Guide to IFSC Bouldering Comp Rules

The final rounds of Bouldering Competitions in Taiwan, and in much of the world these days, are run according to IFSC competition rules.

As a competitor, being familiar with the rules allows you to get the best final ranking. As a spectator, it also makes watching more fun — when you know this is the attempt that makes or breaks a competitor’s podium standing, it’s a lot more interesting.

The official 2013 IFSC Bouldering Rules are avaiable here. This article is not meant to be a comprehensive guide but simply a rough introduction.


Observation - Photo by Aaron Chen

Observation – Photo by Aaron Chen

Observation is when the competitors in the round are introduced to the boulder problems.  Competitors are allowed to touch the marked starting holds, but may not use them; feet must remain on the ground.

Talking to others is permitted, and in World Cup footage you’ll see competitors sharing beta and feeling holds during this stage.


After Observation, competitors are taken to a location visually isolated from the competition area ,where they can rest but can’t see the problems.

Ideally, isolation areas will have a climbing wall where competitors can warm up, however this is not always the case.


Warm Up

If you have some time before your turn, consider using the warm up wall to practice moves or problems similar to what  you will do. This lets your body get used to the movement as well as the mental challenge of pulling hard.

But try not to do hard moves 10 minutes before competing so you can be fresh.

If there is no warmup wall, you can stretch or do some other simple physical activity. Jazz hands(opening and closing your hands as far as they will go) is a good simple exercise to keep blood flowing in your hands and prepare you to climb.

Chalk Up

Before your turn to climb, consider using liquid chalk to create a base layer of chalk which will help keep your hands dry on the wall. Chalk the back of the hand as well, in case you need to match hands.


Hung ying send

Hung Ying Lee – Photo by Aaron Chen


During finals, competitors have 4 minutes on a digital clock to climb the problem. However, if the competitor starts an attempt(feet leave the ground) before the 4 minutes is up, they are allowed to finish the attempt even if it exceeds the time alloted.


Each problem has a marked Top Hold as well as a bonus hold. The bonus hold is usually in the middle of the route after the first crux, and is used to differentiate competitors further. Unlike lead competitions, Climbers cannot just touch a hold for it to count, but it has to be held in control.

IFSC Rules dictate ranking in order of the following:

  1. Tops
  2. Attempts to Top
  3. Bonus holds controlled
  4. Attempts to Bonus

In short,  Tops matter the most. Attempts matter, and Bonus/Bonus attempts are used only as tiebreakers to differentiate competitors. All boulders are “worth” the same no matter their actual difficulty.



Ye Qi Rui – Photo by Aaron Chen


Is the name of the game.  Because of limited time, Flashing also saves you energy for later boulders. If you don’t already, practice and learn onsighting strategies and mindset rather than the typical Redpoint bouldering mindset. You don’t get points for beauty –at a bouldering comp a nasty flailing onsight is worth much more than a smooth redpoint on your 3rd attempt.

Make Attempts Count

Each attempt counts against you so before you leave the ground make it count and have a plan to get to Top or at least bonus.

Attempts are “shared” between boulders so flashing problem 1 doesnt matter if you waste 10 attempts trying to send problem 2.  Therefore, if you truly have no hope on a problem it can be worth purely aiming for bonus or even throwing in the towel.

If you’re not the first competitor, chalk on holds and rubber on the wall can give key beta — or throw you off.


The 2013 IFSC Competition rulebook is available at the IFSC Website.

TaiwanRocks is an independent website that does not represent the IFSC.


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