posted by dpm on 01/01/2010
Mention climbing on plastic and you will likely hear a muttering of groans and hisses from some camps and excited rants from others about the latest and greatest blue problem in the gym. Regardless of what camp you belong to, you likely have climbed on some poorly set routes or boulder problems as well as some excitingly thoughtful ones. So what makes a great indoor problem? The answer is simple:Movement.
Unlike weight training or other repetitive exercises such as running, climbing has multitudes of moves that need to be learned. Climbing, in some respects, is like a game of chess. The best route-setters in the world know this. Good route setting isn’t about making the holds further apart or putting smaller crimps on the wall to make it more difficult. It is instead about the creation of cryptic sequences that force specific movement. A well-planned route or problem should be physically possible for every person in the gym whether he or she is the ten-year-old phenom or the average six-foot tall beer guzzling college student if given the climbing prowess. Here are some ideas to help you as a route setter when creating the next piece de’ resistance.
The Smalls and the Talls
Chances are, you aren’t setting for ABS Nationals, but it is still important to know who is going to be trying your problems. After a day of setting, sit back and watch other gym patrons try the new problems. Pay close attention to junior team members, as they often are the shortest gym patrons. They make great forerunners for problems when reach is a concern on specific movement. A problem that is reachy for the sake of being hard should get immediate attention. It shows a clear lack of imagination on the part of the route setter, Often an intermediate handhold or other foot options could alleviate a reach problem. Creating movement that is doable for the gym’s shortest patron, while still offering the same challenge to the tallest gym member will ensure you aren’t alienating anyone. If you can do this, more people will enjoy your routes and problems.
A common practice among setters is to set to your elbow. This practice may have been suffice ten years ago, but today, gyms are inundated with strong kids “the smalls” who are often to short to ride roller coasters yet can crank out ridiculous movements given the reach. If you are six feet, setting to your elbow is often not good enough, especially if the gym has a large contingency of strong groms. The next time you set, try to set from the foothold you are executing the move off to your shoulder. The hard part is creating a problem where moves cannot be bi passed by “the talls” in the gym. Using less positive holds and being creative can help. Another thing to try is creating routes and problems that have side-to-side movement versus just a straight up path. This can eliminate the possibility of tall people utilizing low feet to by pass moves, thus forcing the intended sequence.
Uh-hum. It’s true, climbers love monster sized holds. When setting with plastic behemoths, try to incorporate the hold into several problems or routes of varying grades. This can be difficult at the easier grades, but carefully placed heal hooks or knee bars can make even the most sloping monstrosity usable at almost any angle.
Bikes and Bars and Toe Hooks
Anyone can set a difficult route with big moves on decent holds. Creating movement on holds that are seemingly impossible to hold at a given angle takes a bit more work. Introducing the bicycle, the knee bar and the toe hook. Using these more advanced foot techniques can make grappling with slopers a breeze, but for those who don’t utilize the techniques employed to make the problem go, the movement may seem impossible. On the steeps, these techniques offer a more cerebral solution to straight forward tugging. Inside or out, unlocking the mystery of a move is half the fun.
Ebb and Flow
One move wonders can be great for the ego or shattering depending on the outcome. These types of routes seldom make the cut in terms of long-term enjoyment. Most boulder problems set inside will be five to ten moves in length. Each one of those moves should be roughly the same difficulty. This creates consistency in the problem and helps ensure there is no showstopper moves. This is incredibly important when setting for comps. When creating the movement keep in mind that each move should have some flow into the next. Nothing is worse than having awkward hand switches on a holds that seem out of place in a given sequence. Creating consistent movement from one hold to the next will ensure greater enjoyment of the problem by other climbers.
Style is Like Fashion
Actually, style is a constant, but like fashion, we need to change our style from time to time if we want to keep ahead as route setters. From time to time, evaluate what your strengths and weaknesses are as a setter, and go back over recent work that you have done. You may notice there are some consistencies in the movements. If that is the case, change your style a bit to break up the norm. If there is a gaston on every route, create a layback. Using different types of hold on a given route is another way to avoid monotony. The point is to keep things fresh and new. Remember the idea is to keep it interesting for patrons of the gym.
Circuits vs. Grades
Grades are always under scrutiny, and inside the gym, arguments over grades can even be worse. Often arguments ensue over grades inside when neither party has ever climbed the grade outside to know the difference. There is an easy solution to eliminate this strokefest from occurring in your gym. Eliminate grades! Instead, get together with the other setters and managers of your gym and create a color chart. Designate colors to coordinate with a grade range, but don’t share this grade range with other patrons of they gym (i.e. yellow and teal is V4 or V5 and on routes is 5.4-5.8). Instead, post the new color chart with recreational, intermediate, advanced, and expert designations. This simple color coordinated chart will create easy to follow circuits, and hunting for numbers will become less of an obsession for gym patrons.
Route setters are responsible for delivering a good product to the customer, and just like with other forms of commerce, the customer’s wants and needs may change. Always listen to what the customer has to say even if what they have to say is negative. Negative comments about routes or boulder problems often can improve your setting style, but only if you listen. Never get defensive, instead find out why the route or boulder problem isn’t a gym favorite, and make improvements the next time you set. Ask the critic how he or she would change the route to make it better. Sometimes, a small foothold will change a dump of a route into a gym classic.