fbpx 6 Mistakes to Avoid when Bouldering for the First Time | Hub Climbing

Bouldering is one of the most challenging forms of rock climbing that’s become more and more popular to new climbers at the gym given its accessibility. Contrasting the multiple forms of climbing done on high walls (anything from top-rope, to lead, or trad climbing), bouldering doesn’t require much more than a good pair of climbing shoes, a handful of chalk,
and a whole lot of gusto and enthusiasm.

Canada’s largest climbing gym, Hub Climbing Mississauga, heavily features bouldering as one of the two most popular climbing forms (the other being roped climbing), and that means plenty of new climbers trying it out for the first time. It’s always best to have some idea of what and how a bouldering session is gonna go, especially for those who have never bouldered before.

To help you get started, here are six mistakes to avoid making when bouldering at Hub Climbing Mississauga:

Mistake 1: Endurance is More Useful than Power

Lots of new climbers assume that bouldering is just a shorter and more dangerous version of top-roping. Not the case.

High walls, which can be climbed as top-rope or lead routes at Hub, are mostly about endurance. Given the height of the tallest walls in the gym (up to 49 feet!), endurance has a large part to play with how likely you are to complete the climb. Instead of having every move be unbearably difficult, high wall routes at Hub strike a balance between having difficult sequences broken up by periodic resting points, where you can get back just enough strength to make it to the next resting point or the top of the wall.

Bouldering, given how short the walls are, does not have the privilege of including rests. Rather, they feature a short sequence of moves that heavily depend on your strength, balance, and flexibility to power through until the end – or until you fall off. You’re likely to find some boulder problem that features a grande move as its crux.

Have no doubt about it: just because you can flash that new 5.10b on the high walls does not mean the skills transfer to bouldering.

Mistake 2: Crash Mats Guarantee Safety

Bouldering is unattached climbing, meaning there’s no harness and no ropes. That’s right, absolutely nothing stopping the ground from coming up to you real quick and giving you a big smooch. Why boulder, then, if it’s so dangerous? Well because it’s fun. And people have been bouldering for decades, indoor and outdoor, and all that time and experience means that new climbers have a wide array of knowledge to draw from to avoid injury.

The mats on the ground are great and all, and they certainly serve to make us all feel better about the fall, but injuries do still happen; if you don’t fall right, there could be little difference between falling on the mat or falling on the floor.

Bouldering mats

Don’t just assume that you can jump down from the tallest boulder wall in the gym. Take your time getting comfortable with falling, and if you’re not, ask staff.  Yeah you’re gonna feel awkward asking some person you’ve never met how to fall, yeah you’re gonna feel awkward practicing squatting and jumping off the wall a foot off the ground. But soon that’ll be over and you’ll be at least a little more comfortable with the idea of falling. And besides, temporary awkwardness is a low price to pay for proper risk management.

Mistake 3: All Boulder Problems are Created Equal

Ignoring the giant red herring that is the climbing grade controversy, boulders that could be graded a similar difficulty to each other are not necessarily the same level of difficulty to the climber.

Someone who’s great with crimps could see a red tag that predominantly has crimps, they’re more likely to hop on it over a green tag with slopers, which they might not be as good with. Some people are just naturally better using some holds than others, and this varies from person to person. There’s nothing inherently wrong with sticking to what you’re good at – you still get a good workout, you get a new send under your belt, and maybe a photo of you doing the crux for the ‘gram. All well and good, but where’s the improvement?

This unfortunately brews a master of one trade mindset in a lot of climbers. So what’s the solution? Hub’s new bouldering grading system seems to be it. We’ve shifted from the more popular V-scale in favour of something new. This isn’t to say that we’re making every boulder the same difficulty – far from it.

Hub’s color coded grading system is designed with improvement and progression in mind. Each problem focuses on a single skill, and that really helps with training yourself to get better at the skills you don’t naturally excel at. To add to this, our “Circuits” increase in difficulty. That means that you’ll find both easy and hard boulders that focus on the same skill. Hub’s circuits system is a great way to have your crimps and fall off them too!

Mistake 4: The Cave is to be Taken Lightly

Given how strength intensive bouldering is, it’s no wonder the most difficult boulders can be found in the cave, which is an almost entirely overhung climbing wall.

Hanging horizontally for the majority of a boulder really takes it out of you, and that’s if you can even get your feet off the ground. Climbing is a full-body sport, and that means you’ve got to use your feet if you want to be efficient with your energy. That gets especially difficult when your feet aren’t under you. Hub’s cave features what are probably the most difficult problems in the gym, which ends up being a double edged sword to those hopping on for their first time.

bouldering cave at Hub Mississauga

On the one hand, some sequences found there are borderline impossible to most people. On the other hand, sending a project in the cave is really satisfying. When climbing, it’s always best to use your whole body, feet included, and, contrary to popular belief, the cave provides an excellent opportunity for that. The overhang offers a great way to exercise the muscles in my core you may take for granted on more vertical walls. Using your core on vertical walls or slabs is less common than not, but climbing in the cave makes using your core absolutely crucial. Like with most things climbing, only attempt problems in the cave if your comfort level and experience is up to par.

Mistake 5: Not Warming Up

Possibly the most physically harmful mistake climbers make when they boulder is not warming up enough beforehand. Bouldering is an easily accessible sport, so many climbers feel the need to put their shoes on and immediately hop on their orange tag project without working their way up to it.

Adding on the fact that Hub Climbing Mississauga currently has specified timeslots for people to climb in, leaving less time for warming up and cooling down. Not only are you limiting your climbing ability by hopping on the wall cold, since your muscles aren’t expecting to be working at all to suddenly being pushed to their limits, but you’re also greatly increasing your risk of injury. Stretching is a great way to loosen up yourself for any type of sport, and it’s especially useful with bouldering. Jumping jacks, push-ups, sit-ups, running to and from the gym, or even just hopping on a few yellow-pink tag boulders before your project can greatly increase how well you climb in that session and how good you feel about your session after the fact. If you’re unsure how to warm up or stretch, YouTube is a great starting point for any beginners. More consistent coaching can come about from any number of apps as well, that range from general well-being to more climbing specific apps that help. However you decide to warm up, make sure that you actually warm up. You’ll end up being a better climber.

Mistake 6: It’s Scary and Dangerous

The greatest misconception about bouldering is just how scary and dangerous it actually is. Make no mistake – bouldering is scary and dangerous; just not as scary and dangerous as people think it is.

The main reason for this is the fact that it is unattached climbing. Yes, like literally any other sport, it’s inherently risky. But so is driving a car, and statistically, driving a car is far more dangerous and not nearly as fun.

The trick is to start low and slow. There’s no need to get on the tallest and hardest boulder if it’s your first time. Try some yellow tags first. Downclimb instead of jumping or falling. Make slow, calculated movements. Trust yourself, your knowledge, your experience. If you usually climb on high walls, the biggest difference is getting down, and if you know that, you’re done half the battle. Most yellow and pink tags differ very slightly from any given section of a 5.8 route. Working on those first and working your way up is a great way to “trick” your brain into being more accepting of harder and higher problems.

And don’t sell yourself short either: climbing is just as much a mental sport as a physical one, and most people are better at the physical portion than they think because they put up mental roadblocks of “I can’t do this, it’s too hard,” or “I’ll definitely break something if I try that.” Starting with that mindset almost guarantees a lack of progression or improvement. Start with what you know and what you know you can do, then worry about what you don’t or can’t. When in doubt, try the first move. It’s usually a good metric of how the rest of the climb goes, and if you have trouble with it, no harm done; odds are you’re less than two feet off the ground. Either way, bouldering is not as bad as overly concerned parents might make it out to be. Bouldering, one of the most engaging and exhilarating forms of climbing, is highly accessible to almost anyone, including you and your climbing party. While inherently scary, dangerous, and risky, it maintains its place as an incredibly popular sport found in many indoor gyms and outdoor crags, and as long as you keep your wits about you and avoid the mistakes
listed above, you and your loved ones are bound to have a blast.

Hub Climbing Mississauga is the largest indoor climbing gym in Canada, and both it and its sister location, Hub Climbing Markham, are both fantastic spots to get your bouldering careers started with the support of both the gym’s staff and the GTA’s general climbing community.

-Karam H.

Dec 11, 2020

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