How to Train Routesetters and Keep them Healthy?

I’m not sure if this is a request for an episode or just something I’d love to have as a discussion here, but I’m really curious to hear more insight into how physical and climbing training for routesetters could be improved throughout the industry. It’s definitely a niche subject for sure, but it’s important for the overall health of the climbing gym industry that setters are well trained, healthy, and able to move well on the wall - and on real rock - because it truly does have an impact on the quality of what setters put on the wall day in and day out. So many setters lament that setting has made it impossible for them to train well and see improvement in their own personal climbing.

And of course, I’m biased here - I’ve been setting nearly a decade, most of that full time, and while I’ve been incredibly lucky myself to stay healthy and continue to see improvement (for the most part) in my personal climbing, it’s a big issue among setters I’ve hired and trained and I’ve seen it contribute to burnout for a lot of good setters. The industry already lacks enough setters to begin with, and we need to be doing a better job of maintaining the ones we have!

Just curious if anyone else here has any thoughts or insights - or if there are any other setters lurking here who want to talk further about it!

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Definitely an issue. We’ve tried it and explored it numerous times, and beyond general strengthening, I suspect that somehow the forerunning process needs to change for many setters.

As a setter yourself, I’d be curious to know what your thoughts on forerunning are. Do we do too much of it? Does it often turn into a climbing session rather than a cursory check on whether or not things are possible for a roughly specific level?

After a certain period, do we NEED to do it nearly as much? I can come up with several reasons why I think it hinders progress for the customers, but I recognize that progress isn’t the only goal.

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Yeah forerunning is really interesting - one of the things I try to focus on is making sure that it doesn’t actually become a session at all and we balance efforts and attempts between the team - sending the hardest boulders isn’t the goal and can’t become it. No matter what, though, bouldering forerunning is still hard, and setting routes is easier from a forerunning perspective but much more difficult throughout the day if you’re not working from a lift. No one session feels like the problem, it’s more the lack of ability to take real rest days.

I think maybe we do spend too much time forerunning the hardest boulders where we can’t just always do the moves first try, and probably not enough time climbing and improving the “easier” routes and boulders - those are the ones that typically have the most impact for members (considering that the average gym climber probably doesn’t climb harder than V4) and also have the least impact on the setters.

Beyond that I do actually feel like strength training and trying to become durable is really important for routesetters, but I only really know what works for me - and it’s hard to get the teams to always be motivated to lift after work or put in that effort over the weekends when they just want to take a day off.

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Oh man, this is a topic and a half. I’ve been setting since the early 00s and as a semi-older setter now, the idea of setting 5 days a week is laughable even with good fore-running practices and all the appropriate safety stuff when setting- it’s just too hard on the body.

As a former gym owner, I really struggled to figure out how to pay setters and ensure we didn’t burn through them super fast. We only set 3 days a week and tried to make sure we could get the setters hours in other ways, but it was a battle for sure that we were only mildly successful at- but we never even considered 5 days a week despite being a pretty big gym- and most setters I know that have done the 5 day a week thing have either quit or are planning to.

The fore-running process is really important to be really mindful about making sure you get at least 2-3 people confirming moves- but training setters to not focus on sending or even making it go if it’s not what they want it to feel like is really important.

Echoing what Greg said- it’s the lack of rest days that puts you in the ground and gets you hurt. Figuring that out with either days off during the week or skipping weeks setting is pretty critical for long term health.

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Are there other “setting” tasks that aren’t nearly as physical? Has anyone ever tried gathering holds and planning a set on paper the day prior to see if it speeds up and/or improves the setting process over time?

Should setters spend a day not climbing at all but putting up “possible” boulders in a spray wall app if the gym has one? Then those go in a folder for patrons to try and the setters get good practice without trying moves?

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I think those are both something setters would benefit from- both from a physical standpoint and just being better at hitting grades/movement first try so fore-running is more efficient and less taxing on the body.

I think alot of the challenge comes from 1) today’s more complex setting and use of macros- alot of these new boulders that many gyms are setting really take alot of adjustment- even easier ones and 2) harder boulders just require more work to get right- even if you’re as close as you were on that V3, that V10 is just going to take more gas to get done.

I know of some gyms that have a separate stripping/washing crew- and I think that’s fantastic- that takes a bunch of load off. Also teaching setters how to use pulleys and other equipment to haul volumes instead of lifting them, etc, etc can help alot too.

Finally, just reducing the number of boulders per set can be a big help- but ultimately, it’s all a balancing act with what the community needs to stay happy- especially if you’re in a market like say, Boulder where there are alot of competitors and setting needs to stay frequent and high volume to keep members happy. And setting is just kind of construction and product design all at the same time- and even if you’re really experienced, it still takes a toll.

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