System Boarding, Part II: What.

Now that we know how and why to use a System Board, we need to put together an actual setup.  I’ve been through this process, so I realize how difficult it can be.  How tall, how wide, what angle, and perhaps most difficult, which holds and in which configuration?  Of course, the answer depends largely on the space, budget, and needs of the specific users.  So let's take a look at not only our specific wall, but at the basics of how to decide what your wall should look like. 


Our Engine Room wall, like many of yours will be, was largely dictated by the available space.  Lucky for us, we had just enough room to make our wall pretty much exactly to the specs that I wanted.  6'6" wide by 8'10" long, with a 12" high kicker, provided just enough wall space to be a full arm span wide and no more than 3-4 moves tall.  We use our wall largely for strength and power training (though it could easily be used for power endurance training), so the 3-4 move height works perfectly for our needs.

Let's say for the sake of this post that you have an unlimited amount of space.  What’s the absolute ideal size? 

In my opinion, there is little reason for length to exceed 10-12 feet.  If an impressive looking wall is one of your needs, then maybe you’d find a reason to go taller, but for training purposes, more than 5-7 moves is generally going to be overkill.

As far as width goes, I could see going as wide as 12 feet or so.  Beyond two arm spans and I can’t see the reasoning.  This should basically look like a 6 foot wide bouldering wall connected to its mirror image.  With a high hold density, you’ve got endless problem possibilities. 


Our simple angle changing system.

While our wall is adjustable from about 20 degrees overhanging to however steep we want it, we generally keep it around 30 degrees.  This isn’t by accident, and the reason is one that everyone should take into account:

What angles are you training for?

While rock in the Red can vary widely in angle, most of our projects are steep, and usually around 20-30 degrees overhanging, so that’s where we spend a great deal of our training time. 

Ideally you’d have the freedom to go from dead vertical to about 60 degrees, or even to a horizontal roof if that’s the main angle you’ll be climbing on.  However, this isn’t likely.  From 15-45 degrees are the most useful angles for route climbers, and going up to as steep as 60 degrees might be more useful for boulderers.  If you happen to be restricted to one set angle, go for about 30.  It’s steep enough to cause big gains in power and require constant core tension, but not so steep that tiny and slopey holds will be useless.  

How you setup an adjustable board depends entirely on what your space is like.  We simply hung chain from the C-channel beams on the ceiling and hinged the wall at the top of the kicker with strap hinges.  The kicker is actually a 12" tall box that is screwed to the floor.  I've heard many naysayers comment that this setup will result in the wall "bouncing" when you're going hard, but I can't budge it, and neither can the bigger guys we train with.  With a little creativity, just about any space can work.


Our board is simple.  2x6's for the frame, 3/4" plywood for the climbing surface.  A few beefy eye bolts and chain to attach it to the C-channel.  Nothing fancy.

After building the frame, I realized that our T-nuts, if drilled on a perfect grid, would fall on some of the studs.  To remedy this I worked out a symmetric grid that allowed all of the T-nuts to fall in empty space.  You could go the same route or just build a frame onto a pre-drilled board so that it doesn't interfere with hold placement.  

Cost for construction was right around $150, including the T-nuts.


It's no secret that our board was sponsored by Atomik, and I truly believe that they have the best selection of dedicated system holds that I've seen, and they're in the process of adding 60 new shapes to the line (including the old Yaniro monos!).  That said, a system wall could easily be put together using any holds that are symmetric on a central axis.  This will allow you to do exactly the same move on both sides.  It may seem trivial at first, but if a hold has a better thumb catch for one hand, or is slightly more positive when held with one hand, it will become noticeable.  

Again, your hold choices should be tailored to fit your training and your goals.  We use a mix of slopers, edges, pockets, and pinches, with a heavy lean toward edges.  If you're climbing in Wild Iris, you don't need many slopers, and if you're a Rifle local, pockets aren't necessarily going to be your focus.

How difficult the holds are to use will depend on who is using the board.  Our board is set up for climbers who are aiming for grades from V5 to V12, so we have a wide variety.  If you look at the photos, you'll see that I used two colors: blue for more moderate holds and green for more advanced holds, (the red holds are not dedicated system holds, but happened to work as such).  If it's your home wall or a shared wall with a few friends of similar ability, you'll only need a set of holds that apply to your ability.  Don't buy "good" holds.  Training power and strength requires small, hard to use grips, and that will also be welcomed by your bank account.  We only have four "jugs" on the wall: three across the top, and one at the bottom center.  No more needed.  

If you're like me and would love to fill all the available space, Atomik has a line of screw on system holds that will fit your needs perfectly.  The edges are my absolute favorites.  Cost for the extensive set of holds we have was right around $450.00.  


As you can see in the photos, our wall uses wood rails as its main feet.  This is for several reasons:  Firstly, a system wall, in my opinion, should be used not as a campus board, but for paying specific attention to the tension required for hard movements.  If you have incut, textured feet, it's easier to hold tension.  We use plain wood rails, in two sizes, 3/4" and 1/2", left square (rather than incut) to force the climber to really apply tension.  Wood blocks would also work, though it is easy to cheat on the corner of a block.  You'll notice that the sides of our rails are angled upward.  This is to help facilitate with lateral type push and pull moves, such as gastons and sidepulls.  

Also, if you look closely you'll find footholds extending into the handhold level.  We used a few different sizes of feet, all placed to help with final moves or moves that require high feet, such as gastons or other oppositional movements.

Cost for the footholds (including the set from Atomik) was roughly $40.00.

Handhold Configuration:

This is largely a matter of personal desire and opinion, but there are a few basic ideas that can be followed.

I prefer a variety of hold positions.  Underclings, sidepulls, gastons, and straight down-pulling holds.  If the terrain you're training for has a specific orientation of hold, don't be afraid to switch it up.  A friend of mine has all of his holds set to be down pulling, because that's how the majority of the hard moves he encounters are oriented.

Before setting our wall, I drew out our T-nut grid and sketched several versions of the wall.  This allowed me to see potential problems with setting before I encountered them, and made the process much simpler.  It also made it easier to order holds, as I knew pretty much how many of each type I needed to reach the configuration I wanted.

A few things to keep in mind: don't forget about wide compression moves, long reaches off of underclings and sidepulls, opposition moves, or any sort of high-foot rock-up type movement.  I like to place different "levels" of holds near each other; for instance, a 1/2" flat crimp might be just above a 3/4" flat crimp.  Or a 1/2" incut crimp might be just beside a 1/2" slopey crimp.  This allows us to use a specific move as training for a very similar move (one hold further or higher) that is more difficult.  Lots more could be said on this subject, and inevitably will, but for now I'll let your own creativity guide you.

For less than $700.00, we built exactly the wall we wanted.  Adjustable, varied, and perfect for training power.  Seeing as how the holds are the bulk of the cost, you can quickly cut your initial cost by starting with a simpler set of holds and building up your collection as you get stronger.  Personally, I know that I'll always have a system wall to train on.  It's too perfect and too cheap not to.

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