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How to Actually Train on LED Boards

LED climbing boards have the potential to send your climbing ability skyrocketing. But only if you use ‘em right.

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Last winter, I fell in love with the Kilter Board. I craved the autonomy that it offered. As a vertically challenged female climber, I don’t have much in common with your average routesetter. I’d often finish a session feeling more frustrated than appropriately challenged after having spent more time trying to suss out a way around the intended beta (that I could only dream of spanning) than through it. Creative thinking is integral to success in climbing—especially at my size—but the balance was off: My brain ran in circles while my muscles sat idle. I couldn’t grow as a climber because I couldn’t put enough honest effort into so many of the climbs available to me. 

All of that changed when I discovered the Kilter Board. I could instantly access problems designed by climbers all over the world, in a wider range of styles than any gym could boast. Morphological barriers crumbled with a single swipe on the screen. I reveled in the sense of control that I finally had over my training. 

The benefits of my time on the Kilter became immediately clear. I soared through grades for months on end—the most rapid increase in ability that I’d ever experienced. All of my old projects, both indoors and out, went down with relative ease. I learned how to summon power that I never knew was there and throw my body around in unprecedented ways. The Kilter Board up-leveled my trajectory as a climber. 

…Until I hit a wall. Every climber plateaus eventually, and I was no exception. But my plateau stemmed from the very thing that had initially sent me skyrocketing: control. 

Too Much of a Good Thing

The chance to take control of my training changed my climbing game for good, but I failed to keep tabs on my ego along the way. That’s the danger of LED boards like the Kilter. Tens of thousands of climbs available at the push of a button means that climbers can be as picky as they want about which they try and which they skip. No one’s “forcing” you out of your comfort zone. Sending feels so good that it’s hard not to get trapped in patterns of picking climbs that only serve to satisfy the ego. 

So after the initial spike, I found myself stuck. Projecting progress had slowed to a halt and the power I’d been so proud to hone was at a standstill. I couldn’t figure out why until I looked back at my tick list. The answer was written in the data: During the preceding months, each climb I’d ticked looked nearly the same as the next—same angle, same style, same holds lighting up time and time again. I’d stopped challenging myself. 

In a gym, there’s only so much terrain to choose from. You’ll eventually have to take a crack at your anti-style. On a board, though, there’s no such cap. If one climb doesn’t click, just keep swiping. Filtering your choices so finely can easily turn into a game of chasing the highs and avoiding the lows. But growth depends on the lows. Too many and you’ll wind up antsy and frustrated; too few and you’ll coddle yourself. A healthy amount of struggle keeps us striving. 

Finding the Right Balance

If, like me, you’ve been playing your training too safe lately, don’t blame it all on the board. Jackie Hueftle of Kilter Grips points out that the Kilter—especially the adjustable version—doesn’t skimp on variety. With angle options from vertical all the way down to a staggeringly steep 70 and over 300 unique hold designs that change dramatically in nature depending on the angle, boards like the Kilter hold nearly limitless potential for climbers of any level. From there, it’s our responsibility to make the most of this technological gift we’ve been given. “Diversity of movement is essential for improvement,” Hueftle emphasizes. “The more variations on a move you can do, the more capable you are as a climber. But that kind of variety is built into the board. You just have to tailor it to what you need in the moment.”

I wanted to absolve myself of responsibility for the plateau I was experiencing and pin it on the Kilter. In reality, it was my own complacency that got the better of me. Yes, it’s easier to circumvent challenges on a board than in a gym with limited terrain. But that says more about the climber than the board. To reap all the possible benefits from an interactive climbing board, you still have to make an effort to get out of your comfort zone. 

Consider setting a few ground-rules for yourself: 

  1. Try anything once. Or better yet, three times. Resist the urge to swipe a climb away without actually putting it to the test. Sometimes, your snap judgment will turn out to be true. On others, you’ll surprise yourself. 
  2. Play with the angle. It’s good to keep your body guessing. Stick with a certain angle long enough to see improvement, but treat the range like the exercise menu in a strength training program and change it up every few weeks to keep from stagnating. 
  3. Join the community. Each board offers users the chance to comment on climbs, share beta videos, and add their own problems to the database. Use the social aspect to your advantage. Instead of automatically writing off a climb, check out how others from all around the world are approaching it. Your brain could be the real limiting factor.  
  4. Live and learn. Interactive climbing boards are a valuable tool. Treat them as such. Take what you learn on them and apply it beyond the board. Buck Yoeder, head of routesetting for The Spot Bouldering Gyms in Colorado, notes that climbers can become pretty one-dimensional when they only climb on boards. “I meet people all the time who are so strong on boards but don’t know how to translate that strength to more nuanced climbing,” he warns. Make a concerted effort to supplement your board work with time on aretes, dihedrals, slabs, roofs, volumes, and other options that you can’t find on boards. Comfort across a wide variety of walls will pay off on the most nuanced terrain of all: real rock. 

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