New to Bouldering? 7 Tips to Maximize your First Year of Climbing

Our first year of climbing is where we see the most progression and learn tons of new things. This article will help you maximize your first year of climbing through 7 tips that I consider essential for becoming a better climber!

This article is mostly tailored towards indoor bouldering (as that is what most beginners will be practicing) but many of these tips do apply to outdoor climbing as well.

📚 This post is part of our Bouldering Beginners Guide

don’t be afraid to fall

Falling is a big part of indoor bouldering. You will fall a lot as a beginner. And you will continue to fall as you progress. I’m always falling off while I’m projecting climbs at my limit. Bouldering and falling go hand-in-hand. It’s paramount that you know how to fall safely, and that you don’t fear falling.

how to fall safely in bouldering

Falling is something that should be practiced so that your muscle memory kicks in when you fall unexpectedly. I recommend practicing the correct way to fall a couple of times during your warmup. Climb the middle of an easy boulder problem, and jump off.

To safely fall in Bouldering: land on your feet with bent knees, tuck your arms inside, bring your head to your chest, and break your fall by rolling backward.

how to fall in bouldering

Repeat this drill every session 2-3 times and soon falling will become second nature. As a result, you will feel more confident and climb harder.

learn to climb in front of others

Almost every beginner is anxious about climbing in front of others. I have been there and watched friends and my partner go through the same. It’s a ride of passage. But it’s one you have to get over if you want to progress as a climber.

If this is not something you struggle with, great! But if you do, I suggest you try to tackle it head-on instead of avoiding problems because other climbers are near. I guarantee you others are too busy with their own climbs to judge your lack of experience. If anything, watching you climb will give them an ego boost.

At some point, you will have to climb in front of others. As long as you avoid it, you are delaying your progression. You can’t get a decent session in if you are always avoiding others and running away when the gym gets crowded.

As someone who has dealt with social anxiety my entire life, tackling your fears head-on is the best advice I can give you. Next time you go indoor bouldering, go at a busy time and project something in front of others. Do exactly what you are so afraid of. Once you’ve done it, you’ll realize it’s not so bad. And eventually, it won’t be a worry anymore. If you never face your fears, they will continue to negatively impact your life. But face them, and you will watch them fade away.

consistency is key

The first year of climbing is often the most relaxed. Whenever you feel like it, you’ll head over to the bouldering wall. The sessions don’t hold much structure and for some, it may be more of a social affair than anything else.

Climbing should be fun, but if you wish to maximize your first year of climbing, you should be consistent about it. Commit to that subscription, buy those climbing shoes you have been eyeing, and start climbing multiple days per week.

Beginners experience rapid improvement during their first few sessions and notice a steep decline after about 10 sessions or so. This is called a plateau. And if you don’t climb consistently after this (at least once per week), it will be very hard to actually improve.

If you have big gaps between your climbing sessions, most sessions will be spent repeating what you learned in the previous session. Consistency is key if you wish to see improvement.

technique over strength

Bouldering is strength-oriented activity but the use of strength (and by extension strength training) is only really necessary on climbs graded 7A/V6 and above. It’s very possible to climb grades below this barrier without using much strength at all.

When an experienced climber is warming up on your max grade, they look effortlessly don’t they? That’s because they are practicing proper climbing techniques, making their climbing efficient and giving them the illusion that they are floating.

Using upper-body strength, and muscling through problems, is a very notable problem among beginner climbers. The stronger they are, the more likely they are to muscle through problems.

Using muscle is fun and all, and definitely helps with grade chasing, but it won’t make you a better climber. In fact, it will make you a worse one. Speaking from experience, it’s very difficult to teach someone to stop using their muscle to pull themselves up and start using their legs instead. Those who lack the muscle, are forced to learn technique.

📚 Related : Complete Guide to Climbing Technique

This is something I find most notable amongst male vs female climbers. Among beginners, men are much more likely to send higher grades (up to V3-V4 sometimes) whereas most women will find themselves stuck between the V1-V2 range early on.

Not because male climbers are naturally more gifted than female climbers, but because they possess more muscle. Interestingly, in my experience, the female climber will start learning techniques far earlier than the male climber. So while the men continue to climb harder, muscling through most problems, women climb better.

practice technique on easy problems

The easy problems are ideal to master your technique. The holds are juggy, close together, and don’t require strength. Use these problems to master some technical basics such as climbing with straight arms, climbing with the hip in, practicing your flagging, and so on.

Put your ego aside and start from the very lowest grade in the gym. If you feel like you can send these problems whilst keeping your arms straight and using your legs to generate momentum instead of pulling yourself up, only then should you move up a grade.

From here on out, continue this practice in every session. You should spend at least 30 minutes warming up and honing your technique. Never neglect those easy climbs again! They aren’t easy climbs, they are warm-up climbs.

diversify your climbs

A mistake a lot of climbers (not just new climbers) make is that they focus too much on what they are good at and neglect what they are worse at. You’ll probably notice pretty early on that you excel at some terrain and don’t perform as well on others.

Some climbers are better at slabs, others perform better on overhangs. Much of this is dependent on your body type but that doesn’t mean you should completely neglect the climbs you aren’t good at. The longer you put off the climbs you are worse at, the worse you will feel on them.

Furthermore, you should also diversify beyond your own gym setting. At some point, you will get very comfortable with your gym’s setting style. After all, setters are people and when you climb the problems for long enough, you start to recognize patterns. That’s why it’s important to climb at more than one gym. I’m not saying you should get a subscription to every gym in town but you should at least visit a new gym every now and then. You might find it harder to send problems within your limit and that’s okay!

watch other climbers (and learn from them)

We spend a lot of time testing while we are climbing. This rest could be spent on our phones, or we could watch the other climbers on the wall. I recommend the latter. You will learn a lot from actively watching other climbers. By actively watching, you are thinking in their stead.

Imagine you are them and you are on the wall. What is your next move? Think about it before they do it. If they do something you didn’t think about, ask yourself why they are doing it differently. Is their beta better?

Don’t just practice this at the climbing wall either. You can practice this from the comfort of your coach. Watch some bouldering videos on YouTube and put yourself in their shoes. Actively make the moves in your head. You will learn a lot of technical skills and route-reading from watching others.

take care of your skin

Climbers are obsessed with their skin and for good reason: bad skin might mean you don’t get to go climbing! Here’s how you keep your skin as healthy as possible during your first year of climbing:

  1. Use balm before you go to bed – climbing balm keeps your hands moisturized and accelerates the healing process while you are sleeping
  2. File your calluses – your callus can turn into nasty flappers if they get too juicy
  3. Avoid hot water – hot water makes the skin peel off
  4. Drink plenty of water – water keeps your, and by extension, your skin, hydrated which makes it less likely to tear

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