Bouldering 101

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You’ve entered the wonderful world of climbing and now you’re ready to explore some different disciplines to help take your skills to the next level.

Enter bouldering — one of the oldest/purest forms and an exciting twist on standard rock climbing. The prospect of buying a bunch of gear, learning knots, finding a partner and climbing up a massive rock face might be intimidating and expensive, but we’ve got your back. With bouldering, you’ll strip down to just the essentials. Here’s everything you’ll need to know to explore the sport of bouldering.

What is bouldering?

The short answer — bouldering is the simple act of climbing up a boulder. (Crazy right?) The long answer is that bouldering has a wide variety of grades in difficulty (V0-V16), styles (from crimpy to jug hauls), as well as safety factors (low ball vs high ball, flat vs rocky landing). All these variables need to be taken into consideration prior to making your first move of the ground. Luckily, in a gym setting many of these variables are removed from the equation……all the landings are good, descents are clear and grades easily determined.


What is the difference between Rock Climbing and Bouldering?

Traditionally, a roped climb (what most people refer to as simply “rock climbing”) is longer, and requires a rope and partner to climb the “route” together with gear (protection) to put in the rock along the way. Each rope length is called a “pitch”, and is normally more than 40 feet in length.

In bouldering, the climb is typically shorter in length, and is referred to as a “problem” rather than a “route”. In most cases, if you are to fall, you can land safely on a crash pad, along with some spotters to keep you from hurting yourself. Over the years, the lines have been blurred between bouldering and free soloing. Normally, in bouldering, this means that the boulder is less than 20 feet, however some top-level “high-ball” boulder problems have pushed the limits of 30 to 40 feet. This is obviously where the lines get blurred between free soloing (where if the climber falls they will suffer serious injury or death), and bouldering, where you are operating within safer territory. Luckily many problems are only a few feet off the ground, allowing you to push your limits comfortably and safely.

What do you need for bouldering?

Bouldering is minimalist sport in terms of required gear. The must-haves are a pair of climbing shoes, a chalk bag and chalk. Good shoes and dry hands are of the utmost importance when you’re clinging to the face of a rock, so don’t skimp on quality here, as well as clothing that you can easily maneuver in, for example these tank tops for men would be ideal. We highly recommend investing in a crash pad and rounding up a couple skilled spotters to soften your landing, and make your bouldering experience more enjoyable. Spotting is a skill set within itself, and an attentive, encouraging partner can me the difference between you sending a problem or not.


How to boulder?

You’ll want to take the time to mentally map out the problem before you hop on and start climbing. Envision each move in advance, take note of any unique sequences that you might have to do, try to imagine yourself sending the problem. The power of positive thought can go a long way in bouldering!

If you’re stuck on a sequence of moves, you can always ask for “beta”, or advice from a friend that knows the problem, and can help give you useful tips on how to move through it.

Once you leave the ground, remember to climb with the rhythm of your breath. There is a tendency to hold your breath, which restricts oxygen flow to the body, and can make your climbing choppy and sporadic. The idea is to flow through the problem, breathing deeply, and becoming one with the boulder……as cheesy as that might sound.

Another common mistake when first starting out is to overgrip. Learning to lighten up your iron grip on holds will conserve your energy and put less strain on your tendons. Over time you will figure out the right amount of pressure required to stay on each hold.

Taking the weight off of your upper body and arms is also key to climbing. Whenever possible there are a couple techniques for transferring weight onto your feet and off of your hands. The first is to hug in your hips, or suck your body into the rock. The further out from the wall that your butt gets the more weight will be hanging from your upper body. Another technique is to look for “heel hooks”, “stemming” or other footwork techniques that can help shift more weight onto the stronger part of your body……. your legs. The final technique is to hang straight armed, versus in a “flexed” position. By hanging straight from your arms, the weight is distributed evenly along the skeletal frame, versus being in a pull-up position with your arms, which directly stresses (fatigues) your muscles and tendons.

These subtle techniques will eventually become second nature, and will not only improve your climbing ability, but increase your overall enjoyment of the sport.

If bouldering sounds like the sport for you, feel free to come into Grotto Climbing Gym for some instructional classes, coaching and to connect with a friendly community of climbers. We’ll be able to show you first hand the tips and tricks to help take your bouldering to the next level, and also get you outfitted and prepared for your next outdoor bouldering adventure.