The hottest trend in the climbing gym is not the climbing wall, but the dedicated training area. A big part of this popularity is due to one company taking a risk and reaping the rewards by designing the most extensive selection of training holds and tools on the market today.That company is Atomik Climbing.
Atomik is a special breed of climbing hold company; they design, shape, pour, ship and market all of their holds out their headquarters in Provo, Utah. Owner Kenny Matys told CBJ in an email interview, “Our staff can take a product from concept to market quickly and efficiently without any red tape.”
To put so much effort into producing 150+ unique pairs of climber training devices seems like a bold move in an industry that, historically, has embraced creativity in the training area only if it comes in the shape of a hangboard. According to Matys, however, developing the training series — which includes system holds, measured campus rungs and pull-up holds — was simply a matter of need. “Our efforts have been put in to this area of the climbing hold market because it was not being done,” he said. “It’s clear that the gyms being built are steeper and climbers getting stronger. Atomik is simply providing the tools necessary to get in grip specific training.”
Training Catches On
Historically, training and training programs have not been a major source of revenue for US climbing gyms. Even now it’s not easy to parse out the financial benefit of having a robust training area. But as more gyms are built we are seeing a trend towards having extensive training areas that include a mix-and-match assemblage of training devices aimed specifically at climbing muscles: tri-difficulty campus boards, hang board centers with up to 6 different models, gymnastic rings, pôutre beam, bomb hang center (see below), multiple thickness pull-up bars and adjustable system walls.
Major gym developers such as Momentum near Salt Lake and Earth Treks in Golden, Colorado have given considerable space to their training area, which is a departure from the days of old when hangboards were hung above bathroom doors and the closest thing to a system wall was seven pockets scrounged up from the hold closet.
This latest passion for training is fueled in part by European training videos and books like Gimmee Kraft, which are showcasing how European competitors are training for and winning World Cup competitions.
The systems wall is one of the main beneficiaries of Atomic’s training-specific line of climbing holds. The fundamental theory behind a systems wall is that the holds are symmetrical, providing an equal training opportunity for each hand. Each pair of holds can be orientated in any one of the four-basic hand positions: undercling, gaston, side pull or straight down. It helps to have a series of different grip types like pinches, crimps, jugs, slopers or pockets to train different muscles and movements.
Hold companies have been selling grips that work on system walls for years, and some like eGrips even have system tiles that can be turned to create different training regimes. But no company has taken system training as far as Atomik has with their new system Measured holds.
What makes Atomik’s “measured” holds unique is that each style has two specific aspects, thickness and angle, that are offered in a progressive series to provide different training levels. For example, the measured crimps start at 1/2-inch thick with a 60 degree incut, go down to a 75 degree incut, then to a 90 degree flat crimp, and if thats too easy there is also a 105 degree crimp which is more like a “slimper” (slopey crimper). The series repeats with a 3/4-inch thick crimper, on up to a 1.5-inch thick crimp.
Measuring the holds in this way lets the customer have a better idea of what they are buying and gives the athlete a systematic way to tailor their training and asses their progress. “What the Measured Holds do is … offer the coach and athlete an exact way to design a periodized training program,” said Matys. For example, Matys described an example power workout:
“On day one, you may do only a few moves on the 3-inch at 110-degree sloping pinch. Then on day two, training power endurance, you could integrate the same width of 3-inch but at a 90-degree neutral pinch for as many as 20+ moves. You can finish on day three with endurance training on the 3-inch at 80 degree incut pinch. The point is not the specific workout I’m mentioning but rather the notion that you can fatigue the exact same grip muscles in a controlled and ‘measured’ environment.”
Perhaps no other training device in the last 5 years has taken climbing training by storm quite like Atomik’s Bombs. Now seen in almost all progressive climbing facilities, the Bombs have usurped the venerable gymnastic ring as the go-to pull up and core apparatus.
First developed in Europe with the name Power Balls, these baseball to softball size spheres didn’t take hold in the US until Atomik took the idea and improved upon it. “When I saw that the hardware they were using was not acceptable to our test criteria, I felt Atomik could bring a complete line with stronger hardware to the market,” Matys said.
Some climbing gyms, like The Wall in Vista, California have built specific rack centers that hold the entire line of Bombs, Missiles, and Pipes. Even American Ninja Warrior has incorporated them into their obstacle courses, forcing participants like Isaac Caldiero to build their own Bomb training areas.
Other climbing hold brands like Escape have developed their own power balls, and Rock Candy has developed a wood version. Even weight training and fitness retailers such as Rogue Fitness are getting in on the power ball trend; in fact Rogue was the anti-inspiration for Atomik’s extra-large Canon Bomb. “The massive complaint their users were saying to us was it felt like glass and they couldn’t hang on it,” Matys said.
No other hold company is taking training as seriously as Atomik has, and it doesn’t look like they are getting bored of the idea yet. Matys told CBJ that they are planning to bring 12 new pairs of system/hang board holds to market this summer. “We have 50 other training designs coming out as well but we are taking our time to design this line right the first time,” he said. “Whether it be the up and comer chasing V16 or the forty-something that wants to stay in shape and not trash his fingers and shoulders. Atomik is helping make that happen.”