If you’ve found yourself on this page, you’ve probably already heard a bit about the benefits of indoor rock climbing. In addition to the benefits for your physical and mental health, rock climbing welcomes all into its diverse social scene. As an added bonus, it’s also extremely fun. Whether you’re an experienced rope climber or a brand new beginner, this article will leave you fully equipped to start bouldering.
Basic climbing lingo that beginners need to know:
- route – the path or moves up a specific climb.
- project (verb) – trying a route over and over with the goal of eventually climbing it in one go.
- project (noun) – a climb that may take multiple sessions to complete.
- bouldering problem – a sequence, or route, leading to the top of the wall.
- sending (a route) – successfully reaching the top and finishing the climb.
- hold (noun) – part of the route that can be used to get to the top.
- heel hook – using your heel to grip and pull your body toward the wall.
- toe hook – using the friction of the shoe rubber on top of your toes and flexing your foot against the rock.
There are many more climbing terms to know – these are just the basics. Get out there and learn how to talk the talk!
What is bouldering?
You may have heard about climbing from the Olympics, which includes three types: speed, lead, and bouldering. There are two important factors that differentiate bouldering from the other two. First, bouldering stays relatively close to the ground. Indoor bouldering walls range from 8 to 15 feet tall. Bouldering problems generally focus on more strenuous moves that cover a shorter distance (power). Rope climbing tends to require a steady state of power over a longer period of time (endurance).
Second, climbers don’t use harnesses or rope to catch their fall. Instead, every bouldering wall is surrounded by thick padding. When you finish a route, all you need to do is fall back onto the mat. You don’t need to rely on anybody else to work out. This is one of the many reasons why bouldering is so popular. There’s no need to schedule time with a belayer (someone who controls the safety rope while you climb). You can climb whenever you want – even if your bouldering buddies miss a climbing session.
What gear does a beginner need?
Bouldering is a fantastic way for beginners to try out rock climbing without too much commitment. The only gear you need to boulder inside is:
- Climbing shoes
- Climbing chalk
And guess what? Most climbing gyms provide rental shoes, which means that you can take bouldering on a trial run before you decide to invest. The only downside to renting climbing shoes is that they will already be showing signs of wear and tear. Climbers prefer to have shoes that fit their feet perfectly, and this only happens when you take the time to break them in. Rental shoes tend to be slightly more slippery on the wall, as the rubber soles break down over time. Some beginning climbers buy climbing shoes after their first day on the wall, but others wait for months to buy their own shoes.
Climbing chalk is highly recommended by most climbers, but you can definitely go without. It’s similar to climbing shoes; having chalk will improve your experience, but it’s not necessary. Just like in weightlifting, chalk is used to dry your hands out and give you a better grip. Using chalk can result in a more efficient and safe climb; you will spend less time readjusting your grip, allowing you to focus on completing the problem. You will also experience an increase in confidence when your hands are chalked up. It just feels better to know that your sweaty hands won’t be the thing keeping you from sending the route.
What muscles do you use while bouldering?
First of all, bouldering is a legitimate way of getting into shape. Not only will your muscular strength and endurance increase, but you will also notice an improvement in your flexibility and aerobic capability. Climbing, in all forms, is a high-intensity workout, and bouldering is no exception. Here are the main muscle groups that see growth in the climbing gym:
- Hand and Arm Muscles – in order to keep yourself on the wall, you will be using your fingers, hands and forearms – all which contribute toward grip strength. Next, your biceps will aid in pulling yourself up and anchoring your position on the route, and the triceps will shine when you need to push against a hold.
- Upper Body – One of the major motions used to climb involves moving your arm from above you down toward your side, contracting your lats. Bouldering also requires the use of your other shoulder/upper back muscles, including your deltoids, rhomboids, and trapezius muscles.
- Core – No doubt about it, climbing works your abs, trunk and hip muscles. In order to take some weight off of your upper body, you can use your core to stabilize and maintain alignment (especially when climbing a steep part of the wall).
- Lower Body – As a beginner, it’s natural for you to use your upper body more than the latter. However, as you develop mind-body awareness on the wall you will find that a ton of power comes from your lower half. Once you start using your glutes, quads, hamstrings and calves to climb, a new realm of possibilities will open up. Heel hooks and toe hooks are just two extremely useful climbing techniques that put a strain on your lower body.
How do beginners get started?
Now that you understand what bouldering is, what gear you need, and how it will impact your body – it’s time to take action! The easiest way to get started is to find a climbing gym near you. Bouldering gyms like Oso Climbing Gyms are very approachable and beginner-friendly. Once you arrive, the front desk workers will get you set up with rental shoes and show you how to dismount from the wall. There are many opportunities to join a climbing fundamentals class – where you can meet other beginners or invite your friends.