Bouldering? Say what. That was the reaction of Aaron, Adam, Derek and Tahirah on Saturday when I told them about the sport originally derived from climbing. It consists of a short sequence/moves that’ll help you climb up the wall, the sequences are usually referred to as problems. The only problem we had prior to arrival was the fact that we’d be climbing a wall upto 3-4 metres in height without any kind of safety harnesses. 4 metres is only about double the height of your room, doesn’t sound scary at all, right? It’s not too bad at all, even for someone with a fear of heights like myself. Well…
So I kind of forgot to tell the guys about the bouldering and how it differentiates to climbing. The lack of safety harnesses had confused everybody before reaching Arch Climbing Wall in the Biscuit Factory site. Even at midday on a Saturday, it was rammed with people getting their Spiderman on. Most don’t even have much of athletic build, just passionate climbers with good form and technique.
We were asked to fill in forms before getting started, basically signing our lives away in case we died whilst climbing. We were met by Laurel, an instructor and pro-climber who works there. She took us through the basic techniques, body movement, jumping down into a squat and explained why the climbing shoes are so tight. They’re almost a half a size to small for you so your toes are curled inwards which helps with your climbing technique albeit being uncomfortable at first. If they’re comfortable and don’t curl up your toes, then you need to swap for a smaller size.
‘This is the wall. You’re going to climb it’ – Joke, she never said that.
We started off with the wall with the least tilt and it’s a forward tilt which is according to Laurel is easier for women. Each wall consists of different circuits to get to the top and to differentiate between them you look for the colour coded boulders. We started off with the easiest one – the white one with green spots, before trying the black and tiger spots routes.
Before we headed any further, Laurel asked us to practice climbing to the top on the basic circuit then heading back down and jumping off the wall into a squat land + roll position. Lord knows, 4 metres is a lot higher than I expected especially for someone with a fear of heights. It’s that initial jump, leap of faith (4 metres) that’s scary for me. After I did it once it was a breeze, that first time though – I stayed up there for about 30 seconds saying ‘I can’t doooo it’. Embarrassing. Clearly the protein shakes and gym sessions haven’t changed the fear of heights haha.
Tahirah’s serious game face though.
We headed over to some of the other walls where there’s more of a vertical decline and tried out the tougher circuits. Some of them required so much strength, balance and most importantly technique. It’s all about shifting weight from one part of your body to another, as quick and smoothly as possible. Our instructor Laurel made it look easy peasy – it was far from that, a tough full-body workout. The more the decline, the more strength that is required. Especially circuits that involved holding on to the SIDE of the wall and climbing up like Prince of Persia. I couldn’t do it, our new resident ninja (sorry, Derek) Aaron was the master at it. I’ll let the rest takeover from here…
Aaron: Well damn the fitness bug is infectious. And heck the symptoms are satisfying. It all started about six months ago, the chubby and inactive high school me was long gone and a scrawny (still inactive) young man had stood in his place for a few years. With a bunch of people around me making a physical, and mental, lifestyle change, I decided I would jump in on the action. I have learnt a lot in the last few months and without a personal trainer I have been left to research and educate myself on how to make my time inside and outside of the gym worthwhile. Bouldering really highlighted the changes I’ve made.
This was as intense as any gym workout I’ve ever done and thanks to the competitive element involved, it was also phenomenally fun. Every muscle in my was body utilised particularly my arms and surprisingly my fingers, grip was really important and not something I have ever trained. I felt a constant urge to keep challenging myself to a more difficult climb and with Derek and I one upping each other at every opportunity, it was hard to walk away without completing a particular route. There is a real sense of achievement in reaching the top, which requires both physical and technical skill, it is also really nice to have people you have never met urging you on, you do not get that at the gym. There is certainly a friendly community spirit among the “boulderers” that makes it accessible and more fun.
Aaron: This was not something I could have done as well as I did six months ago, I just would not have had the strength or endurance, I am still far from where I would like to be but none the less to be able to see and feel an improvement is something we can all appreciate. Let Yin & Yang be your health and fitness inspiration, more fitness features are coming guys, so join us on the road to becoming Y&Y Super Saiyans.
Adam: Being from a sporting background, there are never many physical activities that I undermine. Bouldering was one of the rare few. Physical strain like nothing I have recently experienced (including gym sessions) meant that I was totally overthrown by the pain. After completing some of the wall climbs, I literally felt like I had left my hands up there somewhere. Even still, it’s a physical challenge that makes you want to go back for more. After completing one route up the wall, you want to try the next, and the next, before you find yourself having to do impressions of Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, parallel to the wall, while holding on to something that resembles more of a piece of play-doh stuck on a wall than an actual rock.
It’s awesome to see and feel improvements in your ability in fitness exercises, whether it be at the gym or climbing a colourful wall, and that was definitely the highlight of the day – seeing myself and the rest of the team gradually get better at something none of us had ever done before. Pushing our bodies to the limits in an exploration in to a whole new dimension of health and fitness. That’s what we do. I can see how bouldering can become an addictive sport, but with fingers like cocktail sticks, it’ll be a while before you see me climbing those walls again. Thanks to the guys at Arch Climbing Wall.
Derek: As a newbie to the world of fitness, health and diets; I welcome seize any opportunity to escape the confines of my occasional gym session or sporadic running regime. However, my enthusiasm suffered a blow when a quick Google search revealed that bouldering was not the tame sport that I had imagined…a form of rock climbing without the use of ropes or harnesses *gulps*. Nonetheless, I was excited…so excited that I forgot my shorts in my haste. I was lucky enough to borrow a pair from the kind gent at the reception (completely ruined my All Black Everything look but better than climbing in my running tights haha).
As a virgin to the sport, I quickly realised that science/art of bouldering was not relying on upper body strength to conquer the artificial climbing wall but to invest energy into technique, footwork and balance. As I sat on the crash-mats exhausted, watching fellow Y&Y daredevils ascending the vertical labyrinth, I became intrigued by the different ways individuals chose to climb the same wall. I was not alone. I witnessed the other climbers decomposing each other’s moves and mapping out their own paths to reach the summit. I guess jumping to conclusions doesn’t make for happy landings.
Tahirah: Like the boys, I marveled at how our visit to Arch Climbing Wall demonstrated just how much my body has gained strength since I’ve been training. However, I can smugly say that unlike the rest of the team, the day following our bouldering session didn’t consist of achy body parts due to my stretch session post-workout. And I say workout purposefully – while a day bouldering is most definitely a fun adventure activity, it is, without a doubt, a sport.
The biggest surprise to me was how much of a community Arch Climbing Wall has developed. The climbers surrounding us weren’t newbies or thrill-seekers looking for a one-off day out, they were seasoned climbers who scaled up the wall with graceful athleticism, understood the bureaucracy of the difficulty grading system and perhaps were even participants in the monthly climbing competition. This impressed me as much as it intrigued, as I love anything that cultivates a natural community of shared interest, especially exercise-based.
That’s the guy’s thoughts on Bouldering. Now my turn, I definitely did enjoy learning it and coming out of my usual Virgin Active comfort zone. However I’m not sure if I’d swap my gym regime for climbing as it’s just easier for me to fit around my schedule. Each to their own really, that’s how I see a health and fitness – find what you enjoy and stick with it as long as you’re not bored. I know I’ll be switching from the gym into some form of martial arts to fulfil my childhood dreams of being a crime fighting vigilante.
The Arch Climbing Wall’s communal aspect is something gym’s lack as it’s always about oneself and getting through your session. Like I said, you can go with friends or if you’re like me, it’s alone time. They’re more than just a climbing facility with exceptional facilities for strength and endurance training like the Moon Board/Bones board, a Circuit board and a 50 Degree Project Board. As well as more body weight exercise facilitates such as campus boards, bars and gym rings.
Above: Tahirah’s almost face plant against the wall. She’ll kill me but seeing as she’s over a 1000 miles away from me right now, I think I’m safe.
Below: Derek forgot to moisturise & Aaron showing us how it’s done.
Arch Climbing Wall, 100 Clement's Rd, London SE16 4DG