The climbing centres and bouldering hubs of the world are full of good boulderers, but how did they get that good and how long did it take them? Well, as with any other sport, practice makes perfect, but there are a few other things you can do to improve more quickly as well.
Let’s start with the good news. It’s pretty easy to learn how to boulder. Similar to climbing, if you train on a regular basis, there’s no doubt you’ll make a lot of progress in the beginning.
Of course, all that progress won’t be without pain and soreness in muscles you never knew you had. And, many of the holds will still seem virtually impossible to hold on to. But, in just a few weeks, not only will the soreness in your muscles begin to decrease, but you’ll start tackling more projects as well. It’ll be so much fun that you grinning ear to ear – I promise! However, before you get to that point, there are some things you should keep in mind.
Bouldering tips for beginners – The right material
Fortunately, you don’t need a whole lot to boulder. A comfortable pair of trousers and the right shoes should do the trick. But this is where it gets interesting. The rental shoes from the centre will suffice for the first couple of weeks, but you’ll quickly realise that you need something more, something better! Unfortunately, purchasing a pair of your very own shoes isn’t as easy as you might think. There’s a list of questions you’ll have to answer, such as how tight the shoe should be and whether you need special shoes for bouldering, among other things.
Climbers and boulderers don’t necessarily wear different shoes, but oftentimes they do prefer different models. Much more important than the question of climbing vs. bouldering is the question of which boulders you prefer and which ones you climb more often. Boulderers who love overhanging rock faces, for example, need a pair with heel tension so that they fit snugly around the heel for hooks. Boulderers who prefer vertical faces or slabs need more sticky, sensitive shoes for those non-existent holds.
When looking for the right shoes, it’s important to take your time as well. It’s not at all uncommon for boulderers to have two or more pairs of shoes. But, since the first pair usually doesn’t last that long, don’t spend too much money.
The proper bouldering technique
Like with so many other disciplines, standard moves have been developed in recent years that are supposed to help boulderers “solve” boulder problems and improve their efficiency. The techniques are geared toward the wall incline, the shape of the holds, the character of the route (traverse or straight up), the composition of the wall (slopers, cracks, edges, etc.) and of course the level of difficulty.
At climbing centres, you’ll notice most bouldering walls are set up to require a sequence of techniques. The sum of these moves results in the boulder problem or the path you take to complete your climb. Oftentimes, there are multiple solutions to a boulder problem. Different body sizes, strengths and wingspans also result in different solutions. The larger your repertoire of techniques and the quicker you can access them, the better.
A good way to learn bouldering techniques is to take a course and try out the basics under the supervision of an experienced boulderer. Another great way to acquire more knowledge is to talk to other boulderers and tackle problems together. The huge advantage to bouldering is that you can start (almost) anywhere on the boulder and don’t have to climb several metres before you get to the crux, as you would when climbing.
So, just talk to your fellow boulderers, watch others and give it a go yourself! Then, if you become open to trying out moves you had never dreamed possible, you’re on the right track.
Bouldering training done right
Efficient training sessions are always geared towards the strengths and weaknesses of a boulderer, his or her level of fitness and physiological and psychological constitution. Thus, they should always be structured according to the individual. But, the following points should be also included:
An extremely important component of every training session is a good warm-up. This will get your body prepared for the demands bouldering puts on it and help to prevent injuries. After all, bouldering requires both flexibility and maximum strength.
To do this, you can do some easy traversing with slow, controlled movements whilst trying to apply the various techniques you’ve learned. Between each boulder, it’s important to take a break to allow your body to adjust. Then, slowly increase the difficulty of the climbs.
Also, it’s important to mention that static stretching is no longer recommended because holding a stretch actually tires the muscles.
Warm up your fingers
Very important! Because your fingers and the muscles in the forearm that flex the fingers are put under a lot of stress, it is really important to warm them up thoroughly beforehand. But do it on large holds, not miniscule ones, and keep your fingers away from the campus board.
Training: Work on your weaknesses!
Your training sessions should be physically demanding but not too demanding. Otherwise, you’ll risk getting injured. Every boulderer has his or her strengths and weaknesses. Unfortunately, we often prefer boulders that more in line with our strengths, since these are much easier and we can climb higher grades, which is extremely fun.
But, obviously, if you only train to your strengths, you won’t be doing anything about your weaknesses. That said, you should work on your weaknesses in addition to your strengths. So, if you’re really good at slabs, you should still climb overhangs on a regular basis and vice-versa. True, it can be depressing, but it’ll pay off in the end.
Of course, it’s true, too, that your strengths and weakness don’t just manifest themselves on individual boulders. Some things we can learn from observation, but you’ll have to try it out for yourself eventually.
The guys from Wataaah are well aware of this fact and have created a machine that measures your strengths – the Kraftolizer. This tests such things as flexibility, maximum strength, endurance, reaction, etc. Afterwards, you get a precise list of things you need to work on. However, be forewarned: In the rarest of cases will the analysis say: “Power. Hit the campus board.” That’s something more suitable for professionals, anyway. What most amateur boulderers lack is actually technique and flexibility.
Don’t forget about the reward
This is a fundamental part of training and should never be left out. After a day of bouldering, head to the pub with your fellow boulderers and talk about bouldering!