Why Rope Climbers Should Boulder!

When we first start climbing, progress and gains seem to just fall in our lap. Day to day, month to month, we can see ourselves getting better and better. We get stronger, we add more volume, more projects, more easy routes, the cycle continues. At some point the law of diminishing returns catches up to us. More and more volume doesn’t equal more and more gains. We see the progress dwindle and stop. It happens to all of us, could be at 5.9 or 5.13. For a lot of climbers this can be demoralizing. The tried-and-true formula just seems to fizzle out, and we are left frustrated, and sometimes tweaky from the insane amount of volume we worked up to.

So why does this happen? As humans we all enter climbing with a base level of strength and fitness. To make it simple, let’s think about it as the hardest moves we can pull and the amount of moves we can endure. Increasing volume to improve works to a certain extent; often we can pull the moves, but we cannot endure the route. We get pumped, we hang dog, we make it to the top, but we are tired. We rest and repeat this process. After several weeks our base level endurance increases, and we climb more and more. Our ability to endure has improved, now we are less pumped, we are sending, and we are happy—until we go to hop on that next number grade, and we get shut down. So, what happened? Our fitness is good, how can this jump in difficulty be so drastic? That’s where bouldering comes in. It’s easy to get sucked into volume trap, and the idea that if we are never pumped, we can do anything. But if we can only pull V-whatever boulders, we are going to be stuck at V-whatever on the wall as well. We need to improve our ability to do hard moves to match our ability to endure. By bouldering just one time per week we can increase our ability to try hard and pull harder moves.

What do you think will have a bigger impact on your climbing: getting 5% better endurance or the ability to boulder 2 or 3 grades harder? To put it into context, a 5.12a route won’t have any moves harder than V4 (if it’s a one move/crux wonder); more likely it will have several sustained sequences of V2/3.  While a 5.13a route won’t have any moves harder than V7 (if it’s a one move/crux wonder), it will likely have several sustained sequences of V4/5. So, we can see that more endurance at the 5.12a level isn’t going to get us to 5.13a. Sure it can help, but at some point, we need to learn to pull harder moves. If we are a 5.12a rope climber/V3 boulderer, the simplest, most effective thing we can do is sprinkle in some bouldering and try to increase that V3 to V4/5. A great climber is a well-rounded climber!

So go boulder, and hint, it doesn’t have to be on a bouldering wall! You like long resistance rope climbing on big overhanging walls? Switch it up! Climb on the short ropes, seek out cruxy routes, Moonboard, spraywall, climb on the slabs, climb that thing with that awkward move you hate! Climb it all!

New to bouldering? Here are some tips!

Try hard!
Boulders don’t have 30+ moves to determine the difficulty, they are delicately crafted into 4-12 moves. This can mean they start tough, and don’t let up. You got this!

Seek instruction! Twin Cities Bouldering offers instruction for all levels:
Climbing 101– One-hour session that focuses on vocabulary, concepts, & basic techniques
Climbing 201– Intermediate Technique, prerequisites: 5.9/V2-3
Private Lessons– Call TCB for pricing

Get outside your comfort zone! Variety is the spice of life… and climbing!
Seek out climbs that challenge you! Love to crimp? Climb the sloper problem! Primarily climb inside to climb outside? Try the run and jump, the paddle dyno, or the crazy coordination climb! Actively seek out the challenge and apply yourself fully!

Make your own rules! We arbitrarily declare a start and finish and assign a number, but so much can be learned from an isolated move or sequence. A boulder is made up of smaller sequences and single moves that have their own difficulty. Don’t let a number or definition of send hold you back from climbing cool moves and trying hard!

Stick with it!
“Success is not final. Failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts.” – Winston Churchill

Climbing is dangerous, it involves inherent and other risks and cannot be eliminated. The information presented here does not describe all of the risks associated with climbing and is not intended to replace or supersede expert instruction and training.

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