Want to start bouldering in London this year, but don’t know the first thing about the sport? We’ve got you covered with this quick guide.

Bouldering is an incredibly easy sport to start, but it’s easy to feel overwhelmed when you first enter a gym filled with different colour holds and lots of people who look like they know what they’re doing.

In this short Beginner’s Guide to Bouldering, we’ll give you everything you need to confidently tackle your first ever visit to a bouldering gym.

Let’s get started!

First up, what is bouldering?

You’ll often hear the terms bouldering and climbing used interchangeably, but they’re actually different disciplines.

While climbing typically refers to tackling taller walls with the protection of a harness and ropes, bouldering is performed on shorter walls (typically four meters high) over crash pads, which provide protection should you fall.

Bouldering actually initially emerged as a training method for climbers and mountaineers to practise technical moves safely. In modern times, it’s evolved into the most popular discipline within climbing due to its accessibility (bouldering gyms can be smaller and shorter than regular climbing gyms), small amount of equipment required, and ability to do it on your own, without needing a belay partner.

Woman bouldering in the Pyrenees mountains

iStock: aluxum

Both offer a fantastic workout, but bouldering in particular can be highly effective in improving strength, power, and flexibility.

But, while it will help improve all of these areas of fitness over time, you don’t need to be super strong to give it a go.

Bouldering is easy for anyone to get into, whether you’re at the start of your fitness journey or take part in other sports too.

So what do I need?

Comfortable clothes – Bouldering is an all-body sport that engages everything from your toes to the tips of your fingers, and many people are surprised when they work up a sweat!

Think: What would I wear to the gym or yoga? Anything light, breathable, and flexible is perfect.  

Climbing shoes – These are specialised shoes designed to assist you stand on climbing holds, coated in grippy rubber. They should be as snug as possible but not painful. All of the London Climbing Centres (find one near you here) will have climbing shoes available to hire for the day- or buy if you’re feeling committal.

Chalk – Chalk is every climber’s best friend! We use it to keep our hands dry from sweat and oils, giving us a better grip on the holds. It also helps keep the holds easy to clean. The chalk will likely end up on your clothes too, but don’t worry, it washes out without much effort. Again, chalk is available to rent at all of our centres.

Run-through: Your first visit

The first step is to warm up! Climbing works a unique set of muscles that other sports don’t touch, so a good warm-up will help prevent any injuries or strains and help reduce muscle stiffness (which every new climber will experience) the day after!

A good warm-up for bouldering typically includes light cardiovascular activity (like jogging or jumping jacks) to increase your heart rate, followed by dynamic stretching or mobility exercises.

This can include exercises like shoulder rolls, wrist circles, leg swings, and hip circles. Then, it’s time to climb!

Climbing your first boulder

When you walk into the main climbing hall you’ll see a huge variety of holds, all in different colours, often with tags at the base.

The colour of the holds indicates the route that you follow, e.g all the yellow holds will be ‘in’ for a particular route. The tags will indicate the starting holds (where your two hands go) and often the grade, from Vintro (perfect for your first climb) all the way up to some seriously hard routes.

To start a climb properly, you should be holding the start holds and your feet should be off the floor, usually on footholds.When climbing the wall, you must use only the holds of the designated route’s colour.

To finish a climb both hands need to be on the highest hold on the wall of that colour. You can then use any colour to come back down as you have completed the climb. 

That’s it! You’ve ticked off your first climb.

Keep on climbing routes, trying those on the easier end of the grade range (Vintro-V2 as a rough guide), while taking plenty of breaks to let your muscles recover in between climbs.

Climbing etiquette and staying safe

Bouldering has seen its popularity sky-rocket year after year, and it may be quite busy when you visit. For everyone to have a good session, everyone needs to stick to a few rules to keep themselves and other climbers safe.

Climbing gyms like to ensure there are plenty of climbs on the wall, to give you lots of variety to choose from. This means that climbs will often overlap with other climbs.

Before jumping on a climb, take a look around to make sure no one is already on the wall that gets too close to your climb. Look at the colour hold that they’re climbing and try to see where it goes and where they may fall if they should come off.

Each climb is like a little puzzle that you solve with your movements (it’s why we call routes ‘boulder problems’), and it can be really easy to try the same climb over and over again in quick succession – especially if you are figuring out a starting move.

Remember to keep an eye on those waiting behind and around you and allow them to take turns if you’re getting stuck on a move, a little break is likely to help you too!

Each climb is a puzzle and the way one executes a climb is called “beta”. Finding beta is half of the fun of climbing, and many people like to work out the puzzle independently and feel the rush of unlocking a tricky move that previously felt impossible. Beta-spraying is when you give unsolicited beta to someone – often a stranger. Always ask if someone wants beta or tips. No spoilers! 

Tips for beginners from the experts

Baby steps – For many people trying climbing is a big step outside of their comfort zone, most people aren’t used to being high up a wall.

You don’t have to get to the top of the boulder, climbing up to a height you are comfortable with is an achievement in itself!

Many people have overcome their fear of heights after getting into bouldering!

Climb with your legs – Your legs are incredibly powerful and are just as important as your arms while climbing.

Your legs are half your body and can hold a lot of weight, they can even take weight off your hands while climbing.

Remember to look for good footholds, not just good handholds!

Breathing – This may seem obvious, but it is very often overlooked.

Correct breathing can make a huge difference in your performance; exhaling while you do a big or powerful move will tighten your core, which engages more power into the move.

Whereas, remembering to take a deep breath if you get a nervous moment on the boulder can do wonders. 

Beginner’s Guide to Climbing in London – A Recap

Bouldering has transformed from a training method for mountaineers into a distinct and popular sport, attracting climbers of all levels. Its accessibility, particularly through indoor bouldering gyms, has opened the door for newcomers to experience the thrill of climbing without the need for extensive knowledge or specialised gear. All you need is comfortable clothes, climbing shoes, and chalk!In conclusion, bouldering offers not only a physical challenge but also a mental and social experience, making it a rewarding pursuit for individuals of all backgrounds and abilities.Come and join us at any one of the eight London Climbing Centres and give it a go this year!

You may just discover your new favourite sport…

Ready to climb?