What I imagine are some kind of tendon at the joint above my forearms and below my biceps are so sore that I cannot even drive the car home. My wife, who climbed for longer and harder than me, has to drive us back. I can barely open a bottle of water; my whole arm shakes as I take a sip.
Three weeks ago, I’d never so much as climbed the wrong way off my mother’s dining table. My first time in a bouldering gym, I got two gross flappers (a tearing of the palm skin that stays connected and flaps about like a flag) and I whimpered whilst washing the chalk off my hands afterwards, blood streaming down my fingers.
I went again; experienced more pain, but regardless, something about climbing hooked me. I’m actually trying to build calluses and harder skin now. What an insane, masochistic goal.
What I’ve quickly found is that climbing allows for a freedom unlike any other workout. I’m not thinking about my work while running on the treadmill. I’m not thinking about bills or whatever whilst bicep curling. I’m not thinking about anything but the next hold and that feels extremely liberating.
And it seems I’m not alone in feeling this. A quote from a climbing.com article on the benefits of climbing on mental health said:
“Climbing promotes feelings of self-efficacy. Learning new moves, skills, and techniques provide incentive to keep trying. When we 'send' (successfully complete the route), the brain releases a flood of dopamine, creating neural pathways in our reward-related basal ganglia. Put in layman’s terms, each time we try and succeed in any small or large way, we create positive pathways in our brain’s reward system.”
I used to feel a similar way playing golf. I’d hit that real sweet shot, the ball landing exactly where visualized, and I got such a rush of satisfaction, but at the other end of the scale, you’d curse under your breath after hitting a bad shot, knowing you’ll need to do the entire course again next time just to get another crack at it.
With climbing the rush comes from successfully gripping that jug you just couldn’t hold last week, and there aren’t really any bad shots. You fall off, of course, no worries. But you rest for five minutes, get your strength back in your hands, and when your arms just about no longer feel like dropping off, try and try again.
Another cool thing about bouldering is that one you’ve failed, sometimes all it takes is for you to watch someone else send the route. Maybe they flag a certain section (flagging is when you kind of keep your flailing leg tight against the wall to correctly align your centre of gravity) or they use a hold in a way you hadn’t considered. People will complete each route in lots of different ways, and often just watching will gift you that magic piece of the puzzle.
And puzzle’s a great word because the other alluring thing about bouldering isn’t just the physical element, but actually working out the problem of how you get from bottom to top. It’s almost a little maze you need to contemplate before you even touch the wall.
I must’ve recommended bouldering to just about everyone I’ve spoken to since starting. It’s accessible to pretty much everyone; people of all body sizes, athletic ability, strength and flexibility. Everyone starts at the bottom, and the only way is up. If you haven’t tried it, I definitely encourage you to seek out your local gym (mine is Boulder Hut for those interested). They’re popping up all over the UK as the sport gains popularity, and bouldering will even feature at the 2020 Olympic games!