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What do you expect from a gym?

Original Post
highaltitudeflatulentexpulsion · · Colorado · Joined Oct 2012 · Points: 35

Sounds like a market research question. It's not. I just want to compare my priorities to those of others.

I don't use a gym for bouldering much at all, nice bouldering areas are cool and all but you won't find me there. So absolutely none of my expectations, frustrations, or praises for any gym is based on their boulders. It's a deeply personal flaw I know, judge away.

For the physical layout of gym I'm not too picky. I like it steep enough that I don't bash myself in a fall. There really is no upper limit to steepness IMO. It's got to be at least 35' high, again, no upper limit. This describes almost every gym I've ever seen, so no problems.

I want lead routes to be safe. I've gotten pushback on this idea. Some saying that if I don't like a lead I should TR and others saying that since others had led it, it must be safe. There is truth to both ideas. I personally feel like if it's worth TRing, it's worth leading. I've also done my fair share of R and X routes at nearly my limit, without death or disfigurement, that doesn't mean I have any interest in tempting that sort of thing in a gym. To me safe really only has two major parameters. 1. If a move is such that you get all mixed up in the rope, set the route so that a higher draw can be clipped first, to me it's a gym and I don't want rope burns or concussions. 2. If a route goes out a roof, I want at least one good hold to allow me to clip in the horizontal section. Don't get me wrong, bad holds make good climbers and I want to struggle to make clips, I just don't want to have to slam into a wall when I lose that fight. Allowing me to get clipped into the overhung section before killing me softly seems like a good way to retain customers.

I am 5'8" and a quarter. I pretty much don't need extra footholds or intermediate hands. Some people do, I've seen gyms that alienate their shorter adult customers with bad setting. Kids never seem to care. I'm not trying to learn any new techniques at the gym. My entire goal is to work on endurance and power endurance.and the endurance to jump on several routes without dying (whatever kind of endurance that's called). That pretty much means I like consistent difficulty that builds upon the pump on every move. Excessive crimps, extraneous crossthroughs, cruxes that are dramatically harder than the rest of the route, and dynamic moves don't work toward this goal but seem a lot more likely to cause injury, either acute or overuse. The ideal would be the gently overhanging route with positive holds that gets harder as it goes up, maybe that's boring, I don't think so. Movement Denver is the master of this sort of setting. I guess I always considered this to be the consensus and routes that fall outside of this are poorly set. If you read the feedback board though, you'd get the impression that everyone but me loves the stuff that I hate. 

I've always ascribed to the philosophy that if you meet three assholes in a day, that you're the asshole. So am I way off base here? Is my head so far up my poop chute that I can't see the obvious brilliance (or at least adequacy) of the local plastic pit? 

mark felber · · Wheat Ridge, CO · Joined Jul 2005 · Points: 26

Bouldering can be a good way to train if you don't have a partner, otherwise your priorities seem pretty well thought out to me. Gyms that set dangerous routes are pretty much begging for the bad publicity and expenses that come with injured or dead customers, so you have to wonder how well they run the rest of their business. Taking part in high risk activities is fine; involving others in your high risk activities unnecessarily is not so fine. 

R/X routes, sandbags, and wildly inconsistent routes are part of the game when climbing outdoors, especially in trad climbing. Indoor climbing gyms are a different story.  Businesses that take people's money in exchange for a service, product or "experience" aren't going to last long if they injure or kill too many customers, or even if they just don't provide a very consistent product whose value approximates the cost to the customer.

Is there a particular plastic pit whose obvious brilliance you're having trouble seeing?

slim · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Dec 2004 · Points: 1,097

the thing that i have been seeing a lot at gyms the last few years that i really hate is placing big volumes on walls that aren't steep.  there have been numerous occasions where i was leading a hard-ish route and would look down and see a big volume directly in the landing zone.  not cool....

highaltitudeflatulentexpulsion · · Colorado · Joined Oct 2012 · Points: 35
mark felber wrote:

Is there a particular plastic pit whose obvious brilliance you're having trouble seeing?

Of course. I'll keep it in general though.

don'tchuffonme · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jan 2014 · Points: 25

Good question.  I'll bite.  For the sake of argument, and to avoid a pissing contest, I'll keep the location of this gym anonymous.  Let's just say that for almost two decades, it's been the only game in town, and now there's competition so this has been debated quite a bit lately and discussed by me and a close group of climber friends.   

I expect there to be plenty of lead only terrain.  I have nothing against top roping, but in gyms where there isn't a designated area where you can only lead, top ropers tend to snake the route while you're tying in, and dealing with a top rope behind you or in front of you sucks.  

I expect routes not to be set on top of one another.  I don't want a large hold of a different route to block the move on a route with smaller holds.

I expect routes to be varied.  I don't want every route or boulder problem to get progressively harder with zero rests and every other move to be a pinch/heel hook match.  Gyms that set like this and cater to their competition teams are pretty much telling the member base that uses the place to train for outdoor climbing to fuck off.  And they will, they'll fuck right off into the nearest competition's facility.

I expect the easier routes < 5.10 to be thoughtful and varied as well.  Just because you're a route setter and you're fairly strong, doesn't mean you should disregard the lower grades, slap a jug ladder on the wall and call it whatever.  I also see the opposite of this.  A 5.7 that's a jug ladder with a 5.10c crux is just stupid, and it's a jab at weaker climbers from the routesetter.  Even if it's not, it's perceived that way.

I expect decent clipping stances.  I was told recently by someone when I inquired about a stance that was tough to clip- even for the grade (.11d or so) that "oh well, that's rock climbing" to which I replied "No it's not.  Developers that are worth a shit know how to bolt near good stances.  And besides, you get to control where the holds go inside, dumbass."  Why would a gym want to risk blown clips?  I'm not saying make the clipping stance a jug with great feet on every route, just make it balanced and commensurate for the grade.

I expect routes not to be run out.  In older gyms that don't have grid bolting, this is possible.  There is one hard route at the gym I'm referring to that has about a 10 ft traversing runout on 12+ climbing on a 40 ft route.  You do the math.  That's just fucking stupid.

I expect the route setters to lead their own routes.  How else are they going to determine what clipping stances are?  I had one of the setters at this particular gym tell me that virtually none of the setters except himself and the head setter lead.  The others are plenty strong, but prefer not to lead routes and are primarily boulderers.  That's bullshit.  Don't set routes that you don't or won't lead.  Period.

I expect there to be some sort of regular refresh schedule with putting new routes up.  If your routes are up for 3 months or longer (some would even say 10 weeks) then that's too long.  The holds get chalked and caked with rubber, become slippery, and just generally suck after that amount of time.

I expect there to be not a wall full of holds.  Even if holds aren't blocking moves to other holds between routes, filling up a 10 ft wide section of wall with 15 routes is dumb.  Also, in that same category, is setting in lanes.  This isn't always possible, but when routes set close together all traverse twice, left and then back right, it means only one person at a time can climb on that portion of the wall because if not, you risk falling on someone beneath you, or likewise being fallen on.

I expect the management and leadership of the gym to solicit feedback and to answer questions when asked, not just outright ignore them.  There's no better way to say "I don't want your money, give it to my competition" than to ignore your customers and their questions.

I expect the staff to be knowledgeable.  If some gumby that just started climbing comes up to me and tells me that my bowline is wrong, or that my slip slap slide isn't safe, (not that either of those things apply) and can't even tell me why and can't be tactful, it's a huge turnoff.  

Gym owners- heed this advice:  If you are a small gym that's been around for a while, pick one:  cater to your member base and have kids teams and walk in gumby traffic be secondary, or vice versa.  I have yet to be in a small, older facility that can do both well.  Bigger, more modern gyms don't really have that problem, because they were developed during the last few years when it was obvious that birthday parties and screaming kids don't work that well with climbers coming in to train for their outdoor project, or just train and lead hard in general.

So no, highalt, you're not way out of line or way off base, or bitching and whining.  You're totally validated in my opinion.  Any business that wants my money perpetually better damned well deliver a product that I'm willing to pay for.  If not, my money will go elsewhere.  As it has.

Forever Outside · · Los Angeles, CA · Joined Feb 2017 · Points: 235

At the gym, I expect people walk around the bathroom in their climbing shoes than go back and climb all over the holds.   

JCM · · Seattle, WA · Joined Jun 2008 · Points: 95

IMO, if you are trying to train to improve your outdoor climbing, and are relying on commercial setting to do so, you are setting yourself up for frustration. Doubly so if you are relying on commercially set lead routes.

What I want from a gym is a moon board or steep system board for power, a tread wall or circuit wall for endurance, a hangboard and some dumbells to get strong, some AC for the summer, and not excessively loud music so I don’t go insane. That’s it. If you don’t rely on commercially set routes, you don’t risk letting bad setting disrupt your training. 

highaltitudeflatulentexpulsion · · Colorado · Joined Oct 2012 · Points: 35

Chuff, unfortunately in my situation, the nearest real competition is probably 75 miles away. Maybe I'm just salty from a particularly bad batch of new routes.

reboot · · . · Joined Jul 2006 · Points: 125


Don't you know the manager @ your gym (if it's the one I think)? What does he have to say?

As much as I like to think my business is important, the fact is I'm not in a big user group, and for the amount I use the gym, I've gotten plenty out of it. Most people go to the gym to have fun, and route setters need to cater to them. But dangerous routes/clips are bad business in general.

don'tchuffonme · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jan 2014 · Points: 25
JCM wrote:

IMO, if you are trying to train to improve your outdoor climbing, and are relying on commercial setting to do so, you are setting yourself up for frustration. Doubly so if you are relying on commercially set lead routes.

What I want from a gym is a moon board or steep system board for power, a tread wall or circuit wall for endurance, a hangboard and some dumbells to get strong, some AC for the summer, and not excessively loud music so I don’t go insane. That’s it. If you don’t rely on commercially set routes, you don’t risk letting bad setting disrupt your training. 

I see what you're saying JCM.  And you'd be right, if I was actually relying on commercial setting to improve my outdoor climbing.  I'm not.  It's merely one of the tools in the quiver, along with hangboarding, campusing, and the other tools typically found in an indoor facility.  I'm aware that relying on indoor routes to mimic outdoor climbing is not only not going to happen, it's foolish to think that it can, because it just can't.  

It's not about training being disrupted.  If you look at the list I wrote, it's about much more than that.  Besides, it's not about just "gyms" in general.  Virtually every gym in the surrounding area has NONE of the problems in that list.  For me, it's more about being shrugged off as a customer when I know the product and the whole culture of the place.  But like I said, that problem will soon be remedied when the competition opens up.  Thankfully I've had an opportunity to sample the competition's setting and overall management in other locations and it's far superior.

don'tchuffonme · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jan 2014 · Points: 25
highaltitudeflatulentexpulsion wrote:

Chuff, unfortunately in my situation, the nearest real competition is probably 75 miles away. Maybe I'm just salty from a particularly bad batch of new routes.

Yeah, that is unfortunate.  I was in that same boat until recently.  Spring is right around the corner though.  So hang in there.

Mike Slavens · · Houston, TX · Joined Jan 2009 · Points: 35
highaltitudeflatulentexpulsion wrote:

So am I way off base here? 

No, I just think you maybe need a bit of perspective.

1) Movement is the "filet mignon" of climbing gyms.  Purpose-built building and layout, professional setters, caters to serious climbers, etc.  Other "sirloin" gyms are going to look poor in comparison.  Does it mean they are a bad cut of meat (a bad gym)?  No, they just aren't "filet mignon".  

2) Gyms are a business and they need to make money to stay open.  That may mean not catering to serious adult climbers.  They may instead focus more on kid's programs, the general fitness community, or birthday parties/boy scout type groups.  That is going to push them in a totally different direction with regards to setting style, money they spend hiring setters, route grades, etc. etc.

To me the things of much bigger importance are how a gym runs their business.  Do they reset regularly?  Do they let kids groups turn the gym into a "chuck-e-cheese"? Do they train their staff to spot actual safety concerns, or do they go on power trips incorrectly criticizing experienced climbers?  Can you still get a decent workout if you aren't their target demographic? 

Just because a gym isn't perfection, doesn't mean its a bad gym.  However, the squeaky wheel gets the grease.  If you have major frustrations with some aspect of your gym bring it up with the owners (but not in a rude/irate manor).  Hopefully they can address it in some fashion, or hopefully you have the option to take your business elsewhere.

David Kerkeslager · · New Paltz, NY · Joined Jan 2017 · Points: 77

It really depends. My local gym is at a small location where the roof isn't high enough to make lead routes worth the time. But it's in a world-class outdoor climbing location so I'm just using it to boulder when time/weather constraints prevent me from climbing outdoors, so I just need a place to train and keep in shape. As such, I want it to be inexpensive, have a good community, and have good bouldering, and it has all those things, so I'm happy.

When I lived in Brooklyn/Philly my needs from a gym were different. I couldn't get to real rock often, so climbing in the gym was more of a primary goal for me. As such I wanted more leading, walls as high as possible, autobelays for days when my partners were unavailable, plus all the stuff I want from my current gym; basically I wanted a lot more.

One thing that a lot of gyms get wrong is; if you're forcing me to use your equipment, it needs to be good equipment. A lot of gym ropes are horrible, not to mention worn out GriGris.

Also weird safety requirements, such as using two carabiners to clip to a figure 8 because they don't trust you to tie in yourself, or having to pass a bouldering fall test with unclear requirements: I get that insurance companies don't understand climbing safety, but as a gym owner you should understand climbing safety and find an insurance company that lets you do things in a reasonable way.

One frustration I have with some gyms is events that aren't really about climbing. If it's a regular thing like startup Wednesdays I can just learn to avoid that day of the week. But if you're doing big brewery/book tour/etc. events that take up half of the gym, that means I have to keep track of your event calendar to use the gym in the way I paid to use it. That said, this and kids programs bring in way more money than actual climbers, so it's hard to begrudge gyms doing what they need to do to keep their business afloat.

Lin Robinson · · Albuquerque, NM · Joined Sep 2015 · Points: 30


Lena chita · · Cleveland, OH · Joined Mar 2011 · Points: 745
highaltitudeflatulentexpulsion wrote:

Chuff, unfortunately in my situation, the nearest real competition is probably 75 miles away. Maybe I'm just salty from a particularly bad batch of new routes.

I know how that feels. :)

I think bouldering is a great tool to improve your climbing, but I'm going to set it aside as per your request. I agree with all of things on your list in the OP, but I do not have a gym like that anywhere near me. the closest one is 130 miles away (no kidding!) so it is only a weekend proposition, and during the weeknights I make do with local offerings.

Unfortunately in my case, being shorter, I have learned not to expect any consistency, lack of awkwardness, good clipping stances, or any such niceties. The most ridiculous situation recently was when I couldn't do a move on a 5.10- route, after multiple tries. I switched to a 5.12- on the same rope, and didn't have any trouble. I can't even count the number of times I had to pause mid-move, in a full lockoff, to try and clip a draw that obviously was meant to be clipped from standing on a lower foothold, or from a gaston that is just too far away. And that is in what i consider a good gym.

At the end of the day, my number 1 priority is a bigger gym. It doesn't matter if a particular route is messed up, or even if half of them are, if there are lots of routes for me to choose from. In a smaller gym, my biggest hope is to have high density of routes on the same rope. That way, if I come across a ridiculous move that is not happening, I could throw in a foothold from another route to make my own sequence.

My best climbing experiences have been all in gyms that have a strong youth team. Not just a kinda-sorta "we have a coach who would take your money and supervise your kids having fun couple times a week", but a real team that sends kids to regional and national comps. The setting is usually much better in those gyms.

CrimpDaddy-WesP · · Lancaster PA · Joined Dec 2015 · Points: 260

i just want creative, fun setting thats challenging, but i want the moves to be hard, not out of reach. Often times I say "oh i just need to get stronger" which is usually the case, but if I'm over here doing pretty hard boulders and then can't do the first move of your 5.10+ that was "cool" because it had an impossible start.. not looking for that. the biggest problem with my gym, while l love the gym, is holds being spaced too far apart with no intermediates. I guess I shouldn't complain. but at some point, i get frustrated when ive done routes significantly harder than the ones that have super long reaches on them. if it was just one or two routes, thats cool. but its a consistent thing. you can use worse holds to make the route harder, you dont have to make the reaches so friggin long. rant over

i do enjoy my gym, it is a good gym and the setters are good. 

SeƱor Arroz · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jan 2016 · Points: 10

Thoughtful, varied setting.

High walls. 

Kids B-day parties, etc, in their own section.

Staff that are thoughtful, considerate and competent.

All equipment, of any kind, is well-maintained. 

My daughter has been competing around Southern CA for the last few years so at this point I think I've seen and climbed in almost every gym in the area. Plus there are 4 or 5 within a 30 minute drive of my house. The difference between these gyms is astounding. Both in their facilities and their personnel. I don't know how some of them stay in business, other than just low cost and hammering the B-day party things on Groupon, whatever.

Sam Sala · · Denver · Joined Oct 2013 · Points: 40
highaltitudeflatulentexpulsion wrote:

I am 5'8" and a quarter.

That's pretty neat!

Ryan Swanson · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jan 2018 · Points: 30

Other gyms should be like BRG

stolo · · Shelby, NC · Joined Sep 2016 · Points: 120

If people could not wear their climbing shoes in the bathroom, that would be great

Pavel Burov · · Russia · Joined May 2013 · Points: 50

Priority order:

  1. Good shower and sauna.
  2. Selection of finger boards and rotating pull-up bars.
  3. Olympic rings.
  4. Kettlebells.
  5. Hymnastic bench.
  6. (optional) System board.
  7. (just for fun and warm up) Bouldering area.
Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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