While spray walls were more popular 10-15 years ago as climbing gyms began popping up around the world, they are still considered to be one of the most valuable tools by many professional climbers. Spray walls are bouldering walls (walls without ropes) but can come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Often, spray walls are at a steep angle but can also include less dramatic sections of the wall. Most importantly, almost every bolt on a spray wall is filled with a climbing hold to the point that it looks like someone took a climbing-hold-hose and sprayed it down until it was completely covered.
We want to note that spray walls are notoriously difficult to climb on. They were created, like all indoor climbing, as a training tool for outdoor climbing. Oftentimes climbers would imitate moves from their projects on the spray walls, practicing the movements until they became comfortable. Because of this, spray walls are recommended for intermediate and advanced climbers as beginner climbers likely won’t be able to take advantage of the benefits of the spray wall.
So what is a spray wall for? Spray walls are perfect for training a variety of climbing attributes. Let’s take a look at some of the main ones!
Above all else, spray walls are perfect for power training. Power training involves creating moves on the wall that are just at the end of a climber’s ability or perhaps even a little too tough. Instead of waiting for the setters at the gym to set a specific problem at this level of difficulty, a spray wall provides endless possibilities for a climber to create their own moves. What’s more, spray walls are almost always on overhung sections of the wall that force climbers to cut feet and perform more powerful moves.
Another benefit of the spray wall is the endless combination of holds. Climbers will often train endurance by linking anywhere from 10 to 50 moves together on a spray wall. The most common endurance exercise on a spray wall is called an “up-down-up” where the climber does just that: climbs to the top, down climbs, then climbs back to the top, all without resting. On a spray wall, a climber can perform this drill without repeating the same move twice, which makes the training even more effective as the climber has to remember the moves and cannot rely on muscle memory.
How is this different from power training or endurance training? Power endurance is a climber’s ability to do powerful moves one after the other. True power training involves a climber performing at their maximum limit. In contrast, a climber training power endurance will perform several hard moves in a row, all of which they can complete. Once again, the endless combination of holds on a spray wall provides a climber with the ability to set their own problems. So if a climber is looking to link several moves of a specific difficulty together, the spray wall is the best tool.
Another benefit of the endless combination of holds on a spray wall is the ability to try problems that address a climber’s specific weaknesses. A good spray wall should allow a climber to set any type of problem they need. So if a climber is weak on crimps and coordination, they can easily create a difficult problem that caters specifically to those weaknesses.
Finally, many climbers train on a spray wall because it requires them to flex their route-setting muscles and think creatively. Many spray walls have some sort of binder or log where climbers can write down their climbs, but a lot of the fun of a spray wall comes from making up your own combinations of holds and seeing if you can complete the moves.