Knowing how to safely use Standardized Interactive Climbing Training Boards can make you stronger and add more fun to your gym climbing routine.
As the long-awaited debut of Olympic climbing draws near, the sport’s popularity continues to grow. This surge is no surprise to anyone who’s experienced the uncommon assortment of benefits climbing offers.
New climbing gyms are popping up in all corners of the world, and many cities now offer multiple facilities for local enthusiasts to choose from. As of 2021, Denver has nine.
Climbing’s rapid rise has coincided with a slew of game-changing innovations in training methods and accessories. As the market for climbing and training gear expands, new and existing companies have discovered a viable ecosystem for introducing exciting new products.
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Among the new developments in climbing training equipment, one specific category of tools has made the biggest impact of all: the Standardized Interactive Climbing Training Board, or SICTB.
Essentially, SICTBs are small climbing walls designed to target weaknesses, increase raw power, build finger strength, and break through performance plateaus. These boards are compact, overhanging, and littered with an eye-catching assortment of LED-lit climbing holds.
Below are five companies, each with a different approach to SICTB training. Read on for how they work and how they might help you become a stronger climber.
Standardized Interactive Climbing Training Board (SICTB)
By now, most climbers will at least be semifamiliar with SICTBs. In a gym, you can often find SICTBs tucked away in a corner or designated room.
Climbers using these boards are heard before they’re seen, as loud and guttural power grunts from active users are common. Currently, a number of companies are selling SICTBs: Moon, Kilter, Tension, Grasshopper, and Lattice.
As a training device, SICTBs can seem intimidating and complicated. In this article, we’ll break down everything to know about SICTBs and answer common questions many curious climbers have.
We’ll clarify who should and should not train on SICTBs, and we’ll provide some basic strategies for structuring an SICTB climbing session. We’ll also explain the differences between the different SICTBs on the market today.
History of Standardized Interactive Climbing Training Boards (SICTBs)
Climbers have been developing training tools since the dawn of the sport itself. From Wolfgang Güllich’s campus board to John Bachar’s Bachar Ladder, the desire to grow stronger has historically turned climbers into obsessive inventors.
For many decades, elite climbers have recognized that limiting factors such as power and finger strength can be targeted and improved using specialized training implements. John Gill, considered by many to be the father of modern bouldering, applied his background in gymnastics to his passion for rock climbing.
Gill trained using pull-up bars and gymnast rings, and he grew strong enough to pull off feats of strength that are still sought after today. These include one-armed pull-ups and front levers.
Long before the V-scale for bouldering was created for measuring the difficulty of boulder problems, Gill managed to climb boulders up to V11.
Early Training Walls
Toward the end of the 20th century, free climbing and sport climbing further accelerated climbers’ interest in cutting-edge training methods. Before climbing gyms dotted every major city in the country, small groups of climbers hand-built crude climbing walls and began to experiment.
In climbing hubs such as Salt Lake City, Sheffield, England, and Nuremberg, Germany, bands of eager climbers constructed early versions of the training boards that have become universal in today’s climbingsphere. In an age before commercial climbing companies, home walls (or woodies) were outfitted with rough wooden holds and drilled pockets.
Original prototypes of such devices are now displayed proudly in modern gyms such as Cafe Kraft and Momentum Climbing. Although these first-generation woodies were simple and unpolished, they laid the foundation for the high-tech SICTBs climbers enjoy today.
In the late 1980s, Ben Moon was frustrated with a lack of adequate training facilities and soon built multiple wooden training boards in Sheffield, England. Moon’s homemade walls eventually became a mini climbing gym called The School Room, where climbers could sign up as members and train on Moon’s wooden creations.
The walls of The School Room were fixed with handmade holds that were never removed or replaced. The idea was that fixed holds allowed climbers to track their progression on the same moves and problems over time. This bright idea is the basis of the benchmarks’ that are standard on all modern SICTBs.
In 2004, Moon had the idea to build a standardized training board that could be replicated all over the world. Based on the walls of The School Room, the new MoonBoard allowed climbers around the world to test themselves against the same challenging movements.
Users could also set their own problems on the board and upload them to the Moon Climbing website for others to try, bringing together a global community of training climbers.
All modern SICTBs are modeled after the original MoonBoard concept. While other board makers have tweaked the idea with fresh hold sets and technology, many consider the MoonBoard the genesis of the entire SICTB movement.
Now, MoonBoards and other SICTBs exist in gyms and private residences around the world. Smartphone apps allow users to interact, track their progress, set new problems, and upload climbing footage to social media.
The story of SICTBs is rich with inventiveness and lore, but perhaps the greatest chapters are yet to come.
What Are MoonBoards?
In the early 2000s, Moon designed a standardized training board called the MoonBoard, based on his School Room training facility in England. At 8 feet wide and 12 feet tall, the early iterations of the MoonBoard were fixed at 40 degrees overhanging and outfitted with a set of School Room-inspired geometric holds called “The Originals.”
Users all over the world installed the MoonBoard Originals according to Moon’s instructions on their own walls and tested themselves against benchmark boulder problems. As climbing training became increasingly popular across the world, more and more people were exposed to the benefits of the MoonBoard.
The MoonBoard as we know it today came along in 2016, when the company launched a new website, interactive app, and lightup LED system. Via Bluetooth, MoonBoard users can connect directly to the board and select a problem, and then the LED lights beneath the corresponding holes will illuminate.
The lights help climbers follow the route without having to memorize the sequence. After attempting or sending a specific problem, users can log their ascent in the app and vote on its quality.
Additionally, users can set and submit their own problems for others to try. The MoonBoard database is filled with thousands of boulder problems ranging in difficulty from 6a (V2) to 8C (V15).
Many of the MoonBoard’s iconic features, from the LED system to the interactive app, have inspired other SICTB companies. Currently, most of the major SICTB makers offer standardized hold sets, illuminated holds, and an interactive app. The entire realm of SICTBs should consider the MoonBoard the blueprint that paved the way for all the rest.
How MoonBoards Work
Today, three different MoonBoard hold sets are available: Masters 2016, Masters 2017, and Masters 2019. All three hold sets have their own range of problems and benchmarks, and all three are currently available for order and installation.
Although each set has distinct shapes and aesthetics, all three options maintain the classic MoonBoard style of powerful, finger-intensive movements. Because it’s the oldest, the 2016 Masters hold set currently has the largest database with the most established problems — more than 18,000!
The MoonBoard is designed to be either 25 or 40 degrees overhanging. Many gyms install MoonBoards on adjustable walls so users can change the angle as they prefer. Other walls are fixed at a specific angle.
To avoid injury, newer climbers are generally advised to avoid climbing on the MoonBoard until they’ve developed a solid foundation of finger strength and load tolerance. The MoonBoard tends to put a lot of strain on finger tissues, including tendons and pulleys.
If used too early in a climber’s progression, MoonBoard training may lead to injury. For the same reason, it’s always advised to rest adequately in between MoonBoard sessions.
Structured MoonBoard climbing with good technique and adequate rest is a tried-and-true method for developing a high level of finger strength, raw power, and sustained power endurance. Although the MoonBoard is the oldest of the commercially available SICTBs, it remains a well-loved option that gets better and better with every update.
MoonBoards are available for installation in climbing gyms and private residences. Check out the MoonBoard website for a full line of products and more information.
- Dimensions: 8′ x 10.3′ (Standard MoonBoard)
- Intermediate, advanced, and elite climbers
- Finger strength training
- Pure power training
- Power endurance training
- Body control and core tension improvement
- Footwork training
- Very efficient and effective training tool
- Tons of problems and benchmarks in database
- Easy to track progress
- Small holds and demanding style can lead to injury
- LED lighting system makes footholds difficult to see from above
- Small textured holds can be hard on the skin, especially in hot climates (2019 hold set includes soft-textured wooden holds)
What Are Tension Boards?
The founders of Tension Climbing — Will Anglin, Ben Spannuth, and Gabe Adams — attended college together and enjoyed coming up with creative ways to train.
Thanks to the trio’s collective experience in climbing and machining, Tension has quickly grown into one of the most popular training equipment companies in the climbing world. From the beginning, Tension has carved out a niche with their all-wood training tools.
The three founders believe that wood is the best possible material for training tools. Those who have used Tension products will know the texture of wood is softer than plastic and less abrasive on the skin. As Tension continues to grow as a company, its commitment to wood is stronger than ever.
Of the major SICTB companies, Tension is the only one that uses wooden holds exclusively. Although wooden holds are not the only unique characteristic of the Tension Board, they are certainly the most eye-catching feature.
Compared to the abrasive holds of the MoonBoard, the wooden holds of the Tension Board feel soft and smooth. Many climbers compare Tension’s hold texture to highly polished limestone.
While the slick holds can be frustrating to get used to, they force you to engage every hold with precision and maintain body tension (hence the company’s name) throughout every move.
How to Use a Tension Board
Tension Boards are set with a fully symmetrical hold set. Because the left half of the board mirrors the right half, climbers can work both sides of their bodies evenly during sessions.
From the Tension App, a single click will flip any boulder problem onto the other side of the board, allowing both sides of the body to train on the exact same moves.
Some climbers consider the symmetry of the Tension Board to be an unnecessary feature. On the other hand, others find the symmetry helps them identify weaknesses and train accordingly.
Similar to the MoonBoard, the Tension Board utilizes an app to connect climbers to a large database of established problems of all difficulties. LED lights beneath every hold illuminate via Bluetooth to allow climbers to follow the path of their selected problem.
Unfortunately, the LED lights sit beneath the hold and are often difficult to see while climbing above them. The position of the lights is mostly an inconvenience while onsighting.
Once you’ve tried a problem once or twice, you’ll be able to remember which holds to use and won’t need to worry about the lights.
With holds by far the most comfortable in the SICTB game, the Tension Board presents a well-designed training tool that offers a clear path to improving as a climber.
On average, Tension holds are larger than MoonBoard holds, so the Tension Board is a bit more approachable for the beginning climber. Finger injuries are also less likely on the Tension Board versus the MoonBoard.
While the Tension Board database is quite vast, it isn’t as expansive as MoonBoard’s. Still, most climbers will never exhaust the entire Tension Board database — and even if you do, it is still an effective board to train on.
The Tension Board app doesn’t have benchmark problems, but users can search by “most repeats” or “best” to find popular problems of any grade.
Some climbers complain that Tension’s app can be buggy, especially for Android users. The layout of the app is shared by two other SICTB companies: Grasshopper and Kilter.
The Tension Board comes in two sizes, 10 feet x 8 feet and 12 feet x 8 feet. In the app, climbers can select from various different wall angles and the grades of the problems in the database will adjust automatically.
Although people like climbing on the Tension Board at various angles for various reasons, 40 degrees overhanging is probably the most popular. When purchasing a Tension Board for personal use at home, buyers can choose between various features and packages.
- Dimensions: 10′ x 8′ or 12′ x 8′
- Beginner, intermediate, and expert climbers
- Long training sessions
- Identifying and working on weaknesses
- Training power and power endurance
- Wooden hold minimize skin abrasion and allow for longer sessions
- Beginner-friendly thanks to larger wooden holds
- Symmetrical design for training both sides of the body equally
- Holds are durable and high quality
- Slippery hold texture takes some getting used to
- LED lights can be hard to see while climbing on wall
- Symmetrical design limits the variety of possible movements
- Smaller database than MoonBoard
- Some users report issues with the app
What Is a Kilter Board?
The Kilter Board was designed by Ian Powell and Jackie Hueftle, owners of climbing hold company Kiltergrips. In the late 1990s, Powell founded his first climbing hold company, eGrips, and Hueftle has worked in the climbing industry for decades.
With the Kilter Board, the pair has set out to build a next-generation training board featuring fresh technology and a striking aesthetic. With its monochrome holds, innovative lighting system, and enjoyable climbing style, the Kilter Board attracts climbers from across the gym like a magnet.
On average, the holds on the Kilter Board are larger and more ergonomic than the tiny crimps of the MoonBoard. Every Kilter Board hold is meticulously shaped with comfort in mind. So, from the perspective of pure fun and enjoyment, the Kilter Board is the leading option on the market.
Even though Kilter uses composite holds instead of wood, your finger skin is less likely to hurt due to the pleasant hold shapes.
Although many climbers appreciate the large and comfy holds of the Kilter Board, others feel a lack of small, fingery holds equates to less effective finger strength training. Kilter is currently working on a range of hold sets that will be tailored specifically to climbers of different levels.
For example, a V10 climber can choose to purchase a harder hold set with smaller holds in order to get the most out of the board. However, a V2 climber can purchase an easier hold set with larger holds.
Although this development is still in the works, we appreciate how Kilter recognizes that not all climbers who train will get the most out of the same hold set.
Other SICTBs have long been considered a tool for higher-level climbers only. The Kilter Board is aiming to broaden the accessibility of SICTBs with a diverse lineup of hold sets.
How to Use a Kilter Board
Because the Kilter Board’s original layout has lots of large and comfortable holds, it can be climbed at ultra-steep angles without too much concern for finger injury. For climbers training for steep routes and boulders, the Kilter Board is a cutting-edge tool.
Of the Kilter Board’s many exciting innovations, its lighting system is perhaps the most game-changing. Every hold on the board has a semi-transparent base, which means illuminated holds are visible from any angle. This lighting configuration solves the issue many climbers have with the Tension Board and MoonBoard, both of which use an LED beneath each hold.
This is not an issue on the Kilter Board. Though the Kilter lighting system is great, it can still be difficult to see in full daylight when the holds are covered in chalk. Regular cleaning of the holds should fix this.
The Kilter Board’s original layout is currently available in three sizes: 12 feet x 12 feet, 8 feet x 12 feet, and 7 feet x 10 feet. On Kilter’s app, users can select the size of their wall, and the database of existing climbs for that specific wall size will fill in automatically. The larger Kilter Board sizes, like the 12×12, make other SICTBs seem quite small and compact in comparison.
The Kilter app also includes a database of “sport routes,” which are longer preset routes graded on the Yosemite Decimal System instead of the V bouldering scale.
These sport routes run on an adjustable timer, so the lighting system will change while you’re on the wall, illuminating the next sequence of moves on your route as you move.
This is a great feature for route climbers or anyone seeking to build their endurance. The larger Kilter Board sizes are especially helpful for endurance exercises due to their expansive climbing surface.
With plenty of new innovations and hold sets surely on the way, the Kilter Board represents the present and future of inclusive yet effective board training. If you’re considering installing one of these, put it on an adjustable wall — the Kilter Board can’t fulfill its full potential on a fixed angled wall.
Although it does currently lack a little bit of pure finger strength training capability, the Kilter Board is changing what it means it means to train on a standardized board, especially in the fun category.
- Dimensions: 12′ x 12′, 8′ x 12′, 7′ x 10′
- Climbers of all levels
- Warming up
- Training for super steep routes and boulders
- Power endurance and pure endurance training
- Larger holds for warming up
- Accessible for climbers of all levels
- Comfortable, ergonomic hold shapes
- High-visibility innovative lighting system
- App database includes both routes and boulders
- Not as effective for pure finger strength training
- Original layout is slightly lacking in hold shape diversity
- Lighting can become difficult to see when holds are covered in chalk
What Is a Grasshopper Climbing Wall?
Grasshopper was founded by climbing legend Boone Speed and engineer Jeremy Huckins. The founders hold an impressive volume of experience in the climbing industry between them.
Speed and Huckins have been around the climbing game for a long time, and their combined skillsets make for a promising young company that has now entered the SICTB market.
The Grasshopper climbing story differs from the rest of the companies in the SICTB realm. Originally, Grasshopper set out to design an adjustable climbing wall that could be shipped directly to climbers.
Although the company has since developed its own hold set, Grasshopper continues to focus on the adjustable wall component of the SICTB equation. For this reason, Grasshopper walls are often found with hold sets made by other SICTB companies installed on them.
The folks behind Grasshopper cleverly observed that designing, building, and selling high-end adjustable climbing walls is an untapped niche. While other SICTB companies do sell freestanding walls that customers can install at home, the wall design innovations from Grasshopper are currently in a league of their own.
Currently, Grasshopper offers three different adjustable walls. The Ninja 2 is the most compact option with an 8′ x 10′ climbing surface. The Ninja is available as a fully freestanding wall that can be moved around with minimal effort. The midsize option is the Master at 8′ x 12′. Finally, the Grandmaster is a large 12′ x 12′ wall.
Every Grasshopper wall can be customized thoroughly upon purchase. The company will work with potential buyers to determine which wall and configuration will work best in the available space. All three sizes can be ordered to accommodate Moon, Tension, or Kilter Board hold sets.
How to Use Grasshopper Climbing Walls
Since breaking out with its high-end climbing walls, Grasshopper has introduced its own climbing hold sets and interactive app. Currently, the company offers three hold sets: Flow, Engage, and Power.
The Flow holds are large and beginner-friendly, and the Engage holds are progression-focused for intermediate climbers. And the Power holds are small and fierce with expert climbers in mind. Many boards installed in commercial climbing gyms are outfitted with all three sets, which maximizes the climbing potential of both the board and the app.
The app itself is similar in layout to the Tension and Kilter apps. It’s intuitive and easy to learn — especially for climbers already familiar with training board apps.
Like Kilter, the Grasshopper Climbing app’s database includes longer climbs graded as sport routes instead of boulders. These routes offer more endurance-focused training and increase the overall versatility of the board.
A self-described “innovations company,” Grasshopper continues to cook up new concepts for the next generation of climbing training tools. We love that the Grasshopper’s LED lighting system illuminates the center of each hold. This clever detail allows climbers to see which holds are illuminated while actively climbing on the wall.
Via social media, the company has recently teased a training board with a built-in computer that will change the wall’s angle while a person is climbing on it. This feature would allow climbers to customize their training sessions and use the Grasshopper to mimic the terrain of their outdoor projects. This feature is not available yet, but we hope it will be introduced in the near future.
All in all, Grasshopper is a modern climbing company that constantly aims to inject new ideas into the always-changing world of climbing training.
- Ninja: 8′ x 10′
- Master: 8′ x 12′
- Grandmaster: 12′ x 12′
- Climbers looking for well-built adjustable walls
- Climbers of all levels from beginner to expert
- Adjustable Grasshopper walls work with holds made by other companies
- Fun and effective for climbers of all levels
- Three size options plus an innovative free-standing version
- Easy-to-use app includes longer routes for endurance training
- Grasshopper’s database currently contains few climbs than other SICTB companies
What Is a Lattice Climbing Board?
Lattice Training was founded by experienced climbing coaches Ollie Tor and Tom Randall. The Lattice Board is one of many products the company utilizes in its climbing assessment and coached training program.
As the founders of Lattice observed, the climbing world previously lacked a standardized assessment method climbers could use to objectively determine their strengths and weaknesses. With the Lattice Board, you can quickly test yourself against specific drills on the board and determine where your climbing level currently sits.
Randall and Tor built the company to help climbers around the world pursue their climbing goals through training plans based on the results of the Lattice assessment.
The primary function of the Lattice Board is assessment and analysis. For this reason, the Lattice Board is in a slightly different category than other SICTBs, which are designed to support a database of boulder problems and routes.
How to Use a Lattice Board
Climbers with access to a Lattice Board can use the company’s free basic assessment protocol to complete a self-assessment. Others may choose to purchase a coaching plan through Lattice, which comes with more in-depth analysis and varying degrees of direct engagement from one of Lattice’s highly qualified coaches. These coached training plans can also be completed remotely.
The striking wooden grid of the Lattice Board features holds and edges of various sizes and shapes. On the classic Lattice Board, there are 36 full rungs and 24 end rungs, as well as 24 diamond connectors. To install the holds of the classic Lattice Board, you’ll need a board surface of about 10′ x 10′.
Many high-profile climbers have used Lattice assessments and training plans to break through plateaus and achieve long-term goals. Alex Honnold leaned on Lattice during his eventually successful quest to climb his first 5.14d.
While the Lattice Board doesn’t offer the endless routes and boulder problems that other SICTBs do, that has never been its purpose. For climbers looking to better understand their own abilities and pursue progress after a stagnant period, Lattice Training can provide the answers.
- Dimensions: Roughly 10′ x 10′ for the classic Lattice Board
- Assessing strengths and weaknesses
- Better understanding your own climbing ability
- Breaking through plateaus through structured training
- Climbers seeking coaching
- Systematic assessment and training protocol designed by qualified sources
- Helps climbers hone in on how they should train and what to focus on
- Well-designed, well-made tool
- Does not provide the versatility for general climbing that other SICTBS do
- Limited function beyond assessments
Should I Train on a Standardized Interactive Training Board?
Training on an SICTB works. Quite simply, these compact training tools can offer a quick way to gain functional strength and break through plateaus. Also, an SICTB session can be fun and socially engaging.
However, SICTB training can put a lot of strain on the body and potentially increase your likelihood of suffering an injury. For example, a 40-degree overhanging Moon Board is very finger intensive to climb and not ideal for beginners.
Generally, new climbers will get the most out of simply climbing for fun without worrying too much about niche training tools. Still, as SICTBs evolve and become more popular, they are likely to cater to climbers of all levels and abilities.
Some existing SICTB options, like the Grasshopper adjustable board and hold sets, have been designed with all levels of climbers in mind. Grasshopper’s “Flow” holds are designed to help climbers learn fundamental movement skills and can be enjoyed at the 5.8/V0 level.
Standardized Interactive Climbing Training Boards offer a concentrated form of climbing training. SICTBs are all about efficiency. Compared to a standard session in a full-sized climbing gym, SICTB session require less space and often less time to complete a full workout.
There are no “filler” moves in between hard moves, and most SICTBs are designed to boost raw power and strength. Every move in an SICTB session should require full effort and engagement.
How to Use a SICTB: The Basics
Because SICTB sessions work best with maximum effort, it’s crucial to thoroughly warm up beforehand. If the board you’re training on is adjustable, it may be possible to lessen the angle and warm on right there on the board.
If not, you’ll want to find another area of the gym to warm up or complete an off-the-wall warmup sequence. A lot of great climbing warmup suggestions are available for free.
Before you actually begin your SICTB session, decide what you want to get out of it. Are you working on pure power or power endurance? Are you training for the crux sequence of your outdoor project? Is finger strength your focus?
SICTBs can fit seamlessly into multiweek climbing training programs. Just about any climbing workout designed for a bouldering wall can be completed on an SICTB.
Most SICTBs are Bluetooth-enabled and can be operated using a smartphone app. These apps are free to download and use, and will give you access to a database of problems that you can use to structure your workout.
Every app will ask you to input some information about your board before use. If the board has LED lights installed, they will illuminate when you select a problem or route.
During your session, you can log your ascents into the app, which will help you track your progress over time. Additionally, most apps will allow you to set and submit new boulder problems and routes into the existing database.
Where to Find SICTBs
In 2021, many climbing gyms have installed SICTBs, and some have more than one! If your gym does not have an SICTB, you can purchase your own for at-home installation. There are endless options for at-home SICTBs. Many climbers choose to build their own wall structure and outfit it with an existing SICTB hold set and LED lighting system.
This option tends to be much cheaper than purchasing wall components directly from an SICTB company, as the wall itself is usually the most expensive element of such a project.
Some SICTB makers like MoonBoard offer plans for building your own wall at home according to their specific dimensions. You may also choose to purchase a wall from one company and a hold set from another.
No matter how you access a Standardized Interactive Climbing Training Board, you will surely find they are innovative and effective tools. SICTBs are the present and future of climbing training. Plus, they’re super fun to use.
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