Training strength endurance on Circuit Boards

Circuit boards have been fashionable at indoor walls for some time now. They allow climbers to complete lots of moves in a row with out the need for a rope and more importantly a belay partner. The concept is simple, a climber starts on the first hold – often marked “start” – and follows the numbers with alternative hands until they fall off or reach the final number – often makred as the “finish”. In doing so a climber will cover quite a lot of ground and make a lot of moves.

Similar to climbing routes at the wall? Perhaps not?

Once we get past the idea of simply challenging the climber to complete the circuit there’s so much more gain from using circuits as a training tool. Here’s one idea.

What do we use circuits for?

To get more out of your time lapping these boards you are going to need to understand a few basics.  Firstly you need to think about what it is you want to achieve. Strength based targets will mean your approach ends up with a very different  focus to that of training to improve endurance.

Circuit boards are great for training strength endurance. In climbing, this term refers to our bodies ability to complete lots of hard moves in a row, typically between 20 and 40. This is approximately the number of moves on indoor walls and outside in the UK the typically distance of most sport routes.

With this in mind we can use circuits to train our bodies ability to cope with the ever greater demands we ask of it when trying hard routes, at and above our limit.

How to use circuits to improve strength endurance.

Our aim is complete a work out that stresses our body and forces it to cope with a greater work load than it is currently capable of enduring. We should know from setting clear targets the distance we want (volume or number of moves) to be training for. Next we need to know the required intensity.

For endurance based targets the intensity will reduce and the volume increase, for strength based targets, intensity increases and volume decreases.

You will need to try a few circuits to find out how you feel on each one. You should aim to find a circuit that is pretty sustained and builds a pump in your forearms. For pure strength endurance it should push you to reach a pump that causes failure at around 30-40 moves. You will need to shake out whilst making the moves on the circuit, if you’re not, then it’s not hard enough. Try a harder circuit next time. If you’re falling off before move 20 (ish) due to pump, then it’s probably too hard for you, try a easier one.

The basis of your session will consist of completing several repetitions of around 30-40 moves at a intensity that makes you fail due to being pumped. It is acceptable to get to the end of the circuit, as long as you have a “proper pump on”.

If you do this right and repeat it over a period of time you will be continuously asking your body to adapt to the additional stress you are exerting upon it. Your body will react and you’ll develop a greater threshold before the pump starts to set in, which in turn will allow you to cope with greater intensities and allow you to get on the higher grade routes.

A complete session would typically consist of between 2 and 6 sets, each set comprising of 4 repetitions – Repetitions and sets depend on how new you are to the exercise and the level of intensity you want to achieve. Rest for 2 mins between repetitions and take a longer rest between sets so that you start to feel more recovery.


You do not want to get a level of pump that is going to result in you not being able to climb for the next hour – warm up properly, it will help you to avoid this total pump.

Session breakdown

Here’s a breakdown of how you might incorporate a typical circuit session into a training session.

Activity Timing Points
Cardio Warm up 5-10mins Skipping or light jog
Mobility 5mins Aim to improve range of movement
Traversing 10mins Concentrate on Accuracy and precision of foot placements
Foot Swaps 5mins Test yourself in various swaps in a variety of terrain
Easy Blocs/Circuit Board Progressive into your session Maintain focus whilst the climbing is not taxing Keep warming up until you feel ready to attempt some hard climbing.
Attempt a hard circuit 2mins per rep Should be near limit – failure around 30 – 40 moves due to fatigue Rest 2mins Repeat 4 times = 1 set

Some top tips to keep track of your progress and to get the most from the exercise

  1. Log how you did by noting what number you reached on each lap. Monitor this and you’ll see your improvement over a period of time and hence gauge your progress.
  2. If you are getting past 40 moves on any circuit, it’s time to pick a harder circuit!
  3. Be careful not to climb to fast as the benefits will not be as transferable to your normal climbing. Try to keep your tempo at what you would consider your normal on-sight pace – This will feel slow, but is important with a longer contraction time!
  4. Strength endurance covers a lot of ground and can range from a strength focused bias, to a more endurance based focus. For STRENGTH endurance biased training reduce the target number of moves to 15-30. For strength ENDURANCE biased targets, increase it to over 40 moves.
  5. Concentrate on good form and good foot placements to maximise the benefits of drilling good Technique etc.…

With this type of training you are going to experience some serious lactic acid build up in your forearms. Learn to fight the burn each lap! – Good luck!

Be careful though, as with any climbing activity any acute pain, particularly finger pain should result in your immediate withdrawal from activity and medical advice being sought.

If you’ve got any questions or want help with a specific topic ask away below. If you like what you’ve read here don’t forget you can always book some performance coaching with him.