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Look Ma! No Ropes!

By Nancy Prichard - August 2nd, 2000

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Training Tips for Bouldering
Bouldering, the simplest and purest form of climbing, is a proven way to perfect climbing techniques and to get a peerless workout. Basically, bouldering is the art of climbing low to the ground, on rocks or artificial gyms, so that the climber can jump (or fall) without risk of serious injury. It requires only shoes, a chalk bag, and a rock. Once you get serious about the sport you might want to consider a toothbrush and a landing pad. Not only is bouldering ideal because of its simplicity, it provides a fantastic workout. Best of all, it's a game of immediate gratification - you can "summit" dozens of rocks in a single session. Here's how to get (and keep) both feet off the ground.
  1. Traversing - climbing horizontally along the rock, just above the ground - is a safe way to get a good workout, especially if you are bouldering alone. You get a lot of mileage and short falls. Pick a rock with large handholds, and stay on the rock for five to ten minutes. Once you reach the end of the wall, boulder back the way you came. Reversing moves will make you stronger.
  2. Practice down climbing, but don't forget your position relative to the ground. Good boulderers are great jumpers and solid downclimbers. Keep in mind that if you go alone you will eventually hit the ground; prepare a landing area clear of ankle-twisting rocks and sticks. Before you summit a boulder, scope out your descent. More than one ace has found himself marooned atop a boulder with the only option for descent being to reverse the hardest piece of climbing he's ever done.
  3. Team bouldering makes for a safer sport. Find a partner who is well versed in spotting. The goal of spotting is not to catch the climber, but to break his fall and prevent his head from smacking on a rock. A shrewd spotter faces the rock in a volleyball-setter position and, when working a difficult problem, will hand-check his spot, placing his hands almost touching the climber's back.
  4. Practice. Bouldering requires combinations of technique, strength and contemplation to solve different problems. The key to most difficult spots is sequence. Evaluate the face for obscure edges and holds, and remember to give your body a good deal of rest between tries.
  5. A great deal of bouldering is contemplative - one project (rock) after another. As long as you are willing to try, your chances are endless. Rethink errors while your forearms revitalize. Warm up with problems you can flash on the first try. Then try the impossible.

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