Number grades in gyms


Original Post
Old lady H · · Boise, Idaho · Joined Aug 2015 · Points: 265

The college gym I go to has easy, medium, hard, one of each on each roped wall, and a few special climbs thrown in also. These are simply coded with colored tapes, two colors each for the three grades, so adjacent climbs don't get confused.

Now, they are starting to try and assign number grades to each climb. As an outside climber, I find no value to this, a lot of downside for brand new climbers who are already having to deal with a lot, and even potential harm. Even in a gym, your 5.10 is not my 5.10.

Does this have value I'm not seeing?

Thanks!

I should add, I am a setter at this gym, trying to set fun, interesting routes for total beginners, or anyone, really, who needs an easy climb, or something to run laps on.

And, for the record, I'm an outdoor climber, as often as I can manage, so I try to think toward that aspect, too.

John Wilder · · Las Vegas, NV · Joined Feb 2004 · Points: 1,530

Grades only have meaning in relation to other climbs nearby.

So, yes, grades have value in a gym so long as they are consistent throughout the facility. What they would be outside is neither here nor there. The best thing you can do is separate indoor climbing and outdoor climbing- they are completely different animals, and the mindset of one does not necessarily transfer to the other. Indoor climbing should be fun, have a progression for new climbers to follow, and provide a training platform for those who are interested in improving their climbing strengths and weaknesses.

The value is progression- a new climber can visually see they are progressing in smaller increments with the YDS than they can with easy, medium, and hard.

The argument of potential harm due to 'vanity grades' in gym has been hashed out a million times, and it really comes down to a couple of points.

1) Gyms have been doing vanity grades for 20 years and I would argue that no one has died because of them. You might argue that there have been some injuries, but....

2) The fear switch usually offsets the grade disparity for most people. Outside climbing is SCARY the first few times you do it, so that keeps most people in check. Most every gym climber I know that can climb v5/5.11 in the gym sticks to 5.9 and under outside for their first few months/years, depending.

FourT6and2 · · San Francisco, CA · Joined Mar 2015 · Points: 45
John Wilder wrote:Most every gym climber I know that can climb v5/5.11 in the gym sticks to 5.9 and under outside for their first few months/years, depending.
I kinda fit that description. I've maxed out at 12a in the gym on top rope and 11b/c on lead (just started lead climbing last month). Highest I've done outside has been... maybe a 10d or 11a. I can't quite remember. My first lead outside was a 5.9+ and that's as high as I've gone on lead.
Old lady H · · Boise, Idaho · Joined Aug 2015 · Points: 265

John, there are only 60-70 routes in the whole gym, and some of those are lead only. Maybe a climb is "harder" because the holds are smaller. Well, some medium edges are two handed jugs for me, because my hands are tiny. On the other hand, a route might be "easy" because it's a "jug ladder", but I'm 4 11, so...

One of the big skills to learn, is not to pay too much attention to someone else's idea of what a climb should be, but to use your own judgement. Walk up, eye ball it, and go. Or just go anyway.

Not everyone is a bold badass right out of the box, especially a kid just leaving home for the first time. Climbing is a wonderful lifetime activity that even timid, shy, self conscious, non athletic, folks can enjoy and maybe even flourish in. But you have to be brave enough to take a shot at it, and that's a great gift to discover in one's self. Kinda why we send kids to college.

In a big commercial gym, sure, your point about progression makes sense. But here? Counterproductive, maybe.

Brian L. · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Feb 2016 · Points: 90

FWIW When I was in school the climbing gym I learned at on campus (mostly bouldering) purposely didn't grade their routes at all (not even easy/medium/hard). The point was people should look at a route, and try to climb it because it looks interesting. In this way it encouraged people to try different things - there was no mental block about "I can't climb V4, so I wont try that right now".

Jake Jones · · Richmond, VA · Joined Jul 2011 · Points: 1,430
Old lady H wrote: Now, they are starting to try and assign number grades to each climb. As an outside climber, I find no value to this, a lot of downside for brand new climbers who are already having to deal with a lot, and even potential harm. Even in a gym, your 5.10 is not my 5.10. Does this have value I'm not seeing?
ALL difficulty grades are subjective. What applies inside applies outside as well. Anywhere you go, indoors or out, what is 5.10 to you may not be 5.10 to someone else. There are eliminates like height, flexibility and so on. With cracks, the major factor is hand size. I used to think outdoor climbing was much harder than indoor climbing, regardless of grade. After a few years, I started to think the opposite, as I became better at reading routes and actively seeking rest stances. While you don't have to really read routes in a gym- most of the time you can figure out beta from the ground because you can see all the colored holds from the ground, often rest stances don't exist either. Conversely, I would say that most (meaning over half) of the routes I've climbed outside offer adequate rest stances where you can get a little back and stave off the pump a bit.

I use the gym strictly to stay in shape and to train and hopefully build strength, power, endurance and hone technique. In many ways it doesn't transfer at all to outdoor climbing, and in few ways it does. Trying to equate the two and draw correlations between them that aren't there often results in frustration and disappointment. Use grades in the gym and outside as a very rough gauge if you're looking to stay within a certain difficulty. I've climbed 9s that I could swear were 10+, and 11s that I found to be soft. There are a myriad of factors involved in this. Area, the era of the FA, and all the other things mentioned above and many more. Just have fun with it, train hard, and realize that it's all subjective, and that indoor and outdoor climbing are two very different realms that are only loosely tied to one another.
Eric Carlos · · Chattanooga, TN · Joined Aug 2008 · Points: 40

I tend to climb higher grades outside than in a gym, but part of that is that I can dictate my own movement and have less issues with reach outside. (plus the setters at my local gym in Grand Junction prefer big moves and not many feet) But I do prefer gyms to use grade breakdowns more than just easy, medium, hard. The reason being, I like a methodical warm-up and no matter how good you are as a climber, you cannot always distinguish what a climb is from the ground.

For instance, a couple weeks ago, on a rainy weekend I hit the L'Escalade gym in Lexington. Their bouldering is on a weird color scale where it is given a range of several grades. To me that is too much, as a V4 is no comparison to a V7 but that might be the range. Or V3-V5 or V2-V4.

John Wilder · · Las Vegas, NV · Joined Feb 2004 · Points: 1,530
Old lady H wrote: In a big commercial gym, sure, your point about progression makes sense. But here? Counterproductive, maybe.
I don't think you're giving your members enough credit.

I also think that you're placing your members in your shoes when it should be the other way around. Their actual experience is what's important, not what you think they should experience.
Tyler Lomprey · · Las Vegas, NV · Joined Jul 2013 · Points: 55

Gym Climbing is practice while outside climbing is gameday. Claiming to be a climber of any grade based off what you climb in a gym would be like a professional athlete bragging about how amazing they are in practice but then never gets in on gameday. Climbing gyms allow for condensed systematic training where you will be able to maximize your climb:time ratio, but what goods all that strength and fitness from pulling on plastic doing for ya when you cant control your elvis leg once your hip goes above that bolt on that super classic 5.10 you heard everyone talking about? But hey, who cares these days anyways, right? Just say take, complain about your shoes being too (tight, loose, new, blown out, greasy, etc), rest a few minutes, then give her hell again to the next bolt so you too can have something to spray about at the next ladies night!!

Jimmy Downhillinthesnow · · Bozeman, Montana · Joined Mar 2013 · Points: 10
Eric Carlos wrote:I tend to climb higher grades outside than in a gym
Me too, except my problem isn't reach (I'm 6'3) but rather that most route in the gym tend to be very sustained at the grade and wear me the hell out.
Jon Nelson · · Bellingham, WA · Joined Sep 2011 · Points: 4,695
John Wilder wrote:Grades only have meaning in relation to other climbs nearby. So, yes, grades have value in a gym so long as they are consistent throughout the facility. What they would be outside is neither here nor there. The best thing you can do is separate indoor climbing and outdoor climbing- they are completely different animals, and the mindset of one does not necessarily transfer to the other. Indoor climbing should be fun, have a progression for new climbers to follow, and provide a training platform for those who are interested in improving their climbing strengths and weaknesses. The value is progression- a new climber can visually see they are progressing in smaller increments with the YDS than they can with easy, medium, and hard. The argument of potential harm due to 'vanity grades' in gym has been hashed out a million times, and it really comes down to a couple of points. 1) Gyms have been doing vanity grades for 20 years and I would argue that no one has died because of them. You might argue that there have been some injuries, but.... 2) The fear switch usually offsets the grade disparity for most people. Outside climbing is SCARY the first few times you do it, so that keeps most people in check. Most every gym climber I know that can climb v5/5.11 in the gym sticks to 5.9 and under outside for their first few months/years, depending.
This sounds right to me.

But I also think a setter should attempt to be somewhat consistent with other gyms and outdoor routes so the user can roughly measure progress when visiting another area or gym.

When a user inevitably complains that they are not perfectly consistent with another area, the setter can feel fine about ignoring the complaint.
Carly D · · Albuquerque, NM · Joined Jul 2014 · Points: 5
Brian L. wrote:FWIW When I was in school the climbing gym I learned at on campus (mostly bouldering) purposely didn't grade their routes at all (not even easy/medium/hard). The point was people should look at a route, and try to climb it because it looks interesting. In this way it encouraged people to try different things - there was no mental block about "I can't climb V4, so I wont try that right now".
I love this idea. Maybe as a compromise, a new route can remain unrated for a week and people will really have to visualize the moves.
amarius · · Nowhere, OK · Joined Feb 2012 · Points: 20
Jon Nelson wrote: I also think a setter should attempt to be somewhat consistent with other gyms and outdoor routes so the user can roughly measure progress when visiting another area or gym.
My bet - route grades will be consistent with what the setter typically climbs outside. As in - if he sets an 11 and climbs a lot of 11s outside, the grade is likely to be very close. If he climbs 13s outside, and sets 11 inside, it's likely to be a crap shoot. If he climbs 13s outside, and sets a 9, most folks will have a few laughs.

It is my belief that somebody else, not the setter, should rate a gym route without any grade suggestion from the setter - confirmation bias is extremely likely in small tight knit groups.

BTW - totally works for outside as well - try to rate a route that is well below your climbing level, see how close you get to the consensus grade
Chuck Becker · · Portland, OR · Joined Mar 2015 · Points: 10
Tyler Lomprey wrote:Gym Climbing is practice while outside climbing is gameday.
I think this was true for a long time, but not any more - the latest generation of gyms has greatly changed what climbing means to a lot of climbers, newer ones especially, many who have no intention of ever climbing outside and instead climb indoors for the social or fitness benefits found in gym climbing. It's kinda like how comp climbing has become its own subset within climbing, and often not representative of any type of climbing you'd find in nature.
Tyler Lomprey · · Las Vegas, NV · Joined Jul 2013 · Points: 55
CBecker wrote: I think this was true for a long time, but not any more - the latest generation of gyms has greatly changed what climbing means to a lot of climbers, newer ones especially, many who have no intention of ever climbing outside and instead climb indoors for the social or fitness benefits found in gym climbing. It's kinda like how comp climbing has become its own subset within climbing, and often not representative of any type of climbing you'd find in nature.
Very true! All depends on what that individual's definition of climbing is.
Matt Himmelstein · · Orange, California · Joined Jun 2014 · Points: 115
Old lady H wrote:John, there are only 60-70 routes in the whole gym, and some of those are lead only. Maybe a climb is "harder" because the holds are smaller. Well, some medium edges are two handed jugs for me, because my hands are tiny. On the other hand, a route might be "easy" because it's a "jug ladder", but I'm 4 11, so... One of the big skills to learn, is not to pay too much attention to someone else's idea of what a climb should be, but to use your own judgement. Walk up, eye ball it, and go. Or just go anyway. Not everyone is a bold badass right out of the box, especially a kid just leaving home for the first time. Climbing is a wonderful lifetime activity that even timid, shy, self conscious, non athletic, folks can enjoy and maybe even flourish in. But you have to be brave enough to take a shot at it, and that's a great gift to discover in one's self. Kinda why we send kids to college. In a big commercial gym, sure, your point about progression makes sense. But here? Counterproductive, maybe.
With 60-70 routes, there are way too many to just divide into 3 groupings. Unless everything is set into 3 narrow bands. And so what if your idea of a 5.10d is not my idea of a 5.10d? My idea of a 5.9 is not what the folks who rated Open Book or Whodunnit in Tahquitz had in mind.

The whole idea of rating is to say this climb is relatively easier or harder then that climb. Yeah, it tends to inflate egos and can lead to problems when gym climbers make the first climbs outside, but that is the nature of the gym vs. real rock.
Chuck Becker · · Portland, OR · Joined Mar 2015 · Points: 10
Matt Himmelstein wrote:The whole idea of rating is to say this climb is relatively easier or harder then that climb. Yeah, it tends to inflate egos and can lead to problems when gym climbers make the first climbs outside, but that is the nature of the gym vs. real rock.
Agreed. Mmany climbing gyms inflate their grades to increase business, and some gym climbing is so different from outdoor climbing that it's difficult to assign a traditional grade to it. I wonder if a better system would be to rank routes on a given wall or section of the gym, say 1-20 or however many routes are set on that section, and give up on trying to compare indoor routes to those found outside.

I've also climbed at a gym that implemented a community-based grading system for new routes - a tag with proposed grade was placed at the start of each route with a dry erase marker, and climbers could vote whether they thought it was soft, stiff, or accurate, as well as vote for route quality. I think it kept grades more honest, and also provided feedback to route setters so they knew what style/types of routes the community enjoyed most. I'm not sure why more gyms don't use a system like this
Eplumer400 · · Cleveland, OH · Joined May 2016 · Points: 100
CBecker wrote: I've also climbed at a gym that implemented a community-based grading system for new routes - a tag with proposed grade was placed at the start of each route with a dry erase marker, and climbers could vote whether they thought it was soft, stiff, or accurate, as well as vote for route quality. I think it kept grades more honest, and also provided feedback to route setters so they knew what style/types of routes the community enjoyed most. I'm not sure why more gyms don't use a system like this
I love this idea. One of the local gyms has a easy, medium, and hard grades for roped climbs, but then the V scale for boulders. The other gym by me has easy, intermediate, moderate, advanced, and difficult, but they have on their dry erase board YDS comparisons to that grade scale. Easy is 5.5-5.7, intermediate is 5.8-5.10-, and so on.

I'd like to see something like the consensus grade boards at these gyms, however they have a lot of kid's parties and I think the little kids would erase the markings often.
JCM · · Seattle, WA · Joined Jun 2008 · Points: 95

I like it when gyms use a non-YDS (or non-V scale for bouldering) system. It avoids the distractions created by discussing stiff vs. soft grades, and generally prevents any attempts to compare gym grades to outside. Still, something with a bit more resolution than Easy, Medium, Hard is necessary to provide enough information. Having a bit of detail in your grades is useful, so that you can make the most of your time in the gym and choose routes that are the difficulty you are seeking for a given session.

I like the system used at The Spot- a scale ranging one one spot to five spots, with +'s and -'s to add extra resolution. This provides plenty of detail to select problems and to track progress, but is still unique to that gym. Any gym visitor can quickly figure it out their first time there. Other gyms could easily come up with their own, similar system. For instance, the Denver Bouldering Club uses an Easy/Medium/Hard system, but adds + and - grades to provide more resolution. This also works pretty well. 3 bands is not enough, but 9 bands (E-, E, E+, M-, M, M+, H-, H, H+) isn't bad. A gym could just grade things A to Z, for all I care (that would actually work really well...). The key is to provide adequate resolution while discouraging comparisons to outside.

Tradgic Yogurt · · Unknown Hometown · Joined May 2016 · Points: 55

I absolutely think gym grades should match outdoor grades, but that's because *for me* the gym is training facility. A very fun, very social training facility, but fundamentally a training facility. If I were employed as a setter, that focus would change from what I would want to what serves the customer best.

Three grades (E/M/H) does not serve very well. It's like the joke about the statistician being fine on average because his head may be in the oven but his feet are in a bucket of ice. Adding +/- a la DBC makes that have 9 divisions on the scale, which is a big improvement but starts approaching YDS. More gradations allow greater accuracy, up to your ability to measure. If you call one route E and another M, that doesn't tell me E- and M+, it doesn't tell me 5.5 vs 5.10b. That's a vast gulf.

Perhaps enough people will get the ball rolling and start a GDS trend, "Gym Decimal Scale". I've seen the suggestion before.

Ted Pinson · · Chicago, IL · Joined Jul 2014 · Points: 190

So, I'm gonna throw in my 2c in support of using YDS in gyms. Jake covered most of it...vanity grades exist outside, as do sandbags, even at s given climbing area. If I want to make myself feel better when I'm at the Red, I climb in Muir Valley, where I can usually onsight 10c/d. Then I'll head to Roadside or Left Flank and flail my way up some Porter Jarrod route at the same grade from the 90s. Using YDS in the gym helps new climbers become familiar with the system so that they at least understand how the grading works when they do go outside, and also allows for much more scaffolding in grades. The rating is inherently subjective, but much better than "easy, medium, or hard." My "easy" route is not the same as Adam Ondra's.

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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