The Secret to Boosting Your Sport Grade? Limit Bouldering.

If you can't use the hold, you can't do the move. If you can't do the move, you won't do the route. Nina Williams makes the case for why sport climbers must train power

Photo: Kiff Alcocer

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You tie in for one last-ditch effort at turning around your no-send Sunday. A sequence of flowy 5.10 moves and jugs leads you to the crux. You grab the sharp right-hand crimp and re-position your feet on slimy edges. You stand tall, reaching for the next hold, but your fingers slap the rock half an inch below the small edge, and you fall for the 28th time—not that you’re counting. Now it’s back to weekday laps on the lead wall until next Saturday, when you get to attempt that one-move-wonder BS crux again.

The author climbing above a prickly group of spotters. (Photo: James Lucas)

Sometimes the best thing to do is pack up your rope and draws in defeat and head to the bouldering wall. This is one of those times.

Doing laps on laps on laps of climbs you’ve had wired for weeks is going to do nothing to help you stick that one hard move you’ve never quite managed to do. Bouldering, on the other hand, is exactly what you need. It doesn’t matter how freshy-fresh you feel when you hit the crux, if you can’t do that one crazy, jumpy, reachy move, you cannot send the climb. Bouldering allows you to focus on hard moves in isolation, whether you’re trying to simulate the crux of your outdoor project or just want to build the strength and power necessary to do every move on any sport climb you attempt.

Bouldering teaches you to focus on and analyze the individual movements necessary to complete a problem. You learn to pay attention to the minute details of the climb, such as your hand position on a crimp, whether you’re back-stepping or staying square, and how dynamically (or not…) you move. Subtle changes in your body position, from where you place your foot on a hold, to how far you turn your right knee have an enormous impact on whether you send a boulder problem. This mental focus and body awareness translates well when you reach the crux of your sport project. You’ll be more perceptive to how your body is moving through the crux, and you might see new—hopefully easier—ways to climb the sequence.

Many sport climbers fall on crux moves because they lack power. Limit bouldering, climbing one to two moves at your physical limit, is an effective and fun way to train power that will make the crux moves on your project feel easy in comparison. Working out four to six of these difficult moves and then training your body to link them smoothly will prepare you to execute longer sequences of hard moves mid-route. Bouldering is also a great way to increase overall body strength and core tension. The stronger you are, the more relaxed you’ll climb easier sequences, allowing you to reach the crux feeling fresh, which often translates to sending despite a decrease in time spent endurance training.

Falling 52 times on a sport project is not only physically draining, but it can wear you out mentally and emotionally. Switching climbing disciplines often offers a welcomed change of pace. You might still be falling a lot—in bouldering that’s a sign you’re pushing yourself—but at least you’ll be falling off new moves that challenge you in different ways. Maybe all you really need to send is a break to renew your psych for climbing and undo the muscle memory you’ve built up falling in the same place repeatedly. Bouldering will give you just that, while keeping you strong—if not making you stronger.

And who knows, you may be surprised by how much fun you have with the low commitment style of climbing. Sitting on the mats is pretty nice too.

Ready to step up your bouldering? Nina Williams and Climbing Magazine have developed two must-take courses for casual and serious boulderers alike:

Want to get the best out of your bouldering sessions?

Want more? Learn how to boulder your best with our three-part online Boulder Harder, with Nina Williams who lays down the techniques and hard-earned wisdom that have made her one of the world’s top boulderers.

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