How To Get Started: Indoor Bouldering

Climber Reaching For Hold Indoor Bouldering

Climbing gyms have been around since the late 1980’s. They started out as indoor training facilities for dedicated outdoor sports climbers but the last decade has seen a rise in popularity among casual climbers. Especially bouldering gyms have seen a resurgence in popularity and today indoor climbing has become a popular sport in its own right with a good percentage of climbers never intending to climb on rock.

Generally speaking there are three styles of indoor climbing:

  • Bouldering: unroped climbing on walls 2-4m high. This is by far the most popular and safe type of climbing today. Excellent choice for beginners.
  • Top-roping: the climber is protected by a rope from the top of the wall & typically climbs routes 10-20m high. Beginners can try with expert supervision.
  • Leading: this type of climbing is for experts only and mimics climbing on rocks where the climber is protected with a rope from the bottom. Not recommend for beginners.

My recommendation for beginners: start with a good dozen bouldering sessions at a gym dedicated to bouldering, then taste some top-roping & don’t even think about leading before you are sure you want to move on to outdoor rock climbing.

Ok. Then how to get started bouldering? Here are some tips:

  • Start at a gym dedicated to bouldering. The atmosphere tends to be relaxed, there will be no pressure to try “real” roped climbing & there’s virtually no chance to get seriously injured.
  • Take it easy & warm up properly. While climbing is all about balance & flexibility, don’t forget it’s also a full-body workout. So take it easy and warm up accordingly like you would for any athletic activity.
  • Expect to spend 1-2 hours each session. Also, expect to be exhausted after those two hours. As a beginner you will climb very inefficiently & that’s fine. Elegance comes with practice.

Why continue indoor bouldering?

  • It’s a great way to get ripped without lifting weights. Good climbers are light, muscular & have excellent abs.
  • It gets easier the more you climb & progress is really fast initially. 
  • Bouldering is great preparation for “real” rock climbing.

What do you need to do indoor bouldering?

I’m introducing the gear you need pretty late in this article on purpose. Because the truth is: you don’t really need any. A pair of comfortable sneakers & loose-fitting clothes will do. And there’s a certain beauty in that: it’s just you against the boulder! Some of the hardest problems have even been climbed barefoot.

That being said, most climbers end up buying three things: climbing shoes, chalk & a chalk bag. I’ll talk about those things in a follow-up article. For now, I’m going to tell you how to cheat & be a cheapo climber.

To get into indoor climbing without buying anything, do this:

  • Make sure your gym offers shoe rental. Climbing shoes are kinda expensive & in the beginning you won’t know what to buy anyway. So rent!
  • Borrow chalk. Most climbers don’t mind you dipping your fingers into their chalk bag if you ask nicely.
  • Lost & Found is your friend! Most climbing gyms will have a pile of lost chalk bags behind the counter. Ask nicely, borrow a lost bag & put it back after you’re done!

That’s it. Have fun climbing! - Photo by Allan Mas

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