Bouldering versus Rock climbing – though they may seem similar at first sight, there is actually a lot of significant differences upon futher understanding. Both sport requires different techniques, different training routines, different muscle groups usage, different gear set and the list goes on and on!
Read on to find out all the differences between rock climbing and bouldering.
Key Difference between rock climbing and bouldering
As earlier mentioned, rock climbing vs bouldering differ in a number of ways. The climbing techniques and specific moves often differ when one is doing rock climbing vs. bouldering. Additionally, different levels of strength and endurance are required for each one. If you are planning to supplement your climbing with home workouts and routines that consist of stretches/ yoga and hangboards, then the more these training plans should be specifically tailored for rock climbers or boulderers.
We will cover a few of the following factors in this article, but note the terminology and difficulty grading differs between rock climbing and bouldering. In addition, significantly different climbing gear is required ( rock climbing being more expensive).
But the most significant difference between rock climbing and bouldering is the way that they are executed and protected. Rock climbing is done with a rope and protective gear, while bouldering only requires your climbing shoes and the use of a crashpad to break your landings. Lets explore more.
Style and Techniques of Rock Climbing vs. Bouldering
Due to the differences in hold and foothold type, the style and technique required to be a good top rope rock climber is different than that which is required to be a good boulderer. High wall climbing routes are longer and more sustained, and it takes someone with mental strength, endurance and a great memory to be able to remember all of the sequences on a full highwall climbing route.
Bouldering also requires problem solving. But because boulder problems are usually quite short, it’s easier to remember the sequences. However, small hand and footholds require boulderers to have the right body positioning in order to stay on the rock or hold.
Differences in Strength and Endurance
Perhaps the easiest analogy to understand the difference between rock climbing and bouldering is long distance running vs. sprints. While a marathon runner relies more on endurance, sprinters use more strength and raw power. The same goes for rock climbers vs. boulderers.
High wall indoor and outdoor rock climbers climb routes that range between 8 and 40 meters, so they often rely on their endurance to get them all the way to the top. On the other hand, boulders are rarely taller than 4 or 5 meters, meaning that the difficult moves are more concentrated. Harder moves for boulderers means that more technical footwork and sometimes finger grip strength is required.
However, it’s important to understand that endurance is also important for boulderers as strength is for rock climbers. Long rock climbing routes often have a difficult crux move, which certainly requires strength. Additionally, long boulder problems that requires endurance, such as traverses, are quite common.
Type of Muscles Used
When it comes to the types of muscles used, a high wall rock climber climbing attempting a route that is a relatively easy grade for them will be using slow-twitch muscles. On the other hand, explosive moves and body tension often required when bouldering. as it requires the use of fast-twitch muscles.
Differences in Training – Bouldering vs Rock Climbing
Because they demand the use of slightly different muscle groups and skills, rock climbing and bouldering training tend to differ. Though rock climbers must also train strength and bouldering skills, they complement it with plenty of endurance training, such as repeating routes with little or shorter rest time in between.
Boulderers on the other hand, are more focused on training max-strength by trying difficult boulder problems and hangboard-ing. They also more frequently training moves that are very common in bouldering, such as toe hooks, heel hooks, mantles, dynos, and sit starts. Though some of these moves are also found in rock climbing, they are much less frequently used in rock climbing than in bouldering.
All things considered, rock climbing and bouldering training have more similarities than differences. Both are active activities that require using almost the entire musculature of the body, meaning that both require full-body training plans. In terms of finger grips, it also both require immense focus and strong forearms. Its however important to ensure that one does proper warm up and warm down of the fingers and entire body to prevent injuries.
Aside from training their finger and upper-body strength, both rock climbers and boulderers must also train core strength, leg strength, body tension, and balance.
Aside from differences when it comes to physical demands and training regiments, rock climbing also differs from bouldering when it comes to terminology.
Read on to find a list of common rock climbing/bouldering-specific terms with definitions.
Rock Climbing Terms:
- Anchors: the chains that you clip your rope and personal anchor system into at the top of a climbing route
- Bolt: the metal anchor bolted into the climbing wall for protection
- To clip: the act of clipping your rope into the protective gear that you have placed in a bolt on the wall
- To belay: the act of holding the rope, via a belay device, to protect someone from falling while they are climbing
- To take: to have the belayer take in slack from the rope and support the entire body weight of the climber, allowing them to rest
- Top roping vs lead climbing: Top rope involves the rope already set up at the top anchor and the climber is being belayed with the rope up till the anchor catch him/ her in event of a fall.
Lead climbing on the other hand involves climbing up with the rope below you and catching you at the last quickdraw you have clipped into for safety..
- Top out: climbing onto the top of the boulder
- To spot: the act of protecting the climber by preparing to guide a potential fall
- Mantle: A move that is often required for topping out, similar to getting out of a pool without a ladder
- Dab: When your foot (or any other body part) accidentally touches/brushes the ground or crashpad
Rock Climbing Grades vs. Bouldering Grades
Additionally, rock climbing routes and boulder problem are each graded using a different scale. When it comes to rock climbing grades, each region uses a unique grading system. The most common system is the French system, with routes ranging between the grades of 2 (easiest) and 9c. In the United States, the Yosemite system is used, with routes ranging from 5.0-5.15, while the Australian system is based on numbers ranging from 3 to 39.
Bouldering also uses the French system, with boulder problems ranging from 4 to 8c+. However, when using the French system, the same rock climbing grade number in rock climbing does not match the difficulty as that grade number in bouldering. For example, a 7a boulder problem is more physically demanding than a 7a climbing route.
Another commonly used system in bouldering is the V-system, which starts at V0 and goes all the way up to V17, an extremely difficult grade that very few have climbed.
Gear for Rock Climbers vs. Gear for Boulderers
Given that rock climbing and bouldering are performed in such different manners, it’s no surprise that they require different climbing gear needs. Rock climbers need significantly more rock climbing equipment than boulderers.
Aside from the chalk and climbing shoes that any form/ type of climbing requires, rock climbing calls for a harness, a rope, quickdraws, a personal anchor system, a belay device ( made up of an ATC and Carabiner) and lastly, a helmet. On the other hand, all you need to boulder is a crashpad and some trustworthy friends to spot you.
Lastly, when it comes to attire and clothing for climbing, boulderers and climbers both see the value of comfortable climbing tops and climbing pants that are breathable and stretchable to maximise climbing performance. The last thing you want is a pair of pants that is stiff and difficult for you to do a full sit in move.
Climbing all day can be a tiring process. Consider getting a few extra accessories as gifts for climbing friends.
Some best affordable ideas are portable chairs or hammocks to make the climbing trip more comfortable.
Which is more beginner-friendly
Rock climbing and bouldering both pose distinct challengers for beginners. One the one hand, rock climbing is a mentally difficult sport to begin. It can be a great challenge for those who suffer from fear of heights. Also, there are a lot of safety measures that must be learned and memorised.
On the other hand, bouldering requires much more raw strength than rock climbing. This means it can be more physically demanding for new climbers who have not yet developed climbing-specific muscles. In summary, rock climbing is harder for beginners who struggle with fear of heights, while bouldering is more of a challenge for beginners who lack finger and upper-body strength.
Different Injury Risks
Though both forms of sport poses risk, both rock climbing and bouldering can be safe activities when correctly executed. Both present the possibility of overuse injuries, such as finger tendon/ pulley strains and shoulder injuries, and both present the possibility of accident-incurred injuries.
When it comes to rock climbing, injuries are few and far between. Most are a result of muscle or tendon strains, such as the ones listed above, though you can get a bit banged up if you have an unpleasant fall. The most common injuries incurred when rock climbing are simple bumps, surface level skin tears and bruises. However, it’s important to keep in mind that it is always possible to experience an extremely dangerous ground fall if the proper safety measures aren’t taken.
Bouldering can be a bit riskier. Because you are climbing without a rope at quite a height, you will always fall and land on the ground, which increases your risk of sprained ankles, broken feet, and knee injuries.
However, these injuries can be avoided with good spotters and proper crashpad placement. Additionally, due to the fact that individual moves in bouldering are more difficult and often use smaller holds than in rock climbing, finger tendon and pulley injuries tend to be more common in boulderers than in rock climbers.
Which is Better, Rock Climbing or Bouldering?
In the end, whether rock climbing or bouldering is better for you depends on personal preferences! Just like some people prefer a marathon and others a sprint, rock climbing and bouldering present distinct physical demands and also offer distinct rewards.
If you love the thrill of heights and beautiful scenery, you’d make a great outdoor rock climber, and if you love short bursts and technical challenges to push your body to its physical limit, bouldering is the best option for you! Both options are available indoors and outdoors. So take your pick, and go for it – be it bouldering in your own home climbing wall, at outdoor natural rocks or sport climbing on the outdoor crags and cliffs.
– FAQs –
Is bouldering harder than rock climbing?
Bouldering is usually a great start for beginners due to it allowing for new climbers to get the hang of moving sideways on a climbing route before they tackle the high wall ( rock climbing), where it might be more scary for those fearful of heights, and it also require the ability to hold your own body weight for a longer duration as you progress upwards.
Does bouldering make you a better climber?
Bouldering helps train a climber up to master more technical moves like to do moves that requires more control, balance and precision footwork. All these helps when you transit to do high wall rock climbing, where you can focus on other aspects like endurance.
How long does it take to get good at bouldering?
If you climb and boulder consistently 2-3 times a week at least, you would see that your technical skills start to improve quite consistently in 6-9 weeks. However, it usually gets harder to move up the grade when you are at V4 or V5, getting to V6 or V7. So you would need to increase your frequency as well as add on some home training to retain the muscle memory.
Which is better, trad vs sport climbing?
This is a million dollar question that many questions ask. In simple terms, trad climbing is the purest and most traditional form of climbing where you leave the climbing place as untouched as possible. However sport climbing is a bit more ‘sustainable’ and feasible in order to make climbing more accessible and safer to all. Sport climbing requires you to bolt the routes and maintain/ inspect the bolts for safety every certain amount of years.
So sport climbing vs trad, pick your poison:)