On The Rocks

By Radhika Agrawal

We bring you a guide to indoor bouldering, a physical and mental workout far more engaging than the gym

We don’t work out just to look good. Fitness means different things to different people, be it staying in top shape, blowing off steam after a rough day, taking care of one’s health, or even making new friends. While the gym has been the most common and accessible platform for achieving these goals, it often falls short when we look at fitness from a more holistic lens.

Doing versions of the same exercise over and over on leg, chest, and back can lead to a dwindling drive in many people. Perhaps that’s why so many gym memberships are abandoned midway. If you’re someone who seeks a more present and participative workout — one that challenges both your body and your mind— indoor bouldering might be just the thing for you.

Bouldering is a type of free climbing performed on boulders or small rocks. When we say ‘free’, we mean it is practiced without the use of safety harnesses or ropes, though crash pads offer some security. “Indoor bouldering allows you to simulate the movement of climbing on real rocks in a safe and controlled environment,” says Vrinda Bhageria, co-founder of BoulderBox, a bouldering gym in Delhi. She explains that the most obvious difference between outdoor and indoor bouldering is that everything is largely pre-determined in the latter. “The climbing routes are defined by using the same colour holds, the grade level of difficulty is mentioned, and the route setter has a certain path in mind when designing the movement,” she says. And, of course, the climbing gym comes equipped with safety mats all over the floor, unlike the outdoors.

So, where do you begin? For someone like me, who can barely tie her shoelaces, understanding rope work and learning how to maneuver advanced climbing gear can be intimidating. Indoor bouldering, however, is probably one of the least equipment-intensive forms of rock climbing. All you need is a pair of climbing shoes and some powder or liquid chalk, both of which climbing gyms rent out readily. And if you’re worried about not having the upper body strength to try out something like this, consider that climbing comes very naturally to humans. In fact, many evolutionary biologists suggest that it can be found in our very DNA.

“Bouldering is all about exploring the potential of the human body. Not just its power or strength, but also its rhythm and flow,” says Adarsh Singh, professional sport climber and Head Route Setter and Coach at Climb City.

The best thing about bouldering is that it’s for everyone. Whether you’re a beginner who has never done a pull up in their life or an all-out fitness freak, you will find a difficulty level that works for you. A climbing gym’s environment is infectious, filled with energy, motivation, and support that’ll make you want to keep coming back for more.

“A sense of community is another deep-rooted part of the sport, where you find people who keep pushing you and encouraging you in your climbing journey, sparking important conversations around good practice, safety, outdoor ethics, training, and banter,” says Delhi-based climber, Keith Peter. Most bouldering gyms even allow kids over the age of five to climb under supervision, which enables you to share the experience with your loved ones in a way that the gym or other sports often can’t. “It is a social sport, so the experience is enhanced when you’re surrounded by like-minded people. When I started, I got a lot of help from many experienced climbers regarding technique, mindset, and training,” says Nipun Malik, who came across the sport in 2020.

In any sport or workout activity, progress is often measured via physical results in the body. However, the means of measurement may vary. Away from the world of calorie-counting and bicep-sizing found at the gym, bouldering offers a more comprehensive outlook. “The movements in most gym settings are very uniform and so individuals get good at them through the principle of specificity. Bouldering, on the other hand, is a lot more versatile because the movements are unique and multidirectional,” says physical therapist Minash Gabriel, founder of Myo Movement.As a full body workout, it works on your shoulders, forearms, core, legs, and more. If you find yourself icing your fingers after a session, don’t be alarmed. Bouldering allows you to build both large and small muscles, and is particularly great for improving grip strength.

Aside from being a demanding physical workout, indoor bouldering also exercises the brain. “Many boulder problems are complex, and they require thought, coordination, and action, which engages your mind deeply,” explains Malik. The frustrations and disappointment of being stuck and the ‘aha’ moment when you finally crack it make solving a ‘problem’ or a route a tremendously rewarding endeavour.

Many enthusiasts also swear by the mental health benefits of the activity. In fact, a 2017 study found that bouldering could be used as psychotherapy for treating depression in adults. “Bouldering helps me fight anxiety, increases my attention span, allows me to be calm in stressful situations on and off the wall, instills self-belief, and makes me happy,” summarises Peter.

Now, let’s get real. Though indoor bouldering minimises the risk associated with the sport, it is impossible to eliminate the possibility of an injury. You can’t climb without falling — but falling safely is key. “For absolute beginners, we recommend taking it slow and understanding how to land safely by falling from shorter heights. Once they are comfortable, they can then begin to push their limits,” says Bhageria.

Though it’s now an Olympic event, indoor bouldering is still fairly new in India. But with more bouldering and climbing gyms opening up in different parts of the country, people are becoming more aware of the sport and the merits it carries. As someone who has represented the country in several world cups over the last 12 years, Singh has seen the sport grow up with him. “We need the support of the government and people of India to shape a bright future for bouldering. We need to work on building awareness not only around climbing as a sport, but also as a lifestyle,” he says.

5 exercises to become a stronger climber

With inputs from Minash Gabriel

  • Farmer’s carries: Also known as farmer’s walk, all you need to do to perform this exercise is walk holding a weight in each hand. You can use a variety of equipment like kettlebells, plates, dumbbells, etc
  • Dead hangs: Great for improving forearm and grip strength, dead hangs are performed by simply hanging off a pull-up bar. You can also try a single-handed dead hang to increase the difficulty level
  • Forearm exercises: Strong forearms make a strong climber. Work on your forearm strength with flexion, extension, ulnar, and radial deviation with resistance bands
  • Bicep exercises: Build your bicep strength by incorporating isometric exercises such as bicep planks and static bicep curls in your workout routine
  • Scapular push-ups: The scapula is the anchor of the arm. Scapular push- ups are performed while standing, with the help of a wall

Reproduced with permission from Mansworldindia.com

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