I'm a Rope Climber, But Here's Why I Boulder
As a personal trainer and fitness guru at Earth Treks, I hear a lot of the same mindset: “All of my climbing goals involve tall climbs on ropes. Why would I boulder?”
At first glance, the logic behind the thought seems sound. If you want to run a faster mile, you spend a lot of time running miles. If you want to lift heavier weights, you… well, you lift heavier weights.
The fact is that rock climbing, especially leading sport routes, demands a very precise ratio of power, strength, endurance and mental fortitude. That’s where bouldering comes in.
BOULDERING BUILDS CLIMBING STRENGTH
Lawrence Osefoh is the Earth Treks Climbing Team’s head coach, and has some pretty wise words for sport leaders who want to push their grades.
“For a climber, getting your endurance up to snuff is pretty easy - spend a few weeks on ropes and you’ll be ready to compete on ropes. What’s hard to do on solely ropes is get new strength to make the moves on those harder grades."
“I think of climbing ability as a dumbed-down car - you’ve got your gas tank (endurance), and your horsepower (strength). Getting a tank that can hold more fuel is good, but without addressing sub-par horsepower, you’re not going to be able to get over those hills efficiently.”
Disclaimer: neither Lawrence, nor myself are gearheads, so forgive any misinterpretation of the basics of how an engine works. Still, I think it's fantastic to approach bouldering as more than a sport; bouldering is a great training tool for any climber who wants to improve their performance.
WHY CAN'T I EFFECTIVELY STRENGTH TRAIN ON ROPES?
This is where the orthodoxies of weightlifting and climbing intersect. Without getting hung up on metabolic pathways and other anatomy textbook jargon, know this: strength is more effectively trained with lower repetitions at a higher resistance. For us, this translates to climbs with fewer moves that are harder to complete.
Sounds an awful lot like bouldering.
For a little more insight, I caught up with Earth Treks employee and Evolv-sponsored athlete Aaron Chan, and asked him how bouldering improved his ropes game.
“Starting last year, I used bouldering to enhance my training regimen. One of my weaknesses on ropes is cruxy climbs, those with a really hard sequence of moves towards the middle or end of the route. Bouldering is a great way to work on my ability to do these really hard moves.
One thing I’ve been doing is called up-down-ups. I’ll climb up a boulder, down climb it, and then climb it again. I get a pump from the first ascent, and then I have to keep climbing through a tough series of moves with that pump. At competitions, a lot of the climbs require the ability to tackle these cruxy climbs, and bouldering has been invaluable to that end.”
Aaron’s specialty is climbing ropes, and yet here he is, singing praises for the benefits of bouldering for all climbers. Honing that perfect athleticism for your climbing endeavors requires different training disciplines. More strength will only pay dividends for hard routes.
Contributed by Jon Meltzer, Fitness Manager for Earth Treks Hampden and Timonium.
Read this next: Lift Your Way to a Stronger Climb