Posted 12th Mar 2023
I'm thinking of taking up bouldering just for fitness. Do I need to take a course? Is there any particular equipment I need? What should I wear? Being almost middle aged, if I fall off will I break something? Is it worth taking it up?

Thanks in advance!
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  1. mas99's avatar
    I'd hire shoes to start with. after a short while you will probably find yourself wearing ones that you would have rejected as way too small when you first started.

    I'd also go straight to climbing - do a course at your local wall. imo too much bouldering is down to strength, you may find climbing better as a starter.
    dan_uk's avatar
    Would echo this, actually. 

    I’ve got to the point where I’m actually stuck with my bouldering grades. I’ve got to v4-v5 standard and I’m now hugely limited by my power to weight ratio, the size of my feet and the general “bigness” of my frame. 

    Unless I can find a way to reduce down to 80-ish kg (a 15% body weight loss) I think that’s where my bouldering career will peak. There’s ultimately an insane amount of force being applied through my limbs, fingers and feet that I can’t really address even if I get stronger than I already am (bearing in mind I can now do 120% body weight pull ups and can hang pretty competently on most of the holds on my beast maker). 

    About 3 weeks ago I switched my attention to auto belay and instantly did a 6c+ and almost finished a 7a. These would be ranked as more difficult than most of the boulders I can do but because they’re about strength endurance and vertical technique the issues of weight and bulk are mitigated. 

    In short, I would recommend having a taster on something and then making sure you’re trying all aspects of climbing as one might find that you’re predisposed to one over another. 
  2. Deedie's avatar
    Go along to your local climbing club for a taster session
    CalmerChameleon's avatar
    That's my intention!
  3. dan_uk's avatar
    Hi OP. I started climbing last year in my late thirties and I weigh 90+ kg and it’s been one of the best decisions I’ve made.

    Most climbing centres will just ask you to sign a disclaimer to boulder, some will ask you a few questions based on common sense and being careful around other climbers.

    If you have a local climbing centre that will be the one you go to all the time, then maybe worth doing an introductory session mainly to meet some of the staff, get a tour of the building and facilities and glean some knowledge but this will depend hugely on whoever your session host is on the day. I’ve done loads of these sessions now as I’ve climbed up and down the country and some have been pro climbers, others just seasonal staff so the experience will vary.

    Unless you happen to be immediately brilliant, then the routes you’ll be aiming to complete will be relatively obvious and not really much harder than climbing a steep ladder and you won’t need instruction in the first instance.

    Hire shoes to begin with. Most places will throw a pair in with your first session and buying shoes is expensive and complex as it will depend on your feet shape and what shape shoe you want, so leave this until you’re sure you’re going to carry on.

    Really you can wear anything to boulder. Some people wear next to nothing, some people boulder in jeans and a shirt. To begin with though start with a loose T-shirt and joggers or shorts. Gym wear basically.

    In the first instance I wouldn’t even waste money on chalk unless you get sweaty hands. It makes very little difference on beginner routes and is just something else to think about when you don’t need the distraction.

    The hardness of the mats you drop onto will depend on their newness. Most will be well worn in and nice and soft, newer mats are a little firmer.

    I had quite a serious calf tear at the end of last year which I sustained trying to do a highly dynamic move and have since learned my lesson about warming up and doing regular stretching outside of my climbing days coupled with a bit of yoga (but I’m taking it quite seriously now so this is entirely optional). So injuries do happen but outside of my calf the only injuries have been a few scrapes and grazes and the occasional sore finger tendons when you over extend.

    It’s brilliant fun and has been amazing for my physique, fitness and general get up and go. Once you’ve done some bouldering you can look at auto belay which is climbing in a harness using a “rope” which is attached to a mechanism on the roof of a wall which lowers you down automatically once you let go of the climbing holds and is great fun and a different challenge to bouldering and allows you to climb longer routes without a partner (and classical belay knowledge).

    If you want any more help, give me a shout either here or on PM
  4. airbus330's avatar
    My son does this at a reasonably competent level. When he started he did a lot of work exercising his hands to strengthen them. Bought a fingerboard to practice at home. Apart from that and shoes its a pretty cheap hobby. Practice make perfect.
    mas99's avatar
    I think beginners should avoid fingerboards. They are a source of injury.
    Stick to bigger holds to start with.
  5. darlodge's avatar
    Find your local wall and get an introduction. They'll take you through the basic of bouldering safely. Then do a few sessions (with sufficient rest in-between) and then do a guided lesson.

    I bouldered and climb as a teen and then stopped but restarted recently as it compliments other training that I do.

    The first session will be an eye opener, the next few days after will be even more so

    Don't get carried away, stick simple for a while and get comfortable, work on being safe and don't go throwing yourself around into complex routes.

    My local centre is a pure bouldering gym as it's not high but I have climbing centres with auto belays (so you don't need a buddy) within a short drive.
  6. aLV426's avatar
    I prefer wet bouldering, I was last at Maggie's leap - so good they have created an IPA!

    I would love to get back into both wet & dry bouldering again, but for me I would have too far to travel now.
    Wet bouldering you would need equipment - though you can hire it from most venues.
    Dry bouldering can be done without any equipment, however I would recommend a good pair of trainers. You can make it as basic or complicated as you want and it is best to go bouldering in a group.
    Though most would argue once you introduce hardware or safety equipment it's no longer considered bouldering - that would be rock climbing! Bouldering is no longer bouldering if you climb more than a few meters. Once you introduce a rope I would consider that rope climbing, not bouldering.
    Belaying isn't really part of bouldering - that's considered a rock climbing discipline.

    The only negative thing I gained from it was large muscles to the point I have to stop wearing shirts - I developed "Popeye" muscles and large neck muscles (I take a 21" in the collar still!) (edited)
  7. slimy31's avatar
    Personally I prefer climbing rather than bouldering, the main issue for me was finding a climbing partner. Bouldering you can do solo (although even that is better with friends). Well, there are auto-belays but they're not very common. I would recommend a taster session for both to see what your preference is. Climbing also needs a bit of training around knot tying and belaying, but after a couple of sessions you'd have it sorted.

    While you can/ will hire shoes for your first few lessons, actually buying your own pair will be a very early purchase. A chalk ball and bag will be very close behind (not loose chalk as all climbing/bouldering places I've been to don't allow it).

    Scrapes and knocks will be inevitable, as already mentioned loose fitting long trousers are essential (I tried shorts once as I thought it would be effective, my knees soon told me why no-one else was climbing in shorts!!).

    And lastly, be prepared for it to be the most intense training session you'll ever have!! I got far fitter from climbing than I ever could from the gym. DOMS was pretty much standard every week, and I could only manage one session a week.
    CalmerChameleon's avatar
    Thanks for the advice! I'm planning on trying bouldering first to get to 'grips' (pardon the pun) with just basic climbing and working the correct muscle groups to start with. Then I'm planning on trying rope climbing (if I liked bouldering). I'm lucky to have both a bouldering centre and a climbing club quite nearby.

    I hope I like it because the gym bores me and I just can't get motivated to stick to a gym routine. I don't want to get huge with big muscles, only fitter. So climbing seems to fit the bill (in my head anyway).
  8. aLV426's avatar
    This is a terrible video of wet bouldering at Bloody Bridge - it's best to go with a big group of people and there is a brilliant challenge called "threading the eye of the needle" where you have to go under water and come up through a small hole in the rock.
  9. MrHappyGilmore's avatar
    Get proper instruction but this gives you a good overview on falling. Try to climb down if you can but if not this shows you how to do it safely

    Would recommend long sleeve top and trousers to prevent scraping yourself up.

    You need to hire climbing shoes which they will have.

    I have seen a lot of people jump from the top of the wall and have been fine but they used proper technique to land.

    There is lots of "easy" beginner routes to get going with nice big hand grips and foot grips

    You will be fine go along and have a go,it is fun
  10. MonkeyMan90's avatar
    When I was a lad I had a "license to belay" not sure if they're such a thing anymore it basically proves you can safely belay somebody else. You will be able to hire climbing shoes wherever you go and chalk is cheap enough to buy. Also not sure if you're aware but bouldering is done without ropes usually not very tall and has safety mats underneath. Belaying would only be done when actually rock climbing.
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