This thread is to document/discuss my bouldering project, my progression, learning techniques, and anything else. I’ve been going to a climbing gym 5-6 days per week since March 3, usually for 60-90 min each session but sometimes longer.
In this post I’ll talk a bit about background, starting the project, and the most recent events. I’ll also mention some things that happened in between, but I think going in to them would make this post too long. I’m happy to answer any qs about them, tho, and might add details about them in the future.
As background: a boulder is a short configuration of holds (for hands and feet) making up a climbing route, and has a definite start and end. Additional wall extensions (called volumes or features) might also be involved. You can use any hold, volume, or feature however you like, with the exception of the start and end holds.
These are the main goals I’m meeting by doing bouldering, and I identified them all before starting:
- build excess capacity w/ fingers to avoid RSI
- practice project planning, thinking, learning, etc
- bg: regular exercise
- bg: entertainment
I think bouldering is a good sport for practicing project planning. It has a lot of opportunities for it and the community already has ideas around this on a per-boulder basis. A boulder is often called a “problem” and solutions are called “beta”; often different ppl will need different beta due to stuff like height, limb lengths, strength capacity, available techniques, etc. Finishing a boulder is called “sending” it.
These are the aspects of bouldering where I do planning:
- overall progress – being able to send increasingly difficult problems; which things to focus on in which order.
- technique – being able to reliably do increasingly difficult/complex moves, like: toe-hooks, drop-knees, etc; and knowing when to do them.
- power/strength/physical stuff – stuff like finger/grip strength, being able to do moves like pull-ups or muscle-ups, and coordination and mind-muscle stuff. I’ve also had some problems like PFPS and a shoulder impingement; I’m seeing a physio for those things – there are regular exercises to build capacity in the right places to avoid those issues.
- improvements to bouldering specific problem-solving (being able to quickly “read” a problem and come up with potential solutions; creativity WRT coming up with different - hopefully easier - methods for solving a problem)
- sending individual boulders
- over a short period (the initial observation period before a new attempt) – I try to take lots of time if I don’t already have a good idea of what to do. In extreme cases I look at a problem for 5-10 minutes and think through what moves are possible, where limbs would go, order of each and every move, etc.
- over a longer period of time this is called “projecting” a boulder; often there’s a cycle of: try the problem, find a bottleneck, practice or improve relevant techniques/strength/etc, repeat. Simply repeating the climb helps too b/c you get a lot faster as you learn the moves (and thus more energy efficient).
- revisiting problems and finding new/better solutions.
On March 3 I had some RSI symptoms (so didn’t want to type much) and got the idea that climbing might help building capacity in my hand tendons. I chose bouldering over rock climbing b/c the latter needs other ppl to help with belaying, but there are no ropes in bouldering so I don’t rely on anyone else.
That morning I decided to look in to it. I started with 3-4 hrs of broad exploratory research, and took about 1k words of notes about beginner stuff (technique, terminology, what to look for in a gym, if any gear was needed, stretches - particularly for hands, safety, etc). After that I spent about an hour researching local bouldering gyms and chose one that was pretty close, highly rated, and open at 6am 3x days a week (I wanted the option of going before work). Before choosing it I asked a colleague who boulders and they endorsed it so that was enough for me to go with that one. I also signed up for a beginner class 5 days later.
My initial plan was:
- start by getting a feel for things and practicing falling safely (the floor is covered in thick crash mats). I practiced falling from the top for the first 2 weeks or so.
- then, still on the easiest climbs, master basic techniques. this is pretty easy and there aren’t many opportunities on easy climbs for more advanced stuff, anyway. I also tried lots of variations on different moves and deliberately doing things unoptimally so that I would be exposed to less stable positions and get a feel for how to deal with them, or learn to fall safely when they happened.
- I intended to avoid climbs on difficulty-2 (out of 6) but found I was getting a bit bored on the 3rd day and started doing one or two of the difficulty-2 climbs each session.
Note: in my gym there are 6 difficulties: blue (easiest), red, purple, black, yellow, and white (hardest). Most experienced climbers will focus on blacks w/ some yellows, and intermediate climbers focus on purples w/ some blacks.
I developed some climbing-specific goals too:
- avoid injury, particularly with my hands; for this I decided that I would not do “full crimps” which put the most stress on finger tendons.
- plan routes in advance, spending many minutes planning before ever getting on a boulder, if need be.
- Originally I thought that any failure to complete a boulder should be treated as a failure of planning, but I’ve relaxed that since (in part b/c I know more about when a failure is due to lack of planning). Sometimes (particularly towards the end of a session) you can know what to do but don’t have the physical capacity for it.
- avoid moving on to harder problems prematurely. there’s a mild amount of pressure to do this; mostly ppl asking if you’ve tried harder ones or saying like time to project some blacks (difficulty 4).
I was journaling to start with but found that conversations with my colleagues were sufficient. I created an offtopic chat channel for climbing and post regular status updates and thoughts there. I regularly post photos (and sometimes videos) of routes and discuss those with a colleague.
At the beginner lesson (day 5) it was pretty evident I had a lot more experience than the other students (mostly it was their 1st or 2nd time climbing, whereas it was my 4th time). The instructor suggested I try a particular purple (difficulty-3) that involved a lot of balance (which was good because I hadn’t built up much strength yet). I managed to send it after a few attempts, but felt slightly pressured in that I’d previously mentioned I was trying to focus on consistency and technique on reds (difficulty-2). I think the encouragement/pressure of the instructor was in part b/c that sort of thing might have suggested I was hesitant or lacked confidence or something. In any case it felt good to send my first purple. I didn’t learn that much from the beginner class, tho (which didn’t surprise me too much considering the amount of research I did).
My fitness improved very quickly. The first few days I was very sweaty and tired quickly. That wasn’t a bottleneck for very long, though, and I quickly found I lacked particular muscle strength and/or endurance (mostly arms and fingers).
I moved on to reds after the beginner lesson and spent a few weeks mostly on those (one exception was that I climbed the first purple I sent a few times more b/c it was fun and offered something that reds didn’t). There were some bottlenecks that I ran in to which meant I focused on some particular strength building exercises (mostly arms).
It took me 3 weeks of training to go from capacity for 0 pull-ups to 5 pull-ups.
I made lots of progress and started climbing mostly purples in late Match / early April (or, they were my focus/priority at least; I climbed a lot of easier climbs at the end of a session for the exercise and practice). Most of my focus in April was improving specific muscles and techniques so I could climb some of the purples I was getting stuck on.
I also started integrating extra stuff in to my warmup climbs, particularly: regular advanced foot-work and other flourishes (they’re flourishes for easy climbs, at least); also things that make climbing a bit more challenging and help build structural knowledge, like not readjusting my grip once I’d grabbed a hold or put my foot somewhere. Some days I end my session with some easier climbs (reds) where I focus particularly on these things.
In late April I competed in the lowest grade (Men’s Open C) of a local climbing competition and came 44th out of 100+ competitors (I couldn’t find out how many ppl were competing, even asking the MC before leaving). That was at a different gym whose difficulty system has a conversion to V ratings. Based on the difficulty of those climbs, I estimate that purple climbs at my gym are V2-V5, maybe occasionally V6.
I didn’t climb for about 10 days at the start of May b/c I injured a rib (bruised cartilage I think). IDK how it happened, but it didn’t necessarily involve an impact.
For difficult/bottleneck climbs I often try to ‘send in parts’ (as I call it); sort of like a segmented speedrun. this means I can conserve energy (by e.g. skipping the start) for the sections that are most difficult, which gives me better feedback about what I should practice. It also lets me practice and learn the moves before I get to that section on a full attempt.
In May I only had a handful of purples I was consistently getting stuck on so I focused on those and the associated skills. I had one primary one that I was focusing on each day and used excess capacity to keep trying the other sticky routes and practicing / improving those I could already do. In early May I developed an additional goal: send every purple in the gym.
Last Saturday (15th May) was the first time I had sent all the purple routes in the gym at least once. This was the first major milestone goal I’d set (and met), though there were still some purples that I am inconsistent at. Leading up to, and at, this point was when ppl started suggesting that I project some black routes. I have tried like 3 blacks at various points, but I’ve run in to a bottleneck fairly early in all of them. There’s also a widely acknowledged difficulty jump around this point, where progress tends to get a lot slower for ppl.
I initially didn’t know what to focus on next (harder climbs or something else?) – I decided to go with this:
- continue to send every purple in the gym. there are usually 4 new purples per week (2 sections get reset, one on Tues, one on Thurs) and there are 24 total (sometimes 25). I am aiming to do this for at least the next 5 weeks (so I cover one full rotation).
- I wanted to consistently be able to send purples, so I give myself 1 week to send the 4-5 new purple routes for a sort of “send streak”. I am aiming for a send streak of 6 weeks before moving on.
- With my spare capacity, I’ll focus on the purples that I’m inconsistent with until I master them or they get taken down. These are my bottleneck climbs. They also tend to “get you pumped” which means you need longer rests after them, and even then you can’t do too many before you are basically done for that session.
- I might infrequently assess blacks, looking for “softer” (easier) climbs or ones that play to my strengths. I might attempt some, but not at the expense of my other goals.
One particular philosophy goal I have is evaluating my learning methods and self-judgement. I don’t really have a standard to compare myself against, though from what I can gather my progress has been fast. It’s hard to tell.
status of those goals atm:
- going well.
- It took me 2 days to do that this week (Wed + Friday); including 2 flashes (a flash is sending a route first try; both flashes this week were caves/underhangs, which have been a bottleneck in the past). I have two pairs of climbing shoes, one of which I think is better. On Wednesday I used my not-preferred pair, so IDK if I would have sent some climbs quicker with my better shoes. I felt weaker on Wednesday tho, too.
- There are ~3 of these atm, though there were ~5 last week (2 never mastered).
- Haven’t tried any blacks in the last week or two.
Now that I have a lot more spare capacity with my current goals, I plan to systematically go through all the purples again and assess their difficulty and look for bottlenecks – atm I have 3 more sessions planned before new purples are put up.
I plan to answer qs and crits about any of my planning and progress so far. I also plan to make infrequent updates about how things are going and changes to goals, etc. I have recordings of some of my climbs (I’m planning on recording more of them in future) and might post some if there’s any interest in that progression.
There are numerous other tangential things I think are worth posting about too (probs in new threads). One such topic I’ve been considering is that female athletes often wear makeup while competing; I often see women wearing makeup in the gym, too. Another is that I often hear of climbers getting frustrated, which is notable to me because I have never been frustrated at failing a climb; each time I fail is a criticism and gives me more info for self-judgement on what to focus on or where to build capacity, etc. I think my attitude is v. good and I attribute it primarily to @Elliot’s tutoring – the rest of the attribution goes to people like Eli Goldratt (for The Choice) and Ayn Rand (for Philosophy: Who Needs It and The Fountainhead), and notably I would never have read those books if not for Elliot suggesting them and I wouldn’t have understood them if not for the FI culture and attitudes he’s built and maintained.