Ever felt like your bouldering ability has hit a peak you can’t get past? How about been stuck at the same grade for ages and ages? Or stared down the same problem week after week without managing to conquer it?
Fear not, fellow boulderer! In the guide below, we’re going to take you through a series of practical and effective steps that will show you how to get better at bouldering and reach your goals in no time at all.
Tips On How To Improve At Bouldering
1) Hit the Wall
Depending on where you are in the world, weather conditions could make improving your bouldering skills and technique tricky, to say the least. Unlike other sports, bouldering requires (except for a few super-zealous die-hards) dry conditions, otherwise you’ll be fighting a losing battle.
Keeping your fitness, strength and flexibility levels up throughout the year, however, is of the essence. If the rain comes to town, be sure to hit the local climbing wall or gym to avoid letting your abilities and agility slip.
While the moves in bouldering tend to be more dynamic and explosive than in regular sport climbing, most indoor gyms will have plenty of routes which include sections where you can practice on boulder-like problems or moves.
At the gym or wall focus on the following:
The best way to work each of these attributes is to climb circuits, varying your problems as much as possible.
For strength, hit the longer, vertical climbs and repeat until well and truly spent!
For power, hit the pumpy, juggy and overhanging climbs with an emphasis on explosive, dynamic moves.
For balance, look for something fingery and involving a bit more friction as opposed to positive holds. Don’t be afraid to repeat one move over and over, shifting your positioning slightly each time in order to see how big a difference such trivial variations can make.
2) Practice Falling
No, really…do it!
Sounds crazy, right? And that’s the point…most good boulderers tend to be a little short in the sanity stakes and any aspiring climber would do well to join them.
Too many lower-level boulderers are held back by the fear of taking a bad fall. First, make sure you have your crash mats well placed, and then trust them to do their job.
Getting over your fear of falling will allow you to push a little bit harder and take on ‘riskier’ or more daring moves without giving the consequences of coming off the rock a second thought. You’ll fall, to be sure, and you might even pick up a few bumps and bruises along the way, but the trade-off in terms of progress is well worth it.
3) Watch the Best
As in any sport, watching the best performers offers insight into how you might improve your ‘game’. At your local bouldering spot or indoor gym, hunt down the heavyweights between your own climbs and see how they tackle theirs.
If possible, buddy up with climbers whose average grade is a touch higher than yours. More than likely, they will provide you with the inspiration, tips and motivation you need to take things to the next level.
4) Push the Limits
Making that jump to the next level requires testing yourself repeatedly and relentlessly. If you happen to be stuck on one grade, don’t think you need to stick at it until you’ve had success - take things up a grade, tackling trickier and testier problems, then return to the original problem later on with a fresh mindset.
5) Get Out There
The best climbers have all one thing in common - they’re out there doing it day after day, as often as their schedules permit and wherever they can. Before work, after work, in your lunch break - any time you can get out there and work the rock, you are increasing your chances of jumping up a grade.
6) Add Variety
A lot of newbie boulderers tend to stick to one type of climb or problem. This tip is all about getting out of your comfort zone.
When you’re planning your next outing, look for climbs that alternate between fingery, juggy, friction, overhanging, polished or gritty. In doing so, you’ll build up your ability to perform well, no matter what type of problem you’re confronted with.
Photo credit: Kieran James Cunningham
7) Set Goals
If you don’t know where you’re heading, it’s unlikely you’ll get there in a hurry. Set yourself grade targets or climb targets and give yourself a deadline in which to complete them - this small change in mindset might just give you the impetus you need to progress.
8) On the Rock: Plan Your Sequence
Too many climbers have a kind of ‘gung-ho’ approach to bouldering. They hop on the rock, get in a few moves and then try to figure things out from there. The results, of course, are fairly predictable.
Avoid wasting energy and precious seconds, figuring out your next move or becoming stuck mid-climb by thinking things through thoroughly before you start. Try to envision every move, breaking the entire climb down to easily memorised and sequenced chunks.
9) Don't neglect recovery
At some point, all of your sustained effort in trying to improve your bouldering technique or grade is going to take its toll. Give your muscles some time to recover by taking a day off - the ideal time to watch some videos for tips on technique and tactics!
10) Ratios 3:1
One thing bouldering has in common with regular sport or trad climbing is the need for nimble and smart footwork. Though things may vary slightly depending on the nature of your climb, the ideal ratio for foot moves to hand moves is 3:1.
When you’re on your boulder and feel yourself slapping around or groping too much with your hands, keep this ratio in mind and look at alternative foot placements first. More likely than not it will put you in a better position to reach the next suitable handhold and overcome problems far quicker than when you are relying on your arms alone.
Getting better at bouldering is like getting better at anything - doing so requires time, effort and know-how. While we can’t help you with the time and effort parts, we hope the above guide on how to get better at bouldering will help you raise the bar and take your climbing to the next level in the very near future.
Einstein once famously remarked that the definition of insanity was doing the same thing over and over and yet expecting different results. The same applies to your skills as a boulderer. By learning and applying the above tips, you will be consciously avoiding falling into that trap by varying the routines that have had you stuck at the same level.
Until next time, happy bouldering!