Q: “I am a boulderer and would like to climb two or three grades harder within one year.” —Adam
A: Being motivated and dedicated is the key to reaching any goal. This year-long program, geared toward intermediate and advanced climbers, will show you how to get stronger and more powerful, but you have to work for it. “Trying hard” is V15-climber Ian Dory crawling across the bouldering pads to get to his next problem, being determined to succeed and refusing to stop or give up. This is how you need to approach your training. Hard work beats talent when talent stops working hard, so bottom line is: Work hard!
That said, be careful not to burn yourself out. If you are extremely tired during training, unmotivated, and/or not improving, take a break from training. Just go out and climb. Training is a very demanding routine. Push yourself and work hard, but don’t burn yourself out.
For each day, do a dynamic warmup for 15 minutes with jumping jacks, leg kicks, shoulder circles, push-ups, etc. Boulder on easy problems for 10 more minutes, then begin your program. This schedule is based on training Monday through Friday, and climbing or resting on weekends.
* Each exercise is 6 sets with a 2-minute rest between each set, unless otherwise noted. ** All campus moves start matched on the same rung, with feet on small foot rungs if needed. *** TF = to failure
Core: Do any combination of core exercises, but rest a minute or two after each exercise, then repeat for a total of a 20- to 25-minute core session. Options: toes to bar, front levers (2 min.), planks (2 min.), V-ups, Russian twists (1 min.), sit-ups (2 min.)
Campus Long Move (CLM): Throw with one arm to the highest rung you can reach. Come off the board and immediately repeat the same movement with the other arm. Each side is 1 set.
Campus Bumps (CB): Move one hand up each rung as high as you can reach and then bump back down each rung to your starting position. Go immediately up with the opposite hand; climb at least 3 to 4 rungs.
Campus Ladder (CLAD): Climb like a ladder, with each hand going above the other (you can skip rungs if you want or match hands if needed). Match at the top, then down-climb to the beginning and immediately go again—complete as many ladders as you can in 1 set without rest.
Campus Touch/Drop (CTD): Throw up to max level, latch the rung, and come back to match hands without coming off. Complete 3 reps on each arm before touching the ground.
4x4: Repeat 1 moderately difficult boulder problem 4 times, rest 4 minutes, then pick a new problem and repeat it 4 times, until you’ve done a total of 4 sets. By the fourth go on each problem, you should be trying hard to finish.
Campus Go-Again (CGOA): Start matched on one rung, throw up to a rung, and come back down to the matched position, then do it again immediately with the same arm. One set is completing 3 throws on each side.
Campus Double-Clutch (CDC): Start matched on a rung, throw with both hands to the next rung, and try to campus back down to beginning rung. Go to failure for one set.
Weighted Pull-up (WPU): Add enough weight when doing pull-ups to ensure that your second to fourth pull-ups are hard. Two to four reps per set.
Campus Long Move, Bump Back Down (CLMB): Do the campus long move then bump directly back down to the starting rung. Do each side once for one set.
Speed Pull-up (SPU): Do a pull-up quickly, lower slowly, then go right back up. Do until failure for each set.
Power is the explosive strength that sets bouldering apart from other types of climbing. If you want to boulder hard, you need to build power.
Climb: CLM, CB, CLAD, CTD, 4x4, SPU (see "Exercise Key below) Cross: Core
This month boosts your ability to hold onto and move off difficult holds in any direction.
Climb: As many hard problems as you can per session, WPU, SPU Pinch hangs: Straight-arm hang on two pinches on the systems board (TF) Pinch pull-ups (TF) Pad-crimp pull-ups: Use a rung on the campus board that you can put a full finger pad on (TF) Frenchies: Do a pull-up and go side to side (TF), rest 90 seconds between sets.
Cross: Core; pushups (TF)
Now you'll work on endurance, your capacity to do multiple hard moves in a row with intensity, accuracy, and power.
Climb: Pyramids: 8-6-4-4-6-8. Choose a grade for each set. (A V5 climber would start around V2.) For example: 8 V2s, 6 V3s, 4 V4s, 4 V4s, 6 V3s, 8 V2s. After each problem up the pyramid, do 10 push-ups. On the way down the pyramid, do 5 pull-ups after each problem.
Cross: Core; running (30- to 45-minute jog)
Repeat November, but you should be able to complete harder throws, use smaller rungs, and increase grades for 4x4s.
Climb: CLM, CB, CLAD, CTD, 4x4, SPU
Time to get outside. If you feel a decrease in power, you can add a campus day (see November/ February) once a week.
Climb: See how you have progressed by projecting in the gym and outside.
April: Power and Cross-training
Time to build superior general fitness with more cross-training.
Climb: CLM, CB, CLAD, CTD, 4x4, SPU
Cross: Core, circuits: pushups, pull-ups, dumbbell shoulder press, ring pushups, bent-over rows, wide pushups, bicep curls, burpees, mountain climbers, pull-up lock-offs. Each exercise is 45 seconds; don’t rest until you complete the circuit. After completing one round, rest for 2 minutes and repeat 5 times. Pick a weight that is pushing your limit at the end of 45 seconds.
Boulder problems require endurance, too. The key to increasing yours? Getting on longer routes, which is a welcome change of pace.
Climb: 1 hard route twice, rest 5 minutes, 6 sets 5 routes (2 hard, 2 medium, 1 easy), 1 set 3 problems that go up in grade, rest 3 minutes, 3 sets 5 boulder problems (2 hard, 2 medium, 1 easy), rest 5 minutes, 2 sets
Cross: Pull-ups/pushups: pullups (TF) then pushups (TF), rest 90 seconds, 5 sets
June: Systems Board
Overcome weaknesses with targeted movements; do everything on the same days or alternate.
Climb: Simulate difficult moves and focus on weaknesses (body positions, bad holds, etc.). After an hour and a half of this, climb and project for fun.
Cross: Core; any cross-training (running, cycling, circuits, etc.)
July: Finger Strength
Climb 3 to 4 days a week, make sure to take at least one full rest day a week.
Climb: Double-arm lock-off on campus rungs: pull up and hold for 10 seconds, then 5 seconds off. Repeat 5 times for one set, rest for 3 minutes, 6 sets Half-way lock-off: Same sequence as full lock-off, except arms should be bent at 90° Dead hang: Same sequence as lock-offs, but let your arms hang straight Climb every problem of your onsight grade in the bouldering area in 1 hour.
Repeat November and February, but increase difficulty of each exercise. Project difficult problems inside.
Climb: CLM, CB, CGOA, CDC, CLMB, project hard climbs
Focus on climb-specific exercises to prepare for outdoor projecting.
Climb: CLAD (4 sets), 4x4 Pinch pull-ups: 10 reps per set, 10 sets, rest 2 minutes between sets Pinch lock-offs: 10–30 seconds per set, 10 sets, rest 2 minutes between sets 4x4 (again): Do one 4x4 with one moderate problem, last exercise for the session.
October: Finger Strength
Fine-tune digits for pulling hard.
Climb: WPU Offset pull-ups: Put one arm above your head and other arm at waist level (both on jugs), do both arms (TF) July’s lock-offs and dead hang 1-arm lock-off (TF) Campus board offset lock-offs: hold an offset pull-up position on the campus board (TF), and then switch arms.
Now it's time to get outside and put all that indoor training to use. Projecting boulder problems is three parts creativity, five parts persistence, and seven parts patience. Don't be upset when you fail one, two, or 10 times. Working through movements that are at our physical and mental limit can be the most exhausting thing in the world. But by failing repeatedly, we are forced to utilize the more abstract levels of our minds in order to come up with a solution. It might mean that "Eureka!" moment or stumbling upon beta that seems crazy at first, but finally makes your long-obsessed-over project possible. Don't rule anything out when you're projecting and devour anything you can find on the problem. Talk to locals, research online, and think outside the box. Being patient with and committed to the process of overcoming failure is the only way to the top of any problem.