Bouldering 4 x 4 Drills


4x4s have been around for a long time. But what are they and when should you do them?

By Steve House

I first heard about 4×4’s one of the first times I ever entered a bouldering gym. It was the mid-1990’s in SLC and I was with Kim Csismasia 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 to with this valuable tool.

A tool for Power Endurance

4×4’s, 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 doesn’t serve the purpose of this versatile drill. So what’s their purpose? Power-Endurance. Which means that they should come after Power Period, which should come after a Base Period as we discussed in the Climbing Marathon post..

For sub 5.11d / 7a climbers.

General Warm up: 1 x 20 minute 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 doing 1-3 problems at each grade up to your “flash grade” (no more than 2 attempts per problem max)

4 x 4 Bouldering circuits
Select four boulder problems that you scouted and rehearsed in the previous phase of 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.
The next three slightly less steep and slightly less difficult.

Note: 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. Something like this.

Note 2: 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 four problems.
Rest for DOUBLE amount of time it took to climb the 4 problems so we establish 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 like 2 minutes to climb 4 boulder problems, not 5, but you get the idea)

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.

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

Climb 5.13b / 8a or harder?

If that’s you, then convert the 4×4 concept into Linked Boulder Problems. Meaning that instead of dropping off at the top of each problem, you down-climb an easier problem, then ascend a hard problem, down-climb again, etc, to complete a total of four boulder problems without rest. Measure that time and rest for EQUAL to the same amount of time, so a climb to rest ratio of 1:1.