The key to climbing hard comes down to two things, really – holding on to small holds and doing hard moves. We can break these components down into discrete exercises, or we can package them together into the best climbing exercise there is: bouldering. Bouldering, for most of us, should be about going into the gym and trying at a close-to-maximal level. The most effective bouldering sessions tend to push climbers past their limits, to a point where they fail attempt after attempt, sometimes for many sessions in a row.
A typical boulderer might warm-up by just doing easier versions of the same style of problems, for maybe 10 minutes. Although this is an acceptable strategy, there is probably a better one. For the same time commitment and without the need for other tools, a boulderer can have a full “warm-up upgrade.” By varying the speed of movement, the work-to-rest ratio, and by careful overload of the fingers, we can enhance the results we get from training and can reduce our chance of injury.
Although I am a big fan of general warm-ups such as rowing or the air bike, these won’t be discussed here. (For more on this, check out Effective Warm-Ups.) This is a bouldering-gym only sequence, and should take less than 15 minutes to complete. It is also a good readiness check: if you do the warm-up and you’re not feeling snappy and ready to go hard, you will want to opt for an easier session or a recovery day.
To do this warm-up, you’ll want to note your limit grade. This is the maximum grade you climb in hard training, perhaps the hardest grade you have bouldered. We use this as a reference when setting up difficulty of the warm-up.
Using various boulder problems on as many angles and hold types as possible, do as many easy V0/V1/V2 problems as it takes to add up to your limit grade. For the sake of this exercise, count V0 as V1. For example, if you are climbing V9 for your limit problem, you might do V2, V1, V1, V2, V2, V1. If you are climbing V4 at your limit, you might do V0, V0, V1, V1. These should be slower than your normal pace. You want to force control and static movement.
Rest and stretch for a couple of minutes, then do three problems in a row with little rest, which also add up to your limit grade. In our V9 example, this might be V2, V3, V4. These should be done as quickly and explosively as possible. You don’t need to be dynoing out of control, but climb with aggressiveness and power.
Rest a few minutes, then do two problems that add to the limit grade, so maybe V4, V5 in our V9 example. Our V4 climber might do two V2s. These, you would do at your normal pace. This allows the athlete to flow into the session primed for hard movement. For very hard or fingery training we do a bit of specific hold-type work on the hangboards or on problems similar to the work problems for that set.
My friends Brad Hilbert and Kerry Scott of Butora Climbing teamed up for a nice video that details this sequence: