Route setting is an art. It requires lots of time and dedication. Creating boulder problems to improve on physical or technical aspects of climbing can be also be a great mental excerise! The challenge is to come up with a sequence of moves that go beyond on my own abilities and expand on that. I like to work with another route setter so we can feed off each others ideas and having a spotter is a good idea,
Route Setting should be done from the ground up and climbing the route throughout the process is always a good idea. Although setting is largely inspiration and visualization, listening to my audience is key!
I would have to say, Know yourself as a climber. Know your strengths and weaknesses. Know your ability level at different styles of movement; understanding your own abilities is possibly the most important factor to being an effective setter.
Determine your personal setting style, and always challenge yourself to challenge others. I try to incorporate certain problems in each route, it might be statics, dynamics, power-fests, technical nightmares, slopes, pockets, crimps – whatever. We all have strengths and weaknesses. Not everyone can complete the routes I set, but as long as they keep on coming back I know I have set something they like.
But where do you start? Here are a few approaches to building a problem, of course there are many other ways to go about it, but this may help you get off the ground, so to speak.
1.) Start with an idea in mind, like a specific technique or move that you want to work on. i.e. mantle, dyno, crimps, drop-knee, etc.. Figure out a set of holds that force you to perform that move then add on a start and a finish.
2.) Start with a random assortment of holds as in the game Pick Five and see what types of movement patterns develop. Eliminate, add or modify holds to adjust the level of difficulty.
3.) Play Add 2 then adjust the difficulty as above, by substituting holds.
Bumping up the Difficulty
Often times people increase the difficulty of their problems by making the hand holds farther apart or using smaller holds. Don't limit yourself to these two tools alone. I find that the most fun and rewarding problems can be "unlocked" by applying the right technique rather than simply lunging or powering through them.
1.) Pay attention to the orientation of the holds. Experiment with different rotations to come up with a handhold that forces a change in body position to achieve the best direction of pull.
2.) Take advantages of features and the wall itself to get people thinking outside of the "climb by numbers" mentality that comes with following taped routes.
3.) Consider the placement of foot holds to force changes in body position. Rather than always having footholds conveniently placed directly below the hand holds, try foot holds off to the side or high up.
Design your problems to challenge.
1.) Keep the "High Balling" to a minimum by staying below the max. height.
2.) Avoid setting up dynamic moves that may launch people into an opposing wall or slam their knees in to a low hold.
3.) Be mindful of the high risk body positions that can put tendons and joints in the danger zone. A Aston move, strenuous drop knee, small crimps and finger pockets are potentially dangerous, especially if they come at the end of a dynamic movement where a person may shock load their body in the high risk position.
4.) Set problems that are appropriate for people's ability level, problems that are too hard simply lead to frustration or overuse injuries.
If you are placing holds on the wall, keep a few things in mind to avoid damaging the holds or the wall.
1.) Holds should be placed flush with the surface of the wall. If there is a feature, or curve in the wall that prevents the hold from sitting flat, the hold may break when you tighten the bolt.
2.) Use the appropriate bolt for the hold. The bolt head should match the hole in the hold.
3.) Use a bolt that is long enough to extend through the hold and get enough threads into the t-nut in the wall to keep it from pulling out.
4.) Don't over tighten the bolts. If you crank the wrench too tight, the hold will crack under the pressure. Its much easier to tighten a loose hold than it is to repair a broken hold.
In the gyms, I listen to my audience. Their input is important and should be heard. Taking the time to listen, I learn something myself and I try to incorporate that in the next route.
You can find me at Castle Rock State Park, Summit Rock, Indian Rock, Skyline, Yosemite, Pinnacles, Lover Leap and beyond. All this has provided a valuable source of ideas for setting and the different experiences to draw from.
See you on the Rock!
by Jonathan Pizano