Things I wish I had known when I started climbing

Everything you need to know about indoor bouldering

When I decided to delve into the world of bouldering, I was merely hoping to keep myself busy amidst troubling times. Coming off a summer in which I looked to broaden my activity spectrum by picking up new hobbies and habits, I carried that positive momentum into the fall when I obtained an indoor climbing membership. Bloc Shop, a bouldering centre in the greater Montreal area, was to be my fitness getaway until further notice.

In my first session, I completed beginner bouldering routes (also known as ‘problems’) but couldn’t wrap my mind around anything beyond. Over the course of two hours, I did nothing but fall and fail. Yet, I was unmistakably hooked.

The sport I initially considered a temporary pass-time quickly became a genuine passion. Fast forward to today and nothing has changed; I spend most of my time in the gym laying on my back, staring at a looming problem, speculating what went wrong and how I could better approach the problem in the future.

After three months of regular practice, I have a solid grasp of the basics, but I am pridefully inadequate compared to my skilled peers. During my journey thus far, I’ve received valuable feedback from fellow climbers, tips that I regret not knowing from day one. Whether it’s to avoid injury, conserve energy, or break down a physical or mental barrier, here is the information I wish I knew from the start.

Don’t be embarrassed to climb in front of others

This is an issue I continue to struggle with today, and it’s something that’s frankly easier said than done when you’re first picking up the activity, and it feels like all eyes are on you. When I started, I avoided areas of the gym that had experienced climbers around because I feared their judgement. As a result, I hindered my improvement by limiting the routes I had access to.

The truth is, people are hardly inclined to pay attention unless you are actively demanding it. In addition, experienced bouldering athletes understand the hardships of the sport, and can be reliable sources for advice.

Speaking of which…

Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask questions

I went through a period in which I went completely autonomous in my training. At the time, my philosophy led me to believe I would become a fundamentally better climber if I could solve problems independently. For over a month, I would spend entire sessions on a single challenging problem, failing repeatedly, learning nothing, and ultimately building bad habits.

When I got stuck on a particularly demanding route, I shamefully caved in and asked my experienced friends for help. They pointed out a couple of minor technical issues I had become accustomed to and within five minutes, the problem that had taken over my week and psyche was completed without a sweat. Moral of the story: leave your ego at home, and be willing to listen.

Attempt harder routes and don’t be afraid to fail

It’s very common to attach oneself to a completed route for numerous sessions because it makes us feel accomplished and can build self confidence.

However, attempting bouldering problems beyond one’s climbing level builds mental fortitude that makes for better athletes in the long run. Challenging obstacles can also help target weak points in one’s abilities that lower-levelled walls will often mask. The best climbers are all alike in that they are constantly seen emphatically failing only to get back up and try again.

Try to complete problems in a manner that leaves no doubt

Beginner climbers tend to overuse their muscles by tensing up, which can lead to the improper usage of leverage, technique, and momentum. In the short-term, this can result in success, especially at lower levels. However, once one gets highly acclimated and invested in the sport, “powering” through routes can hinder one’s progression significantly and can have negative ramifications on the body from an injury and recovery perspective.

In my early experience, if a problem was difficult or physically demanding, but I managed to get the job done, I would pack my supplies and make sure I never acknowledged the problem again. Now, I try my best to be honest with myself and only receive credit for a route when I’ve completed it confidently and efficiently. As a result, I fail and learn a lot more than I used to.

Warm up to prevent injuries

This is applicable to every sport and it’s no different for climbing. Whether it’s by actively warming up or carrying out simple problems before tackling the focal points of a given session, it’s crucial to get the body warm and loose in a sport that leaves one easily susceptible to injuries if approached incorrectly.

Every time I’ve gotten hurt in my three months of experience, it’s been due to my lack of discipline when I enter the gym. Blisters, bruises, and general soreness can all be mitigated with a proper emphasis on warming up prior to climbing.

Most importantly, have fun

This idea sounds trivial, but there were periods of time when I was so caught up in my performance that I lost sight of the joy. When I am needlessly worked up, the negative atmosphere takes its toll on my technique and routine. Once I dig myself out of the senseless hole, though, the outcome is typically a productive, enjoyable, and wholly unique workout.


Graphic by Rose-Marie Dion

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