Training: 16 Climbing Games

Put the fun back in gym training
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Put the fun back in gym training

This article originally appeared in the March 2015 issue of our print edition.

It’s been a long winter, with hours spent pulling on the same plastic holds and projecting the same mediocre problems. If you’re like us, you’re probably a bit bored and itching to get outside, but the fickle spring weather isn’t quite ready to cooperate. What you need is a training makeover that injects pure fun into your potentially played-out routine. Well, it’s your lucky day, because we’ve got the perfect solution. These playful games aren’t just for kids’ climbing teams; the lighthearted competitive spirit and try-hard atmosphere of climbing in a group will get your psych up and refill those currently drained tanks of motivation. While you might not be doubling your power or nailing that one double-kneebar, undercling-iron-cross move, you’ll benefit from getting more time on the wall and taking a break from the “work” aspect of training. Get your friends and training partners involved and try these out a few times a week to stay inspired and enthusiastic—after all, the best climber in the world is the one having the most fun.

1. ADD-ON

Number of players

2+ (smaller groups work better)

Setup

Pick a sequence of three or four moves that all the players can do, and then decide who goes first. It’s easier to play on a bouldering wall, since routes would require a lot of time to switch climbers.

Gameplay

The first climber does the predetermined sequence, adding one “move,” typically defined as one hand movement with set footholds (foot movements are not considered stand-alone moves). The next climber repeats the new sequence and adds on a move of their own. If a climber cannot perform the previously added sequence, they lose a life. If they complete the added-on move, this is considered a checkpoint. Even if they fail to add another move, they are safe. Three failed attempts (lives lost) means elimination. Continue adding on moves until 1) you’re all bored, 2) you run out of room and don’t feel like traversing, or 3) one climber is left standing. It’s optional if you want to let other players help the climber remember the sequence by pointing out holds.

Training purpose

Route-finding, memorizing sequences, endurance, working on weaknesses (especially when playing with someone who climbs differently than you—tall vs. short, crimp vs. compression, etc.)

Variations

  • 5 seconds: Right before you latch any hold you’re about to add, hover your hand over it for a full five seconds.
  • Feet only: Switch it so feet are the focus and add foot moves; all hands are on.
  • Bonus: If you can skip any previous move, you can “steal” that move and add an extra move at the end of your regular turn (e.g., skip one move, add two at the end).
  • Directional: Go one direction the first round, go the opposite direction the next round, still adding moves if you can.

2. GOLF

Number of players

2+

Setup

Pick six or more marked boulder problems or routes that are well within the players’ ability levels; it helps to play against people who are of similar height and skill level. Each problem or route represents a “hole” on the hypothetical golf course.

Gameplay

Players take turns trying to do each route or problem with as few holds as possible, and each player gets one go at the problem for each round. Each handhold used translates to a stroke. Each fall receives a three-stroke penalty. Keep track of each climber’s score throughout. Whoever has the least amount of points at the end of the course wins.

Training purpose

Route-finding, dynamic and deadpoint movement, power-endurance

3. ELIMINATOR

Number of players

1+ (smaller groups work better, can be played alone)

Setup

Pick a route or boulder problem well within the players’ ability—the more moves, the better.

Gameplay

Climbers take turns repeating the problem, one person eliminates a hold after each successful round of attempts. If the next climber can’t do the new sequence, it gets passed on to the next climber. When nobody is capable of doing the sequence, the climber who eliminated the hold must prove the sequence can be done. Keep going until either only one person or nobody can do the sequence.

Training purpose

Creative route-finding, figuring out beta, dynamic and deadpoint movement

4. LEMON-LIMES

Number of players

1

Setup

Pick a bouldering problem that’s doable but slightly challenging for you.

Gameplay

Make the first move of the problem, and then reverse to the start. Without coming off, make the first two moves, and then go back to the start. Keep going until you’ve reached the top. That’s the lemon! For the lime, do the same thing with downclimbing—you still don’t come off! Start at the top, downclimb one move, then back to the top. Two moves down then back to the top. Once you’ve downclimbed to the start and back up to the top, you can jump off.

Training purpose

Endurance, endurance, endurance, power-endurance

5. LUCKY DRAW

Number of players

1+

Setup

Write down about 10 different climbing moves onto slips of paper (drop-knee, right-hand lockoff, left-hand dyno, gaston, heel hook, etc.) and place the slips into a bag.

Gameplay

Pull four slips out of the bag, and then try to create a problem or route that uses all of the movements.

Training purpose

Sequence creation, creative thinking, unlocking beta, figuring out the benefit of one move versus another 

6. TWISTER

Number of players

Small groups of 3 or 4

Setup

Similar to the popular board game. You can use the spinner board from the actual game or make your own. Write down on slips of paper: right hand, left hand, right foot, and left foot, then write the colors (and types for more of a challenge) of the holds on separate slips. One person is the “spinner.” Climbers start on similar but separate sections of wall. It works best on vertical walls that are filled in with many holds, but it can be done on steeper terrain for a much harder challenge.

Gameplay

The spinner randomly selects one of each slip. All of the climbers must then execute the drawn movement. For example, left hand to blue crimp, right foot to green pinch. A player is eliminated when they cannot do the drawn movement.

Training purpose

Flexibility, endurance, core stability

7. HOT LAVA

Number of players

1+

Setup

On a long section of wall, use string to mark off sections of the wall as “hot lava.”

Gameplay

Climbers must make their way from start to finish without touching any holds within the hot lava sections. Add more hot lava or laps.

Training purpose

Endurance, route-finding

8. DRAG RACE

Number of players

Groups of 2

Setup

For boulder problems, set a timer for 15 minutes; for routes, set it for 30.

Gameplay

Go against the clock and your opponent by climbing as many problems or routes as possible in the allotted time. Earn points for harder climbs: 5.11 is worth 11 points; V3 is worth three points. Adjust accordingly to your gym’s unique grading system, e.g., using spots. Whoever gets the most points wins!

Training purpose

Endurance, power-endurance (and more fun than 4x4’s!), climbing smoothly and quickly under pressure

FAST FUN

Less involved but just as interesting games

9. Compete with your belayer for points
5.10 is 10, 5.11 is 11, etc. A fall costs you one point and a take costs you two. Climb all night, and the highest number of points wins.

10. Pick-up
For the younger crowd, use stuffed animals or small coins. Prop them on holds and have the little ones climb until he or she has collected them all without coming off.

11. Forced falls
Climber and belayer pick lead climbs they’re pretty comfortable on. When one person is climbing, the belayer yells “fall” at any point and the climber has to let go right then and there.

12. Tag
A group spreads out on the wall and starts traversing. Each person tries to tag the person in front. If you get tagged you’re out; if you fall, go to the back of the pack and start over.

13. Climb like a pro
Pick a professional climber and try to complete a route in his or her style. For example, Chris Sharma-style would be big, dynamic moves with feet cutting; Lynn Hill would be controlled and static, keeping in mind beta for short people.

14. Beta games
One person completes a route or problem, and everyone else must copy that climber’s beta exactly.

15. Single-foot sending
Climb a route or problem with only your right foot, and then climb it with only your left.

16. All the grades
Pick a grade and climb all of that particular grade in the gym, bouldering or sport.