Bouldering 4×4 drills have been around for a long time. But what are they and when should you do them?

I first heard about 4x4s one of the first times I ever entered a bouldering gym. It was the mid-1990s in Salt Lake City and I was with Kim Csizmazia and early sport climbing pioneer Chris Grover. I was in town to climb Wasatch ice and all I remember is sweating a lot and falling off most of the crimpy-feeling holds. Not a great start to my relationship with this valuable tool.

4x4s: A Tool for Power-Endurance

Bouldering 4×4 drills, like many workouts, are only as good as their placement within the overall plan. Doing them on their own, randomly, can be a fun way to spice up a familiar set of bouldering problems, but it doesn’t serve the purpose of this versatile drill. So what’s their purpose? Power-endurance, which means they should come after the Power Period. (The Power Period follows the Base Period, as discussed in “The Climbing Marathon” post.)

For sub-5.11d/7a climbers
General warm-up

Warm up with 1×20 minutes of continuous climbing at an easy level until breathing moderately hard and feeling warm.

Bouldering warm-up

Start with very easy boulder problems. Choose and rehearse the problems you will use for your 4×4 drills. Do 1–3 problems at each grade up to your “flash grade,” no more than 2 attempts per problem max.

4×4 bouldering circuits

Select 4 boulder problems that you scouted and rehearsed in the previous phase of the warm-up. Ideally these should be longer boulder problems with lots of movements. The first boulder problem should be the most difficult and the steepest, with the next three slightly less steep and slightly less difficult.

The drop in grade from each problem should not be great. Let’s say you start with V4 and you end with V3, but together they are V4, V4, V3, V3.

The right difficulty is usually a grade you can flash, but is difficult to flash. So if you flash V4, then V4, V4, V3, V3 is about right. If you flash V3, then: V3, V3, V2, V2.

Climb all 4 boulder problems one after another with basically no rest in between. Note the time it takes to climb all 4 problems. Rest for DOUBLE amount of time it took to climb the 4 problems—a climb-to-rest ratio of 1:2. If you take 5 minutes to climb the 4 problems, then you rest 10 minutes. (It usually takes about 2 minutes to climb 4 boulder problems, not 5, but you get the idea.)

Do this 4-boulder problem circuit 4 times through. Rest 15 minutes, then repeat until you fall off 25 percent of the attempted problems due to fatigue. (If you fall off because someone makes a joke, that doesn’t count.)

Once you’ve done 4–6 4×4 workouts, reduce the climb to rest ratio to 1:1. Do the same problems in the same order each time.

Climb 5.13b/8a or harder?

If that’s you, then convert the 4×4 concept into linked boulder problems. Instead of dropping off at the top of each problem, downclimb an easier problem, then ascend a hard problem, downclimb again, etc. to complete a total of 4 boulder problems without rest. Measure that time and rest for an EQUAL amount of time—a climb to rest ratio of 1:1.

-by Steve House


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