How to build a climbing wall - and use it properly!

Home walls can be as simple or as elaborate as you want to make them, but for the purposes of this article, I’m going to discuss the ways in which you can use a simple two-panel wall (see diagram). This is the cheapest and easiest home wall to build. There are plenty of ways to train on these, but I’m going to tell you what worked for me. If you don’t have a home wall you can adapt this program to the local gym.

The setup

If you've only got a small two panel wall, 40 to 45 degrees should be the angle you’re working at. If you’re climbing routes, go for 40. If you’re mostly into bouldering, go for 45. Get as many holds as you can cheaply. Don’t be afraid to make some out of wood, and drill holes through river rocks too. Variety is key. No need for an overabundance of super jugs, just enough to warm up. This wall is small, so it should be difficult to climb on. Be careful of holds that have sharp angles and hurt to hold – avoid these!

Adjustable two panel wall. By "panel" we mean a 2400x1200mm sheet of 17mm plywood.

A warm-up circuit

Develop a problem that starts in a sit on the edge of the board, climbs up, traverses, down and back to the starting position. Nothing too tweaky. It should be reasonably difficult to climb and take a few goes to get the first time you try it. It should be roughly 12-15 moves. Once you’re happy with the moves and providing it flows well, mark it with coloured tape. That’s now your warm-up problem and once you’ve done it a few more times, you won’t fall off it. In future sessions, you’ll warm up by doing some skipping/jogging plus some push-ups and pull-ups prior to climbing, so you’ll already be pretty warm before getting on this problem. Down the track, you’ll aim to do two laps of the problem, then three etc. Remember to warm up gradually each session. Avoid a debilitating flash pump by taking rest when you feel that burning pump start to develop. By increasing difficulty gradually through the session you’ll be able to climb better, for longer.

Developing problems

After you’re warmed up, work by yourself or with a partner to develop problems. These will usually be between three and eight moves. Anything that you get within a try or two is probably too easy and need not be recorded, but if you have to work pretty hard for a problem, mark it up with coloured stickers or tape, and add it to your problem list. I use a spreadsheet. Give it an arbitrary number as a grade, and then you can compare this to future problems you do, and also easily sort the list based on difficulty. Once the quality of your climbing (your strength on moves) decreases, it’s time to rest or finish up with some stretching.

Future sessions

As you continue developing problems, your list will grow. Once you’ve got around 15-20 problems, you can alter your session structure slightly. What you can now aim to do is session your existing problems. Sort the problem list based on difficulty, and work your way through your problems which will gradually get more difficult. It’s amazing how your body learns how to do a given problem, and something that once took you 20 goes may go first or second try. You’re not only developing power, you’re also developing technique and knowledge of body positions. Once again, stop climbing before you start to thrash. Quality over quantity.

What some people don’t realise is that random climbing on a wall like this isn’t really training. To train effectively, you need to have benchmarks. A list of problems you can work against will allow you to chart your progress.

Good luck – and remember to keep it fun!