Starting a new sport, especially an unfamiliar one, can feel quite intimidating so we’ve taken the liberty of breaking down the barriers to entry in a six-part series on rock climbing.
If you’ve decided on bouldering for your first indoor climbing sessions, this article will cover what to do just before you hop on the wall and what to do when you’re on it!
Remember: Bouldering is climbing without gear (i.e. no ropes or harnesses) over short heights of around 3 – 3.5m. This style of climbing can be done alone and is great for learning how to move on a wall. If you are keen to climb with a top-rope, check out this article here!
Cover Image Credit: Catarina Monteiro
Just before getting onto the bouldering wall
The temptation to hop straight onto the bouldering wall is nearly impossible to resist. But, to avoid muscle and finger injuries, we’d recommend a good 10-15 min warm-up on the floor/in the gym area.
Our basic warm-up recommendation would be:
- Cardio warm-up: A few minutes of jogging or jumping jacks
- Dynamic stretching: Do some arm circles, leg swings, and lunges with a twist
- Shoulder mobility exercises: Climbing involves a lot of overhead reaching. Try shoulder circles, arm rotations, scapular retractions while hanging from a bar and some TheraBand exercises for internal and external rotation.
- Finger warm-up: Use a grip trainer or repeatedly squeeze a stress ball/scrunched-up TheraBand. If the gym has a rice bucket (just a bucket full of rice), take a handful of rice and squeeze repeatedly
Note: This is just a basic guideline, so feel free to adapt it to your individual needs.
You’re all chalked up and ready to go bouldering, what next?
So you’re all chalked up and you’d like to get started on the bouldering wall, now what? An instructor is not crucial and the friendly people at the front desks are all well-seasoned climbers who would be keen to help out with a few pointers if needed – so give them a shout. However, we’d like to get you feeling self-sufficient so here are four things you need to do before starting a climb.
- Read the route
“Reading a route” involves sussing out all of the holds involved in your chosen bouldering climb. The holds in your route may all be of one colour or the same hold type or marked with tape. First, look for the “start holds” – they are usually marked lower down the wall with white plugs or tape. The start holds may be one single hold (both hands start on one hold) or two separate holds for each hand.
Next, look for the top/final hold(s) as it’ll often help understand where the climb is going and where you expect to end up on the wall. Once you’ve found your start and end points, see if you can “problem solve” by navigating between them.
Pro tip: the bigger holds are often for your hands and the smaller holds are for your feet. This isn’t always the case but don’t try holding the smallest holds with your hands if there is a big hold next to it. This probably means the small hold is meant for your feet when you’re higher up on the wall.
- Brush the holds
Generally there is quite a bit of chalk that ends up getting caked onto the holds if the climb has been up for a while or is a popular one. Give them some love and do yourself a solid by brushing the holds with the communal brushes before you hop on. It’ll make the holds feel more “textured”, making them easier to hold.
- Clear to climb?
Before you start climbing your bouldering route, it’s a good idea to observe other climbers and their choice of route. You don’t want to accidentally start a route that crosses paths with another. If you’re still unsure about how to tell, ask a nearby staff member. Lastly, make sure nobody is sitting or walking beneath a fall zone of the climb as you could fall off the wall with one small foot slip. A fall zone is the area below the person on the wall where they are likely to land if they come unstuck.
Safety term “Spotting”: Spotting is most commonly used as a means of providing support, or verbal guidance or additional safety. A spotter may stand behind the climber to provide verbal guidance when climbing a difficult route or to help prevent bad falls by ensuring the climber doesn’t fall off the mats or in a particularly awkward way. There are many tutorials available on YouTube or you could once again ask a staff member about how to properly spot someone.
- Practice falling/lowering down
Falling can be a daunting thing for some while bouldering so practice lowering/falling from a point on the wall. If possible, have someone spot you while doing this so they can catch you if things go wrong. If you fall off a route, always try not to land on another climber below. Practice falling by climbing one or two holds up and then jumping down onto the mats.
You’re on the bouldering wall, now what?
Think of bouldering as problem-solving in a child’s world. There’s no true rule for how you should climb something – so have fun and don’t be shy to try out your own beta. The person who set the bouldering route has probably intended for it to be climbed in a certain sequence so some moves may feel a bit strange if you don’t figure them out immediately, but there are generally many ways around a stopping point. Feel free to try all sorts of weird body movements, hand and foot placements as well as dynos. However, here are some basic dos and don’ts for your first session.
- Keep your arms straight as much as possible, using them mainly for balance and stability rather than pulling yourself up the wall.
- Use your feet and be intentional about it: Use the very forefront of your shoes to stand on footholds instead of planting your entire foot on a hold or trying to use half of the side of your shoe.
- Watch other people climb, both those climbing the same route as you as well as people climbing other routes. Watching someone else climb is one of the best ways to learn.
- Remember to pay attention to your body position, core and centre of gravity. Think balance and think stability.
- Take rests between climbs, don’t “Jack Russel”.
- Be lekker and cheer your friends on, maybe even offer some sneaky beta (if they’re okay with it).
- Try the different wall angles! Each wall angle differs in difficulty and will require different strengths so don’t feel demotivated by the steep climbs in the caves. Instead, hop on the vert or slab walls.
- Don’t over-grip; gripping the holds too tightly will cause you to fatigue very quickly.
- Don’t rely solely on upper body strength to pull yourself up the wall. Focus on using your legs. Climbing is all about leg power too so make sure to engage your legs
- Don’t rush through a climb, take your time and think about the moves.
- Don’t jump off the wall from the top if you’re unsure of how to appropriately and safely fall.
- Don’t hop on a climb that has just been brushed by another climber as this is a climbing social faux par. Instead, wait for them to attempt the climb or ask if you may climb.
Climbing technique is a thing and takes time and practice to develop! Don’t be discouraged if you find it difficult to remember some of the above in your first session. I can guarantee that you’ll be back for your second session within a week after your forearms have had time to recover and you’re able to squeeze the toothpaste tube again (it’s a real post-climbing experience the first few times). So, if you find yourself going back regularly, check out our “Rock climbing | I’ve stagnated, now what?” article; you’ll be crushing and sending in no time.
Keen to take your bouldering outdoors? Here is what you need to know!
See you on the wall!
Disclaimer: Rock climbing or similar activities have inherent risks. This article serves as a guideline for the sport, and while it is intended for your benefit, it is not guaranteed that following these steps will prevent injury or harm. WILD AIR Sports accepts no liability for injuries sustained while using these guidelines. The hands-on support of a professional instructor is recommended for beginners.