The Great Gym Dilemma

So far, it’s looking like a great winter to be unemployed. If you don’t have a job, you could have climbed outside almost every day so since the beginning of December. With highs in the upper 30’s and low 40’s, conditions have been perfect at the south facing crags, and new routes keep going in as people continue to enjoy the climbing season that wont end.

But most of us DO have jobs, and so we head indoors to train and hopefully get stronger and better for the coming spring. On a recent trip back to DC for the holidays, we visited a local gym, where we found the ratings, especially in the lower grades, to be quite stiff. I’ve been playing this game long enough now that whenever I visit a new cliff (or new gym), I always start well below my limit to get a feel for the rock (or the route setting). The grades in this particular gym felt two to three letter grades off, and it got me wondering what the majority of folks prefer when the climb indoors, grades that tend towards the soft side, or those on the stiff/sandbagged side.

I conducted a highly scientific and non-biased survey of several friends as we lounged around the base of a sunny cliff this past weekend, and found a couple opinions on the matter. The overwhelming sentiment was that, given a choice between the two, they preferred grades on the softer side. You go to the gym to get a workout, to train, and to generally have fun. You can get beat down by sandbagged grades outside almost any time you want. And besides, they argued, is there really anything wrong with padding your ego a little by having some success inside?

On the other hand, they felt that if the grades were too soft, it could promote over confidence and folks would go outside with a false sense of what they were capable of. While I see the point, I think most realize how different the two mediums are, and just because you climb 12b inside, regardless of how soft or stiff the grade is, doesn’t mean you can  come anywhere near that level on real rock. Of course, it doesn’t really matter, because if your gym has stiff or sandbagged grades, you’ll adjust your routine accordingly, and maybe when you do go outside, things will indeed feel “easy.”

So what do you prefer, oh esteemed readers? Grades so soft the routes are melting off the wall, or sandbags so big they could keep the Mississippi from overflowing?



8 Responses to The Great Gym Dilemma

  1. Climbing in the gym will never replace climbing outside and therefore the grades will always be off when you compare the two. Gym climbing is an art just as climbing real rock. Where ever you get to climb, whether it be inside the gym or Ceuse make sure to live in the moment and enjoy the movement and the people around you. That is what it is all about!
    piz : )

    piz January 3, 2012 at 7:17 pm
    • Wait, is that why my project feels so much harder than the blue route? Ahh……. 😉

      BJ Sbarra January 3, 2012 at 7:18 pm
  2. At least for indoor bouldering, I love it when gyms don’t even rate the problems with the “V” system. A lot of the gyms just have points from past competitions. I like this. This helps me to quickly determine a range of difficulty that I can choose from. Then I don’t get stuck on the reality of rating of the plastic problem. The down fall of this is that I end up not having any clue as to what rate I can boulder at. Seriously, I don’t know if I can send V5 or V6. I guess I need to go outside and get on a real V5 and V6 to know. I’m pretty sure an outside V5 of V6 will kick my trash.

    Ben Eaton January 3, 2012 at 8:35 pm
  3. I don’t really think it’s appropriate to compare gym grades to outdoor grades. Yes, it the same objective, but hardly the same sport. Rough guidelines at best. There’s the occasional gym-like problems outside, but most outdoor stuff requires friction and actual problem solving. It’s almost never connect the dots like 99% of all gym climbs are.

    I’ve have seen people that can climb better on real rock than the gym because the problems are often balance and technique vs. power and dynamics, so the door can swing both ways. Same thing goes with height where in a gym, holds are often spaced so that the “5.9” is actually a 5.12 to someone under a certain height. When you see a kid having to dyno from a foot chip, the rout setting is not thoughtful.

    As for ratings, I would lean on the soft side for gyms. People may think they’re accomplishing more than they really are, but it adds to a more positive training environment. I always support the initial ratings on outdoor stuff. Even if they’re way off, it adds to the fun and frustration of outdoor climbing. And as you suggested, start way down in grades when trying a new area, especially if it’s been established for many years.

    Jestep January 3, 2012 at 9:09 pm
  4. I also like the points system instead of V grades for gyms.

    coop January 3, 2012 at 11:13 pm
  5. I don’t mind if the grades are a little sand bagged but over Christmas I was at a gym where I was getting shut down consistently on stuff that I would normally onsight and warm up on. It took me several goes on a lot of the stuff. It was kind of a bummer. I think part of the problem, at this gym and other gyms, is when you have one or two people that do all the route setting so the routes are set for one particular style of body. Either way, I got a work out so it didn’t matter that much to me and my fragile ego will recover…

    Mike January 5, 2012 at 3:02 pm
    • Yeah, obviously grades are all relative anyway, but it’s lame (and could be dangerous even) when you expect to warm up on something and barely pull off the onsight. Maybe the gym you were at has a midget jedi ninja route setter?

      BJ Sbarra January 5, 2012 at 5:09 pm
  6. I prefer them a bit sandbagged. Definitely better to have your suffering delivered to the comfort of a climbing gym rather than encountering it in the middle of some obscure multipitch in the middle of nowhere. On the other hand, too sandbagged and you start underestimating yourself too much and missing some of the cool outdoor lines that you could have climbed with not too much epicness.

    Vasily January 9, 2012 at 8:52 am
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