Circuit Training Explained

“Circuit Training!” The words I hear uttered out of the mouth of the author of this article every time I ask him how to become a better climber. “Will that allow me to climb more V5’s?” I say, to his reply, “well, that V5 you just did is really a V4.” Geesh, I cannot get a break! My number crunching has been matched by immediate downgrades, not only causing me to question the grading system at this gym – hummm?? – but severely bruising me ego. So when he sent the following email out to the instructors at the Santa Barbara Rock Gym, I began to see why.

Dean “Deano” Privett is the Head Route Setter at The Santa Barbara Rock Gym and was formerly a route setter at Earth Treks Climbing Center in Rockville, Md; the nations largest indoor climbing facility. Deano recently attended a 3 day route setting clinic in Maryland with the top route setters in the business and brought this little bit of wisdom home with home. I hope this gives you some perspective on the background of circuit training and inspires you to incorporate this training method into your routine. Deano guarantees it will start you on the journey of sending your projects and get you to that next level as a climber. Oh, and that you will stop number crunching and start sending!  – Enare

Dean P Santa Barbara Rock Gym

Circuits – Any combination of climbs done for a specific reason

I recently attended a route setting clinic back in old Maryland, and one day of the 3 day clinic was devoted entirely to discussing circuit training.

Here’s a scenerio

You have magically become a world traveler.  As you globe trot over the land of my ancestors, France, you decide to check out the local climbing gym.  As you walk in you notice one thing is vastly different from your very own.  There’s no tape! Never fear though just like in some gyms in the US they just decide to set by color of hold.  As you approach the wall, you notice something else. There is no rating system.  Whatever shall you do.  How in tarnations will you prove yourself as a great American climber if you cannot crush all the  8b+’s (translation: V14’s) in the gym?

Fountainbleau -

Turns out the norm for indoor rock climbing facilities are vastly different in most of Europe than it is here in John Denver’s land that is also your land. Many European bouldering gyms chose to model themselves after a little place named Fontainebleau.  Font was developed as a circuit of boulders to train on.  You followed a map around the woods looking for boulders with certain color paint on it.  This color paint would let you know what range of difficulty the boulder problem fell within.  As bouldering and the area continued to develop so did the variety of circuits.

So back to the gym in France.  You finally stumble upon a sign on the wall that explains how to use this system.  On it the colors are listed with a range of difficulty.

Juane: 5 – 6a+      (Yellow: V1 – V3)
Verde: 6a+ – 6c+   ( Green: V3 – V5)

Fountain Bleau Circuit Paint

The benefits of circuits are plentiful

You can still treat each problem as an individual project, or you can view all of the problems together as a circuit.  Remember though, that you don’t have to follow just colors. You can take any number of climbs and turn them into a circuit.

Circuits can be used to:

  • Help build endurance (do a moderate series of climbs in the gym in a row with little to no rest between climbs)
  • Help focus on a particular weakness (do all the crimp climbs)
  • Power endurance (do a series of climbs at or near you limit, i.e. a 4×4 – climb 4 routes at the same grade consecutively and repeat four times with rests equal to climbing time)
  • Use boulders to become better at ropes, which is in line with the whole reason bouldering was even created (Find a few climbs that look and act similar to your project outside.  It starts pretty easy – V1, turns on for a bit at the 3rd clip – v3, mellows out – v2, then there’s the crux right before for the chains – v5.  You just made for yourself a circuit that helps you train for your rope climb)

If you have any questions, ask one of the local instructors at your rock gym. Or just watch a local crusher the next time you are in the gym, it is likely that they almost primarily train with circuits.

Living proof of this system of climbing is a 60 year old climber back east named Jim Woodriff.  He only sport climbs outside, and climbs hard (5.13).  He warms up on other peoples projects. When he is inside he only climbs V5 / V6 circuits.  It’s amazing!

Deano Setting at the SBRG

At the Santa Barbara Rock Gym we have decided to incorporate a portion of this into the setting. We currently have Flame and Camo taped climbs that represent a range of climbs with a particular style in mind.

Flame – V1-V3 (reach / kid friendly)

Camo – V3-V5 (sequential and body position dependent)

Ideally we will eventually have 8 of each in the gym and the number of circuits could continue to increase depending on any combination of movements and styles to train.  As with the systems in Europe, there will be no grades and the only reference will be a sign similar to the imaginary one in that imaginary French gym where you could only imagine sending all the the 8b+’s.

I hope this helps you understand circuits a touch better, and can now help you to see the benefits and reasons to incorporate circuits into your own climbing.


P.S. If you are a Member at the Santa Barbara Rock Gym, please join us for the Free Members Clinic on Monday, 2/25/13 from 6:30 to 7:30 for an intro to circuit training. Preregistration is required – (805) 770-3225.

4 Responses to “Circuit Training Explained”
  1. Shank says:

    Well shoot, I wish I woulda read this a couple of weeks ago. Either way, I’m glad I read it now.

  2. atoptherox says:

    I have tried to hit up climbing gyms when I am in foreign countries, but the rules and forms in other languages throw me for a loop. It never works out well. But instead I find outdoor climbs, that works pretty well…

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