Feeling inspired by the athletes crushing those Olympic-level problems? We are too! Read on to take it to the next level and train like Olympic gold medalists Alberto Ginés López and Janja Garnbret.
Here’s what you need to know about bouldering and how you can start training your bouldering technique, endurance, and strength today.
What is bouldering?
Bouldering is one of three climbing disciplines that athletes competed in for Olympic gold in Tokyo. It involves rock climbing without any ropes. Bouldering walls are typically anywhere from 8-15 feet high. The Olympic wall was just over 14’ tall. Since there are no ropes to catch you when you fall, the ground is covered in thick padding called a “crash pad.”
In Olympic bouldering, athletes have four minutes per problem to eye it up, decide their “beta” (or sequence), and try to get to the top. The first-place winner is the athlete who makes it to the top of the most climbs in the least amount of tries.
The beauty of bouldering is you don’t need a partner or equipment to get started. All you need are the shoes on your feet, the chalk on your hands, the crash pad below, and the determination to get started!
How to train for bouldering
There’s a lot that goes into successfully topping a problem. Here we will focus on technique, endurance, and strength with great exercises and training within each of these categories so you can successfully build a strong climbing foundation and improve your efficiency on the wall.
While building up strength and endurance is important, the first place to start is your climbing footwork and technique. That way you can maneuver up with the wall with greater efficiency and strategy.
Here are some ways you can work on improving your climbing technique:
Practice downclimbing a route: This forces you to be intentional about your footwork since you initiate movement with your feet as you move back down the wall. This helps train you to think of your feet first, and your hand placement second.
Climb with friends: By climbing with friends instead of solo you’ll get beta from climbers who are more experienced, and have different strengths and body shapes. You’ll be exposed to new strategies and techniques on the wall that you might not have thought of yourself. Give them a try and be open to feedback!
Push your comfort level: It can be tempting, especially if you’re new to bouldering, to stay on the same familiar routes. It sometimes feels scary or intimidating to try a harder problem. But if you want to improve your climbing technique, you need to challenge yourself with harder routes. Worst case scenario: you fall off. Best case scenario: you learn from it and become a better climber.
Practice traversing: Sometimes the focus becomes so much about getting to the top that we get lazy with our technique. By “traversing,” or climbing sideways across the wall, on a designated traverse route you can work different muscles and get a better sense of your center of gravity, which will help you climb up and down more efficiently.
Improve your flexibility: Sign up for a yoga class or make a habit of warming up or cooling down with different stretches each time you climb. Increased flexibility opens you up to more possibilities on the wall and helps reduce your risk of injury.
Take a class: You can also improve your technique by taking a class and learning from the climbing pros themselves!
Simply put, without endurance, you just won’t last very long on the wall. Luckily, this is a skill that you train each time you climb. And the more you climb, the better your endurance will get. But there are also some great ways to specifically train for better endurance so you can get on those longer and more challenging routes:
Stay on the wall: The best way to build endurance is to practice endurance. After you warm up, practice staying on the wall as long as you can while still maintaining control and keeping a light level of pump. This might only be a few minutes to start, but eventually, you’ll find it’s easier to stay on the wall for longer.
Practice 4x4s: Pick four bouldering problems that are comfortably challenging. They should be about 2-4 grades below your max, if you’re just starting out add in some extra hand or footholds. Then complete those problems back-to-back as quickly as you can. You should be able to just barely finish all four. If that’s not the case, pick slightly easier climbs for the next round. After you finish one circuit, rest and repeat three more times or until you’re exhausted.
Toprope or auto-belay: Sometimes the key to bouldering training is not bouldering at all. With toproping or an auto-belay route, you can practice climbing for longer as you move up and down the wall without coming off. This gives you the opportunity to both practice your skills in another discipline and improve your endurance.
Cardio workouts: You don’t just need to spend time on the wall to build up your climbing endurance. Cross-training with running, swimming, hiking, rowing, or other cardio-heavy activities can improve your cardiovascular fitness which helps you stay on the wall for longer. Or try out the push-up/pull-up pyramid mentioned below for an extra endurance and strength challenge!
From finger strength to core activation to powerful legs, strength training is pretty critical to a climber’s journey to the top. While you build strength as you climb, sometimes it’s helpful to get off the wall and into the gym for more of a focus on grip strength and muscles like your biceps, triceps, shoulders, and core.
All of our BKB locations have dedicated fitness areas so you can head in there and try some of these strength training exercises today:
1. Fingerboarding or hangboarding (make sure you’re warming up properly before you go!)