My first introduction to bouldering was in 2017, in DUMBO Boulders in Brooklyn Bridge Park (now closed):
I hated it back then because it seemed so lame. Just climb up barely above human height and drop back down again. I also of course wasn’t good at it.
6 years later, I’ve now completed 2 straight months of ~daily bouldering:
When I started 2 months ago, I couldn’t complete a single v0 route. My arms and legs didnt work that way, I tired out easily, I used my arms too much, and the tops of the boulders felt too high even though I knew in theory I was safe if I fell.
Now I can reliably do ~all V1 routes (V1 refers to the Vermin-Huevo scale):
My fingers have continually torn skin, but its not too bad and I’ve learned to just bandage myself up and keep going. Hopefully the calluses come in and my technique improves.
I find bouldering a good workout because it is more intellectually engaging, and more social, than running and weights:
- You still get a lot of cardio - I regularly clock about 300-400 calories per 30-45min bouldering session - but it is in functional areas that matter, like hanging/gripping on to things, pulling yourself up, stretching your legs and holding your core, rather than counting reps on unrelatable weights.
- There is a progression system built in starting from VB/V0’s, to the V1’s and V2’s that I do now, all the way to the V9/10+‘s, and then toproping from the 5.9’s to my current 5.10a’s, to the 5.10c’s and 5.11a’s that my climbing friends do.
- Each progression feels very satisfying, each failure is a real disappointment/embarrassment but never seems unsurmountable, because there is always someone shorter/older/younger than you who can easily take on the thing you just declared impossible.
- I enjoy that there is a strong psychological element to taking on some challenges, in that there have been a few cases where I swore up and down I couldn’t reach a thing or stand on a tiny little foothold, and then got goaded into doing it anyway by someone who told me to “just do it”. The fear diminishes ones you’ve done it, but the slight threat of a fall - never catastrophic, but with a chance of a bad scrape or bruise and some occasional back injuries from a bad fall - keeps your skin in the game.
There is a baseline amount of fitness you need in order to take on bouldering. My BMI is in the 30’s right now, which makes me mildly obese, and I am probably right on the edge of people-who-can-boulder-and-enjoy-it. I cannot do pullups without 50+lbs of assistance. The people who do V4+ type paths are all lean and wiry, because it does matter how much weight you are carrying as you pull yourself up, especially with the incline/overhangs.
I highly recommend getting into a climbing gym near where you live. (I guess this is a good rule for ANY habit you intend to get into on a regular basis) Mine is within a 10min walk of my place and is open 16 hours a day so I have no excuse to not go apart from laziness (and letting down my accountability partner). In the early days it is helpful to get in regular 20-30 minute sessions where you can build up your calluses, keep trying the easy boulders (they reset every month or so, so if they keep changing it is difficult to know if you are getting better). My gym also has regular gym equipment (treadmill, weights, classes) as well so you can alternate climbing and regular workouts if you wish. It is quite affordable at $80-90ish a month, and another $90ish for the climbing shoes.
I’m currently stuck in a rut with V2’s (I think I’ve sent a total of 3 of them ever) and some overhang V0/V1’s - and the current challenge is to figure out how to consistently keep improving and not get stuck. It’s still early but I am really looking forward to the fitness and confidence I associate with being a V3/4 climber, not least because that seems to be the “modal” level where you unlock most of the paths in most climbing gyms.
Dec Edit - I can now do a few V2 routes well: