Anxiety at the bouldering (or climbing) gym, the fear of looking like a beginner in front of others, is something almost every first-time climber deal with. In this article, we’ll look at different ways you can overcome your climbing anxiety.
As a shy person myself, I have definitely dealt with my fair share of anxiety when I was a newcomer in my local gym. The very first time I went to the gym, everyone looked like they had years of experience and the climbers all seemed to know each other. It was very intimidating.
Will I look stupid for trying out the beginner grades? Am I using the correct starting position? Will I look like a gumby for wearing rental shoes? Will I get in someone’s way?
Every beginner climber has had these thoughts flood their mind. Don’t worry, It is completely normal to feel this way.
Let’s look at some tips to help you with anxiety while climbing.
Learn beginner techniques before going to the climbing gym
One way of tackling anxiety caused by looking like a complete noob is the come prepared for your very first bouldering session. By prepared, I don’t mean you should spend months learning everything you can but you can at least figure out some beginner techniques.
YouTube is your friend in this learning period. I recommend the Movement for Climbers youtube channel. He has a bunch of videos oriented toward beginner boulderers that can really impact your first session.
Simply knowing the names of a couple of techniques (e.g. the flag and the drop knee) can already help you feel more comfortable with the sport. It is unlikely you will be using these techniques during your very first visit, but knowing what they are and when to use them is a great starting point.
If you’re feeling exceptionally adventurous you could even ask another climber to teach you some beginner techniques.
Practice moves at home
Practicing new moves at the climbing gym can be intimidating on its own. For this reason, I often practiced the moves I learned from YouTube videos in the comfort of my own home. This is how I first got comfortable with flagging and utilizing the drop knee.
Before practicing at home, I found it way too intimidating to attempt them at my local gym. But after practicing basic flagging in front of my bedroom wall, I felt comfortable enough to do it at the gym. Not only did I feel badass using the technique for the first time, but it also helped lift my anxiety and make me feel less like a noob at my local bouldering gym.
I even remember someone commending me for using the flagging technique to send my problem. He told me he had never seen someone use a flag while wearing rental shoes. (This little interaction kept me in a great mood for the rest of the day.)
Make a friend
One quick way to get rid of that intimidating feeling you get at the bouldering gym is to attempt to make a friend. I know, this isn’t as straightforward as it sounds. But you should still consider it.
TIP: Look for another solo climber. Odds are, they are just as eager to make friends as yourself.
My first friend at the climbing gym not only helped me overcome my anxiety at the bouldering gym, but he also helped me send my first 6a (v3) boulder problem.
I have to be honest here, I didn’t make my first friend myself. My girlfriend is actually the one that introduced us. During a day when she joined me at the gym, she noticed another climber who was by himself and introduced us to each other.
My original plan was to ‘get good’ first and make friends later. I now realize that this was the wrong plan, and thanks to that first interaction, I overcame my bouldering anxiety, started really enjoying going to the climbing gym, and learned a bunch of new techniques through my newfound friend.
Bring a friend
Going to the bouldering gym by yourself can be very intimidating. For this reason, you should consider inviting a friend during your first couple of sessions. Who knows, maybe they will enjoy bouldering as well!
By bringing a friend you are comfortable with, you should experience a lot less anxiety than when you go by yourself. After all, it is always nicer to look like a beginner when someone else does as well.
If you cannot convince a friend to join you at the local bouldering gym, consider looking for a climbing partner online using platforms such as Facebook (e.g. University Group) or Reddit (e.g. University subreddit).
Go bouldering at non-busy times
Climbing gyms can get very crowded during peak hours. Especially after work hours when every climber wants to hone their skills at the local wall. For a beginner boulderer, huge crowds can be very intimidating.
Find a gap in your schedule where you can go to the bouldering gym in the early morning or early afternoon. During these hours, most bouldering gyms are very calm and sometimes even completely empty if you are lucky.
During my own beginner days, I found out the lead climbing gym in my town had a very small bouldering section that never got changed. For this reason, it was almost never in use. So what I would do is I would show up there during my free afternoons and practice by myself.
Some days I had maybe 1 or 2 climbers join me as a warm-up for lead climbing but for the most part this bouldering wall was completely empty during my free afternoons. I spend so much time at this wall doing the same problems over and over. Because the gym was empty, I was completely comfortable testing climbing techniques and following along with YouTube videos.
If you struggle with anxiety, I 100% recommend practicing during the early mornings and afternoons. Any gaps you can find in your schedule, go climbing!
Practice on the spray wall
Most bouldering gyms have a spray wall section that is often the least visited part of the gym. If this is the case at your gym, use this spray wall to practice your climbing without anyone watching.
If your gym doesn’t have a spray way, or the spray wall is always busy, try to find a bouldering less-visited spot in your area. This is how I found the abandoned bouldering wall at the lead climbing gym in my town. A quick google search could help you find some real gems.
If you are a university student, odds are your university has a small bouldering section that no one ever visits.
Understand that everyone was once a beginner
A big part of bouldering anxiety is the vulnerability you feel as a beginner climber at the gym. It is completely normal to feel this way. Don’t beat yourself up for it and definitely don’t let it prevent you from attending the climbing gym. But you should also understand that everyone at your local gym has been in your shoes.
Everyone was at your level at some point in their lives. They have all felt the same vulnerability. They all know what it’s like to look like a beginner who is struggling on the 3 and 4 (VB-V0) grades at the climbing gym.
Climbing is a social sport and many climbers are excited when new people join their local gym. To them, this means their sport is growing, and you could potentially become part of their community.
You are not the only beginner
While it may feel like it, you are most likely not the only beginner climber at your local bouldering gym.
The first time I went to the gym, everyone seemed like they had been going to the gym for many years. But as I improved myself and went to the gym more and more often, I realized that some of the climbers that I thought were super experienced, were actually new to climbing as well.
There was this group of two men and one woman that I remember being very intimidated by. But when one of the guys approached me a couple of weeks later, I learned that they were master’s students at the local university that had joined the climbing gym only a couple of months prior.
Soon after that interaction, I remember how many beginners I noticed. Every day I’ve been to the gym since at least a fourth of the boulderers at the gym have been complete beginners.
You are not alone.
Accept that climbers watch other climbers
Feeling eyes on you when you are just starting out can cause a lot of anxiety. But you should know that these climbers are not making fun of you. They are not watching you because you look like a beginner or because you are doing something wrong.
Most likely, they are taking some rest from their own projects or are waiting for you to finish your problem. In these cases, they will likely watch you. Just like you are likely watching them while you aren’t climbing.
This is simply how bouldering gyms work. Aside from socializing, the only other thing you can do while you rest is watching other climbers.
Having eyes on you is something you will have to get comfortable with. It is simply part of climbing.
Hopefully, this article is able to help you overcome anxiety at your bouldering gym. Remember that feeling intimidated because you are new to a sport is a completely normal feeling that everyone has to go through. You are not alone and you are definitely not the only beginner climber out there.
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