Bouldering Basics for Beginner Climbers

Bouldering, my favorite type of rock climbing, is a sport in which you climb to a max height of about 20 feet with no rope or harness.  This type of climbing also requires the least amount of gear which makes it perfect for beginner climbers.  For the most part all you need are climbing shoes.  However, the vast majority of boulderers use a “crash pad”.  A crash pad is a cushioned mat that provides a safe landing to the climber if they were to take a fall from the rock.

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 When someone climbs a section of a boulder it is referred to as a “problem”. The difficulty of a particular boulder problem is given rating or grade.  These grades are based primarily on two scales that are convertible to one another: The Hueco V (Vermin) Scale or the Font (Fontainbleau) Scale.  Grades in the bouldering world are always a controversial topic since grades can be subjective.  For more information about bouldering grading systems check out the link here: Bouldering Grading Scale.

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Bouldering originally started as a type of training for longer rock climbing ascents.  The practice of bouldering was also used to help build forearm and finger strength.  It enacts elements of gymnastic flexibility as the American bouldering pioneer John Gill so famously introduced in the 1960s.  Bouldering has grown in popularity since then with many new bouldering areas discovered yearly along with the strong media presence of national and international bouldering competitions.  A great site to check out a lot of this media is Louder Than 11.

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One of the best ways to get started in bouldering is at your local gym.  Every gym in the northeast region has a dedicated bouldering wall which contain a multitude of problems of varying difficulty.  These gyms are great for meeting up with other individuals who climb outside and can introduce one to the outdoor boulder fields.  Bouldering is an easy sport to get involved in that can provide climbers of all abilities with exhilarating experiences but especially for beginner climbers.  However, all safety measures should be taken to prevent injuries.  Always boulder with a crash pad, wear a helmet (even though I’m not wearing one in these photos), invest in a good pair of climbing shoes, mind the landing areas, and always have a spotter (someone who guides you to the crash pad if you fall)!

Now that you know the bouldering basics, get out there and climb! 


5 Training Tools for Rock Climbing

Pushing boundaries and escaping plateaus are common themes in rock climbing. It always seems that the more difficult the route or problem, the better the experience one has on the ascent. I have always found that the best training for rock climbing is more rock climbing. However, getting out on the rock can be difficult due to schedules, work, or weather related setbacks. It is fortunate that there is a plethora of training tools available to help one succeed at getting to the next level. Knowing which tools to use and how to use them become a different matter.

Hangboards:

Also known as fingerboards, this tool is most useful in developing finger and forearm strength. There are many companies that supply hangboards of varying difficulties. Popular hangboards include the Metolius Simulator, Metolius Project board, and the Moon Fingerboard that have varying degrees of difficulty.

MIke Pull Up

Campus Rungs:

My personal favorite, the campus rungs helped me jump 2 V grades in bouldering in less than 6 months. The campus rungs exercise was originally developed by Wolfgang Gullich to help him push through what was once the hardest route in the world, Action Directe (5.14d). These wooden slats are used to develop explosive power in the arms and to develop finger and forearm strength.

Mike ClimbCircuit Board:

These are usually found in gyms since a climbing wall is needed. Specific holds are set up vertically symmetrical or in a random pattern. A climber can also choose random holds on the climbing wall and make a circuit of them. This helps train specific movement for certain types of holds (pinches, crimps, slopers, etc.).

Rice Bucket:

A bucket filled with rice comes in at one of the most inexpensive tools for training. Specific hand opening and twisting exercises in the bucket of rice helps train antagonistic muscles to help prevent over use injuries. Check out this rice bucket training routine to get familiar with the practice.

Rock Rings:

A portable training device made by Metolius, these can be taken virtually anywhere to get a quick training session in while on the go. They are not extensive in the number of hold positions they provide, but they provide enough to give you a decent workout for your fingers, forearms and biceps.

Mike HangingThese training tools are used either singly or in a combined fashion to fit the specific needs of the user. All of these tools can be used to help train for bouldering, sport/trad/ice climbing, competition climbing, or even just for upper body fitness. If a climber wants to make specific gains in their practice, these are some great instruments to add to their climbing routine. Check back for more detailed routines on the above listed training tools.


What Not to Wear: Climbing in Hot Weather

Doing anything outside when it’s really hot can be uncomfortable, and climbing in hot weather is no exception. You may not get quite as sweaty as you do during other activities, but you’ll still get pretty ripe, and wearing the wrong clothes will only make matters worse.

In an effort to save you from some really uncomfortable experiences when when climbing in hot weather, here are a few What Not To Wear items along with some rock climbing apparel suggestions for more comfortable days at the crag.

WNTW #1: Cotton tees/tank tops

If you’ve been doing outdoorsy things for a while, you’ve no doubt heard the phrase “Cotton Kills” and just because climbing isn’t necessarily as high-intensity as hiking or trail running doesn’t mean you won’t work up a healthy sweat. The ensuing sweat stains on a cotton tee are not only super gross for your climbing partner(s) to have to look at all day, they also take forever to dry and will make you really uncomfortable. Unless it’s so hot out that you decide to climb in an air conditioned gym, leave the cotton tees at home.

Joe in Cotton
Eastern Mountain Sports Brand Ambassador and pro climber Joe Kinder LOVES climbing in cotton shirts in the spring and fall, but for everyone else, synthetic is a better choice.
Alternative: Synthetic tees/ tank tops

It’s pretty common knowledge that synthetic shirts are a much better choice for lots of hot-weather activities. Climbing is no different. Synthetic tees, like Techwick, pull moisture away from your skin and somehow magically reduce the size of your sweat stains. They also dry waaayyyy faster than their cotton counterparts, so you’ll be a lot more comfortable.

WNTW #2: Black, or other dark colors

On a related note, also leave anything black at home. Assuming you were raised by humans instead of wild animals (you can’t listen to wild animals)they know nothing about dealing with hot weather except that the’re physiologically superior at it), you already know that dark colors absorb heat, which in turn makes you feel even hotter. So save your goth/emo/ninja look for another (less hot) day.

This ensemble worked fine during this fall climbing lesson at EMS Schools, but in August, this kid would ROAST.
This ensemble worked fine during this fall climbing lesson at EMS Schools, but in August, this kid would ROAST.
Alternative: Light colors

The rules of logic indicate that if dark colors absorb sunlight/heat and make you feel hotter, then lighter colors will reflect sunlight/heat and help you not feel quite so hot. Keep this in mind when getting dressed for a hot day of climbing and you’ll be a lot happier.

WNTW #3: Short shorts/Basketball shorts

Ladies: Short shorts are one of those things that seem like a good idea at the time. You think, it’s really hot out, so I want to wear as little as possible. But then you start climbing and realize that not only are you probably giving your belayer an awkward free show every time you need to high step or heel hook, but your harness is super uncomfortable when it’s digging directly into your skin. There are plenty of other opportunities to rock your booty shorts during the summer: don’t torture yourself by wearing them at the crag.

Guys: You’re not playing basketball when you’re climbing, so don’t dress like you are. The bagginess of basketball shorts will most likely lead to really uncomfortable bunching once you put on your harness and you’ll spend more time trying to fix the issue than you spend actually climbing. Just don’t do it.

Chicago Athletic Club
Photo credit: Chicago Athletic Clubs.
This guy seems to be doing well in his basketball shorts but looks can be deceiving. I’m not a guy, but this can’t be comfortable.
Alternative: Normal shorts

Shorts and capris specifically designed for climbing are abundant. They’re made from lightweight materials, offer the perfect amount of stretch, and have a gusseted crotch (which both makes the shorts more comfortable and helps prevent any embarrassing mid-climb tears).

For the ladies, something like the Prana Audrey Knickers are perfect. Sure, they may be a little long, but trust me: Prana has been in this game for a long time, and they know a thing or two about how to keep you comfortable. If you want something shorter, though, anything that meets the aforementioned criteria (lightweight, stretchy, gusseted crotch if possible) will do the trick. And, for the guys, there’s a good reason the Prana Mojo shorts have been a favorite for pretty much forever. Once you climb in a pair of these bad boys, you’ll want a pair or two in every color.

WNTW #4: Birthday suits

Sure, Chris Sharma and his ladyfriend, Daila Ojeda, recently spent a day bouldering at the Buttermilks naked, but it was for an ESPN photo shoot. I’m 96.4% certain they don’t do that on a regular basis. Please, for the sake of everyone else around you, do not climb in your birthday suit. If it’s so hot out that you’re tempted to even consider it, you should probably wait for a nicer day (or simply take your climbing indoors).

Chris and Dalia
Photo credit: ESPN The Magazine
OK, maybe Chris Sharma and Dalia Ojeda CAN get away with climbing naked, but most of us don’t have the skills or the physiques.
Alternative: Go shirtless if you must

If it’s really, truly, unbearably hot out, then taking off your shirt is a good way to help keep cool. (Just remember to cover up with sunscreen!)

Got a favorite brand or gear choice for climbing in hot weather that you’d like to share? Post a comment and tell me about it!