5 Things to Know for Your First Bouldering Gym Session


Welcome to bouldering! An exciting, problem-solving, physical adventure awaits. Whether you’re entirely new to rock climbing or have stuck to top-roping thus far, a new climbing realm awaits.

First off, what’s bouldering? It is one of rock climbing’s many disciplines and one of the three competitive disciplines. (The other two competitive climbing styles are sport and speed climbing.) Boulders are short, generally 5-10 moves, climbs. Since there are a limited number of moves, the climbing difficulty is consistent from start to finish. The name for a specific boulder is a “problem,” whereas in rope climbing, they are “routes.” Boulders are “problems” because they are more akin to a puzzle you are trying to solve. Given the available hands and feet, you must decide how to make it to the top. While there is always an intended sequence, two people will likely climb a boulder differently depending on their height, wingspan, and physical strengths.

Here are 5 Things to Know for Your First Bouldering Gym Session

bouldering gym session

Safety First

  1. How to fall properly

Every fall is a ground fall in bouldering because no ropes catch you. While gyms have thick, padded mats for you to land on, there are ways to fall that will help prevent injury. Other ways will invite broken bones or sprains.

The safest way to fall is to spot your landing. Make sure it’s clear of people, bend your knees, tuck your arms and legs in as you land, and roll onto your back. While this may feel unnatural initially, it softens the impact on your ankles and knees and protects your wrists and elbows. All too often, you’ll see a climber throw their hands down to stop their fall, and everyone watching cringes, looking away. Using your hands to brace your impact is dangerous because the force could snap your wrist or reverberate into your elbow, snapping that, too.

  1. Watch where you walk

The design of many climbing gyms is to have an open bouldering area with spaces for you to rest in between climbs and walk between climbing walls. It is essential always to be mindful of your surroundings when moving in the bouldering area. Constantly look up as you walk by overhanging sections or around corners as there could be a climber on the wall, and if they fell, momentum may cause them to collide with your path.

The same goes for where you choose to climb. Make sure no other climber ascending a boulder will overlap on the wall or in the fall zone with the problem you want to try.

  1. When in doubt, downclimb

Rock climbing is a challenge by choice sport. It is you versus the wall, which means you are the best judge when something doesn’t feel safe. There is no shame in choosing to stop advancing before the top of the bouldering wall. Some gyms have fairly tall bouldering walls that make it scarier to commit to moving higher up. Knowing this, you’ll see handled holds (usually a solid color like gray, red, or blue) scattered among the climbs. These downclimb holds help you descend a distance before dropping to the mats. If you reach a point on the boulder problem where you do not feel safe to continue, please downclimb and extend yourself kindness: everyone downclimbs, and there’s nothing wrong with doing so, too!


  1. Take Turns

It is obvious when rope-climbing whose turn it is as only one climber/belayer can utilize a top-rope station or lead route at a time. However, in bouldering, it’s not always as obvious. An easy way to tell if the climb you wish to do is not in someone else’s way is to look at the finish hold of your climb and theirs. If their finish hold overlaps with or is close to yours, then make sure you wait until they’re resting to try the climb. You can also verbally alert them of which climb you plan to attempt so they don’t interfere with your effort.

Additionally, the unspoken rule is not to hog a climb. After you try a boulder once, ensure no one else waits to use the same wall section before hopping on again. You can always get back on it after the other people have had their turn, but hogging a climb or section of the wall is generally frowned upon.

Lastly, if another climber uses a brush to clean chalk off the holds on a specific climb, they have the right to try it first. Unless you ask them if it’s okay to climb it too, let them have their burn before you put your chalky hands on the nicely brushed holds.

  1. Don’t Beta Spray

“Beta spray” is rock climber lingo for giving unsolicited advice on how to complete a climb. Only exchange beta with a climber if they explicitly ask you for “beta” or to “beta spray” them. Likewise, if you would like help approaching a boulder, you can ask for “beta” from another climber.

With the basics of gym bouldering safety and etiquette covered, you are ready to have your first bouldering gym session. It’s okay if you forget some of what is covered, but at the very least, remember to be aware of your surroundings and respect other climbers. Do those two things (and remind yourself of the other advice from this article), and your first session should be fun and a breeze! Comment below if you have any other questions about starting to boulder in a gym, and feel free to share how your first time goes!