Bouldering – Above & Beyond The Tape

Martin Soon

“Boy. Bouldering looks really hard.” This may be all
well and true. Especially when watching teenagers at your local gym throw
for the tiniest holds, only to stick them with some sort of violent looking
type move, accompanied with a painful groan. That’s what most of us “less
advanced” climbers might think when asked to boulder. The fact of the matter
is that bouldering is a great way to advance one’s climbing ability without
concern for equipment, climbing partners or even specific routes. A climber
can, through bouldering, work on developing strength, technique, endurance,
and memory.

Bouldering is defined as: One of the purest forms of
climbing, with no ropes or other protection this involves mainly horizontal
moves along the bottom of a route or smaller rock up to a height where it is
still safe to jump or fall off without a serious injury. Let’s look at how
you can use bouldering to a beneficial end as opposed to trying to pull the
initial moves on a V9 without success. First, we have to remember that in
the gym, anything goes, as far as rules are concerned. We can make them up,
and hence, control the difficulty at which we want to boulder at. Therefore,
bouldering should not be thought to be limited to just taped routes. What I
intend to illustrate is what bouldering improves and why these aspects are
beneficial, and then I’ll give examples as to how to do this in the gym.

I mentioned earlier that bouldering can develop one’s
strength. How? It really is quite simple. Just like pumping iron in a weight
room, to train strength, you have to pull moves that are up to 80% of what
one’s capability, for 6 to 8 repetitions, in 3 to 4 sets. If a climber were
to try a problem, within his or her capabilities, 3 to 4 times in short span
of time, then this would parallel conventional weight training. (See “Tips”
for rest times)


Now, being brutishly strong doesn’t make you into a
“good” climber. Technique, helps even the best climbers maneuver over the
rock with ease, helping to conserve energy until when it is really needed.
When bouldering in a gym, you can practice individual moves several times,
using different footholds or body positions in order to see which way is
least tiring to make a move. Thus, when you encounters a similar move, be it
indoors or outdoors, you will then be able to utilize what you have learned
in the gym to move across that one piece of rock.

The common myth is that if you only boulder, you won’t
have endurance. An easy way around that is if you develop a boulder problem
that is 40 or more moves long. I think that will dispel any doubt to your
endurance. Pick out 40 or so “easy to hang onto” holds and then try to make
all the moves without stopping. Another way is to pick out 40 slightly more
difficult holds with a very easy jug somewhere in the middle to rest on.

Now if we have a 40-move boulder problem that we have
to commit the sequence to memory. Plus, having to remember the exact
footholds to use, and where to grab the holds precisely. Not to mention the
correct amount of energy needed to make the move. I think with all that to
consider, you would definitely develop a good memory. A good memory helps
all climbers in their Redpoint attempts. You don’t want have to “hang out”
thinking about where your next hand or foot hold is, where to clip, where to
rest, or what move to make.

There are some good games that are typically good at
working all or a combination of the specifics I have mentioned above. Some
of my more favorites are:

1) Add-On – This is where a group of climbers add a
specified amount of moves per turn and each subsequent climber in the
rotation has to repeat the same moves before adding on to the problem. Any
“feet” is a common assumption. Here, a climber can work out the individual
moves even if he or she cannot get to the last added on move. You may also
gather insight to solving a difficult move from other players. Several
variations of the game exist. Like, knock out. In this, each climber tries
to add-on moves that are very difficult so the following climbers hopefully
can’t do them, but at the same time it has to be “doable” by the climber. If
you can’t pull the moves then they are out.

2) Stick Game – Here one commits himself or herself to
the mercy of another climber (well not really). Get a partner to point out
holds, which you have to move to, with the use of a stick. Again depending
on what you want to train will dictate the intensity and duration of the
game. This game, I find, helps mostly in developing power endurance.
Typically, I aim to give my partner small but difficult moves to start and
then switch it up to big moves to big jugs near the end of the round. Switch
up to get revenge on your partner.

3) Subtract-Off – Here is where you’ve established a
sequence. It has become easy for you. Make it more difficult by eliminating
some or all feet, or skipping holds on the sequence. A common game is seeing
who amongst your climbing partners can do the same sequence with the least
amount of footholds used.


  • Start with problems of about six moves — long
    enough to test your strength and technique, but not so long that you get

  • Avoid problems that you can do on the first or
    second try. They are too easy.

  • Avoid negative progress. If you consistently fail on
    one move, or get worse on successive attempts, the problem may be too
    hard. Pick an easier problem.

  • After you have found a good problem, practice the
    moves. Experiment with different footholds and body positions. Work on the
    problem in sections, rehearsing and perfecting each move. Remember, you
    don’t have to start from the ground every time!

  • Take plenty of rest. Give yourself three to five
    minutes between tries. You should feel close to fresh for each attempt.

  • Set your own problems. If the taped problems seem
    too hard, pick six jugs and create your own sequence to link them. Or,
    climb with a partner near your own level, setting challenging

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