Whether you’re a bolt-clipper, gear-plugger, or pebble-wrestler, bouldering is one of the best ways to get good. It builds power, refines technique, and improves your ability to decipher tricky sequences. The following three bouldering-specific drills distill bouldering’s most beneficial aspects into focused workouts. If you’re a roped climber, add one into your routine once a week, rotating through each; if you’re a boulderer, do all three once per week during a power-building phase.
In bouldering, after you’ve reached a baseline strength, you won’t see improvements unless you try things at or above your personal threshold. With limit bouldering, you create your own mini-sequences (versus pre-set problems, which tend to have greater variance in move difficulty), letting you train hard, technical movement while also focusing on power.
To begin, warm up on easy terrain for 15 minutes, priming your shoulders, making large and small shoulder circles (both directions) or working with a band when you step off the wall to rest.
Now invent a bouldering sequence. It should be three to seven difficult moves. The goal is to do repeated powerful (quick, dynamic) movements that force you to deadpoint to poor holds. If you complete it on the first try, it’s too easy. If you fall off the first move, consider that one attempt. Rest two to three minutes before trying again, focusing on form, power, and precision. Aim for five attempts total per sequence, and move on to the next if you complete the sequence in fewer than five tries. (This drill is great for a home wall, where you move the holds infrequently and can keep a few sequences as benchmarks.)
4–5 sequences, max 5 attempts per sequence; rest 5 minutes between sequences
Lockoffs—static moves in which you pull down until one arm is bent, then hold that engaged position to grasp the next hold with your other arm—are essential in bouldering: The better your lockoff strength, the farther you can reach, which is especially important for shorter climbers.
Once you’ve warmed up, find a boulder problem you can do consistently—usually a few grades below your max level. As you climb, lock off every move, holding the reaching hand just below the next hold for three seconds. This will force you to focus on maintaining a near-perfect body position to execute efficiently. If you didn’t have to try hard, downclimb in the same fashion, pausing the hand that’s reaching down to the next hold.
5 problems total, resting 2–3 minutes between each
Sometimes it’s not a route’s moves that are difficult, but linking them. That’s where power-endurance—or the ability to do multiple hard moves in a row—comes in. 4x4s are a great power-endurance tool.
To start, warm up on easy terrain for 15 minutes. To complete a 4x4, pick four boulder problems three grades below your limit (50–80 percent of your max). Climb the first problem four times, dropping off between goes and repeating it immediately or downclimbing an easy route back to the start. Rest two minutes, then climb the next problem the same way until you’ve done all four problems four times each.
Three sets total, resting 5 minutes between sets
Solo Bouldering Tips
To keep psych high while bouldering by yourself in the gym:
- Set up a reward system—e.g., for every 30 minutes you’re pushing at the gym, that’s one Netflix episode you get to watch that night.
- Wear headphones and keep your favorite tunes cranked while climbing.
- Watch Ondra/Puccio/Megos/Ashima videos during your 2- to 3- minute rests. They didn’t skimp on training.
- If it starts to feel tempting to cut your session short, picture your project and how it feels to fall off the crux … again.
- Bring a book or magazine to read during rest breaks.
This is an excerpt from Climbing’s new book, Climb to Fitness: The Ultimate Guide to Customizing a Powerful Workout on the Wall (Falcon, April 2018), which features dozens of workouts geared toward beginners and experienced climbers alike, and includes supplementary training (campus, hangboard, etc.), cross-training, and full-body workouts.