Testing for Speed Climbing - Off the Wall Part 1

This is part of the "Off the Wall" series which will detail training ideas for athletes that don't have consistent access to the speed climbing wall.


Watching the Indonesia pair of Veddriq Leonardo and Kiromal Katabin successively and repeatedly beat the former world record on the same day made me a believer that their dominance isn't random chance. As discussed in a prior post, it is clear that Indonesia has a focused effort on speed climbing and these two (plus the former female world record holder) are just the beginning of the end for the record being over 5 seconds.

Their performance is clearly (at least in my mind) the result of a long-term training plan aimed at success on the speed wall. Typical training programs for a sprinter or jumper, the most similar athletes that we can compare speed climbers to, are anywhere between 6-10 months long. These programs take the athletes through multiple phases of training in order to successful build and refine the skills and abilities needed to reach peak performance (I briefly discuss these phases here). Along the way, testing is necessary to ensure progress.

Sure, the speed wall itself is the ultimate test. As discussed in a prior article and shown in a previous video, it is also useful to break the wall into distinct segments in order to further analyze performance. So aside from the entire route, the 3 specific segments (hold 0 to hold 5, hold 5 it hold 15, and hold 15 to finish) become the most specific tests you can do.

But we don't live on the wall and quite honestly it is hard to find gyms that keep the wall up long enough to consistently train on it. We need easy to perform tests that will accurately gauge your development throughout your training program. But what tests should we do? While we don’t know what specific tests the newest world record holders do in their training, we can take a look at a few that will have a high correlation to performance. I have chosen the tests below because they hit different portions of the force-velocity curve which will give us a good indicator of how we are progressing.

Speed/Power Tests

Speed and power tests are going to be the most useful for us as speed climbers as they are going to provide easy milestones for us to gauge our progress. Force application times for these tests are very similar to the times spent on the holds during a race. They are simple to learn, easy to measure, and are valid indicators of speed and power development.

Vertical jump or broad jump

Everyone pretty much knows this test, however I am a bigger fan of the broad jump than vertical jump as it is harder to cheat the test. With a vertical jump, most tests are done by reaching as high as possible and marking a wall. Then you jump and measure the distance between the starting mark and where you were able to reach while jumping. This can be cheated by simply not reaching as hard during the initial measurement. With the standing broad jump, the starting line is fixed and you simply measure distance. This is made even easier with a mat like featured below, with your phone camera recording your landing position.

Continuous broad jump (3 or 5 jumps)

Similar to the broad jump, this test has a higher neuromuscular demand due to the continuous jumps. As you continue to jump, speed increases which in turn makes contact times decrease. To keep accelerating you need to be able to put power down faster. This test will give a good idea of your elastic strength (how good your body is at quickly amortizing forces and taking advantage of the stretch shorten cycle to reapply the energy stored in the tendons/series elastic components back into the ground)

OHB/BLF throw

The over the heads backwards (OHB) or between the legs forward (BLF) medicine ball throw is an extremely useful tool to gauge power. Similar to the broad jump, but with an added load, this is easily measurable and repeatable. For novice athletes, I suggest an 8lb or 4kg medicine ball. For more advanced athletes I suggest up to a 16lb or 7kg medicine ball. Just make sure you use the same one for all of your tests during your training season to keep accurate track of progression. Also do this outside...

Strength Tests

Due to the strain of max lifting tests, I recommend not going heavier than a three-repetition maximum. The power output needed for speed climbing means that strength will be a key variable in performance, however the speed/power tests will be a better indicator in my opinion. It is possible to get too strong, where the time needed to improve in the weight room will become too much compared to the time spent on the wall or doing other speed/power exercises to improve. It is rare to get to this point, however, without many years of dedicated maximal strength work. Strength tests should be done no more often than every 8 weeks as a means of ensuring that your lifting is being done in appropriate volumes and intensities.

Powerclean max

Wait a second, I’m a speed climber not an Olympic lifter. Why am I power cleaning? Quite simply because it is one of the most effective lifts to develop rate of force production through the triple extension of the hips, knees, and ankles. The catch also teaches the body to properly yield to forces, which means this lift also promotes proper body balance. If you are not comfortable using Olympic lifts, I encourage you to at least learn the pulling movement or jump shrug, as even the pulling movement will develop power very well. If you want to deep dive on this, check out the research of my friend Tim Suchomel.


You want raw numbers to back up how strong you say you are? Perfect. Deadlift is your best friend. No other test will assess your nervous system and physiology like a deadlift max. 

Weighted pullup

We're speed climbers. We need to be strong both in our legs and in our upper body. As mentioned in previous articles, the upperbody contributes in two ways. One, it keeps our hips more aligned over our feet by pulling us closer to the wall, allowing our prime movers (legs) to apply force vertically. Second, they contribute to that vertical force application. As such, we need to measure our development in this area.

Weighted crimp pull/Pinch Block

The speed hold is not a jug. Repeat it. Believe it.

Not at the speeds we travel, at least. With the high rate of force development needed in order to latch on and apply meaningful force, we don't just need strong fingers, but powerful ones. Simple pulls from the floor with a rock ring with weights affixed is an easy way to assess finger strength development.


Velocity Tracker?

A velocity tracking device such as the Train With Push band (not an affiliate link, but I do own one and like it) can be extremely useful to track velocity of your bar or body during workouts. One of the benefits of this is that you can ensure that your work sets are maintaining a high enough intensity. Remember: intensity is what drives our gains in speed and power development.

For example, using a velocity tracker, you can measure the velocity of your first set of jumps. It will give you peak and average velocity, which you can then use as your benchmark for the day. If the velocity of your jumps drop more than 10% of your benchmark, then you know fatigue has accumulated to the point when you are no longer hitting the intensity needed. You can then move on to the next exercise.

Due to how it tracks data long term, you can use all time bests as your testing milestones and either avoid testing days altogether, or use specific weights for your tests and instead measure velocity.

The down side of these trackers are that they are pricey. They also provide you with enough data that it can ruin your workout if the numbers don’t reflect what you feel. Nothing is as disappointing than feeling great during an exercise and then having an app tell you it was mediocre. Use trackers with caution.

Too much data?

One of the pitfalls of data collection and tracking is that it is very easy to both get overwhelmed by the testing/setup/collection as well as losing sight of the forest for the trees. We are chasing performance improvements in the sport, not training to the test.

Make sure when you choose your tests that you are choosing ones that are easily repeatable with a low amount of set up. You also want to make sure that they are movements that are not necessarily trained often in order to make sure the improvements are not from movement specific neuromuscular improvements but rather than a global increase in abilities. For example, if you choose vertical jump as a test you may not want to have vertical jumps or squat jump variations play a key role in that phase of your training. 

This is less of a concern with strength exercises, however it still needs to be in your mind. This is why I test deadlifts but train with squats.

Final Thoughts

Testing isn't just for school. We can also use tests outside of the competition season to have pseudo-competitions. This will naturally increase the athlete's intensity as it ramps up their competitiveness. This can be a vital stimulus as it provides a way for the athlete to practice their competition routines in order to be in the right mindset for their race. 

The increase in intensity through competition also provides a useful training stimulus.

This got a little long winded, so leave a comment with any questions and let me know your favorite tests!

Later speed freaks!

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