By Steve Bechtel

Here is what a bouldering session looks like for probably 90% of all climbers everywhere.

  1. Show up when friends suggest showing up.
  2. Warm-Up by doing some “easy” problems.
  3. Start working some “hard” problems, rest as needed.
  4. Finish up with some more “easy” problems.

As silly as this looks when you see it written, you have to admit that it works pretty damn well for a lot of climbers. I can’t even count the number of sessions I’ve done just like this one, and I’ll keep doing them. Why? Because they are fun and they work. Oh, they are tough to measure and hard to manage. They drive the sport scientists in us crazy, but they work.

They work, until they don’t. Somewhere a month or two into a “hard bouldering” phase, we stop getting better. One of three things happens:

  • We get sick.
  • We get bored.
  • We get hurt.

The volume driven bouldering plan is all about getting better at bouldering without getting hurt. What we have seen in other sports is that the elite do a huge amount of training at somewhere between 70 and 80 percent of their max. Where is this in climbing? Hmmm…I was afraid you’d ask. That’s the whole problem, see…all we have are grades. Hold type, wall angle, distances between grips – all too crazily hard to control. And if you did somehow manage to control them all, you’d start killing off your ability to learn new movements. So, we control what we can, and let the magic of climbing do the rest…just like we always have.

In this program, you’ll boulder for your training. There is no hangboard time, no system board…and you can just go out and climb as much as you like. The training miracle comes in carefully programming and pushing your problem difficulties and numbers forward.

Step 1: Sort out what your onsight level is. In your gym or at your local boulders, what grade do you consistently onsight? This is the number you’ll use for calculating session intensity.

Step 2: Go to the gym. Warm-up as normal, but write down the problem angle, type, and grades.

Step 3: Start by doing a few problems 2-3 grades below onsight level. Do a few at onsight level, then set about doing as many as you can just above that level – OS+1. Write down any falls or attempts. Important: Stop when your ability starts to fade – no warm-downs, no laps on easy problems.

Step 4: Look at what you did. It might look something like this:

OS level = V6


V1 vertical juggy

V2 30 deg. juggy

V1 45 deg. juggy

V2 vertical edges

V2 45 deg. juggy


V3 45 deg. big moves

V4 vertical, crimpy

V3 30 deg. slopers

V4 45 deg. compression

V6 45 deg. crimps (fall @ top)

V6 45 deg. crimps

V5 30 deg. crux dyno

V4 45 deg. slopers/jugs

V5 30 deg. crimps

You’ll note what you did only in terms of total “V-sum“, which is simply a sum of all the V grades you climbed. Score only those problems you did in the session. For the session above, the V-sum is 40. The average V is then calculated, which is 4.4.

For the next 5 workouts, you won’t leave the V3 to V6 range. Your goal is to simply push your V-sum up.

After pushing this number up, which is pretty easy to do, your goal for the following six sessions is to hold at the same total number of problems, but increase your average V.

In the end, your numbers might look something like this:

  1. VS: 40 AV:4.4
  2. VS: 46 AV:4.2
  3. VS: 49 AV:4.5
  4. VS: 55 AV:4.8
  5. VS: 63 AV:3.8
  6. VS: 65 AV:4.1
  7. VS: 65 AV:4.3
  8. VS: 66 AV:4.4
  9. VS: 65 AV:4.8
  10. VS: 65 AV:4.8
  11. VS: 66 AV:5.1
  12. VS: 65 AV:5.2

A focus on increasing the V-sum would typically lead to more endurance, a focus on average V tends to increase bouldering ability and power.

This program will take 4 to 6 weeks, and should be followed by a week away from bouldering. Coming back to the program the second time, allow yourself to dip into the next grade range if you feel strong (V7 in our example), or simply go hard up against your previous numbers. This program should help you keep from getting injured on failure-level problems, and will build a bulletproof base of bouldering power.

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