When I was invited to try out the sport of ‘bouldering’ at a newly opened centre in south west London, my mind’s eye saw Fred Flintstone running around a cartoon quarry throwing massive rocks at Barney Rubble.
Sounded like a good way to get fit actually, but what I found after venturing through the doors of Urban Ascent, in Parsons Green, was something rather different.
Bouldering is a style of rock climbing that takes place on well, boulders, be it natural or indoor. See the photos of Urban Ascent to see what indoor ones look like and what I look like delicately climbing the walls. It means the climbs are very short and done without ropes. The floor is one big crash matt to avoid serious injury if you fall off, although if you are standing on the matt look out for people falling and landing on you.
Bouldering used to be seen as a training activity for climbers but it is now a recognised sport in its own right and one that can seriously look to improve your fitness.
My instructor, Lou, showed me the ropes, or the no ropes actually. There are different levels of difficulty and we started off gently. I reckon I got the hang of it pretty quick traversing along a low level wall. Then I had to go up and down, again I reckon I did ok. Then I had to use just the grey bits that were sticking out of the wall, this proved a little more difficult. I quickly found that you need to think a few moves ahead in this game and hanging off a wall can really start to sap your strength.
Lou taught me possibly the easiest but most important trick and that was to keep my arms straight. It was amazing how much easier leaning out from the wall rather than clinging to it for dear life was on the forearms, which can quickly fatigue.
If you want to improve your grip bouldering will definitely do it for you. As I tried out more difficult climbs and overhangs the strength in my fingers really started to go and my forearms were still in pain the next day.
Negotiating the ‘problems’ as the different routes are referred to requires an intelligent thought process but you don’t want to be hanging under one of the overhangs for too long as your grip will go.
Also, if you want to get really good you might want to be shedding a few pounds as the laws of gravity dictate that the lighter you are the easier it is to scamper up and down vertical walls. Lou was tiny and did not rely on upper body strength to pull herself up the walls but more on being little and practice.
You can see the appeal of bouldering and why people keep going back for more. You could choose a different route each time if you so wanted and make it as easy or difficult as you want for yourself. A different workout each time in essence.
If you fancy a go check out the Urban Ascent website: http://urbanascent.co.uk/ just don’t expect an autograph from the Flintstones…