Rock climbing is an engaging activity that lets you exercise while participating in a fun yet challenging activity. While many climbers are casual weekend warriors who like to climb easy cruisy routes that stay within their comfort zone, there are many who push their limits. For these hardcore rock hounds, sending harder routes means additional training in the gym and at the crag, allowing them to master their bodies and finely tune them into climbing machines. 4x4s can be a great way to improve your climbing abilities. In this post, we’ll detail what 4x4s are and how to incorporate them into your rock climbing training.
Unlike weight lifting, rock climbing does not target specific muscle groups. Instead, rock climbing involves the complex interaction of different muscle groups, including those of the arms, fingers, legs, back, core, and many more. While some routes will target specific muscle groups more than others—think overhangs versus steep vertical climbs—targeting particular muscle groups in rock climbing requires specific exercises.
Much like weight lifters target particular muscle groups to strengthen, climbers have developed and incorporated methods into their regimen. For example, using a fingerboard to increase finger strength or doing crunches to strengthen your abs.
In the same way, rock climbers have developed climbing regimens to target certain aspects of climbing accurately. One such technique called 4×4 training enhances a climber’s power endurance. Enough background though, let’s get into the ultimate guide to 4x4s for rock climbing training.
What are 4x4s and How Do You Do Them?
When climbing, most routes are generally defined by a few key moves, the cruxes, with the majority of the climb being at a lower level. For these types of climbs, local endurance, or the ability to climb for an extended period is key. The ability of the climber to exert sufficient power when at the crux is usually defined by the maximum power the climber can exert. So while a climber may be able to exert a considerable amount of technique and power on individual moves on a particular route, stringing together several of these difficult moves in sequence may be beyond them.
This is where 4x4s come in. Power endurance training, to which 4x4s belong, enables climbers to climb through a pump physically and mentally.
When training in particular methods, you are forcing your muscles to be stressed in a specific way designed to adapt them be better able to produce ATP (the basic energy currency of cells). When power-endurance training, you are forcing your muscles to adjust to oxygen-poor environments, such as when your muscles are pumped. Essentially you are engaging in exposure therapy by consistently stressing your muscles to produce lactic acid and then powering through.
There are many different variations on 4x4s which differ from gym to gym and person to person. In broad strokes, a 4×4 is performed by selecting four problems or routes in the gym and completing each route four times in a set amount of time. While 4x4s are usually done on boulder problems, they can also be adapted to be used on sport routes. The advantage of using bouldering problems is the autonomy and the facility of bouldering gyms.
Must Follow Rules When Doing 4x4s for Rock Climbing Training
- Warm-up before starting the routine
- Select four problems 2-3 grades below your maximum ability. They should be tough but climbable without falling off.
- If your max is V0, V1, add hands and feet to make them easier.
- You should reach complete muscular fatigue after completing your routine.
- If you fall off, try the problem again right away. If you fall off again, try something more manageable.
- Ideally, these problems should be done with proper technique.
- The rest period in between problems should be around 4-5 mins, the same amount of time it should take to complete each set of four.
4×4 Variations to Keep Climbing Training Interesting
Here we will look at a few variations on 4x4s.
Variation 1 for 4×4 Training
In this variation, choose four problems that are all roughly the same level. This variation is best suited for problems that are not located near each other. Each rest time allows you to relocate to the next problem. The repetition of the same route in sequence makes it easier to practice proper technique as you will know the moves well.
- Choose four problems ABCD
- Perform each problem four times each.
- Ex. Ax4, rest, Bx4, rest, Cx4, rest, Dx4, rest
Variation 2 for 4×4 Training
In this variation, choose four problems that are all roughly the same level. This variation is best suited for problems that are located near each other. This variation allows you to vary your moves in each set.
- Choose four problems ABCD
- Perform each problem once then move to the next, repeating this sequence four times.
- Ex. ABCD, rest, ABCD, rest, ABCD, rest, ABCD, rest
Variation 3 for 4×4 Training
In this variation (these are also called 4×4 bouldering circuits) choose four problems of two to four different levels. For example, choose two harder problems of V4 and two of V2. This variation allows you to most effectively reach muscle fatigue by gradually reducing the difficulty of each set. This gradual stepdown in difficulty allows you to push your limits while ensuring that you can complete the entire routine.
- Choose four problems ABCD, at different difficulties.
- Perform each problem once then move to the next, repeating this sequence four times.
- Ex. V4x4, rest, V4x4, rest, V2x4, rest, V2x4, rest
- Ex. V4x4, rest, V3x4, rest, V2x4, rest, V1x4, rest
In addition to these basic variations on the 4×4, there are further variations for advanced climbers that want to push their workout even further.
- When climbing a route, instead of jumping off when finishing the problem, downclimb before climbing up again.
- When climbing routes that are located next to each other, link the routes by climbing from one to the next effectively making linked 4x4s.
As your power endurance increases and you find that your routine is getting easier, increase the difficulty of the problems to get the maximum effect. The result of each session should be the inability to climb any more problems following the workout.
In addition to increasing your overall power endurance and your ability to work through a pump, the 4×4 workout can be specifically tailored to help you address particular weaknesses you have in your climbing. If you know what they are, you may want to pick routes that feature problems that force you to overcome those weaknesses with repetition. For example, if you have bad footwork, you should make sure to be particularly aware of your foot placements.
In addition to aiding in your climbing technique, 4x4s can help you overcome particular routes you may be attempting. If you are working on a route on a crag and can perform each of the moves individually, but can’t send the route, pick a problem with the same number of moves in the gym and incorporate it into your workout. This will help you build up the endurance to power through the problem on the crag.
Why Should You Start Doing 4x4s?
The primary reason for a climber to start doing 4x4s is to increase their power endurance.
If you can successfully complete individual moves in a route or on a boulder problem but are having trouble making the moves in sequence, 4x4s help you build the endurance needed to power through these moves. Besides helping you climb through a pump, 4x4s enable you to flash longer routes and boulder problems by increasing your overall stamina.
4x4s and other power endurance workouts are incorporated into climbing team workouts and that of other professional climbers. When not actively competing, this workout help the climbers maintain power endurance by training with easier routes than they would typically climb. When preparing for competitions, the difficulty of the routes is increased to push their power-endurance levels further.
Should Beginner Climbers Do 4x4s?
In general, most beginner climbers are not strong enough to complete 4x4s while maintaining technique.
A greater priority for a beginner climber should be the development of technique and building a powerful base to the point where the climber feels comfortable. Power endurance training best serves a climber after building a foundation of strength built from power training. This is because power-endurance training will convert some of your maximum strength into endurance. While you lose some of your maximum strength, you will gain the ability to climb longer routes and the ability to fight through a pump.
That being said, 4×4 climbing routes and bouldering are a great way to build up endurance for beginner climbers as long as they are done correctly and with proper technique.
How often Should You Do 4x4s?
When you feel like you are at a point in your climbing that you can effectively make use of 4x4s, you can introduce them into your climbing regimen. Because the point of the exercise is to tire out your muscles strategically, it is essential not to overdo it and avoid injury.
Therefore, we recommend to start off by climbing 4x4s twice a week, making sure to let your muscles rest from this particular exercise for 48 to 72 hours in between.
As you progress, you may want to increase to three to four times a week, soreness permitting. Always remember to listen to your body and don’t push it too far.
You should see progress in two to three weeks which will continue with time. However, bear in mind that you will lose gains in about the same amount of time if you stop. When you are not actively training power-endurance, it is good practice to include a power-endurance workout at least once a week to maintain your endurance.
Helpful Additional Resources for Crushing Your 4x4s
To make training your power endurance through a regimen of 4x4s and to break up the monotony of the exercise, there are a few climbing games that will help you crush your 4x4s.
Lemon-Limes: this is a workout/game that you can use to increase your endurance by yourself or compete with other people. You pick a route that is of moderate length and not too hard. Start by climbing to the first hold, then back down to the start. Then climb to the second hold and them back to the start. Repeat this until you reach the top out. This is the Lemon. Then repeat the same process but from the top out back to the start. This is the Lime. When competing with other people, keep score by seeing who can complete the most or finishes the routine.
Drag-Racing: this workout/game is essentially a competition to see how many routes you can accomplish in a set amount of fo time. When climbing routes on a wall, set a timer for thirty minutes. When climbing in a bouldering wall, set a timer for fifteen minutes. Keep score by how many routes each person can complete in the set time and/or the attempts made on each problem. Either climb the same routes or keep track of the routes by assigning in the score by the difficulty of the route.
In addition to playing games to make your workouts more interesting, there are many supplemental resources available to help you crush your 4x4s.
Trango.com: Many climbers recommend the training methods spearheaded by the Anderson brothers and Rock Prodigy. In their literature, they explain the need for precise and discrete methods for training muscles that are climbing-specific and how to train them. Not only do they talk about the methods for training, but they also discuss the rationale behind each technique, helping climbers better understand their bodies and therefore become better climbers. Their material and training are offered on their site, which is full of resources to help push your training to the next level.
Trainingbeta.com: This site offers climbers a list of training methods, climbing podcasts, nutrition for climbers, climbing training programs, and much more. Furthermore, on their website, you will find a six-week course in power endurance training that offers the first week free of charge. This will give you the opportunity to try out the program and verify its efficacy for yourself.
Uphillathlete.com: This site is chock full of information from training theory to training practice and much more, this website will help you full fill your training requirements and perhaps inspire you to push even further.
Wrapping Up the Ultimate Guide to 4x4s for Rock Climbing Training
When it comes to climbing, training usually consists of climbing frequently and varying the styles of climbing. On top of that, many climbers employ traditional methods of exercise to complement their climbing regimen. However, to specifically target certain aspect of climbing, climbers employ the use of routines designed by climbers for climbers.
When it comes to building your power-endurance, or the ability to climb through a pump, the 4×4 is a the gold standard. Although there are many variations on the 4×4, they all involve the same basic routine. Following this simple design, climbers are able to design a method that best suits their needs.
Although power-endurance is an excellent tool that helps climbers push their limits, it is not always the main priority for a climber. However, adding 4x4s to your long-term routine in your climbing cycle will pay off in the long run.
By following our ultimate guide to 4x4s for rock climbing training and making use of the additional resources provided, you will see an improvement in your climbing in matter of weeks.
If you enjoyed this post, you may also like our post on advanced bouldering tips and techniques. Or, we went over how to become a better climber when you’re first starting out here.