With any type of climbing, there are plenty of differing opinions on how to improve—including, of course, bouldering. Climbers now have access to a wealth of information and resources for how to progress and grow, but there are plenty of fallacies that can stall us in our goals to become better climbers. When I started out climbing, there were plenty of misconceptions that I took to heart and only later understood to be slightly flawed. I’ve gone through so many phases of understanding that have shaped how I approach and train for bouldering. Here’s a short list of things I’ve discovered along the way.
Myth #1: Strength is always the limiting factor.
Strength is definitely very important, and a factor that plays heavily into how much you can physically pull on the wall, but there are a lot of other factors at play, too. Mental strength, flexibility, fitness and a slew of other assets will take you far if you find yourself reaching a plateau or looking for a fun new way to challenge yourself. Do you find yourself avoiding taller climbs or climbs in a certain style? Do you experience negative self-talk when trying problems at your limit? Can you always do individual moves on a problem but have trouble linking them all together? These speak more to mental approaches and other areas that are so necessary to invest in if you want to push yourself to be the best climber that you can be. Hint: If you’re relatively new to climbing, don’t feel pressured to jump straight onto the hang boards and campus boards for strength. They often result in injury, especially if done too early in your climbing experience. You’ll gain so much more technique, fitness, strength and experience from actual climbing.
Myth #2: Taller climbers are better at bouldering.
Not true! Climbers of all sizes possess inherent strengths and weaknesses that form our unique style and approaches to climbing. With bouldering, being shorter can actually be an incredible asset. I’ve witnessed so many shorter climbers style big moves by utilizing every inch of their height or find unique beta with intermediates on climbs. Being shorter can often provide you with more foot and hand options, so long as you’re open to possibilities and know how your body can fit your preferred beta on a given climb. Whether short or tall, it’s not about trying to fit any mold or ask why a problem is easy for one person and harder for another. It’s about celebrating the opportunities you have with your unique build. It’s about being an expert on your own body—height, strengths and weaknesses—and navigating every problem from that foundation.
Myth #3: I need to train in the gym 24/7.
Training is an incredible tool that can supplement our climbing when we find we have a short amount of time to dedicate to climbing goals. While training with the use of hangboards, campus boards or gymnastic rings might help you quickly reach new levels of strength, it will not always make you a better climber. Climbing and gaining valuable experiences with different styles and movements will make you a far better climber. What’s more, if you train too soon into your climbing or too often without sufficient rest, you can become more prone to overuse injuries and spend more time away from actual climbing to recover. If you’re interested in learning how to train for climbing, there are endless resources available online with guidelines about how soon to start investing in a training plan. The golden rule might just be that climbing is always the best form of training for climbing.
Myth #4: Sport climbing will not help me be a better boulderer.
Breaking out of what you know and confronting a completely different style within climbing can be equally liberating and important to your progression as a climber. Sport climbing, for example, can help you establish an excellent baseline of fitness necessary for building upon with strength and power, and can also reinforce great technique and help with your mental game. Long pitches teach you how to breathe, climb efficiently through easier sections to save energy for the cruxes, how to rely on feet before resorting to muscling your way through moves or pulling too much with your arms. These valuable lessons will absolutely help your bouldering and be a fun way to switch it up in the spring or summer.
Myth #5: Bouldering is mostly a social sport.
Okay, this one is true. Bouldering is incredibly fun because of the ease in which you can join friends or groups and come together to find solutions for incredible lines. However, climbing solo can also offer a zen-like, meditative experience that can be extremely special and rewarding in its own light. Climbing solo allows you to work out your own beta instead of relying on watching another. Place your pads very deliberately, focus on movement and enjoy a rare moment of quiet and solitude. Trusting yourself to execute and climb well can build a supreme amount of confidence and, personally, I’ve often fallen in love with climbing over and over again after having those quiet moments to reflect on what a treat it is to be outside doing what I love. There are, of course, safety precautions you’d want to take before climbing solo. (Tell others where you are going beforehand, carry a phone with you, analyze risks with caution, etc.) But the experience could give you a new outlook on something you already love.
Your personal journey with climbing is just that—uniquely yours. There are no doubt plenty of myths you will debunk as you progress throughout your own climbing. Knowing that there are so many ways to discover, grow with and enjoy climbing can be one of the greatest rewards imaginable and I hope this list serves as a reminder that climbing is 100 percent yours for the taking.