Speed climbing is not particularly a traditional type of competition, but it’s an old form of competition. Most climbing states require a calculated slow approach, but speed climbing is a quick sport that involves a combination of speed and strategy.

The Complete Guide to Speed Climbing
The Complete Guide to Speed Climbing

What is Speed Climbing?

Speed climbing is an indoor and outdoor type whereby competitors strive to scale a wall, rack, pole, or boulder as fast as possible. In standardized speed climbing, the competitors climb a standardized climbing wall in which the same route and holds are used over time for consistency throughout all competitions.

Speed climbing is a fast-paced action that provides a thrill-a-second rush of adrenaline. The sport gets massive attention from mainstream media probably because it’s simpler to understand. It’s adored by fans worldwide because it’s simple to understand and who doesn’t love a fast-paced sport.

Understanding speed climbing will help you to be able to follow along and watch competitions, but there’s a lot more to it than meets the eye. Here are the fundamentals of speed climbing and all types of climbing explained.

Who Invented Speed Climbing?

Some records show speed climbing roots started in 327 to 328 BCE in modern Uzbekistanian. Alexander the great sponsored a climbing event, and he proclaimed to award gold prizes to the fastest climber.

The origins of speed climbing can be traced back to 1940s Soviet Russia when the time it took to scale long and challenging routes was a crucial scoring. The one-on-one competition was regularly among Soviet climbers. The sport was introduced to other parts of the world in 1976, and the first international competition was situated in Russia (Gagra city). It’s safe to say that the Soviets were the ones who invented modernized speed climbing.

The International Federation of Sport Climbing is in charge of rules and regulations. Essentially, there is only one standardized route. It was designed by a French climber Jacky Godoffe, who shaped the holds and paved the way for climbers today in the early 2000s.

Who is the Best Speed Climber in the World Climbing?

Contrary to popular opinion, the world-renown climber Adam Ondra is not the best speed climber. However, he is currently the best climber in other climbing forms. His calculated and slow strategy moves that have shocked the world are not recognized in the speed climbing world.

The title of speed champion falls on Veddriq Leonardo; however, there has been an ongoing debate on whether Kiromal Katibin should also be considered a champion. The uncertainty between who should be regarded as champion only happened because both two climbers shattered the speed climbing record within hours of each other.

In the much-anticipated race for gold in the last round, Veddriq (24) finally scaled the 15-meter wall, and he took the lead right away, defeating his teammate with a time of 5.208 seconds.

What are the Benefits of Speed Climbing?

Speed climbing has several advantages. Climbing faster is less strenuous for most climbers than climbing at their average speed.

1) In a single workout, you’ll get a mix of cardio and strength training

In a single-speed climbing session, your body performs multiple physical tests like increasing stamina, increasing heart rate, and building muscles.

2) Tones and build muscles

Climbers need to engage almost all body muscles, including the brain muscle, to climb walls. The upper and lower body muscles are engaged when pulling and pushing up when they climb. Amidst these activities, various muscle groups across the whole-body benefit from the exercise by strengthening and toning.

Speed climbing also strengthens a climber’s grip, which involves the forearm muscles. Elite speed climbers have slightly smaller body mass indexes, low body fat percentages, and better gripping power, as stated by an article published in the Journal of Human Kinetics.

3) Increases flexibility

Speed climbing promotes adaptability and flexibility; it’s a sure way of getting limber and expanding your range of motion. Flexibility is crucial since It helps climbers make wider reaches, greater leaps, higher climbs, footholds, and handholds comfortably.

4) Mental strength

The routes climbers take in bouldering (it’s a form of rock climbing where climbers don’t use ropes or harnesses) are pretty challenging, and rightly so because bouldering requires critical thinking and problem-solving skills. It’s a mental and physical fitness test, navigating routes, climbing strategies, planning routes, and physical preparation. In addition, speed climbing improves hand-eye coordination as you quickly make subconscious and preplanned choices on the best holds or routes to use.

5) Relieves stress, and it’s an excellent way to unwind

Speed climbing relieves stress by raising norepinephrine levels, a neurotransmitter that helps the body release stress. Climbers frequently become engrossed in the climbing activity allowing climbers to become entirely consumed by the act of leaping, twisting, and reaching, resulting in ecstasy. Climbing outside has also reduced stress levels by increasing exposure to the sun and Vitamin D.

What are the Risks of Speed Climbing?

Typically, all sporting activities have a risk factor associated with them. Speed climbing is primarily done in the gym. Most gyms employ auto belaying systems and soft-landing mats in case of a fall, but there are a few risk factors associated with speed climbing, and here they are:

Loose knots

Even experienced climbers can forget to properly tie in on an auto-belay, although a small mistake may appear easy to make. When climbers learn to tie in, they feel a sense of urgency about getting the action right. When you frequently use roping climbing, it’s easy to forget to double-check that the knot is tied correctly.

Inattentive Belaying

It’s a term used to describe someone who is not paying attention, and it frequently occurs among experienced climbers who do not believe their partner will fall or who do not consider the dangers of indoor climbing. Many different types of inattentive belayers exist.

They might not notice if someone has z-clipped, or they might miss a back clip. A slack belayer may not see a skipped clip or have too much slack out. Too much slack can result in a painful static line fall in top-roping. It’s critical to stay focused and present while belaying in providing better support to your partner.

What are the 3 Best Strategies to Approach a Speed Climb?

1) Slowly approach the speed wall

Every speed wall has the same holds, so spend some time learning where the good parts are in the holds.

2) Find a sequence style that you like

To build your sequence, learn one section at a time and don’t rush.

3) Accelerate it

After you’ve styled your sequence, gradually increase the speed until you’ve mastered your speed wall climbing style.

How to Train Your Body and Mind for a Speed Climb?

We frequently develop the body’s ability to pull on smaller holds, control wilder swings, and produce larger dynos. But we rarely take the time to train the mind, assuming that a more muscular body will compensate for any mental shortcomings by making challenging climbs feel “easy” – thus avoiding the need to address how negative self-talk holds us back. This works up to a point, but once you’ve reached your limit, you’ll need to build mental muscle as well so that your body and mind are in sync.

1) Boost your resiliency

The more mentally tough you are, the more straightforward difficult situations will feel, and the faster you will be able to re-calibrate in the face of adversity.

Climbing requires core strength. It improves your balance, improves the precision of your footwork, and gives you more control over your movement. Here are the best physical exercises for speed climbing:

  • Tricep dips
  • Single leg toe touches
  • One-legged balance
  • Planks
  • Wrist winds

What Is the Best Gear for Speed Climber?

1) Auto-belays

A nerve-wracking first fall highlights the potential danger. Nonetheless, many rope climbers quickly become friends with the easy-to-use auto-belay because it provides a safe and accessible way to climb long routes by yourself.

2) Chalk

Chalk is essential for all climbing activities. Chalk enables climbers to dry sweaty paws and better grip holds.

3) Harness

A harness is a must-have piece of climbing equipment, and it’s usually the most versatile for both indoor and outdoor climbing.

4) Locking carabiner

Locking carabiners are required to attach your belay device to your harness.

5) Climbing shoes

These flexible types of shoes with grippy soles should fit snugly well on your feet. Rock climbing stores’ sales representatives can assist you in selecting a shoe that fits properly and meets your requirements.

6) Ropes for climbing

Many climbing gyms provide climbing ropes for safety reasons. However, some gyms recommend you to come with your rope to do lead climbing.

What are the Different Types of Speed Climbing Competitions?

The IFSC has standardized the speed climbing wall and the holds for such competitions to compare records. On the Speed Wall, two climbers compete against each other. Climbing for pure speed edit. Full-speed climbing is done in a manner that maximizes speed while minimizing risk.

Climbers will alternate between regular free climbing, simul-climbing, aiding, and roped soloing sections when climbing with a partner. Individuals can also do speed climbing by alternating between rope soloing, assisting, and free soloing techniques. This type of speed climbing is technically not a style but rather a combination or possibly a type of aid climbing.

How Does Speed Climbing Differ from Traditional Climbing?

Traditional and speed climbing are two very different types of climbing. Trad emphasizes slow, methodical progress and prioritizes safety. Rather than quickly scaling holds on a wall, traditional climbing involves carrying and placing protection (chocks, camming devices, and so on).

Traditional climbers must practice route-finding, whereas speed climbers follow a set of holds on a standardized wall up many steps. Speed climbing is all about quick movements, unstoppable power, and pushing yourself to your limits.

Who Sets the Speed Climbing Route?

The International Federation of Sport Climbing (IFSC) is an association that sets the standards for speed climbing events and other types of climbing competitions. The IFSC determines which events are sanctioned for setting world attempts. These standards allow competitors’ times to be compared across the world, as well as overtime.

Where Can I Try Speed Climbing?

See if your local climbing gym has an auto belay set up for speed climbing on their website or social media page. The instructors can show you how to use the auto-belay when taking a bouldering or climbing intro course. There are probably many more fun and engaging climbing types you can try if you get exposed to them.

Discipline in which Speed is the Ultimate Goal?

Speed climbing is the climbing discipline where speed is the ultimate goal.

What are the Speed Climbing Rules?

During speed climbing, one foot is on a pressure plate, the other is on the wall, and two hands are on the starting holds. Time begins automatically when the machine beeps three times and ends when the top button is pressed. 

When the judge announces “ready,” they push the button on the timing system that is attached to both sides of the wall. Following the first beep, two more follow a second apart. The climbers can go on the third beep.

A display shows time down to 1/100th of a second, but the recording is down to 1/1000th of a second, i.e. (0.001) decimal places. In the event of a tie, the second-best time in that competition determines the winner. 

What Counts as a Fall in Speed Climbing?

The moment you fall is considered as a loss of that round. If you touch the side or top of the wall or touch the ground again after you start, it counts as a fall. If the climber uses the last hold they touched, they can catch themselves and continue. Any lower than that, and it’s a fall.

Speed Climbing False Start Explained

When the climber’s foot leaves the pressure pad before the first beep, a false start is recorded. A false start results in a loss of time and a “no valid time” without a second attempt. Climbers are placed last in qualification and will lose in later rounds to go into a lower bracket and try again for a lower placing.

The third beep occurs 0.1 seconds after the second, which is also considered a false start. There have been cases where climbers have been disqualified because their feet left the pressure plate somewhere between the 3 and 3.1 seconds.

How High is the Speed Climbing Wall?

The competition wall is 15 meters (49 feet) high and has two climbing lanes, each 3 meters (10 feet) wide.

How Tall is the Speed Climbing Wall?

Fifteen meters or 49 feet is the height of the speed climbing wall. This is about the height of most indoor climbing walls. There are two lanes, each measuring three meters wide. The routes outside are much taller.

Indoor speed climbing walls may differ in height. The majority of national speed climbing training centers use only the top and middle sections of their walls. This allows climbers to practice each sequence separately.

How to Train for Speed Climbing?

Climbing with explosive movement and power beats standard techniques by a mile. Weighted pull-ups and heavy squats done fast are the key. You can practice dynos, or dynamic moves, on the wall to improve your balance and proprioception.

How Hard is the Speed Climbing Route?

The official speed climbing route is 6a+ grade or around a 5.10c/d. Hold quality is generally quite good on this route. While the reaches can be difficult, if you’re going fast, it’s not a problem. It is quite common for climbers to skip as many holds on the route as possible to save time.

Climbers can push their feet against the walls, too since they are slightly textured. You’ll typically see this on indoor climbing walls since it’s textured like the porous rock you’ll find outdoors.

What is the Speed Climbing World Record?

Men’s world record for speed climbing is 5.208 seconds. Veddriq Leonardo of Indonesia set it at the Salt Lake City Speed Climbing World Cup on May 28th, 2021. The record was broken a second time that day! Veddriq set the record in the final, competing against Kiromal Katibin, who had earlier broken the record with a 5.258 second run in the qualification round.  

Aleksandra Miroslaw (Poland) achieved the fastest 15 m speed climb (female) in 6.84 seconds at Tokyo, Japan’s Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, on 6 August 2021. During the final of the women’s combined sport climbing event, Mikolaw set a new world record.

Is Speed Climbing Always the Same Route?

Yes, the speed climbing route is always the same with the same holds made by a certified manufacturer. Even the belay methods and the timing system are standardized.

Why is Speed Climbing Controversial?

Speed climbing in the Olympics has been seen as controversial lately. This is due to the combined format. Prior to this, climbing was divided up into separate events. Climbers used to be divided into a lead, bouldering, and speed climbing. The difference in skillset is significant.

With lead and bouldering, there are specific challenges such as delicate balance, route reading, adjusting to new problems, core conditioning, and finger strength. The main differences between bouldering and lead are endurance and stamina.

However, when it comes to speed climbing, the most important factor is explosive power. Athletes prepare for speed climbing by practicing the same section over and over again. A competitor is only required to beat their individual opponent to move forward.

People that prefer to climb outdoors may also train at an indoor climbing gym. The controversy arises due to the fact the best climbers are being forced to practice a skill they haven’t done and may not necessarily enjoy. Essentially, what this means is the most skilled climber can lose a race. This also means that athletes who specialize in speed can completely dominate and still not walk away with a medal.

This has raised complaints and hostility between both groups of climbers. Luckily, the Paris 2024 Olympics is confirmed to have two sets of medals. This means bouldering and lead will be combined. Speed climbing will be separate. Climbers will most likely compete in the area they are most skilled.

Speed Climbing at the Olympics

For the very first time, speed climbing is featured in the 2021 Tokyo Olympics. It has been added as a feature of the 2021 Sport Climbing event. It is set to debut in Tokyo. There will be three separate events for sports climbing: lead, bouldering, and speed.

Competitors in this event are required to place well for all three. If they want a chance of a medal, they have to do well. The lowest score wins as the rank per event is multiplied. Since the lowest score wins, climbers want to place as high as possible in each event. To put this into perspective, if a climber wins 2nd in the lead, 3rd in bouldering, and 1st in speed, their total points would be 6 (when ranks are multiplied).

Why is Speed Climbing in the Olympics?

When it comes to the western world of sports climbing, Lead and bouldering take the cake. In fact, speed climbing is not widely known or popular. In some cases, people have never even heard of it. Interestingly, a good number of competitive climbers have never even attempted it prior to preparing for the Olympics. However, in countries such as Russia and Indonesia, speed climbing is highly favored.

Initially, when the idea of sport climbing was proposed to the IOC (International Olympic Committee), they told the IFSC (International Federation of Sport Climbing) limited medals were available. As a result, there were only two options – have all three categories or only one. This prompted the IFSC to decide on a combined format. This means competitors are required to climb in all 3 categories if they want to compete for an Olympic medal.

What is the Tomoa Skip? Skipping Holds in Speed Climbing

When it comes to speed climbing, the absolute fastest way to get from one point to another is in a straight line. The only exception to this rule is if there are obstacles present. The route has handholds and footholds that zig-zag up the wall. However, climbers don’t have to make contact with all of the holds. They can plot routes that work best for them on the way up.

This means certain holds that are placed further out are completely skipped. Climbers try to go in as straight of a line as possible. Reza Alipour initiated a trend known as “Reza,” where he completely skipped the third hold. You can watch it here.

Tomoa Narasaki began skipping the third foothold to the left. Alternatively, he brought his foot up to the third handhold. This technique allows him to push up from this position. It has since been named the “Tomoa Skip.” You can watch this technique below. Most climbers have followed suit and now use this technique too. As a general rule, the lower you are on the wall, the faster you are going. This is why skipping the lower holds is easier.

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