Note: Every time I come back to this I realize how important circuiting is and has been to my climbing. When I think back to every time I’ve felt like I was performing well, it has directly coincided with consistent circuit training. It’s not the hangboard, it’s not the campus board, it’s not one arm pull-ups… Year to year I become more and more convinced that THIS is the secret sauce.
Now to the good stuff:
When used properly circuit training is a very effective tool for any type of training whether it be: Strength, Power, Strength/Power Endurance, Endurance, even overall training capacity. It is also more fun and reinforces movement patterns better than hang boarding or campus training.
This is also a workout that can be done outside at an area with a sufficient density of problems.
How Many Boulders:
Honestly this doesn’t really matter. Actually it matters a lot, but you might not have much control when it comes to this. Ideally, you would have as many different boulders as you would perform repetitions. What I mean is, if you were going to do a set of 5 boulders with (x) amount of rest (x) amount of times, it would be nice to have 5 different boulders that all fit the style you were trying to train, with the perfect amount of moves. If this is an option for you, great! In most situations you will probably end up repeating at least some of the same boulders in order to complete your set within the parameters of the workout you are performing.
How Many Moves:
This of course depends on what you are training. As you approach the Strength/Power end of the spectrum, the number of moves per problem could be as little as 3 or 5 moves. At the Endurance end of the spectrum you could be climbing “boulders” that are essentially mini-routes with 15-20+ moves.
This can get tricky when your terrain is limited for one reason or another. Maybe your gym/crag doesn’t have many steep boulders, or maybe there is only 1 V5 on the steep wall you have access to and everything else is too hard or too easy. You’ll have to get creative by making eliminates, coming up with your own boulders, or repeating problems multiple times. For the most part, I’d recommend either focusing on one or two types of terrain that you are particularly weak at or that relate to a particular project or goal you may have. Spray walls, the Tension Board, Moon Board, Kilter Board, etc. are also great tools for building circuits. However! I would NOT recommend doing all your circuit boulders on a flat “board-style” wall. Diversity and dimensionality are super important and a awesome as all the “board-style” walls are, none of them are completely stand alone training walls and they all lack something. Mix up the angles, mix up the styles, force yourself to learn to be comfortable on as much terrain as you have access to.
Here are some rough bar graphs to help you build your bouldering circuits:
This is essentially a limit bouldering session, but with more parameters that I think make it easier to discern whether performance is increasing. Choose 5-8 boulders that are a mix of former projects that you have sent and current projects that you are close to sending. Ideally, these boulders are no longer than 10 moves and don’t have a lot of “fluff”. Move through these boulders in an order of your choosing. You have 3 attempts per boulder. Always start the boulder from the start. If you use all 3 attempts and don’t send, move to the next boulder. If you send, move to the next boulder. The goal is to send each boulder on the first try. If you send a boulder first try 3 training days in a row, swap it out for a new, harder, boulder. If you stop making progress on a boulder 3 training days in a row, swap it out for a new, slightly easier boulder. Because of the high intensity, it is probably best to perform this workout only 1-2 times per week until you know how your body handles it and while you dial in the boulders in your circuit. People bouldering at a high level could potentially incorporate this up to 3 times per week, while being careful to monitor their overall training load and fatigue level.
When choosing boulders for this workout, look for resistance boulders of about 8-12 moves that do not have very discernible cruxes or rests. These will most likely be boulders that are around your consistent on-sight level. You should send or fall near the end of each boulder. Be sure to monitor your overall training load and fatigue level if you add this into your routine, it can be pretty brutal. This is a workout that could be performed 1-3 days per week depending on your fitness level.
The best boulders for this exercise will be about 10-15+ moves long and without discernible cruxes or rests. You’ll most likely need to pick boulders well below your consistent on-sight level. You should send or fall very near the top on every boulder, every time. You want the boulders to be relatively close together so that you will be able to get from one to the other in 30sec to 1min. Have a few alternates in mind in case someone is already climbing the boulder you were planning on doing so you do not mess up your rest interval waiting for someone else to finish. The endurance circuit workout has a relatively low intensity per boulder, but includes a massive amount of moves. This is a great workout to increase overall stamina, recovery, and efficiency. The low intensity also enables the climber to work on proper technique reinforcement while fatigued. Depending on the climber’s fitness and objectives this could be performed 1-3 days per week.