By Steve Bechtel
Here is what a bouldering session looks like for probably 90% of all climbers everywhere.
- Show up when friends suggest showing up.
- Warm-Up by doing some “easy” problems.
- Start working some “hard” problems, rest as needed.
- 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:
- VS: 40 AV:4.4
- VS: 46 AV:4.2
- VS: 49 AV:4.5
- VS: 55 AV:4.8
- VS: 63 AV:3.8
- VS: 65 AV:4.1
- VS: 65 AV:4.3
- VS: 66 AV:4.4
- VS: 65 AV:4.8
- VS: 65 AV:4.8
- VS: 66 AV:5.1
- 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.
Tags: Bouldering, Intensity, Planning, Power Training, Volume
1) How does this work at novice grades? I don’t climb outside often but last time (about six months ago) I climbed a couple of V2’s. Inside I am currently trying to break into V4’s (only done 1). Inside, V0’s are very easy in any style (I usually do 4 after my non-climbing warmup). V1’s are 95% onsight in any style. Most V2’s take 1-3 tries, but occasionally an anti-style problem will shut me down entirely. Most V3’s go within 1-3 sessions. So would I be only climbing V0’s and V1’s on this plan? I already try to do these easier problems “perfectly” as part of my warm up and it seems like at this level I am not really learning anything. Additionally, my gym is pretty small so there are usually only 2-4 V1’s at any given time. Right now there are 2.
2) Does your “onsight grade” take style into account? For example I occasionally get shut down by “hard” anti-style V2’s, but my first V4 was my perfectly style and I can now send it consistently it with less effort than most V3’s. So would I include “easy for me” V2’s and V3’s into this plan?
Background: Been climbing casually (mostly TR/lead) for around 3 years with a couple 1-2 month breaks. Around 3 months ago I got more serious about improving, specifically at bouldering.
1) I think you’re right, mostly V0 and V1 if you are trying to build big volume, which is going to be useful, but not that exciting. However, based on the nature of your gym, this might not be the best plan for you. A plan that alternates between a density bouldering day and a limit day might be a better choice.
2) Definitely take into account your anti-style, so you will have to do a bit of calculating when you set up the schedule. And then, of course, get so good at your anti-style that it becomes your new style!
Awesome thanks! I was looking into this higher volume, lower intensity program because I keep getting hurt. Shoulders, wrists, hip flexors… It seems like every time I really try to improve I see good progress for about a month and then end up injured in some way or another. I’ve been wanting to start doing some simple strength exercises like overhead press, deadlifts, pullups, bench press + core work to help with injury prevention. Does something like the following sound reasonable?
Wed: Density Bouldering (I am assuming this is another term for a volume oriented day?)
Sun: Limit Bouldering
How do you account for on-sight vs repeats in this sort of program? I went in to gym and used this outline today and largely focused on repeat problems (sending only one new 6 and a few 4s over the whole hour session) which I feel led me to a perhaps “inflated” V sum and Avg V. On the one hand, I did the work, so it seems reasonable to quantify the session into a score. However, if I go back and have a different set of problems which are all new to me, I am likely to struggle to progress, get discouraged, quit climbing, take up golf. . . 😉
As an aside, in the example above in the article, the climber is labeled OS=V6 but seems to largely climb well below that for the session. I found myself climbing at or above my OS level for the majority of the session giving me a Avg V of just a tenth below my OS level. Would that seem too intense? Too much volume? Other thoughts?
Thanks for the posts and info!
I hear you. When I first wrote the article, we mostly had people climbing in commercial gyms on normal boulders. This led to a mix of both styles and as long as they kept the session styles the same over a whole phase, the numbers worked. With a spray wall or a board you are familiar with, you will definitely see higher numbers. As long as you are consistent, though, you should be able to use the numbers. Switching between a wall you know well and onsighting at a new gym (or bouldering outside) will not give you the most useful numbers.
I don’t think an average V that high is too far off in your situation.
Best of luck!
[…] volume-driven bouldering plan is about doing better at bouldering without getting hurt. The sports elites train at 70% to 80% of their maximum capacity. So, bouldering plans […]
Thanks for all the articles!
Would these sessions / progression be a good option in the context of a Capacity Building Block? Somethin like:
1. Hard Bouldering / Resistance Training
2. EE Combinations
3. Volume Bouldering as Above
Was thinking about following the rough schedule above for the next 12 weeks with some (maybe) Cardiac Output sprinkled in?
This should be good. I would vary the EE combo volumes (do one high volume day, one low volume), and then consider taking a recovery week every 4th week. This should be a reduced total volume, but you can keep doing things at the same intensity. I usually reduce volume by about 40%, which seems like too much…as if you’re going to fall out of shape—but you won’t! Good luck and let me know how it goes.
Thanks for the reply Steve!
Well noted on the deload week, I (usually) tend to do less than what is prescribed for those.
Started the block this week, will report back in 12-ish weeks!