2020 would have seen Climbing make its first foray into the Olympics, but alas it was not to be. Although that won’t stop me writing about it and all the benefits that I’ve experienced since falling in love with this sport — can you tell I’m missing it?
There are many reasons why its popularity has grown. I’ve become a convert, along with a lot of my friends, to the physical and social benefits of bouldering. In this blog I’ll go through 5 main reasons why bouldering is a great activity mentally, physically, socially and why according to the Association of British Climbing Walls (ABC) a million people went to indoor climbing centres in 2017. It has also estimated 15 – 20% more people are climbing each year!
Firstly, we need to understand the terminology of indoor climbing. There is bouldering and rope climbing. Rope climbing tends to be on a wall over 6m where you are attached in a harness via a rope while someone is feeding the rope through for you as you climb. Whereas with bouldering, the wall is much smaller but there are no ropes! Bouldering involves climbing up a specific colour coded route (or ‘problem’) to the top and placing both hands on the last hold and subsequently, climbing back down on any colour. The colours are in keeping with the difficulty of the climb. Nicer climbs with have a nice deep hand grip, will be in a mostly vertical route and will be big so you have a lot of room to put your feet on.
1. Less Weight Bearing
In bouldering you must hold your own bodyweight on the wall with four contact points: your hands and legs. This means your weight can be spread out easily, compared to running where extra force from gravity is spread out to your legs; one at a time as they land on the ground. This works well for people who have had to stop running due to knee/hip pain and still want to keep active and challenging their bodies while keeping the holiday weight off!
2. Whole Body Workout
After a session on the bouldering wall you will feel the fatigue in every muscle — most notably your forearms, abdominals and back. It’s a great alternative for people who want to target every aspect of their body without having to apply to much conscious effort on a particular muscle or group of muscles. It improves your flexibility in all joints (especially your hips and ankles) as you stretch and turn to try to find novel ways to climb the wall. You’ll find climbing faster will work on your speed and power, for those who still want to feel dynamic and keep the risks of injury low, with safety mats and instructors on hand.
3. Mental Aspect
Who would have thought all those different coloured holds would be a good brain workout! In bouldering, I’ve learnt that less emphasis is placed on whether you can do a pull up but rather how good you are at problem solving. You’ll find people will have 100 different ways to climb the same problem, and some will be far easier than others! It will require focusing on your strengths too; are you tall or perhaps have really good finger strength or maybe have very flexible hips? I have none of these so still a lot of work for me to do! If you enjoy any of those brain training games on your smartphone- this might be a new alternative that doesn’t drain as much battery.
4. Relatively cheap!
Indoor climbing gyms in London tend to cost around £8 – 11 for a one off go, with climbing shoes hired in the cost. Those who want to go more regularly, a membership will be around £40 – 45 a month depending on the gym. In terms of gear, bouldering requires very little! Climbing shoes don’t need to be extravagant and are affordable in outdoor shops. Other than that, all I would recommend is climbing chalk then you’re off! Both the chalk and shoes tend to be available to buy at the climbing centres as well. It’s certainly much more enjoyable and worthwhile than that gym membership that doesn’t get used!
5. Never a dull moment!
Bouldering has many facets; you could be climbing an overhang (where your body is more horizontal) then suddenly be grasping onto a huge hold which you have to lift your whole body up onto. Outside of climbing, clubs offer other activities which make it an overall social affair. Most have a café of some type, offer Yoga or Pilates classes and have children friendly climbing walls. Additionally, the sport really can turn into a great way to meet people, make friends, reconnect and challenge old friends or even an out-of-the ordinary date night idea!
From experience I would recommend The Climbing Hangar in Parson Green or Yonder in Blackhorse Road if you’re more north of the river. Bouldering has many positive implications on your health with very few risks or downsides which would warrant giving it a try at the very least! It can also augment a Physiotherapy programme provided by one of our specialists at Pure Sports Medicine.