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Indoor rock star training

Globe-trotting rock climber James Pearson is here to tell you why spending time bouldering indoors can sharpen your outdoor adrenaline skills.

Indoor climbing is booming.

Urban adventurers, traditionally more used to inner-city canyons than mountain hikes, are learning how to move on super-steep artificial rock faces, designed by climbers to mimic the demands of outdoor bouldering. Pro climber James Pearson made his name ‘on sighting’ (a clean ascent, with no prior practice) fiendish rock climbs in the Peak District, and now explores the globe searching for the world’s hardest climb, but even he spends a lot of time training indoors. The reason is simple – you can combine the fun and mental challenge of unlocking climbing sequences with an easily repeatable training effect. Here, Pearson explains why bouldering beats the gym for fitness gains, as well as fun, and how you can get into it…

Mindful Heights

‘First up, indoor climbing is really absorbing. I often tell people that the best thing I can do if I need to forget about something is to go climbing, because it takes all of my focus. Indoor climbing for beginners is no different. When you’re climbing, you’re not thinking about anything else.’

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Calorie Count

‘Climbing burns loads of calories – almost double what jogging or swimming burn. This makes it a very efficient exercise for your limited time. For a more aerobic calorie burn, you can link bouldering problems together by chaining together colour-coded circuits but using less than your maximum effort.’

Social Climbers

‘Just because you’re not holding the other end of a rope, doesn’t mean bouldering isn’t sociable. In fact, the problem-solving nature of bouldering means that people are always having spontaneous chats in order to figure out a sequence. You don’t get that in the gym.’

Feet First

‘You often see boulderers “cut” their feet off holds to just use their arms. Sometimes this is absolutely necessary, but the truth is that the more weight you can get on your stronger legs, the more you take off of your weaker arms, so focus on your feet from day one and develop good technique.’

The Problem Is A Book

‘Before you pull off the floor, read the whole problem, remember each hold, and try to have an idea of how to tackle the moves. This will allow you to be faster with your decisions and hesitate less. Don’t worry if this seems really hard at first – practice makes perfect.’

Training Grips

‘Bouldering is a gateway to whatever kind of climbing you want to do. While it’s often seen as the less adventurous form of climbing, it’s the best way to get you ready for all the other forms because it’s much easier to train your technique close to the floor. I got serious about bouldering when training like this.’

Find The Right Rhythm

‘Don’t dance faster than the music – climbing is complicated and the techniques will take time to learn, but it’s also very physically demanding. Take
your time and be patient to allow your body to keep up, or you risk injuring yourself.’

Take The Pain 

‘But not too much! Climbing shoes need to be tight fitting to compress your feet into a solid, precise point. When fitting shoes, try to go down through the sizes until you can’t fold any of the fabric between your fingers. It will be uncomfortable, but you’re not supposed to wear them all the time. Take them off every five minutes to give your feet time to breathe.’

Use Chalk

‘Climbers use magnesium carbonate to keep their hands dry. This gives the impression of having more grip, and more control on the rock, which ultimately makes climbing easier. Don’t get carried away, as too much chalk will make it worse. Take one big dip in your Wild Country chalk bag, rub your hands together, and you should be OK for a few boulders as long as it’s not too hot.’

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The Right Trousers

‘Climbing clothing is quite important as it needs to be free and flexible enough to allow you to move, but it also needs to be tough and hard wearing to cope with repeated rubbing and scuffing. Gym clothes will do for your first few sessions, but if you’re serious, invest in some quality climbing-specific gear.’

Listen To Your Body 

‘Don’t confuse being tired with being lazy. That said, it’s easy to overdo it. Know your body, and listen to it. If you have muscles or tendons screaming out for rest, chances are you’ve done too much. How about switching a session for some stretching?’

Want to take this outside?

‘Not only will climbing help you work on your problem-solving skills, it will also give you new ideas for ways to spend your holidays and free time – the strengths you build indoors really will transform outdoors onto real rock. And climbers tend to be fairly free spirits, so you’ll have lots of people to go exploring with.’


Check out our fitness section for workouts to build strength and stability

Photos Yannick Long


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