So you want to learn bouldering?
A Q&A with Canadian National Team climber Becca Frangos
What is the first thing to keep in mind when hitting the bouldering wall?
Make sure you warm up your muscles off the wall first (doing a few jumping jacks, dynamic stretches) before you begin your climbing session. This will help you feel more ready to pull and will help you avoid any muscle strains that could occur if you hop on something a bit too difficult as your first climb. Start on the walls that are the most vertical with the biggest holds and slowly work your way to harder climbs on the steeper walls.
Do I need any different equipment when compared to lead climbing? Do the same shoe rules apply?
For bouldering, it is quite simple. All you need is a pair of climbing shoes and some chalk and a chalk bag. No harness necessary as you’ll be climbing on much shorter walls and just relying on the mats below to cushion your fall.
The easiest boulders seem a few notches above the easier lead climbing or auto-belay climbing. Is that even true? Why?
This is for the most part true for a few reasons. Firstly, when you climb a top rope you are able to take breaks when you please and if needed can rely on the belayer to hoist you past a difficult section. With bouldering, as much as you only need to usually climb 6-10 moves it’s only you hoisting yourself up the wall. As well, new climbers may find bouldering a bit more intimidating because the wall angles are usually steeper so it feels more difficult to pull to the next hold even if it’s easy to hold on to once you reach it.
What are some of the most important basic first moves that will help me progress beyond the absolute easiest boulders?
A common misconception is that you mainly use your arms when climbing. Your legs also have big muscles so use them as much as you can to help you twist and push towards the next hold. Another thing to keep in mind if you’re having trouble reaching to the next hold, rather than keeping your body square to the wall, use your hips to twist in/out so you can reach those extra few inches.
Are there any things I need to keep in mind in terms of bouldering etiquette so people don’t out me as a newbie?
Most people in the gym are very friendly so don’t be intimidated to try whatever climbs you’d like. Just remember to take turns on boulders and to watch out for climbs that cross one another so you don’t start climbing a boulder that will cause you to run into someone else or end up climbing below someone else where they could fall on you. Another thing to remember is that the training tools such as hang boards, campus boards should not be used without proper instruction because you can get injured pretty easily.
If I want to start training for bouldering, what are the most important muscles to concentrate on?
I think this really depends on individual strengths and weaknesses but in general gaining upper body strength, core strength and finger strength to hang on the smaller holds will help you progress to harder boulders. This could be as simple as doing a few pull-ups at the end of each climbing session, doing a quick five-minute core circuit or doing a few sets of 8-10 second hangs on an edge size that feels challenging for you. Check out some of Becca's workout here.
When will I know if I’m good enough to try bouldering outside the safe, well-padded confines of the gym?
With climbing outside it’s not really about being “good enough” but more about safety. For bouldering outdoors it’s important to take crash pads with you that are basically just mini versions of the mats you usually fall on at the gym. Using these ensures any rocks or uneven ground below a climb outside won’t be landed on. It’s always a good idea for your first time outdoor climbing to go with someone more experienced and other climbers that can spot you when you’re climbing so when you fall you don’t land off of the mats.