Everyone is talking about climbing. Want to join in but don’t want to look like a noob? Here’s a beginner’s guide to bouldering to give you a head start.
Terminology - The low down on the lingo
- What’s the difference between bouldering and climbing? Bouldering differs from rock climbing in that you don’t need a rope or a partner to belay you. It is often easier to get started with bouldering as you don’t need a harness or learn how to belay.
- What should I expect at indoor bouldering gyms? Bouldering walls are usually no higher than 4 metres and you are protected by thick padding on the ground. Your time on the wall for each climb can be as short as 10 seconds. Bouldering is a social sport. These beginner friendly bouldering gyms in Melbourne are also close to bars and cafes if you want to go for a bevvy afterwards.
- What’s a 'Problem'? Routes in bouldering are called Problems because you often have to study the route first and work out the best way to approach it before physically trying it out.
- How do I know which holds belong to a problem? Holds that make up a problem are usually the same colour, making it easier to follow. Check the colour chart to know what grades the colours correspond to.
- How do I know where a problem starts and ends? The beginning hold of the problem is usually marked by two strips of tape or card to indicate where both hands should start from. The last hold is usually marked by one strip of tape or card. For your climb to count as a successful 'send', you have to start at the starting holds with your feet off the ground and at the end, latch both hands on the last hold for at least 3 seconds.
- Instagram-worthy dynos: A dynamic move where you have to jump in order to reach the next hold. Dynos make great Instagram shots but often damage the skin on your hands.
- Slab: The top of the wall is angled away from the climber so that you can lean into the wall when climbing. These require less upper body strength but often require more technique and balance.
- Overhang: The opposite of a slab. Foot placement and engaging your core is very important in order to reserve arm strength on an overhang.
- Catch that jug: Large, easily gripped holds are called jugs. You’ll encounter lots of these when you first start out.
- Top out: Some problems allow you to get onto the horizontal top of the wall formation. These problems will often have holds arranged like ladders nearby to help you climb down.
- Beta: Insight or advice on how to solve a problem. Don’t dish out unsolicited beta as this can take away the fun of trying to figure out the problem for someone else. This is a bouldering etiquette 101 that all climbers should know.
- Sending a problem: When you successfully complete a problem without falling off, it’s time to celebrate your send!
An overhung dyno
What techniques do I need for bouldering?
- Focus on your feet not arms: Your leg muscles are stronger than your arms. Focus on finding footholds to get your feet up higher before reaching up with your arms, this way you will be putting less weight on your arms. Think Sloth!
- Don’t rush it: If you jump on the wall before checking out all the holds in the problem, you might not see what options you have as your vision may be restricted. Try to mentally solve the problem before physically trying it.
- Safe falling: You should always aim to climb down from the wall rather than jump down as it has a lower impact on your body. However, falls are unavoidable. Pay attention during the induction at the bouldering gym as they will demonstrate safe falling techniques. Aim to land on your feet with soft knees, then immediately crumple and roll onto your back or side to absorb the impact with your whole body, rather than your legs. Avoid sticking out your arms to prop your body up, this may injure your elbows or wrists.
- Balance: Just like riding a bike or snowboarding, think about where your centre of gravity is to avoid falling off the wall. Squatting down on the foot holds lowers your centre of gravity and gives you more stability, and at the same time allows you to take the weight off your arms. When reaching for a hold with your right hand, your weight should be centred on your right leg and vice versa.
- Warm up: Lots of climbers don’t take warm up seriously. That’s how you get injuries! Common climbing injuries include finger tendon tears, neck whiplash and rolled ankles from a bad fall. Make sure you give yourself a good stretch before you get started.
What gear do I need for bouldering?
- Renting climbing shoes: Make sure you try on multiple sizes to find the best fit. You’ll want to feel comfortable and supported in climbing shoes as this will give you more confidence on the wall. If you’re looking to buy your first pair, consider the profile, sole, fit, material and closure of the shoes
- Liquid chalk: Chalk helps absorb moisture in your hands, giving you better grip of the holds. Compared to loose chalk, liquid chalk also reduces air pollution and chalk wastage. You can usually purchase liquid chalk at the bouldering gyms. Check out the range at Climbing Anchors if you want to buy some beforehand.
What other types of climbing are there?
- Top Roping: Sometimes shortened to TR, top roping is climbing on a rope that runs through anchors at the top of a climbing wall, with one end tied to the climber and the other tied to their belayer. If you fall, the rope catches you almost immediately and you can also ‘sit on the rope’ when you need a rest.
- Lead or Sport Climbing: Lead or sport climbing requires you to bring your own rope and belay system. The rope in this case does not run though anchors at the top of the wall, instead the climber clips the rope into carabiners that are bolted to the wall (or placed by the climber if outdoors) as he/she makes their way up the wall. If you fall off the wall, expect to fall a meter or two below where you last clipped the rope. The belayer needs to know when to feed the climber more rope as they ascend and when to take in the rope to protect the climber from falling too far.
- Trad Climbing: Traditional climbing is like lead climbing, except that not only is the climber required to clip in the rope as they ascend, they also need to place protection such as nuts and camming devices into the cracks of the rock in order to clip in the rope. Trad climbing is done outdoors.