A History of Bouldering Circuits, and Why We Decided to Use Them at Summit Carrollton

An example of a colored dot on a boulder at Font, denoting that this particular problem is a part of the yellow, or facile (easy) circuit.

An example of a colored dot on a boulder at Font, denoting that this particular problem is a part of the yellow, or facile (easy) circuit.

As many of you that have visited our newly remodeled Carrollton location have probably noticed, we have changed up the way we rate problems there. And no, we didn't do it to confuse you guys or be annoying. We've switched over from the classic V-scale widely used in most American gyms, to the circuit system many gyms in Europe utilize. We swear the switch-over was not arbitrary — the circuit system is a more efficient training method, and gives you a more accurate idea of where your skill level is at. Here's the history of this particular system, and why we decided to integrate it into our gym.

In 1947, climber Fred Bernik was the first to invent the concept of the bouldering circuit. He placed colored dots on many of the boulders at Fontainebleau, with different colors pertaining to different approximate difficulties. Bernik would train by completing every problem within a certain circuit in the fastest time possible. A map and list of circuits at the Cuvier area of Fontainebleau, the first area that Bernik created circuits in, can be seen here. First developed as a training method for alpine routes, circuits have now caught on as a training method for basically every discipline of climbing.

A map of some circuits at Font.

A map of some circuits at Font.

While the concept of the bouldering circuit is still catching on in the United States, it is very widely practiced in many European countries, like Germany and France. The basic idea behind them is to complete a higher volume of boulders in a shorter amount of time, which increases both your endurance and power endurance. Circuits also give climbers a better picture of where their ability levels are at: for example, completing every route within the orange circuit means you're a more well-rounded climber than completing just one V5 would indicate. Circuits are also a good way to look at where you might need work. If you can complete every problem within the blue circuit except for the overhanging one, that means that you need to step up your overhang game, son! You can train your overhang abilities by trying to complete as many overhang circuit problems as you can, and aiming to achieve the highest color possible. You'll find yourself able to complete "higher" colors depending on how much the particular angle suits your style, but the real goal of circuits is to complete a color them in its entirety, and not piece by piece. While projecting individual problems in a circuit is an inevitability, the idea is to be able to complete the whole circuit at some point. Completion of an entire circuit means you have pretty much mastered those grades. Circuits were initially created to increase a climber's route abilities — nowadays, they are more widely accepted as good training for most anything.

Ellis Whitson, one of our routesetters and an advocate for circuits, digs circuits for their convenience. "Personally, I love the ability to be able to look around the gym and pick a color in the range that I know I want to climb, and then all I have to do is walk around and look for that color. It's nice because you don't have to look for grades, and I don’t have to worry about, you know, if  the boulder is too soft or or hard for the grade, or if it's sandbagged. It doesn’t matter because it is all a relative range. It just makes things really accessible, basically."

Our circuits in all their glory!

Our circuits in all their glory!

While there is definitely an adjustment period in getting used to the circuit grading (I find myself constantly glancing at the wall, like "What's orange rated again?") But once you get the hang of it, it's super easy and I find myself climbing much faster than I used to, because I am trying to complete as many circuits as I can, and thus I am climbing more. And in theory getting stronger, but my horrific eating habits have probably negated that. Anyways, we hope you now have a better understanding of this new system at Carrollton, and are able to utilize it much as training!