It may be more down to earth than mountain climbing, but bouldering, the art of traversing a large rock as opposed to climbing up a cliff, will give you the same top-of-the-world feeling of accomplishment -- and a heart-pounding, muscle-pumping workout, to boot.
It doesn't take a mountain of specialized gear, either. In fact, the gear list is feather light: Shoes, a chalk bag and chalk are all you need. And if you suspect there's a nascent Sir Edmund Hillary in you who needs a little prodding, bouldering is also a great way to gauge your interest in taking on vertical challenges of the higher kind, without a huge investment in time, either.
Use the following tips to make your transition onto the rocks even faster.
Think before you act. Bouldering is as much mental as it is a physical. Before you begin, survey the rock and visualize your route. Select the most efficient path, one that won't waste effort, and try to stick to it. That said, it's also important to be flexible. If you find you picked a less-than-perfect path once you're on the rock, stay calm and find another way. The problem-solving inherent in bouldering helps strengthen the mind as well as the body.
Use your legs. Despite what you may have heard, you don't need tremendous upper-body strength to be a good climber. Certainly, a strong back, shoulders, arms and core will help you keep a hold of the rock and support yourself as you move across the surface. But remember, the real power is in the legs.
Your quadriceps are among the strongest muscles in your body and will provide the bulk of the strength you need. Focus on pushing with your legs as you pull with your arms, with all your muscles working in harmony and your power stemming from the stable base you've created with your legs.
Don't hug the rock. A common newbie mistake is to get as close to the boulder as possible. But keeping a little distance between you and the rock, enough to keep your hips centered over your feet, will give you more stability. Bouldering is a sport of balance, not brute strength. Every move you make should focus on maintaining balance.
Go with the flow. Instead of performing a series of rigid, isolated movements, make your way across the rock in fluid, almost constant motion, keeping your body relaxed and your weight centered on both legs as much as possible.
As you move one foot to the next foothold, your entire body should go with it smoothly, so that you're forced to shift your weight to maintain a sense of equilibrium. A sure sign of being off-balance is what climbers call "sewing machine leg," when one leg shakes uncontrollably bearing the full load while the other leg flails about searching for a place to rest. This is a great way to tire your legs early and fall.
Keep it low. In bouldering the focus isn't on a vertical climb, but on a horizontal one. You don't need to be more than a few feet or even just a couple of inches off of the ground to get a good workout. Unlike cliff or mountain climbing in which you're roped to a partner to prevent falling, bouldering can be a solo effort -- if you don't go too high, that is. Stay close to the ground and stay safe.