How difficult should indoor problems be?

This is a hard question. How difficult should indoor problems be? I’m sure everyone who climbs has their own opinion on this. I’m talking in a general sense here, though. Think first of the people you may have climbing indoors. There are beginners. There are outdoor boulderers who train indoors. There are indoor climbers who train exclusively indoors. There may be competitive climbers at your climbing gym. There are short climbers and there are tall climbers and there are average height climbers. There are skinny climbers, heavy climbers, and muscular climbers. There are climbers who are trying to get in shape. There are climbers who are recovering from injuries. There are climbers who simply want to climb because it’s the only thing that keeps them going. There are climbers who don’t really care. There are climbers who are trying to improve their skills. There are climbers who have hit a plateau in their climbing. Imagine trying to set problems to satisfy the needs of all of these people. That’s a tall order! As a former route setter, though, I can tell you that it can be done, and every effort should be made by the setters to create a wide variety of problems to cover the needs of the climbers at their particular climbing gym. Route setters sometimes get this “fever” to set the most obscure and difficult problems imaginable with impossible cruxes at the tops of the problems. That’s how people get hurt. I’m of the opinion that routes and problems in an indoor climbing gym should be training oriented and safe first and foremost. Make climbers hone their technical skills — set a problem that requires really precise footwork, for example. Save the crazy stuff for comps and special events. Set some problems for everybody. Set a few for each group of climbers that you can identify in your gym, then set some generic ones. Have fun, but don’t lose sight of the safety aspect. The last place anybody needs to get hurt climbing is in a climbing gym! That just doesn’t make a good fireside tale when you’re camping out. As to difficulty of grades, again, I suggest variety, from the lowest to the highest that you believe someone at your gym could send safely. As a route setter, you need to use your creativity and bring into existence something for everyone. That’s the mark of a great route setter, and it directly reflects on the perceived quality of the experience at any climbing gym. Keep in mind that you, the route setter, are the backbone of the success of any new skill that is learned or taught in your gym, so make it count. Even if nobody knows it but you, know that you keep the gym going. Without something to send, there’s no climbing gym. You set the stage for success, failure, and potential improvements in climbers’ trajectories. Keep that in mind and help each of your climbers to reach their ultimate potential. Safely.

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