Everything You Need to Know About Bouldering

It's like a jungle gym for adults, and offers a full-body workout!

Looking a bit like a child’s jungle gym on acid — all jagged angles, weird formations and multi-colour plastic climbing holds — an indoor bouldering gym is a feast for the eyes and, it’s soon clear, an assault on the fingers. When you scramble up the wall, you’re grabbing onto holds that can be as thick as a ladder rung or as thin as the edge of a credit card.

“I don’t think there’s a single sport on the planet that puts such a high demand on finger strength,” says Matt Johnson, the head coach at Bloc Shop, a bouldering gym in Montreal. “But other muscle groups help: your biceps, forearm flexors, lats and legs all propel you up the wall. And having a strong core is super important to stabilize you on the small holds.” Johnson adds that bouldering’s cardiovascular component is fairly minimal and its social aspect is high: “Climbing is short bursts of intense activity, followed by a decent amount of falling, a lot of rest and a lot of chatting.” Because you tumble from the wall onto gymnasium crash pads — which, he notes, are well padded and totally safe — it’s not an ideal sport for anyone with a history of back, knee or ankle problems. “But it’s really good for people who are curious and playful, because as much as it’s a serious workout, it’s also a mental puzzle to figure out the exact sequence to get up the wall,” Johnson says.

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And while a towering rock wall might seem outrageously intimidating at first, Johnson says novices get the hang of climbing faster than they expect. “There’s something totally innate to this sport.”

Most gyms can teach you how to take climbing outside, where you’re tethered to a partner who will help guide you up the wall and safely down onto soft portable mats. “You’re not going to be pushing yourself to the same degree, and there’s a bit more risk,” Johnson says. “But there’s a lot higher risk of getting injured playing football or soccer.”

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