Old School vs Modern Bouldering – How do they Compare?

Modern bouldering halls are packed with climbers these days. Climbing really has seen a massive boom in popularity in the last couple of years. And I believe modern bouldering gyms, have a lot to do with that boom. Classic climbing gyms were often dark, confusing, and intimidating, a stark contrast with the immense bouldering halls full of color and big holds.

How does old-school bouldering compare to new-school bouldering? Which is actually the best for climbing training?

old school bouldering

Old school bouldering features small holds that mirror outdoor climbing, reflecting the original purpose of bouldering gyms as training facilities for outdoor climbers. Just a decade ago, indoor climbing was not considered a sport in its own right, as it is now viewed.

Among Old School bouldering there are two types of bouldering halls. The 90’s variant where everything is essentially a spray wall and you make your own boulder problems, and the non-commercial gym where they set boulder problems but with smaller holds that don’t require as many dynamic moves as commercial gyms seem to favor.

These old-school gyms still exist. Adam Ondra owns a 90’s style climbing facility with spray walls that are intended for heavy training. But these gyms aren’t beginner-friendly and they certainly aren’t appealing to new climbers.

And that’s where modern bouldering comes in.

modern bouldering

The new school boulder style (also known as comp style), characterized by its big holds and acrobatic route setting, is attracting a lot of new climbers to the sport. However, it is not as appealing to traditional boulderers who prioritize training for outdoor climbing.

These modern boulder problems have steered away from attempting to simulate the outdoors and have essentially taken on a life of their own. As a result, new school boulder problems are great at preparing climbers for indoor bouldering, but lack in preparing climbers for outdoor pursuits.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing though. After all, many of these new boulderers are mostly interested in indoor climbing anyway. Indoor Bouldering has essentially become a stand-alone sport.

Furthermore, new-school bouldering can prepare climbers to take on competitions as modern bouldering competitions have embraced this new style of boulder problems.

modern bouldering walls vs old-school bouldering walls

New commercial climbing facilities are gaining popularity among novice climbers, who view these new-school gyms as exciting, colorful playgrounds for adults. These climbers are the ideal target audience for a gym owner.

Hardcore climbers are not because there is simply not enough of them to make a climbing facility worth running. Modern bouldering changes that. It makes climbing appealing to everyone. Casuals will come in and spend money, and many of these novice climbers will even take up the sport and hold a subscription to their local climbing facility.

Many commercial facilities set a combination of modern comp style and old-school boulder problems. Furthermore, some of these climbing walls have training boards (e.g. MoonBoard) as well as spray walls and other training equipment to appeal to hardcore climbers as well.

So many new commercial bouldering gyms have a bit of both. We likely won’t be seeing many spray-wall climbing gyms pop out of the woodwork anymore but that doesn’t mean climbers won’t get their training in. Plenty of these old-school climbing halls still exist and commercial climbing gyms still cater to experienced climbers as well.

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