The Art of Bouldering

Expert advice and drills to boost your bouldering skills.

Woman bouldering

Bouldering is a form of rope-free rock climbing, a physical and mental challenge for beginning climbers as well as longtime devotees.

Whether you’re scaling a wall outside or in a bouldering gym, you need mobile shoulders and hips, and strong legs, core, and grip — from your fingers to your forearms.

Yet no amount of strength alone will make you a good “pebble wrestler,” a nickname coined to describe outdoor boulderers climbing rockfaces, up to about 20 feet, with minuscule holds. Your brawn will take you only as far as your brain can maneuver.

There’s a reason bouldering routes are called “problems”: The ability to think and move through a complex sequence of holds can mean the difference between topping out or landing on your crash pad.

“Being able to figure out how you’re going to move from one hold to the next requires everything you’ve got — mentally and physically,” says Alex Puccio, professional climber and 10-time American Bouldering Series champion. “It’s a whole-body workout that necessitates flexibility, strength, a solid core, and an understanding of how your body moves.” (Read more at “Rock Solid: Alex Puccio.”)

Many people tend to rely on upper-body strength, adds Ayo Sopeju, head routesetter of the Minneapolis Bouldering Project. But training in a way that improves hand grip, movement mechanics, and leg strength can be key for becoming more comfortable on a wall.

Physical training paired with sheer mental tenacity — the willingness to try, fail, and try again — will take you far in this adventure sport.

These expert tips can help you take your climbs to the next level.


Talk the Talk

Bouldering, like many social sports, has a lingo that can be bewildering to outsiders but helps keep participants safe and connected. Here’s a linguistic primer.

Crash pad: A pad placed below the boulderer to reduce the risk of injury.
Dyno: A quick, dynamic movement from one hold to the next.
Hold: Any part of the rock that can be used to ascend a problem.
Matching: Placing both hands or both feet on the same hold temporarily.
Pinch: Pinching a small hold between the thumb and fingers.
Problem: A sequence of holds.
Send: To successfully ascend the wall or complete a route.
Spotter: Someone who stands beneath you to guide you to the crash pad in case you fall.
Traverse: To move laterally across the rock.
V Scale: A measure of difficulty assigned to bouldering problems; currently ranging from V0 (easy) to V15 or V16 (nearly impossible).

is a writer, editor, and farmer based in northern Minnesota.

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