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What is bouldering?

Bouldering is climbing without a rope and harness. You do it on blocks (boulders), rock walls and artificial climbing walls (indoor).
Since you have no backup plan you’ll stay at a height where it is comfortable to jump off without injuring yourself.

For a lot of people boudering is the entrance drug for (free) climbing. For me it was the other way around.

I think bouldering is one of the best activities you can do in your life and is a good complement especially for software developers.

start sitting
Usually you start out of a sitting position to “extend” the route

Bouldering is healthy

Before we come to the muscles you train with bouldering I have to say that the most important “muscle” here (or when climbing in general) is the brain.

Basically when approaching a new bouldering route you’ll first look at it and make up your plan in your mind. You imagine the complex flows and only after that you’ll try if it works.

A lot there is depending on technique. You’ll see that when you go into a bouldering hall: There will be average looking guys and girls which are vastly outclassing big-muscled gym rats.

A good technique helps saving your energy and power for the real hard moves of a route.

That said, brute force can replace technique to some degree but it will be exhausting for you and prone to injuries.

Now to the muscles: You train almost your complete skeletal muscles.

When you enter a bouldering gym for the first time you’ll have muscle soreness in your forearms for sure, since you need those for every move to stay attached to the wall/rock.

The crook of the arm and back muscles will be loaded for the same reasons.

For a lot of movements you’ll need a good degree of body tension. And this will naturally train your abdominal muscles.

And the calves of course will probably hurt too on your first sessions for a simple reason: You’ll stand on your toe tips most of the time.

Bouldering also improves your overall flexibility. You need a good sense of balance to do it. Don’t worry if you don’t have one yet, you’ll get it.

Coordination between arms and legs is key. In the beginning you will think a lot about it.
“Left leg first? Or should I try grabbing that hold first?” But it will happen natural after a while.

What should you train for getting better at bouldering?

For beginners: You don’t need to do anything special. You will get better while doing the thing.

Later, much later when your muscles, tendons and connective tissue have grown accustomed to the strains of bouldering (I’d say it takes some years of constant practice) you can think about special training.
Then you can think about having a gripping board or do some one-legged squats.

But enough talking about muscles now. The main reason why bouldering is so fun is the mental factor.

It takes a lot of focus, thinking and puzzling to figure out the correct moves to solve a bouldering “problem”.

Like in software development you will constantly learn something new and improve your technique on the way. Another hip-placement there, a dynamic move hereā€¦
You’ll evolve patterns that you can apply (and refine) again and again.

another crack
A nice crack

What do you need?

For starting out in a bouldering hall/gym you need nothing but flexible clothes.
You can always lend some shoes there.

For doing it outdoors you need shoes and a crashpad. The crashpad is a foam-filled mat to support you when you, well, “crash” down.
Use the thickest and largest you can carry with you to be safe!

A lot of people will use chalk (magnesium oxide) to keep sweaty hands dry and increase grip. Indoors I think you’ll need it at some point.
Outdoors it depends: On sandstone I never needed it (also it’s not good for the rock, so as an environmentalist I wouldn’t use it anyway).

You can do it alone

A benefit of bouldering compared to other sports is that you can do it alone. For climbing you need someone to belay you.

While it’s way more fun to go to a bouldering place with a group and have a nice time together sometimes your friends just won’t have time when you have.

My wife going through a sunny traverse

All that said I have to add: It’s dangerous to go alone!
You can always fall bad and need help. I personally would not boulder around outdoors alone. In a hall there will always be other people, so it’s OK. But outside take at least one person for spotting you with you.
Spotting in bouldering means not only watching you, but also “poking” you in case you fall to make sure you don’t fall on your head and to ensure a safe landing on your crashpad.

If you want to connect with other people you can do a technique course at a bouldering gym or just go to well-known bouldering areas. There will surely be people around you can connect with.

What is it for me?

When I was a child I was a “natural” boulderer. I climbed a lot on the nearby castle ruin and ran around on top of the walls there. (Must have been horrible for my mother)
And of course I climbed a lot of trees.

I only discovered the climbing/bouldering sport after graduating and caught fire directly, so I picked it up without thinking about any of the aspects in this article.

While I sometimes like the nice setup and the ease of access in bouldering gyms I prefer to be outside on real rock.
I’m an outdoor guy. So when I have the choice of whether doing something indoors or outside I’ll choose the latter.

sitting around after bouldering
After reaching the top, relax and enjoy the nature

Therefore back then, when I had more free time, I was often to be found on the awesome sandstone blocks in the palatinate forest here in Germany.

Give it a try

I know very very few people who did not enjoy it. And the sample is quite big in my circle.
It contains some people which had a terrible fear of height. And some of them even entered sports climbing after training for a while!

So why not give it a try? I think it’s especially worthwhile for us software developers which are inhabiting office chairs all the time:

  • You can do it outside!
  • It will keep you fit
  • It’s fun and challenging at the same time
falling off
Sometimes you will fall off or have to jump off.
Make sure to hit your crashpad

Feel free to ask me any question about it!