If only I’d known these bouldering tips from the start…
Strength, flexibility, concentration, imagination, patience, adaptability… when it comes to bouldering, there’s a whole lot to think about.
And, if there’s something I’ve learned climbing, it’s that even the smallest changes to your approach or technique can make the BIGGEST difference.
As a lot of people, myself included, start bouldering in their local gym with virtually no guidance or knowledge, it makes picking up on these little tweaks pretty hard.
I only realised once I’d improved that I’d been going about a bunch of things the wrong way.
So, I thought I’d put together some of the beginner bouldering tips I wish I’d known from the start. Trial and error can be an alright way to learn but with these points I know I would have progressed SO much quicker, saved some money and probably avoided injuries too.
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Tip 1: Go for finesse over force
There’s a time a place for power, but to start with it’s so much better to move slowly and think about consciously placing your movements as efficiently as possible.
Relying on just brute strength can work on lower grades but it goes to pot as soon as things get more technical and the holds get smaller.
Start slow and mindful, then you can start to blend in the power as you progress.
Tip 2: Read the route before
Before you start climbing, figure out where all the features of the problem are and they’ll show you how to climb.
You can tell footholds because of dark shoe smudges around the hold and handholds will have more chalk.
The angle of handholds will also give you an idea of which way to lean your hips, shift your shoulders and pull your centre of balance. So, if the edge of a hold is facing to the left, you’ll have the most grip on that hold if you hang your weight to the right, and vice versa.
When you’ve properly sussed the route, then jump on.
Tip 3. Use your body efficiently
Efficiency is such a huge part of climbing, particularly if you want to have long, enjoyable sessions.
I think the biggest learning curve for me was thinking about my centre of balance, keeping it close to the wall and moving it to make each move as easy as possible.
It’s also easy to just try pulling yourself up the wall with arm and back strength but you’ll be pumped before you know it. I was definitely guilty of this. Your legs are the strongest muscles in your body, so let them help you. And you can take half the load from your arms by just moving your hips
For long, reachy moves, you’ll get tonnes more extension when you pivot your hips away from the direction you’re reaching towards and pull your armpit towards the wall.
GOOD PRACTICE: a seriously useful climbing exercise is to practice your climbing technique on a single easier route and spend time feeling the ideal body positioning to move the most efficiently.
Tip 4: Don’t neglect footwork
When it comes to vertical or slab problems, confidence comes from your feet.
Spend some time focusing on your footwork, getting used to smears, footswaps, moving weight on small edges etc. and it’ll make more technical routes SO much easier.
It’ll also help you take a lot of strain from your arm and probably help stop overgripping.
Check out this link for lots of bouldering footwork tips
Tip 5. Watch videos
Watching videos of pros climbing is SUPER useful for learning the right technique and body movement.
Watch competition climbing, like the IFSC, to see the ideal way of tackling routes – do they go dynamically, statically? Do they use a high foot, flag, different hooks, straight arms, lock-offs, when do they rest etc.
This also works watching advanced climbers at the gym or with climbing documentaries.
Tip 6. Choose the right bouldering equipment
Bouldering is cool in being a minimalist sport that doesn’t need much equipment, especially indoors.
You pretty much only need:
- Bouldering shoes/climbing shoes
- Chalk and chalk bag
- A brush
- A bouldering pad for outdoor climbing
- Potentially tape for ripped/injured fingers
A Note on Shoes – with heaps of different styles of shoes, they’ve got to suit YOUR climbing. When I was starting out, I found a pair of super aggressive shoes at a bargain price but I was definitely not at that level yet. I climbed worse for ages until I got a better-suited pair. Pick shoes that are right for YOUR climbing and don’t think you need to go ridiculously tight either.
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Tip 7. Climb together
The climbing community is awesome. Not only will you make some good buds, but climbing with different ability people, seeing different styles and sharing advice is a great way to progress.
Just remember to go at your own pace and don’t be hard on yourself if the group sends a problem but it’s above your paygrade.
Tip 8. Lay off the finger training
I feel like this one is a pretty controversial one, but when you’re starting out you should forget about finger strength training.
Finger training early can make you overcompensate and put too much force through your fingers. Pulley injuries really ain’t nice and often come from trying to pull too hard instead of using better technique.
When you first start climbing, hammer your technique and body positioning, then add finger strength afterwards.
Tip 9: Learn the safety measures
Nobody likes injures. Besides them being painful, it means you can’t climb for ages. There are heaps more but these ones are particularly important.
First look down, then jump off: it seems obvious, but I turned an ankle coming off a route on top of someone walking underneath. Sure, they shouldn’t have been there but that didn’t stop the ankle from spraining. Oh, and there’s nothing wrong with downclimbing before jumping off either – if anything it’s better training.
Keep in control: pretty much all of my injuries have come from pushing myself too hard and not being in control. No matter how bad you want that route, it’s not worth breaking your arm over. Practice your beta and come back stronger.
Spotting or mocking: on higher difficult climbs, particularly outdoors, it’s advisable to stand below the boulderer (at a safe distance) with your hands stretched upwards and to help them into a stable falling position. It can make big falls a whole lot safer.
Our Guide to Vegan Climbing Shoes has loads more info on picking the right pair
Tip 10: Bouldering on the rock is a whole different world
Outdoor bouldering is probably the best thing in the world BUT it’s completely different to indoors.
On the rock, there are no soft bouldering mats, only crash pads that you’ve brought. Similarly, bouldering on rock does not offer a flat landing; instead, you often have to struggle with large stones or roots that have to be awkwardly covered with crash pads.
Holds might be dirty, trees might block your vision and the feel of the rock is totally different. You have to deal with changeable conditions and also top out, which lots of gyms might not have.
Don’t let any of this put you off!
It’s 100% worth it, but it’s probably best to take your first steps outdoors with an experienced boulderer. Pay attention to safety, read the route, check the landing/top out and always spot your partner.
IMPORTANT: don’t expect to climb the same grades as indoors. Start super easy, go with an open mind and enjoy yourself. Don’t be hard on yourself, just have fun.
Tip 11. Pick your outdoor bouldering spot wisely, go at the right time and take a guidebook
Climbing spots around the world are massively different. Do some research before and pick the right one for you. For beginners, there’s no point travelling to a famous climbing spot if it has no lower grades. Find somewhere that has a good amount of suitable grades in quite a close proximity.
If you’re looking for an international trip, Fontainebleau, France is an awesome climbing destination for beginners and pros alike.
The next step is going with the right forecast. Too hot will mean you’ll sweat and the rock can lose traction. Too cold can be miserable and too wet, well, if it’s wet then it’s time for the gym.
Once you’ve got a clear forecast, take a climbing guidebook with you so you can spot the right routes and don’t spend your day traipsing around in search of the right climbs.
Tip 12. Don’t be afraid to ask for help
If you’re unsure of a route or want some advice, don’t be shy about asking for some tips. Most people are more than happy to share some beta or suggestions.
This is another good way to make some chums too!
Extra Tip – Don’t spray!
Spraying: telling other climbers the beta (technique) for a route without them asking.
Part of the beauty in climbing is looking at a problem and working out the solution. You don’t want some wiseguy coming and spoiling it for you – only give other climbers tips and suggestions if they ask for it!
Do you have any other sweet bouldering tips for beginners? Share them in the comments below!