7 things I wish I knew before I started bouldering

Guest Blogger Hannah Morris talks through some of her top tips for bouldering beginners which she has found out over the years. 

7 things I wish I knew before I started bouldering:

As I look back on almost five years of climbing, it’s difficult for me to remember a time when heading to the climbing gym wasn’t at the core of my routine. I first started climbing during a difficult time in my life and the sport quickly became an integral part of my week.Starting out in the climbing gym was one of the best decisions I could have made, but it was also one of the most challenging. Climbing in a pair of £28 rock shoes, I was inexperienced and clumsy on the wall, but climbing became my biggest passion and I took to it fiercely.It’s true that anything worth doing comes with a degree of challenge and hardship. There’s a lot to be said for enjoying the experience of being a complete beginner but there are a couple of things I wish I’d known when I first started climbing that might have made those first steps a little easier…

So, if you’re starting out bouldering, and you’d like some guidance on your new favourite sport, here are the 7 things I wish I’d known when I started out five years ago.

1. Look after your fingers

In a classic case of ‘’do as I say, not as I do”, the biggest piece of advice I could give to anybody starting out in the climbing gym is to warm up your fingers. Finger injuries seem part of the course in bouldering. You’d struggle to find a seasoned climber who hasn’t known the anguish of a pesky tendon tear. Say ‘dreaded finger pop’ in the gym loud enough and you’ll see the collective shudder of climbers who’ve spent longer with their hands in ice baths than they’d care to remember.Having suffered my fair share of niggles and tears, I feel reasonably qualified to give the advice it’s taken me five years to take. Make looking after your fingers a priority. Our fingers aren’t really meant to take the strain we put them under when we climb, but we can minimise the risk to our digits by incorporating warm-ups and aftercare into our sessions. 

2. Knees are important too

The same can be said for our knees. As the years progress and our joints start to creak and complain, us boulderers start to remember all the times we shock loaded our knees with stylish descents (or mega falls) onto the matting below. Our knees are pretty important pieces of kit, and they take a pretty bad beating in the climbing gym. We’d do well to pay them the respect they deserve by climbing down when possible (it’s generally good gym etiquette to down-climb rather than land on someone too). Hopefully, our knees and our backs will thank us later in life.

3. Rest days are as important as training days

So you’ve recently discovered bouldering. Naturally, you love it, you want to be in the climbing gym all the time, rest days feel like torture, and you’re counting down the minutes until your next session? Yeah? That feeling doesn’t ever really leave but learning how to get the most out of rest days helps to maintain focus, avoid injury and encourage progress. Give your body some time to adjust to this crazy sport you’ve just taken up and be mindful of not trying to do too much too soon – you’ll see the benefits. At least that’s what we tell ourselves to make rest days more bearable.

4. Technique is everything

Bouldering well is a skill. Like all other movements, climbing is more easily achieved when done efficiently. If you want to climb harder and avoid injury as a beginner, nailing good technique should be a priority. Practice your footwork and your body positioning, make use of training tools such as the circuit board and don’t rely too much on your biceps to pull you up the wall. Think straight arms, pushing through your legs and keeping your hips close to the wall. This will help you to conserve energy on the wall and it might even give your shoes an extra few month’s life too. Not kicking holes in the toes of your shoes is aspirational for all, you heard it here first. This leads us nicely on to number 5.

5. Shoes make a huge difference

The climbing shoe market can often feel overwhelming. There’s a wealth of different options and styles and a whole catalogue of brand and model names to choose from. Each shoe will have specific advantages and disadvantages, but it’s worth investing in a good, comfortable pair, which fit you well and will help you to feel confident on the wall. Investing in a pair of good shoes will also save you a few quid in gear hire. Most gyms have a shop on site, so I’d recommend asking a member of staff to talk you through the best options for you. 

6. Tape is your friend.

The humble roll of climbing tape can be used to aide all manner of climbing ills. A wrap of tape can hold together the gnarliest of flappers, preserve skin, support joints and prevent finger injuries. If you’re a beginner boulderer and you’re lucky enough to not know what flappers are yet, I’ll save you the trauma for now. You’ll find out soon enough!

7. Grades are completely subjective.

Bouldering grades are a complex thing. There are a number of different grading systems and much debate as to how we measure ‘difficulty’, exactly. It’s easy to get pulled into the trap of chasing higher and higher grades in the gym but it’s worth remembering: grades are little more than a route setter’s best estimate of difficulty. Whilst setters are very experienced in these estimates, they’re still entirely subjective. There is no objective difficulty in bouldering, because there isn’t a single common trait shared by everybody and everybody climbs slightly differentlySo, don’t be discouraged if you just can’t get that V2 you know you should be able to. Keep practicing, enjoy it and don’t take it too seriously. Climbing is meant to be fun so take grades with a big pinch of salt. As will all things, experience takes time and dedication. With the right approach and these handy tips in your back pocket, hopefully you can avoid some of the more common mistakes made by new climbers and enjoy your newfound love all the more.Happy bouldering!Check out more of Hannah’s work over at her Instagram @hannahboulders_ and her website https://hannahmorriscreative.com/ 

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