A little Commercial Routesetting Perspective

I’ve been wanting to blog about this for a while.  I feel like there’s a very different theory about routesetting for competitions and routesetting for commercial gyms.  Granted, I have limited experience in the former and, perhaps, too much in the latter.  Often people forget that there’s some key differences between the two.  So let’s dive in.

There are some basic things we strive for in competitions.  The difficulty is supposed to build to help eliminate competitors at different heights, rather than be cruxy, where everyone would then fall at the same spot.  There should also be no resting holds and spots to de-pump.  The pump factor is a big eliminator in comps, so it’s crucial to keep it going.  Elimination at many different holds is key to a competition because it allows us to separate the field with less ties.

For instance, say we’re setting a mid 5.12 comp route.  The first ten feet might only be 5.11, the next ten feet 11+, the next ten feet 12-, and the last 10 feet solid mid 12.  At no point in the route will there be any jugs out of character from the other smaller holds.  The route will be a consistently building “resistance” route made to knock competitors off at variable heights mainly due to their inability to recover.  And, bam, now we’ve separated our 7th, 8th, 9th and 10th place competitors.

Another interesting thing in comp routes is the element of risk.  This can be another great elimination device.  A classic example would be to add a very slopey, slippery and minimal footchip.  When the competitor is climbing through the sequence, if there is any lapse in focus or body tension, they can easily slip and fall off the move.  It’s basicly adding some mental desperation to routes.

Sequencing in comp routes becomes more involved as well.  A competition is testing a climbers stamina, strength, technique and ability to creatively deconstruct the “puzzle” set before them under the constant pressure of the pump factor.  A typical comp route takes 4 times as long to set as a commercial route.  The reasons are twofold.  We’re performing rigorous reach checks and the routesetters are setting as technically devious as they possibly can.  We spend more time trying to force rediculous contrived sequences to confound the minds of aspiring competitors.  I feel like this is one of the main reasons commercial gym climbers can love or hate (typically hate) trying out competition routes.  They are generally more technically demanding and require you to go much farther out of your comfort zone to creatively “solve” the route.  That’s usually where are weaknesses are out hiding.  And we all hate finding those…

On the flip side of this are our commercial gym routes.  We have about 115 routes up in our gym right now and around 70 boulder problems.  My aim for our gym is to have a standard of fun, creative routes, but not so stringent that it doesn’t allow setters to have a distinct style.  I don’t want homogenous routes, and I don’t like to control other setter’s vision.  Diversity is key here.  I love when people have favorite setters they seek out – I think that’s a great thing.

That being said, we all do take turns forerunning our routes for quality control.  The difference in doing this commercially rather than competitively is that we tend to add MORE comfortable footholds, especially the easier the grade gets.  Things are much less “forced”.   There are more body types, sizes and ages that need to make it up these routes.

The main thing I check for when I forerun is whether a route has flow.  This can be kind of a nebulous concept, but, an experienced climber that’s climbing a route in sequence should feel it.  It’s akin to that feeling you get when you catch your first wave on a surfboard.  It just flows.

One thing that helps with that is not making it overly bouldery.  Our route climbers at the BRC tend to agree with that sentiment as well.  I’d much prefer to work a 5.14- with a slew of v6’s, v7’s and v8’s heading up the wall than a 14- with a v10 at the start and 5.11+ climbing to the chains.  Consistency in the climb is still important in commercial routes.  If there is a crux, it should generally be only ONE V-grade above the rest of the moves.  Since it’s a commercial route, and not built for elimination, I don’t fret if there’s a resting hold, or if the crux is low.

And lastly, I think there are two main types of routes in commercial setting.  You have your techy routes built to make your gym climbers think, try, scratch their heads and try again(these can still have “flow”) and then you have your flowing resistance routes.  Ideally, to me, a gym should have them split about 50/50.  Some people love not having to think and just getting laps on lots of fun, flowy routes.  Others view those routes as great warmups.  And then there are those who want to wrack their brains on a route trying 10 different sequences to “optimize” their beta.  So, once we get to the 5.10 level and up I try to have routes from both camps.

1525664_10151902675441984_86809308_nDon’t forget, we’ve got our February 15th competition coming up!  It’s the BCS Prime Comp.  We’re taking your top two boulder problems and your top two routes.  So, if you’ve ever wanted to try out a mixed comp and get the best of both worlds, this is the one to do it at.  The BCS comps are always low pressure, tons of fun and there’s a raffle at the end for some great prizes.  Come compete!


Anyway.  I’ve blathered on long enough.  Next week, to start out February with a bang, we’ll have our next Routesetter of the month!  It’s as much a mystery for us as it is for you!  We’ve missed a number of months previous because all the routesetters were naughty and had to be put in a Harry Potter sized routesetting closet for a while.  Now that i’m finally letting them out, we’ll learn some fun facts about one of them.  Probably whoever brown-noses me the most.

-Brent Ng

About The Author

Brent NG
Brent NG
34 years old, born in Baltimore, lover of everything Czech, occasional runner, sometimes climber, sub-par writer, hackneyed musician, wannabe dancer, curious amalgamation of two disparate races