Did you know that beginner boulderers have a huge advantage over a well-seasoned climber? Do you know why?
It’s because the beginner has a clean slate! A seasoned climber can have bad habits ingrained into their climbing technique. It’s not easy to break these habits that we’ve programmed into muscle memory. For all the beginners out there, we’re here to help you program good habits into your bouldering technique.
I truly believe that bouldering is mainly a sport of technique. Yes, you’re going to need physical strength for some of the crazy bouldering problems out there. But primarily focusing on your technique is going to pay better dividends in the future.
If you’re interested in bouldering outdoors, check out our list of the best crash pads. We curated this list to make it easy to find a pad and begin bouldering outdoors.
Here are some bouldering tips to keep in mind as you progress through your career.
Bouldering Tips for Beginners
Warm up before bouldering
A cold start into bouldering is a recipe for an injury or a bad session. You need to get the blood flowing in your body so you can perform.
Outdoor climbing requires hiking to get to the bouldering. Our heart rate is elevated and blood is pumping while we make our approach. I’m usually carrying a few crash pads, my body is loose and limber by the time I make it to the boulders.
But at the bouldering gym, there is no forced warm ups to get to the climbing wall. I can easily walk from my car to the climbing gym and begin my bouldering session.
Here are a few ways I like to warm up for bouldering:
- Hanging on hangboard and doing pull ups. This is a great way to get your shoulders and fingers loose for climbing
- Walking on the treadmill. This gets blood flowing and simulates hiking to the crag
- Climbing problems below my flash limit.
When I warm up on problems below my flash level, climbing the routes a few times, twisting my hips left and right to get acquainted with the movements I’ll be making.
This is one of the most commonly sprayed bouldering tips for beginners. I remember trying to boulder for the first time and the crowd yelling at me, “remember to have straight arms!” I was very confused, how on earth can I climb when I keep my arms stiff as uncooked spaghetti?
What do we exactly mean when we say we want to have straight arms when we’re climbing. Should I have been climbing like a zombie all these years?
The best way to demonstrate this is to experience it. If you have a pull-up bar near you bring that out. If not, you can use some weights lying around the house or wait until you’re at the climbing gym next time.
We’re going to take two separate measurements now. Attempt to hang on the bar (or keep the weight at your sides), with your arms straight. Do this for one minute. Then repeat this but with your elbows bent at a 45-degree angle.
Which one was easier?
The reason that hanging with straight arms is easier is that we’re utilizing our skeleton and not engaging our muscles. When hanging at a 45-degree angle, we’re engaging many different muscles to help us stay hanging.
So how does this apply to climbing?
Two different ways. The first is that we can rest more efficiently when we aren’t bending our arms. Resting in the middle of a route is a skill that you need to practice and will improve the more you climb.
The first step to taking those rests is knowing how to rest efficiently. And like when we were hanging on the pull-up bar, we want to use straight arms and engage less of our muscles.
The second way we can utilize our straight arms is when we are twisting our lower body to move our hands. We can move our feet to new holds and utilize good climbing technique to move efficiently up the wall.
Climbing with straight arms is just a guideline and not always possible. It’s something good to keep in mind when you’re first starting out. As you get more comfortable on the wall, you’ll develop your own climbing style and flow.
Keep your weight on your feet
Stick with our ladder analogy, have you ever climbed a ladder without keeping your feet on the rungs? We don’t use a ladder like monkey bars and we don’t want to climb that way either.
Climbing routes are like tricky ladders, and using our feet to hold our weight is crucial for sending routes. As you progress in bouldering, your feet become more and more pivotal to your success. Build good habits now and learn to use your feet.
Commitment! You might not have been expecting to be reading about commitment in an article about bouldering technique. But there’s a good reason why we’re going to talk about it.
Dynamic climbing technique will force your body into swinging through the holds like your George of the Jungle. Swinging from hold to hold is a powerful way to climb. Chris Sharma was one of the first climbers to popularize this type of movement. If it works for Sharma it should work for us right!
Some routes will incorporate a deadpoint, which is a climbing move where you’re using controlled movement and grabbing the hold at the apex of your movement. Whenever you deadpoint or dyno (short for dynamic movement) you will need to commit so you can reach the good part of a hold.
Committing will also help you once you start lead climbing as well. While rope climbing, you will be clipping into quickdraws as you make your way up the wall. Route developers will generally put the bolts near good holds or rest positions.
Sometimes, it’ll be tempting to attempt to clip in when you aren’t as high above the route. I do this a lot, I’ll be scared of taking a bigger fall and will try to clip in high above my waist. Doing this could actually reduce my personal safety, the belayer will need to pay out more slack so I can clip and I’ll be clipping from a precarious position.
However, if I committed and climbed a bit higher, chances are I will find a better position for myself to clip from.
Visualization and positive self talk are powerful mental tools you need to incorporate into your climbing. At the beginning of your climbing career, climbing can be an incredibly frustrating sport. Not only will you have trouble with climbing past your physical limit, but also your mental limit as well.
In the end, your frustration is a good thing. It means you are challenging yourself and you are growing. This is a lesson you don’t need just for climbing, but for life as well. Challenge yourself and you will grow. Don’t get bogged down by frustration and remember that the challenge will pay off somehow one day.
If you’re interested in learning more about lessons in climbing that can be applied to the rest of your life, check out The Rock Warriors Way by Arno Ilgner.
Now when I say visualization, I mean imagining how you are about to climb through a boulder problem. It won’t come naturally, but route reading is a skill that all climbers need to work on and develop. Identifying the crux and resting points on a route will help you send.
Have you watched a climbing competition and seen the competitors moving their hands in what looks like air karate? This is the competitors visualizing the problems they’re about to attempt.
When you’re bouldering next time, I want you to do air karate.
I want you to sit in front of the next route you’re about to climb and I want you to sit there for five minutes and mime out in the air all of the handholds. I want you to look at each hold, visualize how you’re going to grab it, and then grab it in the air. Mime out in the air what you think you’ll need to do to send the route. Gaze up and down the climb you’re about to send. As you see each hold, mimic the hold with your hands in the air. If the hold looks like it’ll be a gaston, go ahead and do it!
Once you’ve rehearsed your hands, I want you to imagine what you’re going to do with your feet. Are you going to need to rock a few toe hooks? What about heel hooking to help you keep close to the wall? I want you to manipulate your hips to mimic the position you’ll need to be in to send the route.
Thinking about your body position is like doing yoga on the climbing wall. It doesn’t come as any surprise that yoga is very popular in the climbing world. Yoga is great practicing for twisting and contorting your body while focusing on maintaining a steady breath.
Good technique means that you are putting your body in the correct positions to solve the problem.
One way to think about this is that the bouldering problem is a puzzle and your body is a piece that needs to fit into the puzzle. Envision a ladder, it’s a symmetrical puzzle. And to fit into this puzzle you’ll need to keep your body like a symmetrical puzzle piece. This could look something like keeping two feet on each run and reaching one arm up, step up and repeat.
On your next boulder problem, think about how to fit your body into the problem.
What’s the best way to heel hook?
Go check out your climbing shoes, chances are they will have rubber running over the back of the heel. Do you know why that’s for?
It’s there to help us grip on to holds with our heels! Heel hooks are crucial as you progress into harder bouldering. You can use your heel on a foot hold to help you progress higher up a climb or to help you stay on the wall on an overhung climb.
The heel hook transforms your leg from only pushing, like when we step off a hold, to allow us to pull as well. Having your leg as a third arm is incredibly advantageous to help rest or to move up to the next hand hold. Throwing a heel can transform the beta from a huge dyno to a graceful move using static technique.
How to heel hook:
- Identify the correct placement for the heel. Usually, we’ll heel hook on big holds that have a lot of surface area for our heel to come in contact with.
- Keep your hips and body close to the wall. Point your toes and pull your heel hard into the hold.
- Begin to move up, but remain actively pulling with your heel.
- As you release the heel hook, maintain a tight core to mitigate any gigantic swing that may result from releasing our body tension.
What is a toe hook?
The toe hook is common on overhanging climbs. just like its good friend the heel, we can use toe hooks on foot holds to create body tension while we’re climbing. You’ll find yourself using toe hooks on long roof climbs, where you need a third hand to stay horizontal.
My hamstrings are always sore the day after a good session of toe hooking. We’re using our hamstrings to pull on the wall to keep our hips close. Our toes are just the point of contact between our body and the wall.
Many climbing shoe brands are starting to include rubber over the toe to give you extra grip while toe hooking. Keep this in mind the next time you’re looking for a pair of bouldering shoes.
How to toe hook:
- Identify any foot holds that could be used for the hook. Usually, they will be on overhanging routes.
- Keep your core tight and flex those upper body muscles. A lot of toe hooks will be found on roofs so pull hard here.
- Place your toe on the hold, sometimes you can find a lip where your toe will naturally rest. Bonus points if you can find that.
- Activate your hamstrings and keep your hips close to the wall. With the toes engaged, you should be able to reach the next hold using static movement.
Frequently Asked Questions
Look at the route you’re about to climb and look at the hand movement, the foot holds, and the positioning you might need to be in. Rehearsing will help prepare you for when you’re actually on the climb and you can move efficiently.
Bouldering, hangboarding, and cardio are exercises that will help improve your bouldering skills. In my opinion, the best way to improve at bouldering is more bouldering.
Bouldering will have shorter and more challenging climbs than traditional rock climbs will. Usually, a boulder problem will be just the crux of a climb. A crux in climbing is the hardest part of the climb. Bouldering can have powerful gymnastic like moves on difficult routes.