Making improvements is all about the small percentages – they all add up. In this article I’m going to share some advanced bouldering tips that you may not have thought would make a difference, but could hopefully help you push your bouldering grade up a little.
As I mentioned earlier, it’s those small things that can make the difference, which is why my first tip is to brush or clean your boulder before you get on it. If the conditions aren’t so good in the gym, or outside, then a little brush or chalking up a hold could potentially make change the boulder. Textures on the holds get filled up with chalk and sweat among other things, meaning that if we don’t clean them, the friction of the hold won’t be as good, making the boulder harder. Brushing not only improves a physical aspect of the boulder, it can also have psychological benefits, allowing us time to calm down if we’ve fallen off, analyse the boulder more and just relax.
Prepping my boulder at a local competition. Photo: Jo Robbings
My second tip is to basically know what you’re climbing. You should always have a good look at the boulder before getting on it, making sure you know where all the holds allowed are, or seeing if there are any small details you might miss by pulling straight on. This will allow you to conserve energy when having an attempt, as you shouldn’t be hanging around on the problem looking for footholds, or wondering if there is a hold around that arête. If you are with others, it may be a good idea to ask them what they think about the sequence as they might have spotted something you missed, or have a more efficient way of doing it.
Reading a route at Gordale with Liam Halsey. Photo: Rob Russell
When I was younger, the importance of being dynamic was always drilled into me as I was way shorter than everyone else. This forced me to learn how to climb more dynamically, especially when bouldering. One particular movement I spent a while working on was the ‘flick’. This is where you create some momentum by pulling in and out, as if you were to dyno to something, (you can swing a leg to help) and then release one hand as you drive upwards – it’s a bit of a pop basically. Being dynamic like this can save energy and give you that extra distance you wouldn’t achieve keeping all points of contact on.
My 4th tip is to learn what works best for you and your body; sometimes ‘the way’ may not work for you as it may centre around your weaknesses or you may be too tall/short etc. I’m not saying shut down other people’s beta, just that sometimes you have to let your body tell you how to do something – it may just feel right. For example, you may be more flexible so a high foot or bridge may be the way for you, or really strong so a deep lock rather than a more dynamic movement may work for you!
Sometimes, bunched is the way! Photo: Liam Halsey
Lastly, I think it’s so important to practice all types of bouldering – especially whatever you aren’t as confident on. If you struggle with slabs or vertical techy climbs, give yourself a little workshop on them – visit walls with a good slab, or climb with people who are good at them and can help you. The same goes for strength, power etc. Try to visit a variety of walls to experience different styles of setting, and even to expand what I call your ‘hold vocabulary’, which is a memory bank of lots of different hold types you have climbed on. A larger hold vocab will give you more knowledge about a climb if you’re going for the flash! Knowing where the good bits on holds are will allow you to be more accurate in your climbing.