How Does Comp Style Bouldering Differ from Traditional Bouldering

By method

As outdoor rocking climbing differs from indoor, competition boulders differ from traditional (commercial) sets. Your gym, or you’ve visited a gym, may even have a dedicated competition climb wall or area. The noticeable features will be the lack of holds, use of volumes mixed with macros, dual-tex, and maybe some crimps. If you’ve seen anyone attempt these competition sets, they’ve likely performed dynos or coordination-intensive moments. These eye-catching features and movements are a few aspects of competition-style (comp-style) boulders that differ from traditional bouldering. But if you’re curious and want an in-depth breakdown of the differences, keep reading!

Side note: This article uses the term traditional bouldering as meaning a commercial climbing gym bouldering area.

Hold Differences

First, there are differences in the climbing holds used on competition-style boulders vs. traditional boulders. There are three distinct hold types found frequently on competition sets:

  • Volumes: Volumes add dimension to the climbing wall. They can act as a hold or “the wall” for other holds. Some volume designs incorporate bolt holes on the surface, while others lack them. Even though a volume may have bolt holes for attaching another climbing hold set, it could still act as a handhold, depending on the climb the route setters create.
  • Dual-tex and No-tex: Dual-tex holds have one shiny (no-tex) side and friction on the other portion. Competition boulders often feature these, as the climber must be precise in grabbing them on the right side, increasing the climb’s difficulty. Recently, no-tex holds have made an appearance in competition bouldering. As the name implies, these hold completely lack friction and are thus very difficult to hold onto, perfect for elite-level bouldering comps.
  • Macro Holds: Many climbing hold makers have designed lines of climbing holds that don’t fall under a specific hold type (i.e., crimp, jug, pinch, sloper, pocket). Generally, they are larger holds with unique shapes that serve two purposes: forcing the climber to decipher the most advantageous way to grab the hold and allowing for creativity in ways the climber can use it to progress.

While setters may also use these hold types on a commercial bouldering set, they typically intermix them with crimps and jugs. If a commercial boulder only uses slopers, volumes, or dual-tex holds, then the differences lie in the movement.

Movement Differences

That brings us to the next difference between competition-style bouldering and traditional bouldering – movements. The hold types used in comp bouldering may be familiar to you from commercial bouldering, but the movements are where things start to diverge. There are six key characteristics of comp boulders that distinguish them from traditional boulders.

woman climbing in an indoor rock climbing gym

1. Less-straightforward

      When you first look at a comp boulder, it can be challenging to determine the intended beta or how you will use the holds. On traditional boulders, route setters usually orient the holds to make the best place to grab it obvious. The traditional boulders also tend to follow an intuitive movement pattern of move a hand, move a foot, move the other hand, move the other foot (it’s not always that straightforward, but the idea is that you don’t have to think too deep about what the setters want).

      2. Dynamic

        You may be familiar with dynos as they are common among traditional boulders, too. Where dynos on a commercial boulder are a simple, vertical jump between two holds, competition boulders elevate the movement, adding paddle-dynos, lateral-dynos, double-dynos, or dynos to the finish.

        For those unfamiliar with the comp-style dynos – here is a brief description of each:

        • Paddle-dyno: Once the climber jumps, they must propel themselves through a series of 2+ holds using only their upper body.
        • Lateral-dyno: Like a normal dyno, but you must jump across the wall rather than up to the next hold.
        • Double-dyno: A sequence of back-to-back dynos.

        3. Coordination Moves

        In addition to dynamic movements, competition boulders tend to incorporate sequences involving coordinated hand and foot movements. These can include:

        • Pogos: Swing one leg to generate upward or outward momentum.
        • Toe-hook catches: Throwing your leg out towards a hold so that the upper rubber on your climbing shoe’s toebox catches on the hold and keeps you inside the wall. That is common to see as the first move on a competition boulder.
        • Any dynos: see ‘Dynamic’ section
        • Shuffle-steps/step-throughs: Moving your feet quickly through a specific sequence across volumes or foot-holds in between hand-holds.
        • Double-clutches: Moves that require you to go from having both hands on the same hold to two new holds, with one hand on each.

        4. Low-percentage

        ‘Low percentage’ moves imply that the hands or feet are less than ideal, giving you lower security. Repeatedly sticking low percentage moves is challenging unless you can rely strictly on strength to pull through the sequence. On a competition climb with a low percentage move, you may stick it once and then fall on the subsequent ten attempts. This challenge of low-percentage moves in competition-style bouldering is what separates the skilled climbers from the rest.

        5. Learned movements

        This characteristic of competition boulders relates to the dynamic and coordination moves. Movements like paddle dynos, pogos, shuffle steps, and toe-hook catches primarily appear in competition boulder sets. Thus, they require specific training. The satisfaction of mastering these new movements in competition-style bouldering is unparalleled and is sure to keep you motivated and eager to learn.

        6. 4-Point Start

        Unlike traditional boulders, whose only markings are on the start holds, competition boulders have 4-point starts. Each limb must touch the specific start holds, and you must establish control (hold the start holds for a certain period of time) before advancing on the climb.

        The ultimate objective is the same across comp-style and traditional bouldering: get to the top without falling. However, the physical demands and hold composition can differ significantly. You can expect fewer holds, coordination moves, and tricky beta on a comp-style boulder. More crimps, hold-in friendly orientations, and easier-to-read beta will be more common on traditional boulders. Comp boulders may be challenging if you come from a conventional bouldering background. As you learn movements like pogos and dynos and become comfortable with dual-text and macro holds, comp-style boulders can be some of the best climbs you’ve ever tried. If you want more content about comp-style boulders, check out the IFSC YouTube channel for footage of the world’s best competition climbers tackling climbs at the World Cups!