Hit the Boards: How to Prep for Spring Climbing

“The gym makes your body strong but your mind soft” is an adage many seasoned rock climbers know all too well. And it’s no wonder. Even the most mindful climbers let their brains revert to autopilot while spending the winter cruising from one colored plastic hold to another in the climbing gym. But as the first hint of warmth hits the Wasatch in the spring, dusting off those outdoor climbing-critical decision-making and body-awareness skills you’ve let lie dormant all winter long can feel a lot like being a beginner all over again. 

To avoid the dreaded springtime two-steps-back feeling, spend time on the Spray Wall, Tension Board or the Moon Board. So says Natasha Hodges, Climbing School Manager at Momentum Climbing Gym in Millcreek. “People are often intimidated to try the training boards because they are where the really strong climbers tend to hang out,” Hodges says. “But the boards are really useful for all levels of climbers and everyone using them is there for the same reason: to get stronger, both physically and mentally.”

Climbing in Utah

Natasha Hodges climbing in Little Cottonwood Canyon.
Photo by Jon Vickers

All three of the aforementioned walls are bouldering features, or climbing walls that don’t extend more than 15 feet off the ground. A Spray Wall is densely packed with holds of all shapes and sizes; a Tension Board has an adjustable incline and uses sleek wooden holds set in distinct patterns designed to maintain body tension and improve footwork; and the Moon Board is fixed at a 40-degree incline and is made up smaller, oddly shaped holds focused on improving finger strength and power. Both the Moon Board and Tension Board also feature LED-lit holds that offer an endless variety of problems accessed through free apps. Additionally, the Tension Board allows users to flip, or mirror, routes for symmetrical workouts. A few of the drills Hodges utilizes with her students include…

Timed movement: Set a timer for two, three or four minutes with the goal of continuous movement around the Spray Wall for that entire time. Rest for the same amount of time you worked and then repeat the set twice. Mix it up by finding holds where you can comfortably rest for 30 seconds. “Playing around with doing things like dropping a knee or opening up your hips to find a rest position, especially on holds that aren’t so good, will give you awareness of how to use your body to find rests on those long routes outside,” Hodges says.

Four by fours: Climb four routes or problems without resting in between. When all four are completed, rest for the same amount of time you spent climbing the four routes. Instead of running around the gym to find four problems in the same grade, stay at the Tension Board where you can do a problem, mirror it, do it again and then complete the same process with a second problem. “Doing problems back-to-back like that will help give you the power, endurance and confidence to do those hard, tension-heavy moves, typical of outdoor bouldering and climbing, while you’re pumped or fatigued,” Hodges says.

Project mimicking: Because the Spray Wall is packed with so many different types of holds, you’ll likely be able to find, or closely mimic, a move on an outdoor climb you were working on last season. “For example, maybe the outside move you’re working on is a hard gaston off of a crimp with a bad foothold,” Hodges says. “Because there’s so many holds and different options on the Spray Wall, you can replicate moves and continue to get better at a specific outside climb before the season starts.” 

Gear for Getting Outside

Melissa Fields
Melissa Fieldshttps://www.saltlakemagazine.com/
Melissa (O' Brien) Fields is a contributing editor to Utah Bride & Groom magazine and a contributing writer for Salt Lake magazine. She is an accomplished freelance writer and editor with more than 20 years of experience.

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