- Helpful tips on how to improve and train your bouldering technique.
- Learn which drills will result in fast improvements.
Tips on the Proper Bouldering Technique
Proper technique is the foundation of bouldering. The good news: You can improve your bouldering technique.
You can acquire and master the skills that make bouldering look easy and playful.
And before you know it, you’ll no longer have to be content with the lower levels of difficulty and can start tackling more challenging “bouldering problems”.
Tip Nr. 1 – Climb With Your Legs, Not Your Arms
Especially bouldering beginners tend to (only) using their hands and arms to climb. This might work reasonably well for easy routes with large holds. Later, however, when the boulder problems get more difficult, you will have no chance without good footwork.
Climbing solely with your arms uses up a lot of energy.
That’s why you should get in the habit of using your legs from the very beginning.
Make sure to properly load the foothold and push your body upwards with your leg muscles.
You need to understand that it’s not your hands and your arms that will move you up, but rather your legs and feet.
2. Bouldering Technique – Footwork
Proper footwork is the foundation for making progress in bouldering. Focus on the tips of your toes to ensure good footwork.
You don’t have to place your entire foot on the hold when bouldering. Precise placement of your toes is the way to go.
Step on footholds with the tips of your toes
This makes you significantly more agile and able to move in all directions. When you step on the hold properly, you push yourself upwards using the strength of your legs. Additionally, pull yourself as close to the wall as possible using your core muscles.
Focus on the foothold
To use proper footwork, it’s important to target the desired foothold before you start the movement.
This means you need to direct your gaze at the foothold and focus on it until your foot is placed securely. Take your time doing this – especially in the beginning.
If there are no footholds in reach, make use of friction. In the beginning, you’ll likely have to overcome some fear of slipping… but as you will see, it does work.
On many bouldering routes, smearing is oftentimes the only option that allows you to keep climbing. The primary requirements are two things: Confidence and good body tension.
For smearing, you shouldn’t just use your toes but rather your entire forefoot. If you do a lot of smearing, you’ll benefit from slightly softer shoes with a flexible sole construction.
4. Hips in
Make Proper Use of Your Body’s Center of Gravity.
You’re probably very familiar with seeing this in bouldering gyms. Someone is bouldering and even though their hands and their feet are on the wall, their bottom is stuck out far away from the wall. This is not what bouldering should look like.
One golden rule for a good bouldering technique: Keep your hip (center of Gravity) close to the wall.
Place your weight on your legs
The closer your hip is to the wall, the more weight is placed on your legs, which is the only way of climbing efficiently. If your hip isn’t close to the wall, your hands automatically have to do more work, which costs unnecessary energy.
5. Back Stepping
When bouldering there’s a few different methods of positioning yourself on the wall: The head-on technique and back stepping.
Especially for holds that can’t be reached head-on, but instead have to be held on to laterally, back stepping comes in handy.
Lateral shift of your body’s center of gravity
In principle back stepping is quite simple. You shift your body’s center of gravity to one side and then stabilize yourself in that position. Go ahead and practice this technique a couple of times until you master it completely… you will need it a lot when bouldering.
It’s important to identify back stepping opportunities ahead of time. This will save energy and create a natural climbing – flow.
6. Use the Frog Technique
Ideal bouldering technique for high footholds
For this technique, you step on a high foothold and then move your body’s center of gravity over the high leg (using some momentum). That’s also where this technique gets its name from since it looks like a frog’s leg.
This technique does require a certain degree of mobility. However, sometimes it’s the only option that allows you to keep going when a foothold is high up.
7. Avoid Overextending Yourself
It would be best if you avoided overextended positions whenever possible. That’s because they usually indicate that your focus while bouldering has been on your hands and that you might have neglected proper footwork.
An overextended position can sometimes be tough to get out of. That’s why you should always make sure to place your feet before moving your hands.
Mantra to internalize:
– Feet first, hands second.
8. Extend Your Arms
With extended arms, you mostly use the muscles in your finger flexors without using up additional energy to bend your entire arm. If you climb with bent arms, you activate muscles you don’t really need. This is inefficient and costs (too much) energy.
9. Strategically Switch Feet
In many cases switching feet is necessary even to be able to climb on. Switching feet is something you can easily practice while traversing on the bouldering wall. Ideally, it happens fast and efficiently – to not waste any time and energy.
Work on your balance
Make sure not to lose your balance when switching your feet quickly.
Good bouldering technique spares the rubber of your shoes and will increase their lifespan significantly.
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Sometimes it’s necessary to grab one hold with both hands. Make sure to leave enough space for both hands on the hold.
11. Avoid Placing Your Feet up Too High
Placing your feet up (too) high doesn’t only cost a lot of energy, but you can also get yourself into an unfavorable position.
Small steps, big impact
This mistake can be avoided by trying to make smaller steps and by using all the footholds that are available. This also results in a better flow of movement and efficient climbing.
If, however, you do need place your feet up very high, try using the above-mentioned frog technique.
12. Efficient Grip
By gripping too hard, you’re unnecessarily wasting energy. As you know, you should primarily be standing on your legs, while handholds help you keep your balance.
To achieve a good bouldering technique, make sure you’re using your grip strength in a measured manner.
Finger Strength Training
- 3 Protocols for Maximum Finger Strength.
- 1 Protocol for Power Endurance.
13. Deliberately Practice Falling
The higher you boulder, the further you might fall. That is the nature of this sport. Nevertheless, we want to avoid falls, especially unplanned ones.
Falling practice for bouldering
And yet, it’s important that you deliberately practice falling. That’s how you learn to absorb the impact of a fall and therefore avoid injuries.
Gain confidence by practicing how to fall
Falling practice can oftentimes help you put your fear to rest or at least calm it. As a result, you will feel a lot freer when you’re bouldering. The same rule which applies to climbing also applies to bouldering: If you want to be good at bouldering, you need to be good at falling.
Good climbers and boulderers are excelling, because they constantly push themselves to the limit, even if that means they risk falling.
14. Use Side Pulls and Underclings correctly
As I’m sure you’ve noticed, head-on climbing is only one of many ways of getting up a wall. Oftentimes side pulls and underclings are vital.
If you want to use side pulls, you need to shift your body’s center of gravity. Basically, that means leaning away from the side pull while using your feet to push in the opposite direction.
Underclings work best as soon as you gain some height
For Underclings in particular it’s important to gain height. So whenever you come across an undercling you should quickly try to gain height. If you manage to position yourself the right way, underclings can be very effective and even be used as resting points.
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15. Knee Bar
Basically you wedge your lower leg in between two holds or between a hold and a part of the wall. Apply this technique anytime you find the opportunity and give your hands a short break. Some knee bars can hold your entire body weight.
This bouldering technique may take some getting used to, but nevertheless, you should definitely try it.
This is what knee bars look like in the wild:
16. Counter Pressure Techniques: Bridges, Stemming and Laybacks
Stemming or the counter-pressure technique can be implemented most often in corners or dihedrals. In most cases, you don’t even need a hold since smearing with your soles is already sufficient.
The great part is that bridges save a lot of energy, even if it doesn’t always look that way.
Counter pressure of the arms
Stemming also makes use of counter pressure. The difference to bridges is that you use also your arms instead of your legs.
Stemming works equally well with smearing. The most important requirement is body tension.
The third counter pressure technique is laybacks. That’s when you shift you body’s center of gravity backwards and to the side, while you push your legs forward and pull with your arms.
17. Cross Over
In a lot of bouldering gyms, you’ll find special walls just for traversing. That’s when you don’t move up but move sideways instead. To allow for fluid climbing, when doing this, you need to use the “cross over“, which is when the hands and legs are constantly crossing each other to move forward.
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Extra: Bouldering Technique Tips for Overhangs
For many boulderers, climbing an overhang is one of their biggest goals. That’s where you can show what you’re really capable of and push yourself to your limits. Bouldering in overhangs costs a lot of energy. Nevertheless, some handy tips will help facilitate your heroic routes.
Overhang Tip 1: Heel Hook and Toe Hook
In Overhangs, you will definitely need to do a heel hook or a toe hook at some point. Especially the deliberate use of heel hooks will save you a lot of energy in overhangs as well as on protrusions and ridges.
Using your heel allows you to reach holds that would be much too high to step on when climbing head-on.
However, by hooking your heel and using the flexor muscles in your leg you’ll be able to pull yourself up.
Toe pad and heel fit
If you know that you’re gonna be doing a lot of toe hooks, make sure that there’s an extra layer of rubber (the toe pad) when you’re buying your shoes. To ensure that heel hooks work well, your shoes also need to have a snug fit around the heel.
Overhang Tip 2: Bicycles
Bicycles sound like a fun technique. In practice, it means using your feet like pliers when you’re in an overhang. To do it, the hold needs to be large enough. You pinch the hold with your feet, which prevents your lower body from swaying.
Overhang Tip 3: Get Your Center of Gravity Under the Hold
To prevent the undesirable swaying motion in the overhang, it’s crucial to keep your body’s center of gravity directly under the hold before even reaching for the next hold.
Having your body’s center of gravity under the hold will keep you from swaying, which saves a lot of energy and can be the deciding factor between success and failure.
What to wear Climbing / Bouldering?
As long as your movements are not restricted – pretty much everything goes. Click for further information and a couple of real-life examples of what climbers like to wear.
Bouldering Technique Drills – Improve Your Technique
Aside from the foundational techniques described in the previous section, this section focuses on specific exercises and tips that will improve your bouldering technique.
As we all know, practice makes perfect. With these particular exercises and drills, you’ll start making progress and improve your bouldering skills.
Exercise 1: Boulder Quietly
Shush! A good boulderer moves quietly. That’s because every footstep is placed precisely. These steps are basically inaudible to the ears – a good bouldering technique is also a pleasure to watch.
On the tips of your toes
Hence, you should practice quiet steps the next time you’re in a bouldering gym. Step on the footholds gently and precisely, every time. Aside from that, this exercise also trains your body tension.
2. Traversing on Small Holds
You can also practice your “quiet steps” perfectly when you’re traversing on small footholds. That’s because here, too, you need precise footwork. Deliberately look for traverses with small footholds and then practice, practice, practice.
You can perform this exercise close to the ground – so you can jump off at any time.
3. Cross, Cross, Cross
Since you’re already traversing, you might as well incorporate the next exercise, which is the cross-over. That’s when you cross your legs alternatingly.
This exercise improves your “climbing flow” and will make your motions more fluid over time. Please make sure that your body’s center of gravity is placed correctly and that your hip is close to the wall.
4. Practice Back Step
When bouldering, there will always be places that require back stepping. That’s why you should, again and again, practice the back Step as a preliminary exercise. Choose an easy route and try back stepping with every single move. This, too, is an exercise that you can practice perfectly on a traversing wall.
5. Extend Your Arms
Way too often, we climb with bent arms and try to pull ourselves close to the wall with all of our strength. If you’ve noticed this tendency in yourself, then this bouldering technique exercise is just right for you.
To climb efficiently and economically, it’s vital to extend your arms. This is another exercise that is perfect for traverses. Start in a squat position and then traverse with bent legs and extended arms.
6. The One-armed Boulderer
Use just one arm.
This exercise is a genuine all-rounder since it requires balance, dynamics, timing, and hand-eye coordination.
7. Climbing with No Thumb
You act like your thumbs aren’t there for this drill, which is not as easy as it sounds since you can’t grab the hold and pull yourself close to the wall.
This means that you’ll be forced to improve your footwork.
8. Climbing in Slow Motion
Bouldering in slow motion brings with it an entirely new awareness of your movements when you’re bouldering. Practicing in slow motion will develop your body tension, your precision, and your control.
Try to do every movement as slowly but also as fluidly and as precisely as possible. This exercise will allow you to feel exactly what is happening when you’re bouldering.
9. Climb Dynamically and Swiftly
The opposite of the slow-motion exercise is an exercise where you deliberately climb swiftly and dynamically. This means you should be moving fast but not hastily. To some extent, you have to hand over control and be courageous.
This is another drill related to mindfulness – since it gives you a chance to observe your moves very closely. For this exercise you focus on the hold you’re going for, but right before holding on to it, you pause for three seconds. Only then do you go ahead and touch it.
Repeat this process for every hold. This exercise will develop your grip and lock-off-strength – since one arm has to hold your whole body weight for a short while.
11. Practice Smearing
Smearing requires some practice and, most of all, a lot of confidence. That’s exactly why it’s so important to train it regularly. Utilize large structures and have confidence in the friction of your shoes, for that is exactly what they’re made for. If you practice close to the ground, you’ll have an easier time practicing how to fall since the falls won’t be very high.
12. Learn how to Grip Gently
Especially beginners tend to grip every hold as hard as possible since that gives a sense of security. But as you already know, you should be primarily climbing with your feet.
Try to grip holds gently for this exercise. Grip them with as little strength as possible and be mindful of the difference. Also, be conscious of how little strength a gentle grip requires.
13. Climb Your Routes Back Down
Some boulderers do this automatically; others like jumping down from the top. As an exercise, it’s definitely worth not only climbing the route to the top but also climbing it back down again.
Climbing back down improves your bouldering technique and strengthens your muscles since it trains them completely differently. Bouldering upwards makes you do concentrical movements, whereas bouldering back down trains your muscles with eccentrical movements.
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Improve Your Bouldering – 7 More Tips and Tricks
Aside from technique tips and drills, there are a few more general tips that I’m going to share with you.
1. Read the Boulderproblem
Before beginning your bouldering route, try to read the route and consider how each move might play out. Visualize each move and create mental images of them. This technique is called visualization and is used by many professional athletes.
2. Watch Other Boulderers
I like watching other people climb and analyzing their moves. Especially in the crux moves, I watch how other boulderers approach the problem. Sometimes the penny finally drops, and I’m able to master that spot just by modifying one move.
3. Be Patient With Your Body
To prevent injuries and overexertion, you need to understand that muscles grow a lot faster than tendons and ligaments do.
Muscles get used to new strains fairly quickly – tendons and ligaments need substantially more time to adapt.
So take your time and don’t put too much strain on yourself when training. Having to take a break from practice because of an injury would be a shame.
4. Train Your Body Tension
Aside from a well-developed bouldering technique, the things that will benefit you most are great body tension and strong fingers.
Body tension bouldering
You can train your body tension with all kinds of exercises (Pullup bar, Suspension trainers, etc.) – OR by doing the so-called “body tension bouldering”. All you need is a mighty overhang with a couple of good holds.
Act like you have a bad bouldering technique
Climb in an overhang and let your legs drop after each move, just like if you were climbing with bad technique… We all know that it costs a lot of extra energy when your feet slip off a foothold. But for this exercise, that’s exactly what we want.
Keep bringing your feet back to the foothold.
Let your feet drop, and then bring them back to the wall. Then make the next move and let your feet drop once again. This trains your core in a way that’s specific to climbing and is a lot more fun than mindless repetitions on a pull-up bar.
5. Train Your Finger Strength
There’s nothing better to train your finger strength than a Hangboard (also known as a fingerboard or training board). Not to be confused with a campus board, a hang board is relatively safe and harmless when done correctly.
6. Compensation Training – Bouldering
My tip: invest some time into training your antagonist muscles, or more specifically, the muscles that are hardly used when bouldering. This will prevent injuries and postural defects.
Any boulderer will be forced to do compensation training at some point in their career due to injuries. Avoid those worries by doing some simple exercises 1-2 times per week to stay healthy and perform well.
7. Warming up is Necessary
Even if it sounds boring, warming up before each climb is necessary. Get your body ready for bouldering by doing a few exercises. It will help get your blood flowing and lets your body know that you’re about to start. Warming up your muscles, tendons, and ligaments makes them work a lot better.