I had the chance to visit Climbing Works Unit E which is GB Climbing’s official training area. I was intrigued about this place as it was small and simple yet a national team practices for Olympics and other national/international competitions here. Oh, regarding the 2021 Olympics, Climbing Works’ (CW) co-founder Percy Bishton has been appointed by IFSC as the head route setter for the boulder portion of the competition. He has been a professional route setter since 1994.
As an overview, CW is one of four (soon to be five as far as I know) climbing centres in Sheffield. It’s opened in 2006 and when it was open, it was the biggest bouldering gym in the world. With their expansion in 2013, they now have 1500 m2 climbable surface under their roof.
CW, earned UK’s first ‘National Performance Centre’ designation in 2014 which is given by the BMC. This brings various advantages and responsibilities. The gyms will have the support of the national team and the quality of the routes/problems are kept at a certain quality also the gym is supported for national and international competitions (like the CWIF taking place annually at CW). On the flip side, the gym is supposed to support the national team with equipment and space which brings us to Unit E.
Unit E Training Area
This area is closed to public during the day but in the afternoons and on the weekend, everyone can visit and train here. There is also a nice gym area with weights. As far as I was told, the problems start from f7a difficulty but you won’t see difficulties by the routes or there is no color coding. The perspective is a bit different here. The point is to train athletes for modern skills that comps require.
All the problems are utilising massive volumes and aiming to test and teach climbers’ flexibility, coordination, balance etc. To be fair, I was thinking I could do at least one of the routes but not being able to even begin the problems showed me the level of professional climbers.
Another detail that caught my attention was the fact that there was no positive angles even on the tiny crimps. You solely have to rely on the friction between the holds and your fingers. The reason behind that is the fact that nowadays each professional climber is strong, physically. If a route set requires strength, it won’t separate climbers. The aim of these routes is to make the climber fall or prevent them from sticking to the route hence you need flexibility and balance as much as strength.
This is true even for overhangs! After a dynamic move/jump, you don’t reach a good hold. You still have to deal with dual textures, compression moves, etc. Also, toe and heel hooks should be second nature. Regarding the dual texture concept, check out the green and white-colored areas on the below photos. They are textured whereas wood-colored areas are not. So, in a way, the wall itself is dual texture. I haven’t seen this anywhere before.
There is also a splash wall at Unit E where athletes can train on routes set by themselves. It may not be as dense as a Japanese splash wall but it’s pretty dense. As the rest of the gym, there are no regular jugs, only volumes, pinches, slopers and volumes.
One thing caught my attention on this wall was the high quality, beautiful looking holds. You can see one below. It’s burgundy with a gold line, nicely finished surface and has gold screws to complete the look. Considering these are climbing holds supposed to be seen only by the climber during training and held by chalky hands, the amount of effort spent on it is amazing. There are a couple like this on the splash board and I couldn’t stop myself from asking Percy (Bishton) as I knew he was doing woodworking himself. He told me these ones with the GG logo are made by Matt Cousins who is a member of the GB Climbing Team. A couple of them including Matt are making holds as a hobby for their home walls. You can see Matt’s other holds under the name Guchi Grains.
You can also see the awards won by Team GB. They are not displayed at the entrance in a showing off way but rather hidden in the dark corridor that joins the climbing area and the gym area.
While here, I would also like to mention Mini Works which is a climbing area dedicated to kids. It’s still part of CW. I personally haven’t been there, yet (maybe sometime in the distant future)…
Walls here are shorter and the problems are optimised for kids meaning the reach is shorter but this doesn’t mean all these problems are easy! They are still hard but for kids basically and the problems are still colour coded, just like the main climbing area. This shows the attention given to kids and their training which impresses me a lot.
And lastly, if you have questions or just want to say hi, feel free to get in touch with me through my instagram page. 🙂