What is the Greatest Strategy to Get Higher at Sport Climbing? Go Bouldering

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This article originally appeared on Climbing.com in January 2020.

They tie themselves in for a last-ditch effort when flipping your no-send Sunday. A succession of flowing 5.10 moves and jugs takes you to the key point. You grab the sharp right crimp and reposition your feet on slimy ledges. You stand up and reach for the next hold, but your fingers smack the rock half an inch below the narrow ledge and you fall for the 28th time—not that you’re counting. Now back to weekday rounds at the lead wall until next Saturday when you can try this one move wonder BS keypoint again.

The author climbs over a prickly group of observers. (Photo: Jacob Lucas)

Sometimes it’s best to pack up the rope and concede defeat and head to the bouldering wall. This is one of those times.

Doing lap after lap of climbs you’ve been wiring for weeks isn’t going to help you last that one hard pull you never quite made. Bouldering, on the other hand, is exactly what you need. It doesn’t matter how fresh you feel when you reach the crux, if you can’t pull off that one crazy, leaping, gripping move, you can’t make the climb. Bouldering lets you focus on hard moves in isolation, whether you’re trying to simulate the crux of your outdoor project or just want to build the strength and power needed for every move in every sport climbing attempt.

How to read a boulder problem

Bouldering teaches you to focus on and analyze the individual movements required to solve a problem. You learn to pay attention to the smallest details of climbing, such as B. your hand position on a crimp, whether you stand back or stay straight and how dynamically (or not…) you move. Subtle changes in your body position, from where you place your foot on a hold to how far you rotate your right knee, have a huge impact on whether you send a boulder problem. That mental focus and body awareness translates well when you get to the core of your sport project. You’ll become more aware of your body moving through the crux, and you may see new – hopefully easier – ways to climb the sequence.

Many sport climbers fall at key points because they lack strength. Limit bouldering, the act of climbing a lift or two at your physical limit, is an effective and fun way to train strength that makes your project’s key moves feel easy in comparison. Training four to six of these difficult movements and then training your body to connect them smoothly prepares you to perform longer sequences of hard halfway movements. Bouldering is also a great way to increase overall body strength and core tension. The stronger you are, the more relaxed you climb easier sequences, allowing you to reach the crux feeling fresh, which often means you’re adept despite a reduction in the time you spend on endurance training.

Falling 52 times on an athletic project is not only physically demanding, it can also drain you mentally and emotionally. Changing the climbing discipline often offers a welcome change. You may still fall often – in bouldering that’s a sign you’re overcoming yourself – but at least you’ll fall from new moves that challenge you in different ways. Perhaps all you really need is a break to rejuvenate your climbing psyche and undo the muscle memory you’ve built up falling in the same spot repeatedly. Bouldering gives you exactly that, while keeping you strong – if not making you stronger.

How to become a versatile climber

And who knows, you might be surprised at how much fun you have with the low-commitment style of climbing. Sitting on the mats is pretty nice too.

Are you ready to step up your bouldering? Nina Williams and Climbing Magazine have developed two must-take courses for both casual and serious boulderers:

Want to get the most out of your bouldering sessions?

Take my four-part introduction to the bouldering course.

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