• Kristin Perissinotto

I tried bouldering for a month and it hurt

This year, I've decided to try out different activities each month, and in February, bouldering was up.

The first day

There's a bouldering gym in my local area, so naturally I decided to go there. For some reason I put off starting for the first two weeks of February, and it wasn't for the reason you might think. I wasn't nervous about the actual activity, I just had some trepidation about the gym itself. The chain that I attended has a bit of a 'we're all family' vibe on its website. And look, I get that some people join sports and activities to socialise, but that's just not me. I like saying hi to the gym manager when I waltz in each day, but I'm not looking for a club to be a part of. If that's what you're looking for, I'm happy for you, but I am just not about the welcome to the club, buy a T-shirt, and join our Facebook group thing.

So after two weeks of putting it off, I'd spent enough introverted alone time to tackle what I thought was going to be a social outing. But it wasn't. I strolled in, paid for entry, gave my shoe size (then requested a larger size because apparently rock climbing shoes are teensy), watched the safety video, then I was released freely into the wide (comfortably anti-social) world of bouldering. It was definitely a social place - anyone who shook their head in confusion at my disdain for clubs would have a great time socialising with the people there, and it was pretty packed around 6pm when I left.

The actual climbing

The climbing bit was actually a little easier than I expected. The range of difficulty levels meant that even the novice climbers (ie. me) can have a real go at getting somewhere on their first climb. I should caveat this by saying that while I've barely done any climbing in my life, I am a regular exerciser with pretty good fitness levels and above average upper body strength. You can still have fun with no technical skills, and even within the different levels there are harder options that include overhangs (which make it decently harder), so you can move through the levels at a good pace.

The next day

I was expecting to be sore the day following my first foray into bouldering, and having been strength training for a number of years, I'm no stranger to delayed onset muscle soreness (or DOMS). But wow, the soreness was supremely annoying. Annoying is the best word because it wasn't super painful, but extremely irritating. You don' think about your grabbing muscles very often, but when they're sore, they are really at front of mind. The forearm muscles you use for bouldering are the same ones you use for typing, picking things up, opening a fridge door, and basically moving your thumbs in any way. The skin on my hands were a bit sore as well, and I had one rip on my pinky finger. Not the end of the world, but my phone didn't recognise my fingerprint for a few days which was, again, mildly annoying.

Is there an activity that doesn't involve little kids being infinitely better than me? LMK

Following days

My initial plan was to try to go bouldering for two weeks straight, to get the most of my two week trial pass ($50) and in the name of #content. But I couldn't do it. After a few days I was so sore I wasn't really enjoying it, my hands were in shreds (dramatic, but you get the picture), and I developed an allergic reaction on a few fingers, which I can't say for sure was from bouldering, but if not, it would be quite the circumstance.

Progression starts to slow after a few sessions, which is true of any sport or activity, but it did make it a little less fun. Going regularly means you use the same rock configurations a lot, which can get a little bit boring, especially when you have zero technique like me. You can definitely get pointers by watching other people, but there's only so far it can take you.

Bouldering seems like one of those activities you should do either very casually or very seriously. It's a fun thing to do as a one off, or tagging along with a friend who goes regularly. But taking it to the next level requires a lot of pain. Get used to your hands being perpetually red, ripped, and very sensitive to heat. Adapt to shoulder fatigue and possibly blisters (if you rent shoes). Cut your nails super short, like as short as you can without clipping that sensitive skin under the nail, because they will get ground down to a stub otherwise. I'm sure your body adapts after some point, but it will be a ~journey~.

In summary

I had a lot of fun when I started - the first day was great. But don't underestimate the athleticism required to actually level up. Upper body strength will only get you so far. Think jumping from rock to rock, and launching yourself up a wall. Flexibility is a must, especially if you're not blessed in the height department. It's a fun one-off activity, and obviously lots of people do it more seriously, but it will come at the cost of lots of pain for the first few weeks.