Bouldering is one of the most exciting and accessible sports in London. For anyone looking for an intense full body workout that allows you to completely clear your mind, have fun using both muscles and brain, and do a bit of chatting too, bouldering is for you. You have to be strategic, strong and sure footed but all of that can be learnt. Read on for a beginners guide to bouldering.

What is bouldering?

  • Bouldering is climbing but without ropes or harnesses
  • For obvious reasons, you don’t go as high (1-5m) and there are crash mats below you
  • The routes (called problems) are short but technical
  • Indoor bouldering, like indoor climbing, uses colour coded holds. Outdoor is on…you guessed it, boulders

How do I get involved?

  • There are several indoor climbing centres around London. Check out the London Climbing Guide
  • Prices vary between £7.50 and £13 depending on where you go and what package you go for
  • If you’ve never been before, call ahead to see what induction sessions are on offer
  • If you have a friend who boulders, they can take you and show you the basics
  • A session normally lasts an hour but you can stay as long as you like
  • Around the UK, there are great outdoor places too
  • Joining Team52 is also a great way of trying new things, and what’s better is that we make it easy for you to do it with friends. Team52 is a team building challenge platform that enables you and a team of friends to take on either 12, 26 or 52 challenges between you in a year. It’s your chance to try new things and show yourself what you’re capable of.

The basics

  • Choose the most simple problem to start. Check the colour coding to find out how the grading is done as different colours represent different levels of difficulty
  • Plan your route by plotting where your hands will go. Your feet will find a home naturally
  • Start with two hands on the labelled hold (signifying start of problem)
  • Climb up or along the wall (depending on the climb)
  • Finish with two hands on the highest hold
  • When you complete the climb, climb back down slowly and safely using whatever holds you want

Bouldering

What should I wear?

  • Climbing shoes, which you can rent at the climbing centres (c£3 per session)
  • Stretchy clothes as you don’t want to be restricted in your movements
  • Skirts and short shorts not advised, but everything else goes
  • Chalk for your hands to keep your grip (you can buy this from the climbing centres for £5 and will last you ages)

How do I warm up?

  • Fingers, wrists, shoulders, neck, back, hip openers, glutes…as I said a whole body workout. For a 5 min warm-up read this post
  • Fingers particularly as the little muscles and tendons aren’t necessarily used to being hung on

Got any tips?

  • Place your toes on the holds, rather than the middle of your foot. Helps you pivot
  • Aim to use your legs more than your arms. You can stand on your legs all day…you can’t on your arms
  • Keep your arms extended, rather than flexed and tense. This preserves strength
  • Apparently you should wait at least two minutes between each problem (your sore arms will soon force this on you!)
  • Climb down, rather than jump. Jumping increases your chance of injury
  • Make sure your finger nails are trimmed
  • Your feet can use the wall itself to get some support – called ‘smearing’
  • Any blocks that are part of the wall (rather than holds) can be used as part of the route

What are the pros of bouldering?

  • Independent, no belaying
  • No gear (beyond climbing shoes)
  • Short intense climbs
  • Technical and strategic
  • Chat time while you catch your breath

And the cons?

  • Climbing down – no abseiling option
  • Don’t get the thrill of heights

Bouldering

Can I do it alone?

  • You most certainly can. That’s one of the great things
  • Having said that, I always climb harder and better when am there with a friend. They can help point out holds, keep you entertained in between problems and it’s safer too as they can spot you (keep an eye on you and protect your fall should it happen)
  • Climbers tend to be friendly people so if you would like help planning a route, just ask anyone who looks like they know what’s going on

Bouldering in London?

Where can I learn more?