Try something new - boost your fitness with bouldering
Whilst indoor climbing walls were once only used by rock climbers as a way to train between mountain climbs, today you're more likely than ever before to find a bouldering-only centre in your area as the sport has been increasing in popularity since 2005 (1). Bouldering has become a bit of a fitness craze – a great way to improve your upper body strength, workout and challenge yourself; yes, there's a bit of ego to be boosted in there too somewhere. Tackling the most challenging routes requires far more than just gymnastic ability; it's about tenacity and stamina too, not to mention sheer willpower.
Leave your fear of heights behind you at the door; bouldering doesn't use the traditional ropes and harnesses you'll find with regular rock climbing. Oh no, here you're most definitely going it alone, although classes aimed at beginners are of course supervised and you won't be more than a few feet off the ground, with heavily padded mats beneath you should you fall. So if you're looking for a new challenge this autumn, or just a way to workout that doesn't involve going to the gym, why not give bouldering a go?
Unlike traditional indoor rock climbing, there are no ropes or harnesses with bouldering. Slip on your climbing shoes and enjoy the unique combination of a mental and physical workout. Bouldering routes, also known as 'problems', are there to be solved, sort of like a giant, physically exhausting and energising challenge, and you'll need to think about where your arms and legs are going next in order to make it to the top or the other side.
Most indoor climbing or bouldering centres hold sessions aimed at beginners, where you can hire all the equipment you need to get going – usually just shoes and chalk for your (sweaty) palms. Being afraid of heights doesn't automatically mean you should avoid bouldering, as you'll start low on the wall and gradually work up to higher problems at a pace you're comfortable with. The Arch Climbing Wall near London Bridge in South London, hosts beginners sessions for just £20, but you will need to book in advance. Expect to be challenged but supported, and to wake up with aching muscles – it really is a great workout!
Who's it for?
Bouldering is for all ages, but you will need to be injury-free and relatively fit to take part. If you're suffering from back or shoulder injuries, you should wait until these are healed before taking on the challenge, although bouldering is a great way to increase core strength and upper body strength, which can help to prevent back and shoulder pain in future. You'll find a mixture of ages at classes, which are usually open to men and women (although some climbing centres hold women-only sessions), so it's a friendly, social environment.
What equipment do you need?
We headed to The Arch for a beginner's session and for the introductory price of £20, enjoyed a fully-supervised one-hour session, hire of shoes and chalk and the opportunity to use the centre for the rest of the day – bonus! Groups are small (usually around 8 to 10 people) and you'll receive plenty of instruction before you actually get your hands on the wall, including those all-important safety rules. You don't need anything to get started; later on once you get into the swing of things, you'll want to invest in your own climbing shoes, chalk and other accessories. It's a great sport to take up if you don't want to blow your budget on kit to get started!
Is bouldering a good workout?
We woke up with muscles we never even knew we had hurting; no, really. Climbing is a great workout; here's why:
- It increases your flexibility – stretching and reaching for the next hold isn't easy
- It boosts your strength
- It's a great upper body workout, toning and strengthening your arms, back and shoulders
- It also works out your lower body and core
Bouldering isn't about speed or distance covered; there's no 'race to the top'. Instead, it's all about completing routes or 'problems' which means you'll need to engage your brain as well as your muscles to become an expert. It's a low-impact sport that gets your adrenaline pumping and endorphins flowing - it can easily become addictive!
Our guide to boulder-lingo
When you start out in any sport, the lingo can be a bit tricky to understand; guys, now you know how girls feel when you talk about the offside rule! Luckily the Expertrain team are here with our handy guide to boulder-lingo, so you'll seem like an expert, even if it's your first time on the wall.
Also known as a 'route' or 'bloc', this refers to the climbing route you're tackling. It can often take time to work out the best way to solve a problem - we recommend tackling problems with a fitness buddy.
This is a series of problems which are designed to be climbed together.
Working a problem
This means trying to solve a problem several times and working towards a 'send' (see below). You'll usually work problems move-by-move and then pieces all the moves together for a clean solve. A friend on the ground can help point out where you're going wrong; beware, friendships have ended over less!
Also referred to as a 'tick', this means you've completed a problem cleanly (in one go and with no disallowed moves) and is the ultimate bouldering goal.
As in, “Have you got any beta on that problem?” Pronounce this 'bay-ta' at your own peril – it's pronounced 'bee-ta' in the bouldering world! It means information on how to tackle a particular problem, and it's a word you'll hear used a lot.
On your introductory session, you'll probably learn about a sit-start. It's where you begin a problem with your bum on the ground, using your upper body strength to pull yourself up off the ground onto the first hold.
If you're afraid of heights, you might want to avoid this. It's where you finish over the top of a climb.
You'll hear this one a lot – spotting another boulderer ensures that they'll land properly should they fall. This helps to prevent head, neck and shoulder injuries and you'll be doing this at your first session!
Where to get more info
Your local climbing centre is a great place to find out more about bouldering – a quick Google search should bring up a list of centres and walls in your area. Some gyms may have their own climbing wall, which can really help you to make the most of your gym membership, but we recommend a dedicated bouldering class to get you started. Once you're into the sport, you can take your bouldering outdoors if you like. It's a really social sport, with many climbing centres running regular bouldering holidays and social events outside of classes, so you'll meet loads of like-minded people and you might even make a fitness buddy!
YouTube is a great source of bouldering videos if you're looking for inspiration, or sign up to a forum such as UK Bouldering where you can find out more about this adrenaline-fuelled sport.
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