If you’ve noticed people climbing colorful walls all over your social media feeds sans harness and wondered what was going on, you’re not alone. “Bouldering is a type of rock climbing that can be done indoors or outdoors on short walls or large boulders,” explains Alex Beale, owner of 99 Boulders. Since you don’t climb as high as you would when sport climbing, boulderers place pads beneath them rather using harnesses, ropes and hardware.
So why is the sport getting so popular? First, bouldering gyms are popping up everywhere. But that’s not the only reason: “Bouldering is appealing because it’s a fun and social way to exercise and build muscle,” Beale says. “Add to that the extra features of the sport — the thrill of facing your fears, the problem-solving aspect, the way it clears your mind by forcing you to focus on each move — and you have the makings of an addicting pastime.”
Here, even more reasons to try this buzzy activity:
YOU DON’T NEED EXPENSIVE GEAR OR SPECIALIZED KNOWLEDGE TO GET STARTED
In general, traditional rock climbing can be a pricey sport, since you either have to buy or rent the equipment needed to do it safely. Plus, you need some training and know-how before you can really get started.
“Bouldering requires less upfront investment in skills and gear than sport climbing,” Beale explains. “You don’t need to buy a harness or learn how to belay or tie knots. All you need is climbing shoes and a bouldering wall. It’s the cheapest and most accessible form of climbing.”
What’s more, bouldering can feel like a more “friendly” option for the inexperienced. “It is a lot less intimidating, as you’re only ever a few feet from the ground,” notes Katie Carrillo, manager of Pure Bouldering Gym in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
ALL FITNESS LEVELS CAN PARTICIPATE
“Just about anyone can try bouldering no matter how fit they are,” Carrillo says. “Most bouldering gyms grade the climbs on what is called the ‘V scale’ with V0s being the easiest and every number thereafter increasing in difficulty (most gyms set up to the V10/V11 range).”
Climbing routes consist of ‘holds,’ or rocks/parts of rocks that you can grab onto to ascend. Particularly difficult sequences of holds are called ‘problems.’ “A good bouldering gym should have more than enough easy problems to get you started and off the ground,” Carrillo notes.
YOU’LL GET AN AWESOME WORKOUT
“Bouldering is a great way to build arm muscle, finger strength and core strength, Carrillo says. With good technique, your leg muscles can get a workout, too.”
“When I started bouldering, I had to learn how to pace myself and take breaks at the gym so that I didn’t tire out too quickly,” Beale adds. And if you’ve never tried it before, you can expect to feel the effects the next day. “Whenever I take a friend bouldering for the first time, they usually last no more than 30 minutes before their forearms are too tired to grip the holds. Then they text me the day after about how sore they are.”
YOU’RE NOT JUST TRAINING YOUR BODY
One of the elements that attracts people to bouldering is the fact you have to problem-solve to make your way up the wall. So in a way, you’re actually training your mind, too.
This quality can also produce other mental benefits: “I’ve played many sports over the years, and, for me, climbing is the best of all of them at relieving stress,” Beale says. “The focus required to climb forces you to stay present. You can’t think about work while you’re on the wall.”
YOU’LL MAKE SOME FRIENDS ALONG THE WAY
If you’ve just moved to a new city or are looking to meet others who also enjoy working out, a bouldering gym could be the perfect spot to do that. “Bouldering is a very community-oriented sport and is a great way to meet other like-minded, active people,” Carrillo says.
Bouldering also presents the unique opportunity to take new friendships outside the gym and into the great outdoors. “Most climbers nowadays start indoors, but climbing outdoors is even more rewarding,” Beale points out. “Many outdoor climbing destinations are in beautiful locales, and a trip surrounding climbing can be a great way to bond with your friends and make lasting memories.”