Ah, bouldering. The activity that kickstarted this whole sabbatical. Just what is bouldering, exactly? Where does one practice, and what equipment does one need? Here’s my supreme beginner’s take on the subject just 4 months in.

Bouldering: Sometimes upside down is the right side up!

What is Bouldering?

As per Wikipedia:

Bouldering is a form of rock climbing that is performed without the use of ropes or harnesses.

There are a few other types of climbing: mountaineering (only hardcore; here’s footage and a song from a 1967 Russian movie “Vertical” illustrating mountaineering), traditional climbing (climbers place and remove all supporting gear), and sport climbing (climbers use permanent anchors in the rock). I chose bouldering due to its accessibility to beginners, possibility for solo practice, and few equipment requirements. Since I climbed everything I could as a kid, I also figured it would bring me much joy; I was not wrong.

There are a lot of well-known rock climbers killing it in the bouldering world. All you have to do is watch a bouldering competition to be amazed. Here are the highlights of the 2016 World Cup in slow motion, so you can appreciate the ridiculousness:

Need more inspiration? Meet my spirit animals.

Korean climber Jain Kim (28).

American/Japanese climber Ashima Shiraishi (just 15!).

Setting Bouldering and Other Fitness Goals

Current Level

As with any goal-setting, it helps firstly to establish a baseline. My current level:

  • 100% completion of pink routes, ~80% of yellows, 1 of the greens (for reference, bouldering grades at my gym)
  • 2 consecutive chin-ups
  • 134.6 lb weight
  • 29.4% body fat

I’m a more static than dynamic climber (which means you won’t find me monkeying across holds, rather moving smoothly and steadily between, because my strength and power aren’t very advanced). That said, here’s a video of a dyno (a move that requires letting go of most, if not all, holds) of which I’m particularly proud (even as I fall off without finishing the route; apologies also for portrait-mode filming):

And here’s a green I’ve almost gotten (next time, I swear!):

What I’m good at: heel hooks, balance, flexibility.

My weight and body fat are also highest they’d ever been, I suspect due to 3 years of startuposis, symptoms of which include lack of sleep, exercise, and proper nutrition. Here are the stats from the last year:


In the next 96 days, I’d like to:

  • Complete an orange problem (V5 – V7)
  • Get 10 consecutive chin-ups
  • Drop body weight to 120lb
  • Drop body fat to 25%
  • BONUS: Go climbing outside! To do this, I’ll need to acquire a crash pad (add that to your list of required equipement should you want to try your skill on real rock). Once I’ve got that, there are quite a few crags and boulders around Eastern Ontario and Outaouais regions. This bouldering guide to Calabogie looks super-fun!

What I need to improve: overall technique (Neil Gresham’s Masterclass on Youtube helps immensely), climbing slopers and overhangs, finger strength, accelerating finger and skin recovery, countering strain.

Today I train one day on, two days off. I haven’t stalled in progress yet, but when I do, I might try more frequent, or more specific training as linked above, or an actual training course.

I’ll also need to begin counteracting bouldering strain with yoga and push exercises, which I’ll write about in a subsequent post. Because I sit for a living, continued pulling motions as are required for rock climbing cause my shoulders to round ever further forward. Will need to fix that!

Want to Try Bouldering?

All you need to try bouldering is the following:

  • A rock gym
  • Chalk
  • Rock shoes (optional, as most gyms rent)
  • Cute-as-shit chalk bag (optional)
  • Bigger reusable bag to haul your stuff around the gym OR a lock if your gym has lockers (optional)

In fact, when I first started, I put on my regular gym clothes and brought literally nothing. I used a buddy’s chalk and guest pass (thanks Jeff!), and rented climbing shoes from the gym.

As far as pricing, a visit to the rock gym including shoe rental and tax will run you around CAD$17 as of this writing (September 2016). You’ll probably also do well to go with a friend the first time – expect your forearms to be the first things to go when you start out.

Your Turn

Have you tried rock climbing? Do you want to? Or, have you got feedback on my climbing form? Drop me a note at sabbatical@mashakrol.com, or leave a comment below – I can certainly use some tips! 🙂

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