Rock Climbing vs Bouldering

At first sight, rock climbing and bouldering may seem somewhat similar, but in fact, there are significant differences between these two sports. They require different techniques, different muscle groups usage, different training routines, and different gear sets. The topic of this post is rock climbing vs bouldering—their differences and similarities.

Rock Climbing vs Bouldering: Key Differences

Rock climbing differs from bouldering in several ways, including climbing techniques. For each sport, different levels of endurance and strength are required. Other types of home workouts are tailored for boulderers and rock climbers.

These two sports differ in terms of difficulty grading. They also require different climbing gear. Equipment needed for rock climbing tends to be more expensive.

Most importantly, rock climbing and bouldering are executed in different ways. While you need a rope and other protective gear for rock climbing, bouldering requires a crash pad.

Rock Climbing vs Bouldering: Style and Techniques

These sports differ in hold and foothold type. Therefore, a good boulderer applies a significantly different style and technique than a good climber.

Climbing a high wall route requires great endurance and mental strength. A climber also has to remember sequences in a climbing route and therefore must possess a great memory.

You need the same qualities for bouldering. However, boulder problems are usually not very long. So, remembering the sequences is easier. Boulderers must learn how to position the body on the rock.

Differences in Endurance and Strength

If rock climbing is like long-distance running, bouldering is like sprints. While the former requires endurance, the latter requires raw power and strength. High-wall rock climbers use slow-twitch muscles, but boulderers use fast-twitch muscles.

When it comes to rock climbing, high wall routes can be 8 to 40 meters long. To get to the top, climbers have to rely less on their raw strength and more on their strength.

In contrast, a boulder is usually 4 to 5 meters high. So, getting to the top requires strength and not necessarily endurance. However, the same cannot be said about long boulder problems, because mere strength is not enough to traverse them. Traversing them requires high levels of endurance and strength.

Rock Climbing vs Bouldering: Differences in Training

These two sports require different training. Rock climbers focus on improving their endurance by repeating routes.

On the other hand, boulderers try boulder problems in order to improve their strength. They also focus on training moves such as heel hooks, toe hooks, dynos, mantles, and sit starts. Rock climbing also shares some of these moves, but they are not frequently used.

Taking all things into consideration, we can say that the training styles of rock climbing and bouldering are more similar than different. Both of these sports require whole-body training. Both require strong forearms and immense focus. And before training, a proper warm-up is required to prevent injuries.

Different Terminology

Different terminology is used for rock climbing and bouldering. Here are the most common terms with brief descriptions.

Rock Climbing Terms

  • Bolt: It is a metal anchor used for protection. Climbers bolt it into the climbing wall.
  • Anchors: Anchors are chains that are used to attach a rope to a climbing route.
  • To belay: The term refers to holding the rope to protect a climber from falling. A belay device is used to hold the rope.
  • To clip: This term refers to attaching your rope to the protective gear positioned in a bolt.
  • Top roping: The rope that is already positioned at the top anchor is called top rope. In case of a fall, the anchor catches the climber.

Bouldering Terms

  • To spot: This is the act of preparation for a potential fall in order to protect the climber.
  • Top out: It refers to climbing towards to peak of the boulder.    
  • Dab: The term is used to mean a situation in which your foot accidentally brushes or touches the crashpad or ground.
  • Mantle: It’s a move a boulderer uses to top out.

Grading Systems for Rock Climbing and Bouldering

Different scales are used to grade boulder problems and rock climbing routes. For rock climbing, there is a unique grading system in each region. However, the French system is the most widely recognized system. This system is applicable for routes that range from 2 and 9c. The Yosemite system is the most widely used system in the United States. It is for routes that range from 5.0-5.15.

The French system is also used for bouldering. However, when the French system is used, the same grade number does not mean the same difficulty level for rock climbing and bouldering. For instance, a 7a climbing route is not as physically demanding as a 7a boulder problem.

In bouldering, the V system is another grading system. It ranges from V0 to V17, where V0 is the easiest and V17 is the most difficult. The Australian system, the standard grading system in that country, the grading is based on numbers that range from 3 to 39.

Read: How Much Weight Can a Climbing Rope Hold?

Gear Used for Rock Climbing vs Bouldering

Rock climbing and bouldering are inherently different, and therefore different climbing gear is required for them. Rock climbers need more equipment and tools than boulderers.

Climbing shoes and chalk are needed for any type or form of climbing. For rock climbing, you are going to need a rope, a harness, a personal anchor system, quickdraws, a helmet, and a belay device.

On the other hand, for bouldering, you will need some reliable friends to spot you, and a crash pad.

Both rock climbers and boulderers have to wear breathable climbing pants and climbing tops. For the ease of climbing, the clothing must be stretchable. By all means, avoid wearing stiff pants.

Which Sport Is More Beginner-Friendly

For beginners, there are distinct challenges with both bouldering and rock climbing. To begin with, rock climbing requires more mental ability. If you have a fear of heights, rock climbing can be really challenging for you. Apart from the techniques, you will have to learn about some safety measures.

Bouldering, on the other hand, requires raw strength. If you are a new climber, this sport will challenge your physical strength. To get better, you will have to train and strengthen your fast-twitch muscles.

In brief, rock climbing is harder for those who have fear of heights, and bouldering is harder for those who lack upper body strength.

Different Injury Risks

When correctly executed, both bouldering and rock climbing can be safe. If you are not very careful, both forms of sports can lead to overuse injuries like shoulder injuries and pulley strains.

Injuries associated with rock climbing most result from tendon or muscle strains. However, an unpleasant fall can make you banged up. The most common injuries resulting from rock climbing are bruises, skin tears, and simple bumps.

With that said, we should add here that if you do not take proper safety measures, you may end up experiencing a dangerous ground fall.

Bouldering is a bit riskier, in part because you do not use a rope when you climb. Falling on the ground from a height can lead to broken feet, sprained ankles, and knee injuries. However, if you use a proper crashpad and have good spotters, you can easily avoid most of these injuries.

Other Differences

In this discussion of rock climbing vs bouldering, we feel inclined to mention another important difference between these two climbing disciplines.

You need a climbing partner both in rock climbing and bouldering. The roles of the climbing partners, however, are different in each sport.

In bouldering, there is no use of ropes or harnesses, and therefore every fall inevitably results in a ground impact. The role of spotters is to minimize the risks of injury. Spotters stand on the ground and make sure you land feet first and on the mats when you fall.

Spotting is done only while outdoor climbing because indoor bouldering gyms have mats on the ground.

On the other hand, in rock climbing, spotting does not exist because this sport involves the use of a rope, harness, or belayer. When you fall, it keeps you safe.

Without the belayer, the harness or rope would be useless. A belayer uses a belay device and manages the rope to stop it from moving in case you fall. As a result, even if you fall, you do not hit the ground.

Rock Climbing vs Bouldering: Which Is Better?

There is no straightforward answer to this question because it depends on your personal preferences. Bouldering and rock climbing present distinct demands and offer distinct rewards.

If you are not scared of heights, rock climbing can be a pretty good sport for you. And if you like technical challenges and short bursts of physical strength, you will fall in love with bouldering.

Final Thoughts

From this discussion of rock climbing vs bouldering, it is clear that these two types of climbing have many things in common. And there are also significant differences between them. Because of these differences, you should probably try both to figure out which one is more suitable for you.

Calvin Rivers

Hey, I’m Calvin Rivers, a climbing veteran with 10+ years on crags and walls around the world. I can’t wait for you to explore our site and fall in love with the outdoors just like I have.

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