21 Sep Everything you need to know about bouldering
Bouldering is a funny name – what does it mean? We thought we’d go back to basics and break down everything you need to know about bouldering, its benefits and how to get to grips with the jargon. Read on to learn about the definitions, the physical and mental health benefits, and what all the jargon means!
A definition of bouldering
It’s probably easiest to make sense of the name “bouldering” to looking back to its roots. Bouldering is a form of free climbing, which means climbing without ropes, which was usually practiced on smaller boulders of rock. The mecca of bouldering is a place in France called Fontainebleau, which is where mountain climbers used to go off-season to practice their skills on lower rock formations.
If you’re bouldering indoors, there will be thick crash pads below you to cushion any falls. So the only equipment you need is a pair of shoes and some chalk for your hands – both of which can be hired from Indirock! Here’s our handy article on what to expect when from your first visit.
In the UK, the legal height limit for indoor climbing walls is 4.5 metres, and at Indirock our walls are max. 4m high. Looking at this from the ground it might not seem that high, but when you’re at the top of a bouldering route we assure you it feels high enough!
If you’re adventurous enough to try bouldering outdoors, you will need to bring a portable crash pad with you. It is always recommended to boulder with a friend, who can help “spot” you to ensure you don’t fall awkwardly off your crash pad.
The benefits of bouldering
Bouldering has so many benefits to our physical and also mental health. This is our starter for ten – there are many more!
- It improves cardiorespiratory fitness.
Rock climbing is good for the heart. According to one study, it requires the same amount of energy as running an 8- to 11-minute mile.
- It builds strength.
Climbing is a full-body exercise: You’ll use your upper body, core, and lower body, and will especially work your pulling muscles, including your biceps, wrist flexors, back muscles and even fingers and feet.
- It boosts brain power.
Rock climbing isn’t just a great workout for the body—it also exercises the brain. In one study, climbing for about two hours boosted working memory capacity by 50%. It’s all about planning, decision-making, reacting, coordinating, balancing. This plays a huge role in not only physical development and control, but also in sharpening the mind and improving our brain’s ability to make decisions.
- It’s good for mental health.
Climbing is deeply meditative. Even if you’re having a rubbish day, you’ll have no choice but to block out unpleasant thoughts. You get a deep mental break, because you’re focusing on doing one thing – not falling off the wall! Some practitioners even use climbing therapy in conjunction with traditional psychotherapy to treat depression, anxiety and stress.
- It’s very sociable.
Because bouldering doesn’t require partner work or long climbs up high, a lot of time is spent on the ground discussing your next route (or any topic under the sun) with your fellow climbers. It’s so much more sociable than going to the gym, which is why we see many people ditch the gym membership for a bouldering membership instead!
- It’s a fun confidence-builder.
In bouldering, failure is inevitable and accepting that can be empowering. Nobody will complete every route in a gym first try, so you get used to failing but still wanting to go at it again until you succeed. And when you finally do succeed, it is a true natural high! This is a great way to build resilience in young people and adults alike.
We also wrote this handy page on the benefits of bouldering for children and young people.
Busting the bouldering jargon
Over the past year we’ve been publishing blogs aimed at demystifying the jargon used in bouldering. Here is everything you need to know about bouldering jargon… It’s a long list, but hopefully it’ll come in helpful to dip into when you’re stuck!
An Arete is an outward pointing bit of rock or wall; a ridge or rib. It’s formed by the meeting of two planes. Not to be confused with a corner. You can find arétes around Indirock by finding the end of the wall, such as in doorways!
An Arm Bar is a crack climbing technique in which an arm is inserted deep into the crack and secured by pressing the palm of the hand against one wall and the tricep/shoulder against the other. Similar to “Chicken wing” You’ll rarely find these indoors, but keep your eyes peeled for arm bar opportunities outside!
The Ape Index is basically the difference between your arm span and height. Some people have a plus ape index, meaning their total arms span is longer than their height, others have no difference, and some have a negative ape index. Although a positive ape index is helpful, it’s not the be-all and end-all of climbing! Identifying where our strengths lie helps us to progress in our bouldering journey.
We’ll start with the word that best describes Indirock: bouldering. Bouldering is relatively low height climbing, often very technical, usually solo. Usually on boulders of rock when outdoors.
Indirock is an indoor bouldering wall which recreates this experience indoors.
Bucket is a type of hold. A huge jug which the whole hand can grasp.
This is a climbing move. To swing round, away from the rock, when all your holds are on one side of your body; especially likely when laybacking an arête. Usually experienced where the hands and feet are on the same vertical surface, or the hands are holding something beyond the feet.
Beta is the knowledge of trick moves or protection or just about anything about a route available before you start. Initially from the US, possibly from “Betamax” (early videotape format). If you get the beta on a route, you shouldn’t encounter any nasty surprises. However, knowing the beta means you haven’t had to read the route, which is part of the fun and skill of climbing!
BREAK THE BETA
And then its Break The Beta, which is the idea that you’ve found an easier way to finish a problem than the routesetters intended.
A technique in which one foot pushes a hold conventionally while the other foot toe hooks the same, or a nearby, hold. Most commonly used when climbing roofs (AKA clamp).
The ability to keep the feet on their foot holds when climbing steep rock. Core strength and technique are components of body tension. Several of our Workshops offer tips and techniques on building on your core strength to benefit your climb.
The position of the body relative to the hand and foot holds.
A Bump is making two consecutive hand moves with the same hand (AKA going again).
To climb a route with the feet and hands in opposite directions on opposing pieces of the rock face. In bouldering, bridging is ofren used in corners. AKA “Stemming”
Quite simply, a cave outdoors! Or an area created in indoor climbing which is so overhanging that you’re climbing on the ceiling.
Overhung board with thin (one joint or so) wooden holds; meant to be ascended without using the feet.
The inverse of an arête; like the crease of an open book.
A crack in the rock face, or created through placement of holds/volumes indoors. Horizontal cracks are known as breaks; wide cracks may be offwidths or chimneys. A very thin crack that will not easily fit climbing gear into it is known as a seam.
A Crag is any large expanse of rock.
A small hold onto which you can just get the ends of your fingers (or toes!).
Ascending a route (usually overhung) using only the hands, in the style of one training on a campus board. Usually used when showing off in a bouldering gym!
Coating the hands with chalk, to help stop them slipping.
A jamming technique in which the arm is bent and inserted into a crack elbow first with the palm pressed against one wall while the tricep/shoulder presses against the other. Similar to an arm bar.
Breaking down a move or problem into small sections to figure out how to climb it.
Either a grouping of problems of similar difficulty (most common in Fontainebleau, France) or a long problem, often a loop, climbed on an indoor wall to train endurance.
A technique for climbing symmetrical features by placing a hand (or foot) on either side and pulling hard to hold the body in place.
The muscles of the stomach, lower back and legs. Indirock offers Workshops which focus on building core strength and utilizing this to improve your climbing techniques, check out our Courses page for more information.
A powerful grip in which the second finger joint is bent sharply and the thumb presses onto the index finger.
A traversing move in which one hand reaches past (over or under) the other to reach the next hold.
When both feet swing off the rock and all the climber’s weight is taken by the hands.
Climbing is really all about you and the wall. So if you climb something a different way to someone else or you “break the beta” – ie you think you’ve found an easier way to climb something than the routesetters intended – it’s not actually cheating. Not starting on the correct holds, using a hold of a different colour to complete a problem, or claiming you’ve “flashed” a problem when you haven’t, would all count as “cheating” but really the only person you’d be cheating is yourself!
The hardest move on a climbing problem or route.
The instant in a movement when the body is moving neither up nor down, the ideal time to grab a hold
Uncontrollable shaking of one or both legs on a climb. Curable by pushing the heel of the leg downwards while the toe stays on the rock.
Reversing down a problem either as a retreat or as a means of getting off a boulder.
To hang with straight arms without any assistance from the feet.
Any move that uses momentum.
An all out leap during which the whole body is airborne and has, very briefly, no contact with the rock. Fun to try at the bouldering wall, not often done outdoors!
A problem with two dynos in a row.
When one foot inside edges while the other outside edges, the knee of the outside edging leg is lowered so that the feet are pushing away from each other rather than down.
A flat horizontal hold.
Standing on an edge.
Adapting a problem so certain holds are deemed off limits to make the problem harder.
To stick a foot out sideways for balance, especially when stopping yourself from barn dooring.
A crack with sides that taper outwards making it very difficult to jam.
A technique for making a long static reach from a positive hold. Involves hooking a leg over the holding arm. Can be used to rest an arm on a long ascent.
A jam in which the fingers are inserted into a crack and rotated until they are wedged.
A jam in which the fist is inserted into a crack.
The art of using the feet well.
A jamming technique in which the foot is wedged, toes first, into a crack.
Replacing one foot for another on a foot hold.
Getting the hips and as close as possible to the wall with the knees pointing out to the sides.
The first time an outdoor route is climbed.
Horrible loose bit of skin that hangs off your fingers when a blister breaks.
To climb a route without practice (but perhaps knowing the beta), without falls, on the first viewing and first attempt. (This is very similiar to onsight, which is even purer: no beta.)
The famous bouldering area just south of Paris, France (AKA Font or Bleau). Also a system for grading boulder problems, the grade is often prefixed with ‘Font‘.
The force created when skin or rubber is pressed into the rock.
Imagine opening a pair of lift doors with your hands; this is the way to place your hands on the climbing holds when doing a gaston. Very tiring; hard to stay balanced. Can be required in shallow cracks where there is no chance of jamming or laybacking. Named after French climber Gaston Rébuffat.
The climber’s hand is turned sideways and grips a hold by cupping it with the little-finger side of the hand.
How difficult it is to climb something (almost always disputed as all bodies are different!)
Something that climbers hold onto or use for their feet, to help them climb a problem.
A jam in which an open hand is inserted into a crack and pressed against the sides with the knuckles against one side, fingertips and palm against the other.
An advanced technique for hand jamming in offwidth cracks.
A versatile grip in which the fingers are partially bent. It’s a compromise between open handing and crimping and is particularly useful on flat holds.
The act of ‘hooking’ your heel onto a hold. Good for pulling you closer to out-of-reach holds with your free hand.
A jam used in wide cracks.
A large rounded pocket – where the name for our Hueco trail mix comes from!
The straight edge running along the inside of the big toe.
A small hold that is used briefly during a reach to a distant hold.
An excellent handhold, easy to hold onto.
The technique of inserting part (or all) of the body into a crack. Thin cracks take fingers, wider cracks take hands and fists, and offwidth cracks devour arms, shoulders, knees, feet and legs and spit them out covered with rash.
A dynamic movement in which one hand stays on while both feet leave the rock. There is at least one point of contact at all times.
Jumping from the ground to the starting holds of a problem.
Knees can be used in all sorts of ways in climbing, so its best to look after them! Warm them up with knee circles and protect them by climbing down and bending your knees when you land!
A jam that leverages between foot and knee. The foot stands on a conventional hold while the knee (really the front or side of the lower thigh) presses into a corner, overlap or large protruding hold.
Sometimes called a Trad knee or Alpine Knee, this technique sees the climber using their knee instead of their foot to put weight onto a hold. This often happens if the hold is just too high for the climbers foot and can be used on ledges or whilst tackling a more scrambling route.
LAYAWAY / LAYBACK
A technique for climbing on sidepulls (holds that point sideways, especially one edge of a crack or one side of an arête) where you lean away from the hold to improve your grip. Legs and arms work in opposition: pushing legs in one direction while pulling on the handholds in the other.
A static reach done with the holding arm bent sharply.
Practising sections of a problem to prepare for the complete ascent from start to finish.
MONO / MONODOIGT
A small pocket, big enough for one finger.
MANTLE / MANTLESHELF
A move in which the climber attempts to stand on the same horizontal surface their hands are holding. Similar to getting out of a swimming pool without stairs. Various techniques are possible, sometimes resorting in the bellyflop! Used most often during topping out.
Placing both hands side by side on a hold.
A climb or move whose difficulty is highly dependent on the body shape or size of the climber. Usually code for “hard for shorter people”. AKA “Reachy” or “Lanky”
N is for… NO HANDS REST
A nifty way to rest on a longer route or during a competition and a good skill to learn! Rest is just as proactive as movement 💤
A crack that is too wide to jam but too narrow to climb inside.
An area of the rock face where the top protrudes further than the bottom, meaning that gravity makes the climbing a lot harder on your arms.
Gripping a hold with the fingers only slightly bent.
Creating tension either by pulling a pair of holds that face away from each other or pushing on a pair of holds that face each other.
Any route which is finished first time, with no falls, without seeing the Beta.
The curved section of a climbing shoe between the tip of the big toe and the side of the little toe.
Holding on with the hands harder then necessary, wasting strength and energy. Will usually result in “Pump”.
A hold which can be pinched between thumb and finger.
Pressing the palm of the hand onto the rock.
The ability to do multiple hard moves in a row.
Natural or artificial (especially at a wall or when bouldering) layout of holds presenting an obstacle between you and the top.
A problem that has been attempted but hasn’t yet been climbed or a problem that an individual is working towards climbing ie. a personal goal.
A narrow overhanging arete.
Also known as gear. The devices that climbers use to protect themselves while climbing. In indoor bouldering we use no protection other than the mats below!
The extreme forearm fatigue (caused by buildup of lactic acid in the muscles) that is your body’s way of telling you go to the pub, or that you’ve been to the pub too often recently…
A rising diagonal piece of rock, usually used for foot holds. This effect could be created by holds or volumes in indoor bouldering.
The steepest kind of overhang, often found in a cave.
Pushing the bodyweight over one raised knee in order to reach up to a handhold that is otherwise out of reach.
Analysing how to climb a problem.
Holds that aren’t essential to the sequence and only serve to distract and confuse.
A very thin crack.
A hold that points sideways; usually works best when used for some form of layback.
Sloping hold. Best use involves staying well below it.
A steep board on which the various hold types – pinch, crimp, sloper, pocket, undercut, sidepull – are laid out in a repeating, symmetrical pattern.
To start a problem from a sitting position.
When a wall tilts away from you – the opposite of overhang. Slab often gives the illusion of being easy to climb, but the problems are often more technical and “sketchy”!
Desperate grab for a handhold.
Climbing up a wall surface using the friction of your shoes, without any footholds for your feet.
To climb without ropes. This is a high-risk activity, especially when climbing beyond the height of bouldering.
To do a move slowly and in total control. Usually used as the opposite of “Dyno”.
Standing (usually with the outside edge) on the next foot hold with the foot furthest from it.
Using any available edge in a crack. When a crack is too thin to actually fit the fingers in, you can still gain some purchase with thumb sprags (which, confusingly, also involve the fingers). For example, with the right hand, make a half-fist. Now push the four fingers against the right-hand (nearer your wrist) side of the crack, and the thumb against the left-hand side. Amazingly, this can work at least to keep you on balance. Requires very strong hands to be used for any length of time.
A problem which is harder than its grade. This can be either because it is undergraded, or requires a trick move to overcome the crux. Or it’s just more work than it looks.
American for “climb”. Must have originated in California, though why and when is anyone’s guess. Usage: “Dude, you really sent that problem.” Generally applied to bouldering problems, to give some idea of intensity.
Series of moves required to overcome a problem.
To position yourself to catch, deflect or otherwise reduce the momentum of someone climbing solo if they fall. This is most often used outdoors and should not be attempted without training, as you may cause worse injury to them and/or yourself.
A small, steep wooden climbing wall.
Improving a hold by pinching the underside of it with the thumb
Using the top of the toe to pull on a hold. Shoes with rubber on the top of the toe are best for these moves.
Reaching the top of the climb and clambering stylishly onto the top. Only possible in some bouldering gyms with enough ceiling height. Some gyms give climbers a fun slide to get back down again after topping out!
To move across the rock, left, right or possibly diagonally in either direction, rather than directly upwards.
A technique for climbing steep ground in which the torso twists perpendicular to the rock to maximize reach.
Wrapping white gymnastic tape around the parts of the hand/fingers where the skin is injured, or to protect it getting injured.
A problem that demands a high standard of technique and movement skills, over strength.
A small chalk mark that indicates the location of a hard to see hold.
UNDERCUT / UNDERCLING
A hold which is grasped from its underside to be used to best effect.
An American system for grading problems, consisting of a number prefixed by the letter V. Usually used in bouldering. The higher the number the more difficult the problem.
A cool cat. A term used to describe a good climber.
Figuring out and rehearsing the moves of a problem.
So, that was our run down of everything you need to know about bouldering. Want to try it for yourself? Indirock is Essex’s biggest dedicated bouldering wall, offering top quality indoor rock climbing for all ages. Check out a video of our venue here. We also have a great coffee shop!