Time and time again, “just climb” has been one of the best answers for improving. It’s arguably the most fun way to train, too. Some climbers may enjoy supplementing their rock climbing with traditional gym workouts, hangboard sessions, and workout classes. But, in the spirit of keeping it fun and maximizing climbing time, it may be helpful to learn some tips for improving your bouldering skills that you can implement into a regular rock climbing session.
Here are six essential tips that will enable you to level up your bouldering skills. None of the tips involve extra pull-ups, crunches, or hangboarding. All you need is your chalk bag or bucket, climbing shoes, and the willingness to try hard.
6 Essential Tips for Improving Your Bouldering Skills.
- Watch Other Climbers
Observing other climbers in the gym will help you analyze your climbing. Watch how strong climbers grab holds, use their feet, and position their bodies. If they fall, watch how they adjust their approach on the next attempt.
It’s also beneficial to watch climbers of all abilities. Even if they are trying a V0 or V1, watch them climb. They could use a beta you didn’t think of that will give you ideas for approaching moves on other boulders. Also, observing other climbers fall and trying to pinpoint why they fell improves your critical thinking and problem-solving abilities. When you fall on your projects, you’ll automatically analyze what caused the fall and how you might avoid the same issue on the next burn.
- Boulder with Other Climbers At/Above Your Level
Pushing boundaries and improving in anything requires hard work and going outside your comfort zone. Avoiding more challenging boulder problems or scary moves when climbing with others at a lower level is easy. But, when you train with a group of climbers equally matched or above your current ability, you’ll become more inclined to try hard and push your limits.
- Climb with One Leg
Slab and technical boulders exist in abundance, but more often than not, a boulder project forces powerful movement. Even if you prefer vertical rather than overhanging walls, you’ll want to practice climbing powerfully so your skillset diversifies and your overall bouldering ability increases. Climbing with only one leg at a time is a fantastic way to work on power without heading to a pull-up bar. Pick a climb that is appropriately difficult for you and climb as many moves as possible, only using on leg (no switching legs mid climb!). Eventually, you want to work up to climbs or moves on boulders closer to your limit. You will find that climbing with only one leg forces you to jump between moves, pulling extra hard with your arms as well as forcing you to be precise when you move your foot between holds.
- Incorporate Downclimbing
Downclimbing is an efficient way to build strength, hone your footwork, and challenge yourself. It will feel significantly more challenging than climbing up, so the best way to incorporate it is to rainbow downclimb, using whatever holds are accessible, or to pick an “up” climb near an easy boulder.
Downclimbing is also a great way to train power endurance on boulders. If you want to increase your ability to try moves near your limit for longer, doing up-down-up-downs on a boulder will increase your power endurance. The same concept applies: the up climbs should be near, but not at, your limit, and the downclimbs should be easy or rainbow.
- Climb a Variety of Boulder Styles
You may love crimps and hate pinches. Or love pinches but hate slopers. Avoiding problems with a less favorable hold set will only inhibit your progression and deprive you of the skillset needed to master the slopers, pinches, dual-tex, crimps, etc. Challenge yourself to project the boulders with a style different from your strong suit or preferred type. And one burn doesn’t count. Your pinching skills or ability ot hold slopers will only improve as you use them and work through the problem. The same idea applies to static versus dynamic climbing. If you seek out dynamic boulders, challenge yourself to try the static sets. And vice versa.
- Project Individual Moves
When projecting a boulder, doing every burn from the start is tempting, in case you send it. But, climbing up (using good holds) to the move(s) giving you trouble is more important to improve your skillset. Use good holds nearby to position yourself on your project. Then, try the move repeatedly until you can routinely stick it in isolation. Do this with as many moves as is necessary on the climb. This drilling technique ensures that your muscles and brain learn the challenging movement and increases the likelihood that you can repeat the boulder after the initial send or breeze through a similar maneuver on another boulder.
Improving your bouldering skills doesn’t have to be a daunting goal. It is possible to accomplish this while prioritizing rock climbing as your primary training. Slowly start observing other climbers in action, surrounding yourself with a group of stronger peers, incorporating campusing and downclimbing, climbing various boulder styles and on different hold types, and forcing yourself to project individually challenging moves. With consistent practice of one, two, or all of these essential tips, you’ll find yourself completing boulders you once thought impossible. Please feel free to comment below with any other tips, thoughts, or questions!