It’s not always obvious on how to improve your bouldering technique. Bouldering is a combination of powerful gymnastic moves, careful planning, and delicate movements where you are trying your hardest every time, which makes it hard to pin down precisely what you should be working on. As you climb harder, the small things add up to make a difference between getting up a climb or falling off. Here are 21 bouldering tips and tricks we use to make it through the crux of our climbs.
Advanced Indoor Climbing Gym Bouldering Tips
1. Visualize Before you start climbing. Before attempting a boulder problem think about all of the individual moves and sequences beforehand. Figure out the specific body positioning, the handhold sequences, where the crux is, and what kind of climbing techniques the climb will require. Stand below the climb and act out the movements with your hands and feet on the ground. This will wire the moves in your brain before you step off the ground and will help prepare your muscle memory before you get on the climb. You will see boulderers doing this “dance” where they act out the moves before climbing, while it may look silly, it works. This alone can help take you from climbing V3 to V4.
2. Boulder Rested. Bouldering is the art of making the most powerful and gymnastic moves as possible on a climb. This means that you need to be well-rested to perform at your highest capacity. There are two types of rest, the rest you get on a specific day, and the rest you get over many days.
When trying hard for an individual session, it generally takes 45 minutes to fully recover from maximum anaerobic effort. This means that the small 10-minute break you’ve been giving yourself between tries is not enough to climb at your max. Because of this, when professional boulders climb, they rarely have more than a few maximum attempts per day on a climb.
The rest you get over the course of days and weeks is essential as well. It is impossible to climb your hardest every day. Everyone recovers differently, and after an extended period of hard effort, it can take weeks to truly recover.
3. Take care of your skin. When putting in lots of miles at the climbing gym, the plastic holds will wear out your skin. The first thing to do is to stop climbing before your skin splits, or gobies form. If an abrasion or cut does form, clean it with soap and water, apply an antibacterial ointment and cover with a bandage. This simple method will decrease the amount of time the wound will take to heal. Avoid hydrogen peroxide or alcohol as these will increase how long it will take to heal. Try to avoid climbing on wounded skin as the best thing to do is to take a rest day to allow your skin heal. If your skin is damaged you can switch to a different climbing style that doesn’t rely on the skin of your hands, like slab climbing or offwidth. We go much more in-depth on balms and salves in this post.
Painful Splits can also occur when climbing due to the hands drying out from excessive use, cold, chemicals, or chalk. Moisturize your hands with over the counter creams and ointments. Climbing with splits is possible, but as with any injury, it will prolong the healing process. Some climbers will use superglue to strengthen skin and glue the skin back together.
4. Climb styles you don’t like. Climbing styles that you don’t do very often will force you to work on your weaknesses. We usually climb particular styles because we are good at them (and that makes it fun). If you focus on different styles, you will develop more rock climbing techniques that you can put in your “toolbox” and use elsewhere. Being more proficient in many particular styles will also allow you to be more creative on climbs where solutions do not come easily. Don’t like crimps? Do a session where you focus at least half of your blocs on crimps. Don’t like slopers? Focus a session a week just on engaging and prolonging your contact time with slopers.
5. Hangboarding. Hangboarding is a great way to improve finger and hand strength. Developing the finger strength necessary for hangboard takes a while and should not be a training tool for climbers who are not climbing around 5.12 or V5 as it is easy to injury finger tendons doing the exercises. Hangboard can also be an excellent way to warm up fingers before working on boulder problems. Here is an in-depth explanation of how to hangboard.
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6. Climb with stronger people. This may not seem like a bouldering tip for advanced climbers, but mentorship has always been one of the backbones of the climbing world. When climbing with people stronger than you, try to emulate them, everyone has a different style when it comes to body positioning, and you can learn a lot from trying to emulate how someone else climbs a boulder problem. Furthermore, trying to solve a boulder problem with someone else can also give you needed perspectives on how to improve your bouldering technique.
7. 4x4s. An indoor climbing technique that has become an essential part of most boulderer’s training program is the 4×4. They build power-endurance and are a great exercise as they train complex movement specific to getting strong at climbing. When doing 4x4s (pronounced four by fours), choose four boulder problems one to two grades below your max. These problems should hopefully be climbs that you have already climbed before. Climb the four problems back to back without resting in between, and then after completing all four problems take a four-minute rest. You will complete four rounds of four boulder problems with rests in between rounds. If you fall off of a problem less than halfway through, try the problem again. If you fall off past halfway or second time, move on to the next problem.
Bouldering Tips to Take to the Crag
8. Learn how to focus. Often when climbing, we are focusing on anything but the climbing movements. We can be focusing on our lives away from climbing, self-doubt, how frustrating it is not to be able to climb the grade, or pretty much anything besides the moves of the climb.
Next time you climb, try this focus technique. Before starting to climb, stand up next to the wall and focus on the smallest thing you can see. You can focus on a rock crystal, a speck of dirt, or an interesting texture on the wall. Take 30 seconds and try to notice everything about what you chose. Notice its shape, color, imperfections, and anything else you can. After that, give yourself a few seconds of positive-self talk while pointing out what you would like to focus on during your climb. This technique can help center your focus to the climb at hand and will bring awareness to your body position while climbing.
9. Explore the holds. Before getting on the boulder problem touch all the holds from the ground. Feel their texture, the different ways you can grip them, what directions you can pull on them from, test various body positioning, what holds you can reach from other holds, and test to see if there are holds that may not be obvious. When doing a boulder problem, you are searching for anything that could be used for your advantage, no matter how small. Boulders all have different qualities and personalities, and the better you can get to know them and their holds before you jump on the wall, the more successful you will be.
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10. Tick holds. When climbing on a bouldering problem, it is not always obvious where exactly your next hand or foothold is. Taking little pieces of chalk, and marking where the holds are can improve the accuracy of your foot/hand placements and also increase the speed at which you climb through the problem as you won’t be continually searching while pumping out. With very delicate boulder problems it can be useful to mark where individual fingers should land on specific holds. While ticking holds certainly helps while projecting boulders, it is essential to remove your tick and chalk marks after climbing. It is part of the leave no trace ethics and allows other climbers to enjoy the problem-solving portion of bouldering.
11. Work Individual moves. There is a climbing term called yo-yoing. This is where you work every move from the bottom of the climb and work up. It’s called yo-yoing because progress up the wall tends to be sporadic and you will bounce up and down the wall. This is not an effective way to project a boulder.
Instead, focus on the hard moves individually. Since we have a finite amount of physical energy to spend on a boulder problem, it’s more efficient to spend that energy focusing on dialing the hardest moves. With more challenging moves that are higher off the ground, make stepping stools out of rocks so that you can start higher. When working one move at a time, you can test if specific sequences feel right or if they are even possible. Then when you think you have move dialed, focus on a particular section, and later you can try for the entire problem. This is also a great tip on how to improve your bouldering technique and body position when climbing
12. Warm-up. You’ve heard it before. The sage old bouldering tip that we should warm up before we climb is never far from our ears. It is essential to not getting injured and succeeding on harder boulder problems. When bouldering aim to warm up on easier problems for at LEAST thirty minutes before trying difficult problems. When easier boulder problems are unavailable, grip strength trainers or mobile hang boards work wonderfully. Don’t forget to warm up your major muscle groups as well as your fingers by stretching and working your arms and shoulders. When your muscles are warmed up, it’s also crucial that they stay warm. Bring extra jackets and layers so that when you are resting in between climbs that you don’t get cold.
13. Wait for cold temperatures. Boulderers are obsessed about the temperatures they are climbing in and for good reasons. Climbing in cold temperatures makes the holds more tacky and grippy, and give more stick to climbing shoes. Climbing rubber works best at 45 degrees and your hands don’t sweat as much (or at all) when temperatures are cooler. Climbing in the shade can also make a remarkable difference at how well you can perform. As we’ve said before, when working on problems in colder temperatures, remember it is important for your body to stay warm so bring those puffy jackets and beanies.
14. Coffee. Caffeine can help you climb harder. Caffeine allows your central nervous system to fire more efficiently, meaning that you can pull hard on those small crimps and slopers. Beware of the side-effect of caffeine though as it can make your hands sweat more, and cause dehydration. Hot drinks like coffee can also keep your core temperature up while resting on a cold day at the crag. We also find that a hot cup of coffee helps keep a positive mental attitude, which is vital for any climber.
Bouldering Techniques to Master (V5+)
15. Kneebar. Knee bars are great bouldering technique to have in your toolbox to allow rests mid-route. When knee baring, position your leg between two holds so that the leg below your knee get tensioned and essentially stuck in place. It takes some time to notice where kneebars can be used and are appropriate. The majority of the time, kneebars allow for a hands-free rest as you can put your entire body weight into the kneebar. Often time, climbers will use long thick pants or knee pads when projecting a route with kneebars as it tends to bruise and hurt your leg.
16. Gaston. Gastoning is where a climber will push off of a hold with their hand as opposed to pulling on the hold. To perform a gaston, take the palm of your hand and have it face the wall with the thumb down, and the elbow bent out. Then grab the hold, and pull away from the body to create force.
17. Lockoff. The ability to lockoff on climbs will allow you to keep good body position through moves, maintain a stance, and extend your body. A lockoff is when you grab a hold with a bent arm and pull it into your chest, supporting your weight so that you can reach for the next hold. Lockoffs are used to extend how far you can reach. When locking off keep your core, shoulder, and arm tight. This allows you to stay into the wall and will keep weight on your feet. Lockoff strength is imperative to have for advanced bouldering. To train lockoff strength, do frenchie pull-ups which will train your muscle endurance to maintain certain positions.
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18. Mantle. Mantling is when there is a flat hold or ledge that you get on top of without using the assistance of other holds. Think of climbing on top of a table or a fireplace mantle. This skill becomes essential when topping out on boulder problems as there may not be any holds to grab on the top.
When mantling put your foot up onto the ledge and rock your weight onto the high foot. Mantling is about managing center of mass, so when you swing up, try to get as much weight under the high foot as possible. Then using your hands, press up on the ledge with your palms while bringing the low foot up. Try to push steadily with major muscle groups when executing a mantle instead of trying to fling your body onto the ledge.
19. Heel hook. Heel hooking is a technique that is generally used in overhanging bouldering problems so that you can take weight off of your hands. We’ve seen people use it for vertical and slab routes though it tends to be less frequent and less useful. Bouldering is about being creative, and heel hooking is an excellent technique to have in your toolbox, and it makes you look fantastic to boot.
To heel hook, place the heel of your foot on a hold and then with your knee bent, pull into the wall with your leg. The tension you create with your leg is what will take weight off of your hands. With very overhung boulder problems, heel hooks can be placed on holds above the head. When moving above a heel hook, remember to keep tension in your core, and leg or else you will swing off of the foothold.
20. Toe hook. Toe hooking is similar to heel hooking in that it is most commonly used on overhanging problems. Toe hooking keeps your feet from swinging out from the wall. Though not as effective as the heel hook with taking the weight of your hands, toe hooks reduces the fatigue of your upper body when used effectively.
When toe hooking, place the top of your foot on the backside of a hold and pull into your body with your leg and core. The more force you use to pull in the more positive the toe hook will be and the more weight you can relieve from your hands. Without good body position and core tension toe hooking is ineffective.
21. Dyno. Dynoing is the common Hollywood depiction of what climbing should be. The term dyno comes from the word dynamic as dynoing is a climber releasing all the holds to jump to the next hold. Dynoing tends to more often a indoor climbing technique as indoor climbing lends itself to a more dynamic style. When dynoing the idea is to push up with your legs while pulling down with your arms to achieve the jump. When performed correctly, the jump will be parallel to the wall as opposed to jumping out away from the wall. While dynoing looks like an impressive feat of upper body strength, most of the energy for the move is generated in the legs. Focus on keeping your body as close to the wall as you stand up and jump for the hold. The more directly you can jump to the hold, the easier it will be to grab and hang on to.
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There you have it! These climbing tips if employed can take your bouldering to the next grade. Take some time to hone both your outdoor and indoor bouldering techniques as both styles will teach you things. Lastly, get out and climb as much as possible as there is no better way to learn and train than by actually doing it. Good luck on the next climb and hope for low gravity day.
Did you find this useful? Then be sure to also check out the best rock climbing games to play here.