First Time Bouldering Indoors? Mistakes to Avoid & Tips to Help You


If we could rewind the clock and I was going to start bouldering for the first time in a climbing gym again there would be a few things I would’ve wanted to be told to help my progress. These are things I would use to avoid making mistakes and generally help me on my climbing journey. The reason you’ve clicked on this article is probably because you’re feeling intimidated or anxious at the thought of your first time bouldering indoors. Either that or you’re just looking to learn quickly and/or perform better than a friend you’re going with. If it’s any of these reasons you’ve come to the right place. I’m going to share with you all the things I wish I knew before I started bouldering.

So what will help you when it’s your first time bouldering indoors? I’ve got many tips for beginner climbers to help them feel a bit more comfortable when stepping into their climbing gym:

  • You should know the price and facilities. Do they have a café, a gym, free parking and how much is it to hire out shoes?
  • I wish I’d have been told not to burn myself out so easily. When you’re climbing you need a different type of forearm and finger strength than nearly any other activity and because of this, beginners seem to fatigue in these areas very quickly.
  • Another thing to note is that when you wear climbing shoes they’re supposed to be tight – this is so you can feel the holds with your feet and grip on them easier. Usually if you’re a size 10 in normal shoes, you’ll probably be around 1 size below in climbing shoes.
  • Climbing etiquette is something that you should definitely understand before entering the mats – this is what you should and should not to do to annoy other climbers.
  • “Find your feet” is something I say to any beginners that ask for help – climbers really more on their feet than their hands in terms of balance and staying on the wall… usually.
  • Don’t jump off the wall from the top of a climb. It can causes injuries and back problems.
  • Ask other people for advice if you can’t complete a problem and need help. You’d be surprised at how many climbers are happy to show you their skills on a problem.
  • There are all sorts of different climbs – if you aren’t very good at slabs then don’t be put off because you might crush it on overhangs (or vice versa).
  • If you want to progress fast, find a friend on your level with as much motivation and compete against each other in a friendly manner.
  • Try to avoid the busier times in a climbing gym; it can get very frustrating otherwise.
  • Go in there with the sole purpose to have fun.

I’m going to expand on each of these points in this article. If you’d like to jump to a section of this article, use the page jump links below.

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Indoor Climbing Price and Facilities

If you’re going indoor climbing for the first time you’re going to want to know what facilities they have and how much everything costs. Do they have monthly or yearly memberships? You should try to research this beforehand or ask someone you know who’s already been to that particular climbing gym. You’ve also got to consider the fact that you’ll either have to rent or buy climbing shoes.

When I’m climbing I like to have a fresh espresso beforehand because caffeine is known as an ergogenic aid, which is a drug that increases performance as a result of the physiological effects it has on the body. Therefore having a café in the climbing gym is a must for me. If you’re a coffee addict like me you’ll probably want to find out if there’s a café in your climbing gym.

This comes without saying really, but having a changing room is a must and I don’t know of any climbing gym that doesn’t have one, but not all of them have lockers. If they do have lockers, there might not be many and they may cost money to use. So if you’re one that cares about your valuables you should probably find out if the gym you’re going to has lockers and how much they cost to rent for a session.

My regular indoor climbing gym has two other sections for physical and technical improvement. They are:

  • A weights room with two pull up bars, benches, gym balls, and finger boards which are very useful for overall climbing strength.
  • A training area with campus boards, a 30 degree training board which helps overall technique.

Does the climbing gym have a shop for all your basic climbing needs including chalk and climbing shoes? If not you’re going to want to rent out the climbing shoes or buy some beforehand, and buy some chalk from somewhere else as well.

If you are commuting to the gym in your car you should inquire about free off-road parking.

Climbing Requires a Different Kind of Forearm and Finger Strength

When I first started climbing I heard that it was pretty hard on the forearms and fingers but I didn’t really take it that seriously. So I tried a few climbs and hardly did any resting between them. After around 15 minutes my forearm muscles felt like they were going to drop off because they were so sore and full of lactic acid. For the next few days afterwards my forearms and fingers were in agony because of how tender my muscles were. Looking back, I regret nothing. However, at the time I can honestly say I wish someone had have really drilled it into me about how much resting and recuperating your forearms and fingers in between climbs will really help you especially when you’re a beginner. So my advice to you is: rest after each climb and massage your forearms and fingers for the few days after you’ve climbed to reduce inflammation and promote healing/muscle growth.

Bouldering in Tight Climbing Shoes

What some people don’t realise when they first start climbing is that they’ll need to rent out or buy climbing shoes that are quite tight on their feet. You don’t want them so tight that it’s very painful, but you don’t want them to feel absolutely comfortable. If you’re wearing climbing shoes that are so tight that you’re in pain, not only will they have a negative impact on the structure of your feet but it also won’t benefit your climbing because you won’t want to put your foot on the wall. However, you do want them as tight as possible without them causing you pain. This is because the tighter your climbing shoes are, the easier it is to grip on smaller foot holds on the climbing wall. If you’re a size 10 in normal shoes, you’ll probably be a size 9 or less in climbing shoes.

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Rock Climbing Etiquette

Rock climbing etiquette is the climbing code all climbers and boulderers should follow. It’s a few (usually unspoken) rules that includes:

  • Be aware of your surroundings. If someone falls on you it’s your fault! If there’s an area in the gym that someone can fall on your or your belongings then move yourself and your gear.
  • If someone’s on the wall before you then make sure your climbing route does not intersect their climbing route.
  • Don’t give out advice unless someone actually wants it. When you’re on a climbing wall you’re trying to solve a problem – that’s half the fun of the climb! Don’t ruin another person’s fun unless they ask you for advice.
  • Take turns on the wall with other climbers. Don’t hog it all for yourself.
  • Don’t jump on the wall after someone’s just brushed a hold. They’re brushing the hold so that excess chalk isn’t impeding their climb. If you go on the wall you’ve literally just added excess chalk to that hold which means they’re going to have to brush it again!
  • Don’t yell or shout in frustration. If you’re going to do it every now and again then fair enough but don’t make it an ongoing thing. It’s annoying.
  • If you’re not sure about something, just ask a more experienced climber. Climbers are usually very helpful with beginners – whether it’s a technical question about bouldering or a general question about the rules of the gym.

“Find Your Feet” – Make Sure You Use the Climbing Foot Holds

Using the foot holds was something I had to get used to. As a beginner I relied solely on my upper body strength rather than technique to get me to the top of climbs. As I progressed I realised that “finding your feet” (a term I coined) was imperative for improvement in climbing. Unless you’re campusing (climbing without using your feet), climbing with the use of your feet will definitely benefit you. A good climber will always find their next foot hold before they move up the wall.

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Climb Down the Holds, Don’t Jump

When you’ve finished a climb or you want to get down, try not to jump. I’ve seen (and had) many injuries from jumping down from a climb. Usually it’s something to do with the ankle or knee, but not many people know that jumping from the top of a climb and landing on your feet – although on a soft mat – is very bad for your spine. It collapses the vertebrae in your spinal column and increases the chance of back problems in the future.

Try All Types of Climbs

There are three main types of climbs: slabs, vertical climbs, and overhangs. A slab is a rock face or climbing wall that is angled LESS than 90 degrees. This is known as an incline. A vertical climb is a 90 degree climb, straight up. Vertical climbs are similar to slabs as they require you to use your feet a lot. An overhang is a climbing wall or rock face that is angled MORE than 90 degrees. This is known as a decline. You then have different types of slabs and overhangs because of the variance in degrees. For example, an overhang at 100 degrees is very different to an overhang at 120 degrees.

Compete Against a Friend on a Similar Level

If you’re competitive and can find someone who enjoys climbing, is motivated to progress, is very competitive and will come with you a few times a week then you’ll progress very fast. When I started climbing with my friend Dan we’d compete against each other every time we went and we progressed really fast. We’d make it our mission to complete climbs and do it before the other one did. We still do it to this day when we climb together. We also found a group of more advanced climbers to hang around with and made mental notes on the harder climbs they were doing which helped us with our climbs. When you are around people who are good at something, you’ll start to improve a lot faster.

Avoid Busy Climbing Gyms

If you want to learn fast then I’d avoid climbing gyms in the busiest periods. There’s nothing more frustrating than trying to climb on a wall with around 4 or 5 other people queuing up for the same wall as you. You’ll lose your momentum and motivation. If this happens it may just be better to do a bit of finger strength training or something else to help you progress.

Have Fun Rock Climbing

When you are bouldering or climbing of any kind, the main mission is to actually have fun. There’s no point going otherwise. If you aren’t having fun you’ll consider it a chore. Yes, you should push yourself to limit, even if that means doing things you don’t like. But don’t think of it as “something you don’t like”, think of it as something that’s going to help you have more fun in the future because you’ll be progressing faster to complete more advanced climbs.

How often should you climb as a beginner? You should climb around 2-3 times per week to improve. Once isn’t good enough for improvement.

What do you wear for indoor bouldering? All you’ll need is a t-shirt or vest, jogging bottoms or shorts, and climbing shoes. You can also buy wearable chalk bags. That’s all you’ll need!

Paul

I'm the owner of Rock Climbing Central and I fell in love with climbing about 5 years ago as soon as my feet touched the wall. Since then all I've pretty much done is research about climbing and climb whenever possible.

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