Nothing helps your climbing more than hard moves—pulling up on tiny crimps and grabbing heinous slopers, all while moving your feet to set up for the next move. Pushing your limits this way combines finger and core strength: It’s like fingerboarding, campusing, and crunches rolled into one. Meanwhile, doing a few of these moves in a row—aka limit bouldering—will translate your strength into power: strength plus speed. If you’re serious about improving, then you need to limit-boulder.
It’s important to remember that increasing power means less actual climbing and more of a focused effort on improvement. Concentrated effort can be difficult, with the gains not immediately visible. Fortunately, there are a few ways to make limit bouldering fun and easy.
Finding the ideal venue can be tricky. Most commercial gyms have lengthy boulder problems that emphasize power-endurance instead of power. While it’s possible in commercial settings to work short sections of hard boulder problems, you’re often limited both by the setting (weird, tweaky holds and tall setters not considering shorter climbers) and accessibility (crux moves high off the deck). With its easily accessed 8-by-12-foot grid of 198 holds (on the 2017 MoonBoard Masters setup), the MoonBoard makes an ideal tool for training power. The short falls, ability to feel most holds without pulling on, and visible footholds (hey, they’re lit up!) will allow you to better visualize and execute the sequences. Meanwhile, the permanent set style also allows you to return to moves over your training cycle, as well as to have benchmarks for power gains from season to season.
Climbing at your limit requires a solid warm-up—at least an hour.
Climb one to four boulder problems at each V grade from V0 up to your typical flash level. Avoid trying any problem more than twice—you want to be fresh, limber, and ready to tear the holds off the wall. If you’re climbing solely on a MoonBoard, hang on the holds, do a few of the easiest moves possible, and then climb up to six problems in the V3–V4 range. This stage takes 20 to 30 minutes.
Now try 20–30 minutes of hard bouldering, putting three to four attempts on three to four commercially set problems (or MoonBoard V3–V5s). Work these problems for 5 to 10 minutes each, and add at least one problem that addresses your weaknesses. If your limit is V8, then try a V7 once or twice. You want to be warmed up to avoid injury on the MoonBoard, with its jumpy moves and crimpy holds.
Limit Bouldering on the MoonBoard
Picking the problem
Pick two to three problems that are right at your limit, powerful, and contain moves that initially feel difficult but feasible—a good limit problem should take you two or three days. The Moon Climbing app features a Benchmark filter that presents the standards for the grades; benchmarks are a great option for limit bouldering, featuring sustained movement and hard crux moves—and notoriously difficult grades. So worry less about the rating and more about the moves’ difficulty—there are “easy” benchmark problems that feel near impossible. If you’ve bouldered V8, then try a V6–V8 benchmark. Focus on the problem’s hardest three to five moves, giving your absolute max on each attempt—remember, you’re trying to tear the holds off the wall. Don’t worry about easier intro or exit moves. You’re not working on sending the problem; you’re working on sending moves. Exhale sharply as you hit each hold, reeling it in and then firing the next move.
Spend 15 to 20 minutes on each problem, putting in four to five solid attempts and resting 3 to 5 minutes between attempts. Finally, rest 5 to 10 minutes between each problem. Your total limit session should last 60 to 90 minutes.
Learning the movement
As you recover between burns, take off your shoes, brush the holds, and reflect on how you can refine the movement. Where should your hips be in space? How are your fingers aligned on the holds and where—and should your hand position change as you move up? To help you rehearse elusive moves, you may want a power spot, having a partner push against your lower back to reduce the difficulty. Another option is to work into the move by swapping in a better, adjacent hold; when you’ve stuck the move, go back to the original hold. A third option is to change (reduce) the wall angle, as you can with a Grasshopper frame; some commercial gyms have this feature as well. A move at 30 degrees will feel significantly easier than at 40 degrees. As you master the move, you can incrementally tilt the wall.
Knowing when to quit
During your session, work toward—but not past—failure. When you’re unable to execute the move as well as on previous attempts, and/or when you’re climbing at 85 percent or less of your ability, stop. You won’t feel like you’ve done much climbing, but it’s much better to undertrain power than to overtrain—quality over quantity. Keep your limit-bouldering sessions to two days a week max, with at least one rest day and/or regular climbing day in between. (Visit When Hate Became Love: How the Moonboard Helped Me Send a Long-Term Project—and Became a Lifelong Obsession for more on using the MoonBoard to get fit for a project.)
Power → Power-Endurance → Endurance
“If you can’t do the moves, you have nothing to endure,” famously said Tony Yaniro, one of the pioneers of modern free climbing. In climbing, each style—power, power-endurance, and endurance—informs the next. Power is the ability to apply strength over time, to take the steel-crushing fingers you’ve gained on a hangboard or MoonBoard and latch a hold dynamically. Doing two to three limit moves in a row is an example of power, as is 1-4-7 or the more difficult 1-5-9 on the campus board. Power-endurance is the application of power over a longer period, as with a sustained, 7- to 10-move boulder problem or traverse. Endurance is climbing a number of less difficult moves for a long time, as with a 30-move boulder problem or 80-foot route.
As Yaniro implied, the greater your power, the easier the moves become. So if you can increase your power such that a formerly 85-percent-max-ability move now only takes 70 percent effort, you’ll be able to climb longer above the move, having expended less energy on it. Thus, increasing your power also increases your potential power-endurance and endurance.
For route climbing, the MoonBoard can be an amazing power-endurance builder. Try 4x4s, in which you select four different problems and climb each four times in succession, resting 4 minutes between each problem/set. Doing 16 MoonBoard problems in under 40 minutes adds up to an intense session, especially given the problems’ powerful nature. The app’s list feature allows you to create a 4×4 list, and then to easily switch between climbs—this means little downtime. Similar to how power increases power-endurance, this type of training will also increase your endurance. If you can sprint through a series of powerful boulder problems, you’ll increase your ability to jog through longer endurance routes as well.