7 Steps to Bouldering Success from a Beginner

I had another amazing bouldering session at the gym this week. The routes had been reset, so there was more figuring out what was going on than tackling the super challenging routes. That said, I had some major achievements and I am super happy about the progress I’m making.

The highlights this week were:

Mastering the new “impossible” pink route

My friend hadn’t even tried it. I don’t think he’d even really seen it. There were five holds for the whole of the route – that’s not very many to get to the top of the wall! We spent probably twenty minutes trying things out and figuring out how to stand up on a hold with nowhere to put your hands.

We completed it, and it was me who figured it out. This made me so ridiculously happy and proud of myself!

If you’re interested, the answer was to go left instead of right – ignore the one seemingly useful hold, and smear up the left hand wall with a foot and a hand. Allowing you to stand up and then drop right again for the top hold on the right. Boom!

Somehow completing the vertical blue route

On the same wall as the pink one, there was a set of four blue pinch holds stacked vertically. I had no idea how to do it. I stopped looking at it and trying to figure it out, I just clambered on to the wall.

After some unnecessary foot swapping (which I think actually helped me, but more on that in a sec), I managed to pinch and shimmy my way to the top. Where I got stuck and had to figure out how to get down. For some reason, I had a total blind spot for the easy black route on my left – talk about making life difficult for myself!

I tried it again after watching my friend do it without the foot swaps (he’d already figured it out on Tuesday). Couldn’t do it. I’ll be trying it again next week, just to prove it wasn’t a fluke.

Last 6 minutes, flashing a blue route up into the corner with an overhang

It looked hard, but it’s my new favourite. The holds are nice and big and you get really good leverage for your upper body if you remember to use your feet. I felt like Spider-man.

Blue route  up and around the corner

This one was a real on-the-fly thinker. I did it first time and it was super fun and challenging.

4 minutes to go, Digitalis

We named this because there’s a volume right up against the roof of one of the caves. Just a smidge too narrow to get a confident grip – fingertips only.

I managed to make it further than my taller, much more experienced friend! The reason? It appears I may be more laterally flexible than him, which is a bonus I intend to exploit from now on…

I have one black and one blue route to complete next week. The blue route shouldn’t have escaped me, I was one hold away from finishing but I hate the crimp. I don’t trust it, so I need to work on that and think about where my weight should be shifted.

There are a few pink ones to master too, we left them to the end so we were a bit drained.

I’ll get to the point of this post now! I was thinking about the contributing factors of my measurable improvement in my so far, ridiculously short bouldering experience.

I’ve been doing this since February. I started as a preparation method for my Tough Mudder in a few weeks (argh!). I wasn’t expecting to totally fall in love with it. If you gave me the choice between spending two hours in a pit of 10 week old Labrador puppies or two hours on the wall – I think I’d choose the wall. What?? I know.

Here’s my list of what’s contributed to my bouldering progress and success…

1. Enjoy yourself

I already said that I love this. But for a bit near the beginning, I was really hard on myself and got frustrated easily. This happened for lots of reasons. I was generally a bit stressed for personal reasons, and my default is to give myself a really hard time.

Once I stopped doing that, I loosened up in lots of ways, physically, emotionally and mentally.

I can now reach things I couldn’t before because I’m stronger, I have more confidence and I’m not carrying as much tension. I hardly have that voice telling me “I can’t” anymore. And if it does start to whisper, I know to either laugh at it and try anyway or move on to something new and come back later.

I can also see and remember routes more clearly. I remember what I did before. I can apply what I’ve learned to new routes. I am not scared to try things out to see if they work. If they don’t, I’m okay with falling off. If they do, it feels AWESOME.

2. Don’t pick blisters

My hands are generally wrecked after a bouldering session. This week I have my first juicy blister on my right pinky. Usually they are just those deep ones that you can see but not feel. Sometimes they peel off, sometimes they don’t.

The one on my pinky is the first blister I haven’t picked. EVER. In my entire life. Guess what? It’s already better. So there’s a lesson I should have learnt thirty something years ago…!

3. Train

I was already doing regular exercise before I started bouldering. I was averaging 5 workouts a week and I was happy with that.

Now? According to my garmin, in the last 7 days I have done:

6 workouts

3 runs

1 yoga session

This doesn’t include the stuff I don’t record. I try and do a couple of sets of (proper) push ups every day. I don’t do them to exhaustion, but most days I can do more than the day before. More progress.

At every feasible opportunity, I head out to my pull up bar and do dead hangs, crunches and laughable attempts at pull ups and/or reverse pull ups.

I hula hoop as much as possible. It’s fun, but it also feels like a really efficient way to target my core. Extra bonus.

My motivation is no longer to hit a certain number of workouts, but to improve my next climbing session. It’s funny what a shift in focus can make you capable of. I currently take one rest day a week. I find this a struggle. Today is my rest day – and a good job too, I am tired. I’ve already snuck in ten minutes of hoola. But that doesn’t count as an activity…

4. Think

I tend to think better while I’m solving a problem than beforehand. This applies to real world problems as well as bouldering ones. I am trying to get myself to review the route more beforehand. The fact is, my attention span just isn’t that great. But I’m trying to shift this.

I also think about the routes after I’ve climbed them. Last night I dreamt about them. I’ll think about them while I trawl Pinterest for anything and everything.

5. Research

I think this can take many forms. I talk to my friend about the routes, about technique and I watch what he does to try and learn. I also call him on “cheating” when he makes a route look easy because he can miss holds and reach others that I simply can’t because I’m shorter than him. He laughs and sometimes we challenge him to complete things the way I have to. Sometimes he fails and it makes me feel better. Sometimes he does it anyway and it gives me a new idea (and removes my excuses!). It all counts as research I think.

I am on Pinterest all the time. Looking at techniques, shoes, kit, insane images of other climbers. I read on there earlier in the week that resisting the urge to moisturise your hands after a climb (which is HARD, because chalk makes them very dry!), helps with drying up blisters. This appears to be true…

Anyway, the more I know about it, the more excited I am to try things out, add things into my training and generally see things in a broader sense.

6. Concentrate on your feet

People say this all the time. It’s everywhere. And it works, when you start doing it.

I think there are two parts to it;

i) actually having awareness of your feet means you are more in control of where your body weight is focussed

ii) it really takes the pressure off of your upper body

Your upper body includes fingers, forearms, upper arms, shoulders, all of it. Fingers are my major weakness at the moment – but I’m seeing improvements. Once you shift your awareness from primarily your arms and start using your feet, you can do more.

For me this is tricky because some of those footholds are so crazy small and I have a bit of a trust issue. But the fact is, when I feel more stable (thank you feet), I am more able to reach, grab and hold.

7. Climb down

I’ve said this before. But I think it’s worth saying again. Climbing down has really helped me.

It means I see the problem from a different angle and it means I use different muscle groups, grips and techniques. It’s like a less intensive, free lesson.

And sometimes, climbing down can be more of a challenge than climbing up. By missing out on that, you’re basically cutting your capacity to learn in half.

It also helps me with my stability and control, which eventually helps on the way up too. Climbing down is nothing but wins.

I am so in love with this. I am still very much a baby at it, I wouldn’t call myself a climber. That would be too presumptuous of me!

I am quite looking forward to the idea of climbing outside of the gym – something I’d never thought I’d want to do.

Maybe once I’ve done that, I’ll be a climber…

4 Comments Add yours

  1. megisacat says:

    nice tips – I’m still at the point where I don’t think I want to go climbing outside regardless of how many of my more intense climbing friends encourage me too.


    1. megisacat says:

      *to – haha that was bothering me


    2. I’ll probably be terrified when it happens! But for now, with no actual plans to do it, I feel quite brave and excited 🙂


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