What are Bouldering Circuits and Why Are We Using Them?

What happened to the V-grades? Don’t worry, we haven’t abandoned them – we’ve just disguised them! Instead of grading each individual problem by the V-scale used in many US gyms, we’ve moved to a circuit grading system much like those used in many gyms throughout Europe and on the West Coast.

A circuit grading system is designed to categorize each route into a range of possible grades. This allows for more efficient training and will give you the climber a more accurate idea of your current skill level. It also eliminates some of the subjectivity that we all experience as climbers when assessing the grade of a route.

“We’ve been thinking about making the transition to circuits for a long time – but we needed to get it right and introduce it at the right time. Coming directly off using the circuit system at The Rock Classic bouldering comp gave us a great opportunity with a gym full of fresh problems and a chance to have seen hundreds of climbers of all abilities trying all the problems,” says Jordan Pacheco, TRC’s Head Routesetter.

The switch is not arbitrary or haphazard. The concept of bouldering circuits is actually over half a century old, started in 1947 by French climber Fred Bernik. In Fountainebleau, Bernik placed a colored dot on each boulder to indicate its approximate difficulty. He would train by climbing each color (or circuit) as quickly as he could. This training method quickly caught on as an effective tool for climbers worldwide and is the basis of our new grading system.

Since all the problems in a small range of grades have been color-coded, they’re really quick and easy to find. If you can consistently do all the climbs in the circuit except for “that one on the over-hang” or “that slab,” that gives you tons of information about what you should work on to become a more well-rounded climber.

“You’re going to find climbs in a higher circuit that you can do and maybe some in a lower circuit that you can’t. What makes circuits great is they encourage people to try climbs that don’t match their style or what they’re naturally good at. While it’s cool to get that V-whatever graded super hard, if it isn’t actually hard for you, then it doesn’t have the same value than trying something in your range that you just can’t figure out,” says Jordan.

He continues, “when V-grades go up, people gravitate to what they think they should be able to do and often miss out on climbing awesome problems with great movement that they think is either too easy or too hard. My favorite thing to see is someone get on a route that hasn’t been graded yet – so they have no preconceived notions on how hard it ought to be – and then they work and work at it. It doesn’t matter if they end up getting it or not. What I love is that when they didn’t know the grade, they were willing to try it because it looked awesome!”

“When they do find out the grade I often hear them say they never would have tried it if they would have known before. Our hope is that transitioning to circuits is going to encourage climbers to get out of their comfort zones, trying new movement, pushing their personal limits, and having a great time.”

Ultimately, we see this new grading system not just as a change, but as an improvement. We believe that this improvement will help all of our members to become more well rounded climbers, and offer them a practical benchmark of strength and ability. We understand that it may take some getting used to – but we are confident that once you give circuit training a chance, you will love it as much as we do.

We hope you enjoy “circuiting”! Be on the lookout for other new and exciting route setting happenings coming up as well.

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