By Steve Bechtel

You either boulder or do routes, right? So what happens when you want to get ready for routes by bouldering? You end up feeling like you’re not quite training right, and you’re correct. We have several good ways of training beyond the boulder problem, but training with a repeatable workout and definable progress points is really tough in a bouldering gym. Several top-level climbers have had success with interval sets (4x4s, 2x5s, rhythm sets), but it’s sometimes hard to tell if you’re doing these workouts just right.

Simply bouldering harder isn’t the answer, either. Success on most rock routes comes down to bouldering pretty well while carrying a pump and then recovering as you continue beyond the crux. So if intensity isn’t the key, volume must be, right? Wrong. ARC training, or SACC training as others call it, is too easy to prepare one for the demands of hard climbing. In the nebulous world between pure strength and pure endurance, there is another answer. If you’re training on a bouldering or system wall, you might just consider training for density. In fact, if I could choose just one type of workout to use for climbing routes, this would be the one.

Here’s the basic set-up: Pick 3-4 problems at your onsight level or just a bit above. You can choose these to simulate a specific route you’re trying or you can choose a few different styles if you’re training for onsighting/general fitness. Get some chalk on your hands, strip down to your tank top and get crackin’. You’re going to set a clock for 20 minutes, and start climbing through problems 1-4 as quickly as your muscles will allow. Rest as needed between problems, but keep track of the total number of successful sends you get.

Most climbers will be able to get 10 or more problems the first time. You’re going to want to rest about 20 minutes after the first bout, then hit another 20 minutes of density-either on the same 4 problems or 4 new ones. The big key to this workout is repeating it. You’ll see the best results if you do it 2 or 3 times per week for 3-5 weeks. By the end, you should be hitting close to 20 problems each set. Most of our athletes improve by 50-75% each time we roll through a 4 -week block.

The four problem rule is for simplicity, not because it helps you. If you’re more comfortable with more problems, plan it that way. The key, as I said above, is to do it regularly so that you can see progress between sessions.


  1. Anthony on March 31, 2021 at 10:30 pm

    Is it okay to pull hard on some “project” boulders at the end of one of these density sessions or is that counterproductive? Just discovered your articles, really enjoy them.

    • Steve Bechtel on April 2, 2021 at 1:45 pm

      I think that sounds a bit risky, as the density sessions should leave you quite tired. In our programming, we do these sessions aggressively in a separate training phase than project-level bouldering. If you are training them in the same phase, I’d do the hard stuff first, or on a separate day.

  2. Greg on September 6, 2021 at 5:09 pm

    I love this protocol. I’ve had great success with it in the past performing it twice a week for 4 weeks, reducing the rest between problems by ~7 seconds each session.

    I’m currently training for a trip to the RRG and have been targeting power endurance with a low-skill, feet-on protocol on my 30* home board which takes about 25 minutes to complete and builds a pretty mean pump with minimal reduction in power.

    My question: would pairing 2 density bouldering sessions and my protocol for the final 4 weeks of training be overkill? (I’m confident I can tolerate the volume, and would likely perform density bouldering in the morning and my low-skill protocol 4-6 hours later, Mondays and Thursdays)

    • Steve Bechtel on September 9, 2021 at 5:06 pm

      Hey Greg,
      My biggest concern would have been the volume. I write these with a broad array of abilities in mind, so I might be a bit conservative. I’d love to know how it goes, as I have not programmed this much density on one block before.

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