Category Archives: Bouldering

Features that include the subject of bouldering.

Foot matching and swapping

You may find yourself in a position where you appear to have your feet in the wrong position for the next move. Rather than making the next move an awkward one it is often possible to shift your feet around in one of three ways, the foot dance, foot match or foot swap – changing the foot that is stood on a crucial hold.

The foot dance requires three footholds to choose from and making a series of moves until you manage to get the other foot on the foothold you want.

There may not be enough holds to simply move you feet around and a more tenuous foot match is needed. Think ahead to place
your foot to allow the other room to share the
foothold and you may be able to get both feet onto the single hold.

The foot swap or hop is needed where the foothold is too small to match on, and there are no options for a foot dance. Place your second foot directly above the foot you want to replace, get the big toe right above the other, and hop. During the hope remove the lower foot and the top foot should drop right onto the hold.

Foot swapping exercises

On a traverses and routes when warming up make foot swaps on every move, remember to try the foot dance, foot match and foot swapping.

As you get more confidence start making more and more tenuous foot swaps, eventually you will have an idea of how small a foot hold you can do this on.



Reading Routes and Using Guidebooks

Hopefully by now you will have developed some energy saving habits, as well as a understanding of how to carry on learning. After all it will be your own discoveries at the crag that will carry you above and beyond. Even a single pitch might require all of the skills outlined so far. The trick is to identify the different styles you will need to use – you need to be able to ‘read’ the route. To be adept at reading a route the skills and movements of climbing will already be subconscious. Your body needs to have used the movements hundreds of times before it starts to lay down subconscious muscle memory.

There are a couple of ways you can help: Think about climbing whenever you can! By thinking of the movement you are excercising some of the same brain functions as when you are actually climbing. By climbing as quickly as possible, quicker than you can think through the moves, you can exercise your subconscious skills.

A climber taking a moment to visualise and mentally prepare to lead Free Stine Henge , E7
A climber taking a moment to visualise and mentally prepare to lead Free Stine Henge , E7

Developing subconscious route reading exercise

Find a pitch that you should find relatively easy to climb and climb it as quickly as possible, the guide for how quickly should be the point at which you feel that you are making moves before you have had the time to really think about what you are doing. Yummy be using bad technique, so climb the pitch again slowly. Did one feel efficient? Did you find any of your instant decisions helped? Repeat this exercise often on both route you know and don’t know. 


The ability to read routes is pointless if you can’t find the crag. Guidebooks are another essential tool; some are pictorial, others are more descriptive, all should help you find the crag, the start of the route and the climbing line.

Read the route description and carefully examine the topos. Try and identify key features and landmarks described in the book, and try and visualise the line of the route on the crag. On multi-pitched route this becomes increasingly difficult as part of the crag may well be obscured from view. At times it may be necessary to check the guidebook on the approach to the cliff as you often get a better overview of the route.

A classic climbers club guide book with line drawing of cliffs and long route descriptions
A classic climbers club guide book with line drawing of cliffs and long route descriptions

When people first start using guidebooks they often misinterpret the information, a slight groove becomes a corner, a crack becomes a chimney, etc. The trick is to constantly learn from you mistakes, (typically this can be trying to make the description of your chosen route fit the section of cliff you are stood below!).

Guidebook Exercise

Before you head out spend some time in the comfort of your own home to do some armchair research. This will probably not only involved a guidebook nowadays but also google and youtube. As you’ll be surprised how many photos and videos there are out there of the really popular routes around the world. This will help you visualise the route, crag and line.

When approaching the crag have the guidebook to hand. If you get a good view of the crag you can identify possible approaches to the bottom of the crag and work out the rough line of one or more of the routes on the crag. Which will all help you to arrive at the bottom of the route that you wish to climb.

At the bottom of the route read the description again and look at the topo. Your route may not be shown, but the lines of the routes to either side might. Visualise the line of the climb. It can be helpful to ask other climbers around what routes they are climbing but they may be just as lost as you! 

Find the right start of a route is a great start, as it means the rest should fall into place, sometimes it can seem rather ambiguous.

If you are setting up a top rope you need to identify features at the top of the crag that will help you find the top of the route. Or alternatively place some rucksacks or a climbing partner just out from the base as a reference point to locate the appropriate place to rig your ropes.

When climbing the route let the belayer have the guidebook and keep it open on the right page, and if you get confused get them to direct you, as they often have a better view of the bigger picture.

Once you have finished the route, try re-writing the description in your own words. Does the guidebook use different words to describe the features and different phrases to describe the climbing?


Reading Routes

Talk to other climbers, they might be able to tell you where they found the going tough or where they found a crucial gear placement. They may also be able draw comparisons with other routes that you have climbed. Use the internet as someone may have written about there experiences, maybe they got lost and have key piece of information to share.

As you approach the route and can see the whole thing, identify any features or landmarks that may help you to navigate your way to the top. Look for any obvious rests or gear placements. Binoculars may be useful to examine the route from below, or you may get a better view by climbing an easier adjacent route. On a single pitch climb it may be possible to walk round to the top. The more angles you view the climb from the better the three dimensional image of the route you will have.

Identifying the type of terrain and how best to climb is at the heart of reading a route. It comes down to breaking a route down into sections, ideally in between obvious rests. Think about what skills you are likely to need and visualise yourself climbing particular moves. As you do this at the base of the route you are switching your brain to climbing mode.

You need to continue to read the route as you climb; not only to follow the line but also to react to the terrain and climb using appropriate technique.

Reading routes exercise

Look up at a route from the ground and try to identify the skills you may need, where the rests are, where the crux moves are, what kind of belay awaits at the top of the pitch and so on. Now climb the route and see if your expectations were right. Take a photocopy of the topo and mark down your thoughts or write them on a piece of notepaper before you climb, so you can review them afterwards. Were you drastically wrong anywhere? If so where? What made you wrong? How could you improve your eye for judging routes?

Try this on every route you climb, you don’t always have to take notes. The more your route reading develops the closer to the getting things 100% right you will become … although it is unlikely you will ever be totally right!

Reading routes tips

  • Visualisation is key; you might imagine seeing a line on the rock, hearing yourself talk through the route or recall a written set of instructions.
  • Your plan may be wrong, the skill of reading a route whilst climbing is just as important.
  • Use rests on the route to look at the next section, re-formulate your plan and identify the next rest
  • Real hands on experience of using guidebooks and looking at climbs is required to develop this skill. Learn from your mistakes!

Colour coding your route

How you colour in a route will be a personal thing, green climbing for most will be very easy, usually with a good spattering of ledges to rest on.

Yellow would be for the blanker sections where the holds are smaller, and the rests are further apart. Most of the moves will require a degree of thinking but the rests, climbing and angle of the route will mean that you shouldn’t feel like you are getting pumped.

Red is the steep and harder section, maybe just a single move, roof or bulge in the rock. It will be to hard to hang about on these sections and they will require a sense of urgency or power to overcome. Identify a place to rest and/or place gear after them, so that you have a point to aim for and no feeling of desperation through the moves.

Visualisation exercise

Draw your route on paper using a colour scheme to to indicate different climbing styles; green circle = rest, green = easy, yellow = Requires a little thought but is not that pumpy, red = hard climbing requiring power, speed and technique (the hardest moves you are capable of and you will become pumped).

Try to visualise your colour coded route on the rock and use this plan to climb the route.

Were there any differences in between the plan and the execution? If so did you spot the problem before, during or after you had to climb that section of the route and could you have spotted the problem earlier?

Using colour to break a route down into easy section, crux and sustained parts. As well as highlighting rests.
Using colour to break a route down into easy section, crux and sustained parts. As well as highlighting rests.

Visualisation tips

  • Some people might nd this visualisation technique more useful than a written description.
  • Try and see your body making the moves. You mat see yourself from a third person viewpoint (like a movie) or through your own eyes from a rst person viewpoint (if this is the case try and feel the moves as well).
  • By thinking of the moves you are engaging your pre-motor cortex, and turning your mind on to climbing mode.


Lead Climbing Coaching Course

Our sister site snowdonia mountain guides runs lead climb coaching course that are specifically aimed at getting you to a higher level in all aspects of climbing. The ability to use a guidebook and read a route is at the heart of efficient climbing.

We use a very simple approach when it comes to route reading and breaking a route down in bite size chunks. We believe this is some important that within a day we can often improve some’s approach to climbing and within two days increase the climbers grade.

Alternatively maybe consider a How To Climb Harder Course.

eMail us to find out more.


Gear Placements – Trees

Trees like spikes, are great placements but not many climbers are experienced tree surgeons so it is difficult to be sure of them. First look up, the tree should look alive, with either leaves or in the mist of winter some fresh buds or healthy looking branches. Then look down to see if the roots look healthy and strong. As a rule of thumb the thinnest diameter of trunk that is suitable for using as a anchor is roughly the thickness of you thigh, If it as thick as your waist then it could be used as a single point anchor. Just like metal spikes tying around a tree low down will reduce the leverage on it.



Chalk Bags

There are many chalk bags all do a similar job, the main thing is to make sure it is big enough to get you hand into, preferably not just the tips of your fingers. The chalk you use is a matter of personal choice, although indoors a chalk ball prevents the air becoming saturated by chalk dust.

Different people attach chalk bags to them a in a variety of ways by a karabiner, specialist belt or cord. The belt or cord attachments are best at giving a high position of the chalk bag and also allowing you to move the chalk bag to the front or side if in a tight corner, groove or chimney.

You are better to attach your chalk bag to you with a piece of cord, preferably one of 7mm or more (Left) rather than clipping it on with a carabiner (right). This means not only can you move the bag round to your front in a chimney or confined corner, but you will also have something to abseil off if the weather changes when you are climbing.
You are better to attach your chalk bag to you with a piece of cord, preferably one of 7mm or more (Left) rather than clipping it on with a carabiner (right). This means not only can you move the bag round to your front in a chimney or confined corner, but you will also have something to abseil off if the weather changes when you are climbing.

Types of Chalk Bags

As well as a personal chalk bag you can get a chalk bucket for bouldering. These are bigger with a flat bottom to prevent them getting blown over. However they are still prone to this, so many climbers place some stones in the bottom to weight them down.

Types of Chalk

The type of chalk you put in the bag is up to you. You can buy a solid block from many sources or get loose chalk. Many companies make various claims over the best chalk however it is not obvious how well these claims would hold up to scientific scrutiny.

Generally for the majority of climbers the type pf chalk you use will not make too much difference to your performance. However if you are looking for the edge some people like to chalk up with liquid chalk before they start up a route.

Some people will apply liquid chalk before climb. This means you get a excellent base layer of chalk before doing a hard route.
Some people will apply liquid chalk before climb. This means you get a excellent base layer of chalk before doing a hard route.

Finally if you are climbing indoor, many climbing walls now insist that you use chalk balls, rather than loose chalk. These are essentially small muslin bags filled with chalk and placed in chalks bags. This limits the amount of chalk that gets into the air, making the indoor climbing experience much more pleasant. They can be used to dry hold when outdoor as well, although they don’t generally let you get as much chalk on your hands as loose chalk.



Rock Shoes

There is a profusion of rock shoes to choose from. At first you are better off going for comfort, rather than performance, although a reasonably tight pair will pay dividends with your footwork. Generally one model of boots will fit better than the others, so don’t go on any recommendations, try on lots of different makes and models until you find the right shoe for you.

This is a cardinal sin in climbing having dirty rock shoes. Not only do you make the route dirty for the next climber, that high performance rubber you paid so much for won't work when covered in mud.
This is a cardinal sin in climbing having dirty rock shoes. Not only do you make the route dirty for the next climber, that high performance rubber you paid so much for won’t work when covered in mud.

Some boots are designed specifically for different types of climbing. A stiff midsole makes for good performance if you are going to climb on edges like slate or volcanic mountain rock. A soft midsole makes for a boot that is suited for smearing on rock like gritstone, sandstone or some type of granite. Many modern boots have a drop toe configuration these are great for steep or pocketed like limestone or bouldering. To start off with you are better getting an all round boot rather than a specialist boot.

A nice tight pair of edging boots
A nice tight pair of edging boots

Fitting a Rock Shoes

If it is your first pair of rock shoes then spending more than 15 minutes trying on different shoes. As a rule of thumb your big toe should be up against the front of the shoe. Not necessary bent right over but a degree of bending in the toe joint will mean the the toe is more claw like and active when standing on holds.

How tight you by them will depend on how much you climb, what you are trying to climb and how long you have been climbing. As it takes a degree of getting used to the tightness required in a rock shoe. Certainly gone are the days when you should be buying a pair one or two sizes too small.

Once you have found the one you think fits you, then walk round the shop in them for 10 minutes to ensure you can wear them for a short while.

Notes for young climber – having overly tight rock shoes has lead to permanent foot deformity in later life. Children need to be at least 16 before they start cramming there feet into overly tight shoes.



Drill Boards: Drop Knee and Flagging


The use of these drills boards has help many climbers start to develop a better understanding of climbing on steep rock. Although you can develop one for the rock over it is the tricky techniques of the drop knee, inner flag and outer flag that this drill boards really helps.

For most climbers the first time they use a drill board they struggle with the pattern of movement. In that they can often get the beginning or the end position but it is the transition from one to the other that become the problem.

It is this ability for a climber to repeat many different combinations and permutations of the movements need in order to get the underlying fundamental principles dialled in.

As such whilst know what a drop knee, inner and outer flag are is great this exercise really helps you get to grips with the body positions needs to make the transitions smooth and effective.


Private Coaching Course

Our sister site snowdonia mountain guides runs private coaching courses that are specifically aimed at getting you to a higher level in all aspects of climbing. We can focus on indoor or outdoor technique and training. Covering skills like in the drill boards above.

Alternatively maybe consider a How To Climb Harder Course.

eMail us to find out more.



Hands Off Rests

Learning to climb with efficiency is all about saving energy. So finding a hands off rests or a little respite is a key component of good climbing technique. A hands of rest is a place where we can recover from a tricky section and shake out the lactic acid from our arms and even legs, but also a place to plan the next section of climbing from.

In the video above we cover several different type of rest, the first thing to do is practice them in isolation so you can recall them. The next step is to see what shape the wall/rock needs to be for you to get the rest. This ability to identify rests from below will give you islands of safety and rest to aim for.

Once you get to the rest remember to take a deep sooth breathe, this can help calm you down if on lead. As the rest can help you regain a composed and relaxed manner, as well as giving a physical rest. You might also be able to add to this relaxing feeling by placing gear from these restful positions when trad climbing.

Finally use the rests to plan the next section of a climb. Whether be a plan to get to the  next runner or rest. The rest or respites become a tactical component of your climbing, but essentially they are all just simple techniques based on the ability to identify the rest and use it.



Warming Up Overview

Warming up will get the heart, lungs, muscles, joints and tendons ready for action. Whilst some people will do a full aerobics style warm-up, some will opt for easy bouldering or climbing. Some climbers will choose to do none. Although this might feel like you will be able to get more climbing in because you have not ‘wasted’ energy on the warm-up, the opposite is true.

Warming up promotes blood flow through the muscles, dilating the capillaries and actually allowing you to climb harder for longer. It will also help switch your mind from normal life to to climbing mode. A good warm up will help make your muscle and tendons more flexible, a bit like warming up blue tack or silly putty. Once you have got them warm they are less likely to snap.

If you don’t warm up and jump on the hardest route straight away you will get what climbers refer to  ‘flash pump’ – your muscles instantly become exhausted because the blood cannot flow effectively through arteries, veins and capillaries restricting the muscles they supply. It is often difficult to recover from the flash pump as you need to go all the way back to the start of your warm up.

Warming Up

Starts heart and lungs working. Promotes good blood follow through cap- illaries. Helps tendons prepare for activity by making them more elastic. Helps promote uid in the joint to increase lubrications. Helps switch the mind to climbing mode.

A good warm-up should last about twenty minutes. It will help to set the scene for your whole session, get you in the right frame of mind and help you to concentrate on skilful climbing.

Video of Warming Up using Bouldering

Warming Up Key Elements

  1. Raise you heart rate by light jogging and extremely easy bouldering/climbing. Do this until you feel out of breathe and are starting to sweat. (5 – 10 minutes)
  2. Do some more very easy climbing, you should never feel pumped so maybe try slabs to start with. (5-10 minutes)
  3. Work up to one grade below you maximum (5 – 10 minutes)
  4. You should be ready to climb at your max now. If you find yourself getting pumped then drop a few grades to a very easy route, this will help you de-pimp.

The Pump

Bodybuilder’s coined the phrase ‘the pump’ for the swollen feeling and appearance of muscles after a workout. For climbers it is pertinent to climbing in our anaerobic zone, where the build up of lactic acid makes the muscle less and less effective. It starts with a dull ache and ends in a complete inability to contract the muscles effected, resulting in failure. If you carry on to failure the muscle will feel solid to touch, and you will need at least 15 minutes rest to recover.

Iy is essentially cause by you contracting the muscles so hard that you start to squeeze the capillaries shut and starve the muscles of oxygen and energy. In order to de-pump you need to rest the specific muscle but also use them lightly. As the blood pumping too the muscle will help so the accumulation of lactic acid, it is however the contraction of muscles that helps flush the lactic acid out of the muscles.



Coordination: Mind to Body Warm Up

As you are warming ups, doing some pulse raising exercise you can add in some co-ordination exercises. These will focus your concentration on kinesthesia (your sense of movement), proprio- ception (sense of space) and balance. We can effectively turn on the part of the brain that we use for learning and acquiring new skills.

In the long term, these types of coordination exercises can become second nature, it is in the context of the learning to learn that these exercises will benefit you for the first few sessions that you use this book.

Coordination exercises

  1. Balance on one foot and move upper body and other limb to counter balance each other.
  2. Rub tummy, pat head whilst balancing on one foot. Put the other foot forwards, left, right and back.
  3. Rotate arms in opposite directions whilst walking around then change your direction of travel.
  4. Basic Juggling, then move to see if you can do it on one leg?
  5. Rotate your right foot in a clockwise direction and then with your right hand write a number six in the air.
  6. Run on the spot with your legs going in slow motion and your arms as fast as possible and vice versa.
  7. If there are three of you tried the human plait or some gymnastic multi person balances. (see video below)
  8. Various Yoga poses 

Video of German Climbing team warm ups with coordination exercises

The video below show various routines that the german climbing team have used over the years to warm up. Many are fun and require a high level of coordination and look more like acrobatics than climbing.

Coaches Notes

This warming up people coordination is extremely important when we are teaching people new physical skills. As it helps them to access the right part of the brain for learning.



Warming Up

Whether you climb indoor or outdoors on routes or boulders you need to do some form of warming up. Failure to do so will often lead to poorer performance and/or injury.  We cover some of the basics of warming up for indoor and outdoor climbers.

Warming up for the Indoor Climber

At an indoor climbing wall a good warm-up will extend the length of a session, by allowing you climb harder for longer.

The majority of climbing walls will have some easy top roping for groups, these routes are ideal for warming up on as they will allow you to work your muscles without tiring. You need to operate below the level where you nd your arms becoming pumped because of the build up of lactic acid. You should be excercising in anaerobic way. If you do start to become pumped lower off and drop the grade and angle of the routes that you are warming up on. Very easy bouldering on slabs, traverses or juggy routes can offer an alternative.

Throughout the warmup, how does your body feel; are you finding it too intense? If so, make things a easier, the level you warm up at will rarely be too easy. You will be able to feel your body warming up, and the blood flowing more freely through the muscles, a raised heart and breathing rate and a glow of light perspiration. Keep going until that feeling is well established (for about twenty minutes).

The warm-up is a great time to introduce some climbing drills that help reinforce technique on this easy terrain. So as part of your warm-up visit some of the exercises we’ll in the Basic climbing techniques section. Exercises like climbing only facing left, then right, being sideways on (zigzagging up the wall), climbing silently, climbing slowly, Climbing one or no handed and climbing like a monkey. All these exercises develop good technique and used during the warm-up will help switch you mind to climbing mode. Doing them every time you go climbing will engrain them in your subconscious and help ensure that you think about effeciency whenever you climb.

Warming up at the wall

  • Remember climbing during the warm-up can never be too easy!
  • A warm-up should last for at least twenty minutes.
  • Consider doing some technique drills.

Video on the importance of warming up

Warming up at the wall

Warming Up Outside

At the crag it may be harder to do a thorough warm-up, although sometimes a long walk-in suffices. You may find that by the time you have rigged a top rope or racked up you have already cooled down, so consider doing an easy route as a warm-up. If you have warmed up on the approach wrapping up in an extra layer of clothing once you have arrived at the bottom of the cliff can make a big difference.

If climbing an easy route isn’t possible then bouldering up and down the first few moves of a climb several times is a good alternative. This process of going up and down the start of a route can be extended to actually placing gear and coming back down, not only getting warmed up but also getting to know the route and the gear.

Simply walking around the bottom of the crag, moving and flexing your arms and hands as well as jogging on the spot will all help to get the heart and lungs into gear. Whatever you do, any form of warm-up will help you climb better and fight off the pump.

Warming up at the crag

  • The walk-in can be part of the warm-up.
  • Start on an easy route or boulder up and down the start of the route.
  • Boulder around the base of the crag.
  • Use an easy route or small boulder to work on technique.
  • Doing an easy route can help you get to know the rock type.