TLDR: Trip plan? Check. Gear? Check. You’re almost done. To get the most out of your bouldering trip, you’ll need to get into shape and take some self-care measures to ensure that you stay on good form throughout.
Whether you’re heading to a temperate location or a neighbouring country for a bouldeirng trip, you’ll definitely want to be ready for the physical demands and challenges of bouldering outdoors. Training for bouldering, however, can be complex, but it doesn’t need to be complicated. We’re here to help.
Drawing on our team’s collective experiences, we have distilled some preparation tips that we know to be helpful. When applied well, you’ll find yourself growing in strength for the trip and motivated to stay in shape after.
Climbing performance correlates positively with a climber’s strength-to-weight ratio. Climbers with a high level of strength and a lean body mass will generally experience better performances on the walls – their fingers withstand lower loads and they feel more nimble on the rocks.
Together with building climbing strength, you can consider improving your body mass composition through a shared focus on both strength training and diet adjustments. Why not just one? The simple answer is that it doesn’t work. Weight reduction can only happen when your body is subjected to a consistent state of caloric deficit. However, long periods of deficit without training will result in loss of muscle mass, decreasing muscle strength. Strength improvements, on the other hand, will only materialise if you train and feed your muscles, making large caloric deficits difficult to sustain.
Therefore to ensure that your efforts are healthy and sustainable, avoid “deprivation” or “exclusion” style diets that only restrict your calorie intake – instead, opt for healthier food and cooking options (prep your own meals for the best results) like broiling or steaming to reduce intake of excessive calories; and schedule your week to engage in at least 30 minutes of light activity every day, on top of dedicated climbing training days.
Speaking of dedicated climbing training days, here are some aspects of climbing strength training that we recommend you focus on.
General physical fitness
Because bouldering crags are often located far away from urban areas, reaching them typically involves some driving and about 10 – 15 mins of light trekking. On top of the distance, you can expect to carry a day’s food, water and climbing gear with you. Together with a crash pad, the expected personal baggage load can easily come up to about 10 kg.
To minimise fatigue from the approach, ensure that you have comfortable bags, shoes and clothes for this journey, and practice using them on short treks around Singapore’s green corridors to break them in. Take short practise hikes between 20 – 30 minutes to build up some basic walking stamina.
It is (beyond) physically demanding to be bouldering non-stop for an entire day – it is also impractical. Avoid burning out too quickly into the session by doing your best climbing when the local weather conditions are at their best. While precise local weather details may differ, ideal environmental conditions for bouldering tend to arise during early morning hours and late afternoons to evenings, when temperatures are cooler, and atmospheric humidity is lower.
Instead of climbing yourself ragged throughout the day, avoiding peak temperatures and humidity from late morning to mid-afternoon will help to avoid unpleasant sweaty conditions and keep the rocks feeling crisp and dry. Especially for newer climbers, this approach also helps to ration your available strength for high-quality movements, and reduces the wear-and-tear on your skin.
Two of the most immediate differences you will notice between bouldering in a gym and outdoors are “load” and “pacing”. Load refers to the intensity of your efforts and climbing movements, while pacing refers to the frequency of your climbing attempts.
Because of the nature of rock – its random collection of surface features and contours, you should expect yourself to spend significantly more time and effort on your first approach. You will need to understand this new environment again before you can engage with it.
Instead of spotting brightly-coloured, easily-identifiable and predictable handholds and footholds, you’ll instead engage with rock features that can be harder to spot, identify and less comfortable to grip. Frequently, rock features will also bear subtle features that require more delicate and discerning applications of skill, making them unexpectedly and acutely more taxing to hold and to generate movement from.
Higher levels of load can be mitigated by an overall slower pace – i.e.: resting more between climbing attempts to ration your strength and to ensure that each effort is optimal. Professional climbers have been known to rest anywhere between 30 – 40 minutes between attempts when they are working hard to complete difficult boulders. Pacing is essential in ensuring that you neither exhaust your energy supply nor wear out your skin too quickly.
Foundation bouldering fitness can be easily developed in the gym – you’ll need to ensure that you can sustain a moderately intense gym boulder session for at least 2 hours at a time without extended rest periods between. You can use your gym sessions to develop your bouldering power-endurance by practising bouldering circuits with short rest periods between sets. Finger strengthening and climbing-muscle conditioning exercises will also be essential to build up your load capacity.
A common challenge when bouldering outdoors lies in footwork mastery. Bouldering on rock will require you to exploit weaknesses and imperfection on the rock face to create a path to the top. Even when handholds are obvious, footholds are often less so. Your feet will regularly need to use every little knob or edge you encounter, no matter how small or rounded.
We highly recommend you spend time honing your footwork techniques and develop a strong ability to engage footholds of all sizes (yes, that includes smearing) actively. With each step, you should feel your toes digging into the foothold, while stabilising muscles in your ankle, calf and shin control your foot to leverage its best position. The rest of your body subsequently tightens in a coordinated manner to create a fabric of tension either for increased stability or for generating movement. With practice, the sensation of slipping off will be replaced by a feeling of control!
Nothing can replace a personalised training programme for building bouldering fitness. Before heading to your next outdoor boulder trip, drop us an email at [email protected] and we’ll help to develop a robust and comprehensive training programme to get you ready. Our experienced trainers are ready to help you stay focused and to make quick gains so that you can maximise your climbing experience.
Taking care of your fingertips, skin health and general well-being will be a top priority when you boulder outdoors. You won’t need to look very far to find an example of someone who ruined their own trip because of food poisoning, chapped lips, cracked heels or an inconvenient cut. The good news is that these issues are all completely and easily avoidable. Here’s a list of common ailments and their remedies that every travelling climber looks out for:
- Dried and cracked skin, commonly on the heels, elbows, knees and fingertips. Guard against this by moisturising daily. There’s no need to pretend to be macho on this one – healthy skin is strong skin for climbing and travelling.
- Skin on the fingertips worn thin or uneven because of contact with the rock. Guard against this by filing down or clipping off uneven bits of skin with a nail file or nail clipper, then encouraging skin growth and recovery using a skin recovery balm.
- Cracked nails from contact with the rock. Guard against this by ensuring that your nails are trimmed before you begin your climb. Check your toenails too – they tend to be easily forgotten, but they’ll always remind you if they’re hurt!
- Chapped lips from dry and cold weather. Guard against this by applying lip balm regularly throughout the day – especially before you sleep. Keeping your lips kissable is a bonus, but more importantly, it’ll keep you comfortable and feeling good.
- Food poisoning and the runs will put an end to your trip real quick. Guard against this by picking your food sources carefully, and packing some anti-diarrhea medication. Avoid getting too adventurous with your food – some local dishes may well ignite allergic reactions. If you have known diet sensitivities or restrictions, consider packing some extra ready-to-eat meals as a backup.
This article marks the end of our 3-part series to help you prepare for your first bouldering trip outdoors. Just talking about trip preparations has got us all super excited and rearing to go. Feel free to reach out to us if you have specific questions or would like additional information.
Where will you go this year?
From 7 November to 1 December this year, BM Co-Founder Jansen Ko will be travelling to Khon Kaen for a bouldering trip, and you are invited to join him!
Located in Northeastern Thailand, Khon Kaen city hosts a large field of sandstone boulders that offer a range of problems for beginners to advanced climbers. Local club members and international visitors alike have been impressed and inspired by its nearly limitless potential for high-quality bouldering.
This bouldering trip will allow you to revel in the experience of outdoor climbing with friends, supported by the experienced of Team BM staff while you soak in the peaceful and refreshing vibes of Thailand’s lush forests.