot of the other details will take care of themselves.
Upcoming Bouldering Class
I hope these four points will help you be more deliberate in your bouldering sessions and get you thinking about how you can better leverage your bouldering in support of your climbing goals. In my upcoming class, I’ll be digging into the details of these concepts and covering how we can all make our bouldering sessions more effective, no matter what your climbing goals look like.
Climbing Class: How to Structure an Effective Bouldering Session
When: Wednesday, June 24th at 11am-1:30pm MDT
Where: Zoom call
Who: Limit of 10 participants and taught by me, Matt Pincus
(NOTE: If the time has passed for this class, please check for another date here.)
You can sign up for the class even if you can’t make the time and date; I’ll send out a recording of the call and the presentation notes after class. This is a quick and easy way to get a bunch of your questions answered in a short period of time.
This class will be 2.5 hours long with this structure:
- 90-minute presentation
- Outline an effective template you can use for all your bouldering sessions
- Exploring the pitfalls that can undermine your efforts
- Answering questions
By the end of each class, you will know exactly how to structure your bouldering sessions so that you get the most out of your efforts no matter what kind of climber you identify as.
There will be a maximum of 10 people in the class and it will be held over Zoom. There’ll be plenty of time for questions, so this will be more like a group clinic where we can all learn from each other and not just a lecture.
There are only a handful of spots left in this class coming up on Wednesday the 24th, so if you want to join me, please sign up soon.
I hope to see you in class, and if not, I hope these ideas get you bouldering and thinking about its importance in your overall climbing improvement.
Cover Photo: Tony Stark climbing on Flower Power V10 | Photo: Matt Pincus | @mpincus87
About The Author, Matt Pincus
Matt is a boulderer and a sport climber based out of Jackson, Wyoming. He splits his time between training at home in Jackson and traveling to pursue his climbing goals around the world. Matt is also TrainingBeta’s head trainer. He’s a seasoned climber and coach who can provide you with a climbing training program from anywhere in the world based on your goals, your abilities, the equipment you have, and any limitations you have with time or injuries.
Train With Matt
Matt will create a custom training program designed to help you target any weaknesses so you can reach your individual goals. Whether you need a 4-week program to get you in shape for an upcoming trip or a 6-month program to make gradual strength gains, he’ll create a weekly schedule of climbing drills, strength exercises, finger strength workouts, and injury prevention exercises tailored to your situation.
Matt is still currently taking clients during the covid pandemic and is now teaching online classes to help you make the most of your training. If you’re motivated to train, Matt is here to help no matter how little equipment you currently have available.