Use these tips to create a bouldering strategy that gives you more sends between all those falls. Because, if you’re doing things right, bouldering will involve a significant amount of falling.
And by doing things right, I mean pushing yourself—physically and mentally—to solve the problem that stands before you. Along the way, you’re inherently going to face repeated body slams onto a crash pad or the gym floor … but that’s all part of the fun, anyway.
That being said, bouldering shouldn’t necessarily be about falling less, but rather giving yourself the tools you need to try harder, so that you can ultimately send more. That’s exactly why having a solid strategy for how you approach a boulder problem—whether it’s a V0 or a V12—can assist you in focusing on those physical and mental skills you need to improve as a boulderer.
12 tips to creating your bouldering strategy
1. Before you even consider trying a problem, find the descent.
Have you ever found yourself at the top of a boulder, only to realize that your only options for getting back down involved a terrifying slabby down-climb or a leap of faith to a few crash pads on the ground? We call ourselves climbers, not descenders, so keep the aim focused on going up rather than having to deal with an even harder V-grade to get down.
2. Scope out the problem from a distance, to get a full understanding of the climb.
It’s easy to be a kid in a candy shop, and see a jug and want to pull on it. But give yourself a few moments to assess the entire path of the problem; it will reveal the holds that are best suited for you, and help you understand the top-out sequence.
3. Check out the topout from above, or get the beta on what to expect.
Is the topout choss-ridden? Will you be dipping your hand into a puddle instead of a jug? Nothing is worse than figuring out what you thought was the crux, only to be flailing off of moss at the top. Figure out what stands between (well actually above) you and the send.
4. Visualize yourself climbing a sequence before you just try one.
Your brain and body work together far better than we give them credit for. Give your brain a chance to imagine your body working the moves and reaching the top. Where will you place your feet? What hand holds will you use? Where do you want your hips? Could that jug also serve as an undercling? Climb the problem in your head before you climb it on the rock.
5. Visualize a back-up sequence if the first one doesn’t work out.
If you go into a problem with an alternative body movement idea in your back pocket—instead of down-climbing or falling off—you can make use of your efforts and try your back-up sequence. This can also help to conserve gas in case you need to try it again, as you’ll know whether the new beta will work for you or not.
Visualizing is quite possibly the most important part of the bouldering strategy. Always have some options ready in your head before an attempt.
6. Anticipate and discuss what ways and directions you may fall with your spotter.
Don’t risk ending your bouldering season with an injury. Take a minute to think about any danger zones around you, and how—with the help of your spotter—you can avoid them.
7. Put the state of the elements around you in your favor.
Dust the grit or dirt off your climbing shoes, brush off the greasy holds, and give yourself the adequate amount of chalk that you might need before you make your way up. It can make a big difference.
8. Create your own psych-up routine.
This can and does mean something different for every single climber. It could be a mantra you repeat before you get on the rock, multiple dips into your lucky chalk bag, a short meditative moment, visualization of a past climb, a lion’s roar at your friends, an eye itch, a butt scratch, seriously, whatever you want. Maybe you even have a reserve psych-up routine you pull out when it really counts … Whatever it is, use it.
9. Stick to your strategy: give yourself adequate time to rest between attempts.
This can be hard for many of us. We get so psyched to try a problem that we don’t give ourselves more than ten seconds before we’re flailing back on it again. Give yourself the most opportunity for success by relaxing for at least 30 seconds to a minute in between attempts. Take several minutes or more between hard efforts.
10. Don’t be afraid to give up on bad beta.
Your bouldering strategy may be different from a friends’s bouldering strategy. Just because it works for your friend, doesn’t mean it will work for you. Also, just because you could do a move or sequence doesn’t mean it’s optimal. Look for less hidden body positions or slight adjustments you can make to improve your efficiency. Eliminate the moves that don’t work well for your body.
11. If you feel tired and are falling off of moves you’ve already done, it’s time to call it a day.
It’s hard to give up on a climb when you feel so close to sending. But as soon as your body starts to reject the movements that felt considerably easier before, it means you’re muscles have become exhausted and are in danger of being trained to fail on those moves. Don’t put yourself in a place where you have to erase bad muscle memory—it’s not easy!
12. When you’re feeling wiped out working on crux moves, give the finish sequence a try.
It might not be a sending day, but you can still follow a bouldering strategy to set yourself up to improve your chances for tomorrow. By dialing in the finish moves, you’ll know that when you make it through the crux sequences, the rest should in the bag … That is, unless the crux is the finish.
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