Training for Rock Climbing

Training for Rock Climbing

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Routes on indoor walls are graded using sport grades. However there is no like for like comparison to be made with an outdoor route of the same grade as an indoor one. This is because outdoor climbing relies on many more skills than indoor climbing. Indoor climbing tends to be on steep ground with positive holds, all coloured and set out in order, and as such, tends to rely a lot on strength.

Outdoor climbing requires the ability to recognise holds, read sequences and involves more friction moves and jamming in cracks. Generally it is less steep and relies more on balance.

It is important not to find this off putting. When moving outdoors for the first time, try not to have your expectations guided too much by the grades that you climbed indoors.

It is best to drop down a lot of grades as you start out, as this will give you the chance to learn the skills needed for outdoors in more comfort and safety. It is not much fun for your first outdoor experiences to be desperate struggles. Try to relax and enjoy it.

You will need to understand how grades work. This, surprisingly, can be a complicated job, due to the number of different styles of climbing, and the number of grades that exist for each. There are, amongst others, ice-climbing grades, aid-climbing grades, big-wall grades and Alpine grades. However, these are generally for more advanced climbers. For people moving outdoors for the first time, there are three main grading systems: sport grades, bouldering grades and traditional grades.

Sport grades

These are perhaps the easiest to understand, as they will be the same grades used for routes indoors - using traditional grades for indoor climbs does not transfer to outdoor climbing. The sport grade tells you how technical, pumpy or powerful a route is. It doesn't account for how exposed it might be. They are for routes that are fully protected by bolts and graded using the French system, which runs from 3 to 9b+ (3, 4, 4+, 5, 5+, 6a, 6a+, 6b, 6b+, 6c, 6c+, 7a...9b, 9b+). Sometimes there might be the letter F in front to


A comparative table of climbing grades

UK adjectival

UK technical

UIAA (alpine)





grade (approx)








5.1, 5.2

4, 5



1, 2, 2t

5.2, 5.S

5, 6, /

Very Difficult

iii, iii+

2, 2t, 3-

5.2, 5.S, 5.4

6, /, B

Hard Very Difficult

iii+, IV, iv+

2t, S-, S, St

5.4, 5.5, 5.6

B, 9, 10

Mild Severe

IV, iv+

s-, s, s+

5.5, 5.6

10, 11


IV, iv+, V-

S, St, 4

5.5, 5.6, 5./

10, 11, 12

Hard Severe

iv+, V-, V

S, St, 4, 4t

5.6, 5./

12, 13

Mild Very Severe

4a, 4b, 4c

iv+, V-, V

St, 4, 4t

5.6, 5./

12, 13, 14

Very Severe

4a, 4b, 4c

V-, V, v+

4, 4t, 5

5./, 5.B

13, 14, 15

Hard Very Severe

4c, 5a, 5b

v+, VI-, VI

4t, 5, 5t, 6a

5.B, 5.9

15, 16, 1/, 1B


5a, 5b, 5c

vi, vi+

5t, 6a, 6at

5.9, 5.10a

1B, 19, 20


5b, 5c, 6a

Vit, VII-, VII

6at, 6b, 6bt

5.10b, 5.10c

19, 20, 21


5c, 6a

VII, vii+

6b, 6bt, 6c

5.10d, 5.11a, 5.11b

20, 21, 22


6a, 6b


6c, 6c+, /a

5.11b, 5.11c, 5.11d

22, 23


6a, 6b 6c

VIII, viii+, IX-

/a, /at, 7b

5.11d, 5.12a, 5.12b

23, 24, 25


6b, 6c

IX-, IX, ix+

7b, /bt, /c, /c+

5.12b, 5.12c,

25, 26, 2/, 2B

5.12d, 5.13a


6c, 7a

ix+, X-, X

/c+, Ba, Bat

5.1Sa, 5.1Sb, 5.1Sc

2B, 29, 30


6c, 7a

X, x+

Bat, Bb, Bbt

5.1Sc, 5.1Sd, 5.14a

S0, S1, S2

Source: Lake District Rock, FRCC

Source: Lake District Rock, FRCC

help identify it. Many countries have their own systems, and grade comparison charts are common in guidebooks to show how each compare.

Traditional grades

Traditional grades are grades given to roped climbs that rely on the leader placing their own protection. The system, as used in the UK, can seem complicated at first. It has two parts to it, an adjectival grade and a technical grade. The adjectival grade gives an idea of how pumpy, exposed or safe a climb is. For historical reasons, and to further complicate things, it runs from E, M, D, V Diff, S, HS, VS, HVS, E1, E2...E10. The technical grade gives an idea of how hard the hardest moves on the climb are. Once again, this system resembles sport grades, and runs 3c, 4a, 4b, 4c, 5a. 7c. This leaves grades like VS 4c, E3 6a etc.

It is a system unlike those used indoors, but once understood gives a lot of information about a climb. For example, a VS climb -Very Severe - usually has a technical grade of 4c, and a VS 4c climb should have adequate protection. A VS 4a climb is very likely to have little protection, like many slab routes. A VS 5a climb will have lots of protection for the 5a moves. Climbers describe themselves as 'VS leaders' or 'E2 leaders' as the adjectival part of the grading system gives a very good description of the overall feel of the route.

Bouldering grades

These are grades for boulder problems, and in the UK there are currently several systems in use. There is the Fontainebleau system, developed in the famous boulders just outside Paris, and runs from 3 to 8c, in much the same way as the sport grades above. Unfortunately,

Bouldering grades

USA V grades


(Used in the UK)

Fontainebleau system


Font 3


Font 4


Font 4+


Font 5


Font 5+


Font 6a/F6a+


Font 6b/F6b+


Font 6c/6c+


Font 1a


Font 1a+


Font 1b


Font 1b+


Font 1c




Font 8a


Font 8a+


Font 8b


Font 8b+


Font 8c

Source: North Wales Bouldering, Simon Panton

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  • Alfrida
    How do grades work in climbing?
    9 years ago

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