Five Ways to Get More Out of 4 X 4s.

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By Douglas Hunter

The 4 X 4 has been the staple form of interval training for about seventeen years now but its popularity does not mean it can’t be manipulated.  Here are five suggestions for making interval training more challenging.

1)    Down Climb the Problems: Its standard procedure to jump from the top of one boulder problem and then run to the start of the next one. If you up climb and then down climb each boulder problem in a 4 X 4 it will double the amount of climbing in each set, which lengthens the set time and has the added bonus of forcing you to remember how to efficiently climb challenging sequences backwards. You can down climb some or all of the problems, its up to you. Since down climbing dramatically increases the duration of each set, it’s likely that you will need to use easier problems than you do when jumping down.

2)    Change the Order of the Problems: Frequently climbers use the same problems in the same order for each set. You can make each set more or less challenging by where you place the most difficult problem in the climbing order. Usually putting the hardest problem last makes for the most challenging set, but you can also put the most difficult problem first or in the middle. Changing the order of the problems is a good way to customize the difficulty of each set and create a more precise workout.

3)    Use a Pool of Problems: Rather than using the same problems in each set, you can have a pool of problems of the proper difficulty to choose from. Select different problems for each set. This has the advantage of significantly broadening the types of moves used in the workout. It also requires a lot of focus because you will need to remember more sequences, which can be hard to do when you are pumped.

4)    Add Another Set: There is nothing particularly special about using 4 sets of 4 boulder problems. When I first developed the 4X4 in 1992 I used that structure because it seemed like a good fit for the length and difficulty of the routes in areas such as American Fork Canyon. You should feel free to change the number of problems in a set, or the number of sets in a workout depending on the characteristics of the routes you are training for. For example, long lower intensity sets may be better for the very long routes found in the Red River Gorge.

5)    Change the Length of the Rest Interval: It can be easy to get in the habit of having set times and rest intervals be about the same. You can make a 4 X 4 significantly more difficult by shortening the rest interval by as little as 15 – 30 seconds.

5 Responses to “Five Ways to Get More Out of 4 X 4s.”

  1. jdNo Gravatar says:

    we need a LIKE button!! :]

  2. DouglasNo Gravatar says:

    Thanks jd, not a bad idea.

  3. Brett DowdenNo Gravatar says:

    I’ve always encountered a dilema when using 4 X 4′s or other intervals to train for a specific project route. Do you set up your intervals to be the same length (time or # of moves) as your project, and just lower the movement intensity? Or do you match the intensity of your project and just do shorter bouts with limited recovery?

  4. DouglasNo Gravatar says:


    That is an important question. Here is the thing, I don’t think it has ever been addressed in a way that quantifies the impact on performance between the two methods. I can tell you that from the beginning I used two different structures in my own training and with my athletes. in 4 X 4s I was trying to get set times to approximate the climbing time of an actual red point while also having the movement intensity as high as possible. I also used a 6 X 8 structure that had much lower movement intensity and longer set times. The 6 X 8 works lower intensity anaerobic endurance while the 4 X 4 works high intensity AE.

    To try to answer your actual question I think you can use both structures or let the nature of the routes you are training for dictate what you do. Shorter routes with high movement intensity may benefit most from 4 X4s in which you keep the movement intensity as high as you can. Longer sustained routes may benefit more from 6 X 8s in which the movement intensity is much lower but the set times can be very long.

    Even if my reply does not give a satisfactory answer I want to emphasis the importance of this question. Its the kind of thing that sport scientists can help us examine and provide more complete answers for. I wish that the scientists who do study climbing would look at this kind of pragmatic question and provide us with some good data.

  5. [...] Practical tips from the Self Coached Climber guys about how to get more out of 4×4 training. [...]

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