When I first started climbing I fell in love with bouldering. The only problem was, I wasn’t very good at it yet. In an effort to get better as quickly as possible, I watched a whole bunch of YouTube videos covering countless bouldering techniques.
While these videos gave me a good idea about what I would eventually need to learn, a lot of these techniques were ones that I could not possibly hope to pull off (such as bat hangs). On top of this, I had a hard time knowing when to use the techniques that I was able to do. This article is hopefully going to solve that issue for you.
These techniques are arranged in order from the most basic to the most advanced that you will need to know as a beginner. As such, I recommend focusing on practicing and improving the ones at the top of the list first as they will lay the foundation for the rest of your climbing career.
Listed below are 19 bouldering techniques that every beginner should know how to do and when to use them.
1. Propelling Yourself Up With Your Legs
This is one of the most important techniques for beginner climbers to know how to do.
Your legs are much stronger than your arms as they are constantly used to support your body weight when you are walking/running/climbing stairs every day. To become an efficient climber, you will want to rely on your stronger legs to propel yourself up the wall rather than constantly using your arms to pull yourself up the wall. Doing this will make you a more efficient and better climber.
While this seems simple at first glance, it is very easy to forget when you are climbing on the wall. Actively practicing pushing off of your legs every session will help engrain this in your mind until it becomes second nature to you.
2. Keeping Your Hips Close To The Wall
Making sure your hips are close to the wall will help keep your center of gravity as close to the wall as possible. The further away your hips (and your center of gravity) are from the wall, the more you will feel like you are being pulled away from it by gravity. This will make you use more energy and effort to pull yourself towards the wall than if your hips were closer to it.
Climbing is all about efficiency and maximizing your strength. Keeping your center of gravity close to the wall will allow you to put more energy into moving up the wall and use less energy to stay on it.
3. Using The Toe Box Of Your Shoes
A lot of beginner boulderers use their feet incorrectly on the holds by placing their mid foot on them. This ultimately puts them in a bad position and makes it harder for them to maintain balance and push themselves up the wall.
Climbing shoes were designed to focus your body weight into a smaller area (your toes). This allows you to use smaller footholds more effectively when climbing. Therefore, when you are climbing you should make sure that you are using the toe box of your shoes to step onto the foot holds.
If you are thinking about getting a pair of beginner climbing shoes, check out if they will be worth it for you in my article here!
4. Keeping A Solid Base
Keeping a solid base will allow you to take some of the weight off of your arms and will allow you to be more steady on the wall. To do this, you will want to make sure your center of gravity (torso) is positioned in between your feet.
Leaning too far to either side will cause your center of gravity to shift outside of your base (foot positioning). This shift will cause you to start to become off balance and will require you to exert a lot of additional energy from falling off the wall.
While shifting your body in this manner may be needed at higher levels of bouldering, this is typically not something beginners need to focus on right away. It is all about learning the fundamentals and building off of them.
5. Maintaining An Athletic Position
A lot of beginner boulderers will stand straight up on their foot holds whenever they get a chance to do so. This is not ideal as it prevents them from pushing off with their feet because their legs are already straight. To compensate, they end up relying heavily on their upper body to pull them through their next move.
To fix this, you should maintain an athletic position where your knee(s) are slightly bent. This will give you the ability to push off with your legs and take some of the weight off of your arms. (Allowing you to use technique #1 above)
6. Using Straight Arms
You will want to have straight arms whenever possible. Having straight arms will take a load off of your forearms/biceps/back. It also will allow you to sink into your legs a bit more and really give your arms a much needed break.
Keep in mind that it is not possible to have straight arms 100% of the time that you are climbing. You will need to bend your elbows and pull on the holds sometimes. That said, maximizing the amount of time you can keep your arms straight while climbing will allow you to climb better and longer.
7. Maintaining Active Eyes
While climbing you should always be looking where your next hold is and where you are placing your feet. This will allow you to keep climbing and refrain from taking those unnecessary pauses on the wall.
Far too often beginners will make the first few moves and then get “stuck” and stop moving while they search for the next foot or hand hold. This wastes a lot of energy and ultimately limits how far they make it up the wall.
By constantly looking at where you will be moving next, you will limit these unneeded breaks and be able to crush your previous best. Keep in mind that this does not just apply to hand holds, you should be looking at the footholds when you place your feet and finding the next one right away as well.
8. Gently Placing Your Feet
I frequently notice beginner boulderers just jamming their feet onto the next holds without really thinking about it. Not only does this wear out their climbing shoes’ rubber quickly, but it also tends to put their foot in a bad position.
Placing your foot carefully will allow you to maintain your balance and get the best foot placement possible. The little things like this seem to add up and make a difference in the long run. Keeping active eyes as talked about in technique #7 above will help with this one as well.
9. Applying The Correct Grip Pressure
Too many boulderers, even intermediate ones, grip the holds way harder than they need to. Ideally you will use the minimal amount of grip strength you need on each hold. This will prevent you from wasting your strength and stamina from over gripping.
It is silly and extremely tiring to have a death grip on a hold when loosening your grip by 50% would still allow you to get the job done. Climbing is really about working smarter, not harder.
10. Turning Sideways Into The Wall
By turning sideways into the wall, you will automatically bring one of your hips into it. This will also bring your center of gravity closer to it as well which builds off of technique #2.
Turning sideways is not something that you should do in every move but it can be extremely beneficial when making large movements to one side or the other. Practicing when turning sideways helps will help you get a good feel of when to pull it out and when to try something else.
Edging builds upon technique #3 above and requires the use of your toe box. However, to edge properly you will either use only the inside edge of your foot (under your big toe) or the outside edge (near your pinky toe) on a foothold.
Using the inside edge is typically more common as it is relatively strong and you are able to push off of it with relative ease. The outside edge is weaker and it is better used for traversing and stepping through rather than moving directly upwards.
Edging comes in handy when you are looking to use small footholds that are not big enough for your entire foot.
12. Crimping Correctly
Some boulder problems can be incredibly crimpy and practically impossible to climb if you do not know the correct way to grip them (not to mention extremely painful). There are a few different ways to hold onto a crimp to get the most solid grip on them. These are more easily demonstrated than explained through text so I recommend watching the YouTube video below to see the different grips.
13. Matching Your Hands
You may have already heard the term “match” already when you were bouldering. To match means to bring both hands onto a single hold. This technique again allows you to get better body positioning and prepare yourself to make the next move.
Matching on a jug will put you in a strong position to perform dynamic movements. Matching on smaller hand holds will typically improve your stability to change your foot positioning.
14. Swapping Your Feet
This technique is exactly what it sounds like. All it involves is switching which foot you have on a hold. This will allow you to shift your center of gravity and make your next move with a lot more control and balance.
You do not want to “jump” when swapping your feet on small footholds. Instead you will want to bring your off foot to be just above the foot on the hold. From here you will “roll” your bottom foot off and bring your hovering foot down onto the hold. Making sure to do this in a controlled manner is key as being too jumpy with this may cause you to slip and fall off.
Being able to efficiently swap your feet on a foothold will allow you to get better body positioning and make moves you otherwise would not be able to.
15. Stepping Through
Stepping through involves using your free foot to cross over and step between your other foot and the wall. This will naturally turn you sideways and get one of your hips into the wall. In addition to this, it will likely require you to edge using the outside of your foot that has stepped through.
Once you have completely stepped through, you will want to move your hand(s) over and shift your weight onto the foot you just moved. If you do not get your hands over, you will likely be in a bad position. Stepping through is incredibly handy when attempting traversing boulder problems.
This technique is extremely useful when you do not have a solid foothold in sight. As such, smearing involves pushing your feet up against the wall/rock without the use of any footholds.
When smearing you want to have as much contact between your shoe and the wall. To do this, you will want to keep your heel lower so you can get more of the bottom of your toe box to touch the wall. The more contact you are able to get, the more friction you will have and the better your smear will be.
Smearing comes in handy on more slabby boulder problems outside or on volumes in gym climbing. Typically if you can’t find a foothold, you will need to smear.
Flagging is integral in some scenarios to keep your balance on the wall. This technique involves placing your foot onto the wall where there are no foot holds available. Unlike smearing, this foot is not meant to help push you up the wall, it is meant solely for balance.
This really comes in handy when there is only one foothold available and you have to lean such that your center of gravity is outside of your base. Flagging will help you brace yourself against the wall and maintain balance in this scenario.
18. Side Pulls
Side pulls involve pulling sideways on a vertically oriented hold that is out away from you. To do these correctly, you will want to lean away from the hold (lie back) and push away with your feet to create counter pressure. This will increase your stability and allow you to keep straight arms.
Side pulls are basically impossible to perform correctly if you are not leaning away from the hold to some degree.
These holds involve pulling up on the hold. To do use these correctly, you likely will need to push up with your feet. Without doing this, you will not have the counter pressure needed to effectively use the hold and maintain the body tension needed for the move.
While you likely will not need to use these often at the moment, they will be important to know the basics of when taking your bouldering to the next level. These are especially useful to help you maintain body tension on overhanging problems.