What is Speed Climbing? Blog Feature
Rachel Osborne

By: Rachel Osborne

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What is Speed Climbing?

World Indoor Climbing Competition | Climbing Tips | Comp Climbing | speed climbing

In climbing, as in life, there's something thrilling about the prospect of a race. Two competitors, a clearly defined finish, and the drive to be the quickest. You may have seen a unique wall in your local gym marked by uniform red holds. Here, climbers tap into this excitement as they face off in a vertical sprint to the top. Blink, and you might miss it. This is speed climbing.

History and Evolution

Speed climbing has been around for decades, but it wasn't until 2009 that the International Federation of Sport Climbing (IFSC) created a standardized route. This 15-meter (49 ft) wall, set at a 5-degree overhang with 20 hand holds and 11 foot holds, was designed by French climber and routesetter Jacky Godoffe. The standardization allowed climbers worldwide to train on the same route and compete on a level playing field.

Over the years, speed climbing has evolved from a niche discipline to a mainstream event. It made its debut on the big international stage as part of the combined format alongside lead climbing and bouldering. In future competitions, including this summer, speed climbing will be a standalone event, showcasing the discipline's growth and popularity.

IFSC Chamonix World Cup (Photo Credit: Eddie Fowke)

The Basics of Speed Climbing 

In competition speed climbing, two climbers race up identical routes side by side, secured by auto-belays. The goal is simple: reach the top of the 15-meter wall as quickly as possible. The route itself is rated around 5.10c (6b), which is achievable for most experienced climbers, but takes years and years of experience to master executing the moves with precision and speed.

“I have been speed climbing myself for about eight years now, and I still feel like I’m finding new, subtle movements to improve every single session,” says Merritt Ernsberger, Team Texas Speed Coach and US Speed Team Member. “I believe that we still have a ways to go until we discover the limits of this sport.”

Climbers must navigate the route's 20 hand holds and 11 foot holds, using a combination of dynamic moves, precise footwork, and sheer explosiveness. The current world records stand at an astonishing 4.798 seconds for men (Sam Watson, Movement member & Team Texas athlete) and 6.24 seconds for women (Aleksandra Miroslaw, Poland), although these records change nearly every season as the field continues to get faster and faster.

IFSC Youth World Championships 2022 at Movement Plano (Photo Credit: Slobodan Miskovic)
Sam Watson celebrating at the IFSC Youth World Championships 2022 at Movement Plano (Photo Credit: Jason Chang)
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Training and Technique 

To succeed in speed climbing, athletes focus on building explosive power, perfecting their unique beta, and repeating the climb over and over again for muscle memory. “With Team Texas speed athletes, I am always working with a large variety of skill levels in different athletes. Different betas are used for different strengths and body types, and it can take years to discover and perfect the beta that will work best for each individual,” says Ernsberger. “In my own training, I have found that high volume tends to provide the best results for improvement across all skill levels. This high volume allows for the smallest movements to be perfected in a relatively short amount of time.” Climbers also often incorporate campus board training, plyometrics, and weighted pull-ups to develop the necessary strength and power. Technique drills involve practicing specific sequences of the route, aiming to optimize body positioning and minimize wasted movement.

Climbers also work on mental preparation, as the high-pressure, head-to-head format of speed climbing competitions can be mentally taxing. According to Ernsberger, who has spent the better part of last decade perfecting his training routine, “mental preparation is probably the most important aspect of speed climbing. I personally had to try many different methods of mental preparation before finding what worked best for me.” Visualization, breathing exercises, and positive self-talk are common strategies used by speed climbers to stay focused and perform at their best. 

Speed Climbing at Movement Gyms 

Next time you’re in a gym with a speed wall, put your speed skills to the test!
At Movement Gyms, we're proud to offer speed climbing walls at several of our locations, giving our members the opportunity to experience the thrill of this exciting discipline. However, one of our gyms stands out as a true hub for speed climbing in the United States: Movement Plano in Dallas-Fort Worth. With one of the country’s only 4-lane speed walls, the Plano location offers great training for the full route, sections of the route, and scaled down versions for beginner climbers. DFW is home to Team Texas, one of the country’s most successful youth climbing teams, especially in the discipline of speed climbing. 


Sam Watson takes home 1st at the IFSC World Cup in Salt Lake City 2024 (Photo credit: Slobodan Miskovic)

Team Texas has been producing top-tier speed climbers for over a decade, with dozens of athletes representing the United States on the international stage. The gym's world-class coaching staff and dedicated training facilities have helped nurture the talents of numerous World Cup and US Team competitors, including Sam Watson, who recently earned a spot to compete this summer on the biggest stage of all time. Click here to watch Sam break the world record earlier this season.

Whether you're a seasoned climber looking to test your speed or a beginner curious about this unique discipline, our speed climbing walls and experienced staff are here to help you discover the excitement of racing the clock. So, come visit one of Movement's locations nationwide and experience the adrenaline rush of speed climbing for yourself! Check out our speed walls at Movement Plano, Design District, Grapevine, Lincoln Park, and Centennial.

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Rope Climbing + Speed Wall at Movement Centennial (Colorado)