Saturday, March 29, 2014

System Boarding Part 1: Why and How.

Some time ago I received a reader question about System Boarding for Power.  At the time my experience with a system board was limited to the most basic, bare bones, old school version of a system board, containing HIT strips, a few pinches, and maybe a few other holds in random spots.  That setup, and many I’ve seen, are better suited toward a very monotonous form of power endurance training, or if you’re above the 5.12 or so level, it likely falls more into the area of local endurance.  Even adding tons of weight on that style setup for what most call a “strength” workout, and you have to do so many repetitions that skin becomes a major issue, and the rep count is way too high to be training true strength. 

The other popular version of the system board is one that has a vertical series of the same pinches, the same crimps, the same  pockets, and the same crimps.  A climber would ladder up and down these holds in order to work a specific grip. Problem is, as you get stronger, you either have to add considerable weight, buy harder to use holds, or do more laps.  Adding weight doesn't necessarily help you hold smaller edges, and can quickly erode technique, buying new holds every time you progress would get expensive, and more laps is training endurance.  

In that old post I posited that a better way to system board for power would be to treat it more like bouldering, though on mirror imaged symmetrical walls.  Recently in our new Engine Room, and with the help of Atomik Climbing Holds, I put my theories to test. 

The Engine Room.


In the upcoming series of posts about System Boards, I’ll discuss not only what, how, and why, but also how I went about choosing which holds to buy, how I decided on the hold layout, and a review of Atomik’s extensive line of system holds. 

Jeff Kayse puttin in work.


Today, the why and the how.

We all know that bouldering is the best way to train real climbing power.  While you can separate climbing power into it’s different components and maybe more effectively train those (think campusing), there is no better substitute for doing hard moves than, well, simply doing hard moves. 
The problem with using bouldering as a training tool is that it’s simply too difficult to measure and control.  If you train in a commercial gym, you’ve likely experienced the frustration of problems being height dependant, or all of the hard problems are compression, or every hard move is a jump to a crimp, rather than the precision and tension you so desperately desire.  Not to mention, the grading of boulder problems in most commercial gyms is at best inconsistent, leaving you often confounded as to whether or not you’ve improved.  Frustrating.




I was there.  Between the frequent changes to the boulder in the gym, the jumps at the end of every problem, and the (very) inconsistent grading that you’ll inevitably get within a group of setters, I was in need of a change.  I needed a bouldering wall filled with moderate to bad handholds of all types and footholds that would require constant tension to avoid cutting feet.  I wanted it short enough that no more than 3-4 moves would land you on a finishing hold, and preferably on an adjustable angle to mimic outdoor projects.  Its configuration would have to remain static for long periods of time so that I could measure progress on the exact movements from previous seasons.  I could simply have built a small bouldering wall, but I also wanted to be more systematic.  I know from past experience that my right side is considerably weaker than my left.  A short, fierce bouldering wall that is split down the center by it’s own mirror image seemed to be the best option. 



Enter my new favorite training tool:  The System Board.

Jeff Kayse training pockets.
More than half of the climbing portion of our strength and power phases has moved to the system board.  Progress from the workouts has become much easier to measure.  My right side weakness has more clearly emerged, and I’m able to address it more effectively.

It’s so deceptively simple.  You make up a hard boulder problem that targets a hold type or movement that is either giving you trouble or is specific to your project.  You try that problem, rest, then try it's mirror image.  Ideally, you'll be able to increase the difficulty of the problem by either using a worse foot or using a slightly worse hold to do a similar movement.  With this kind of focused targeting, I've found that my power is drained quickly, and it's easier to see that it's draining because I've gotten very familiar with the minutae of the movements I'm trying, so a drop in the level of my balance, my pull, my coordination, or my core can signal the end of a session.  

You're only limited by your imagination.  I've come up with dozens of moves that I've yet to do and dozens of others that I can't yet fathom.  For many seasons to come, this will be my go to tool.


Up next: What.  I'll discuss the specifics of our board... dimensions, construction, and which holds I chose.  Stay tuned!




11 comments:

  1. Really looking forward to this series of articles. I have a samll wall in the garage, and cannot decide on using a systems board setup or traditional bouldering setup. Hopefully, I'll pick up some tips, because I feel that systems board is the best approach, but I've never really know where to start.

    Daz

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  2. Nice to see this system board post. One further comment, with regard to how to increase the difficulty of a system board boulder problem. If your board is adjustable angle (various commercial gyms have been installing these lately), you have some really amazing options for varying difficulty. One of the best is to set/climb a problem (as well as its mirror image), and then to make the wall 3 degrees steeper and do it (and the mirror image) again. You can figure out a rotation of around 10 problems that target different aspects of your climbing, and do sets of these in every system board session, with the angle steadily increasing over a 4 week period.

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    1. For sure. Good idea. It's harder to do that on a community wall, but if everybody were on the same cycle, it'd work great.

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  3. I'm excited to see you will be focusing on the system board! It caught my eye in your first engine room post, and upon closer inspection it's really an innovative design. I was really considering building a school room board, but now i feel this would be far more beneficial to my long term power goals (and balanced power at that!). I like the option to adjust body tension with the wood slats, and the hold arrangement seems to be a combination of traditional system boards mixed with a bouldering wall. Regular system boards were never able to keep my attention for long because the squared hip style climbing was good for its ability to work your core along with whatever finger combo, but it was always so monotonous and boring I was never able to stick with it for a whole training cycle let alone a full workout.

    I hope in the next posts regarding this system board you focus on not only the type of holds that were chosen, but why they were arranged in their current state. I have to comment on the blue sloper/wide pinch pillars, they just look horrible (in a good way), but the placement is interesting. By placing them on the outside they look useful not only as a handhold but also as footholds (the sides not the top), to create horizontal body tension setups.

    The more I think about it this could become a 'standardized' system board similar to how the school room board posted problems based on specific hold arrangements. While the holds here would remain constant, problems that you find functional (or commonly used) could be posted with a type of route designation (row/column or 'named' holds). Then the user could adjust the problem via wall angle or foot hold distance to cater to their skill level or route specificity. The movement possibilities seem endless. Thanks for the inspiration!

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    1. Glad you're psyched on it Erick! I'll definitely be discussing those things and more. Your comment has me even more psyched on this thing!

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  4. I must say this is genius. Can i ask the approx cost and dimensions of the green board? Minus the winch and tilting capability.

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    1. I'll figure those things up for the next posts for sure. Actually, the tilting capability might have been cheaper than the alternative... but you'd have to have something strong on the ceiling for it to be so simple.

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  5. Great stuff! I'm about to remove the dry tooling holds from mine and buy larger/different holds to setup a system board so I'm extremely interested to read what you have to say about this. Looking forward to the next installment of this topic.

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    1. Sounds great Ignacio! I just heard from Atomik that they're adding 40 more holds to their system line, so in my opinion they are the place to look. More coming very soon on this subject!

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  6. Mirror/system boards are amazing! I got to use one extensively when living in Sheffield. They had one designed by the Beastmaker (fingerboard) guys. Look forward to hearing about your setup, it looks like it is usable by 'normal' climbers :)
    Should be a link to you from my site on Monday of next week about this:
    http://www.nealmcquaid.com/personalblog/

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    1. Thanks for the link Neal! You're right, ours is setup to be used by several levels of climbers. I'd love to see the Beastmaker setup!

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