Dusting off my hands, tightening my special shoes and scraping my hair up into a ponytail, you could say that our bouldering date-night wasn’t quite what most would consider romantic. Yet working together as a team, motivating one another to achieve our goals and hitting personal bests is something that brings my boyfriend Freddy and I so much love and happiness; trying new fitness experiences and activities makes for the perfect together-time in our opinion.
Whilst I’ve never tried bouldering before, Freddy has been of his own accord with friends and absolutely loves it, so you could say he was the perfect person to show me the ropes – or not, as that’s the difference between bouldering and rock climbing! We spent a wonderful afternoon at VauxWall East, the newest bouldering gym in London where I discovered a new love for all things finger-gripping.
We attended VauxWall East in Lambeth, London, where a day pass costs about as much as a regular gym session and can be used across any of their three London sites, with another two venues excitingly set to open in early 2019, twenty five years after the first venue opened in the Lake District.
We arrived in our gym wear along with bags of enthusiasm and the promise of a protein cookie for the champion after. Having no equipment of our own we hired the specialist bouldering shoes from the reception, with the on-site shop also stocking footwear, accessories, food and hand creams – after a couple of hours on the walls we soon realised the importance of a good moisturiser.
After watching an induction video in reception and completing a registration form on-screen, we were cheerfully quizzed by the helpful staff of our understanding of bouldering before we began. The key points that we were to bare in mind included warming up properly before climbing, climbing within our capabilities, descending by down-climbing, avoiding standing or walking beneath other climbers, being aware of climbers drop-zones, reporting any problems to a member of staff and recognising that the safety matting makes falls more comfortable but not safer.
Tomasz Frankowski of climbing VauxWall Climbing says: “It’s probably something you’ve never done before, nothing is like climbing. It doesn’t matter how hard or easy the routes are that you climb, it’s about having fun. Climbing is growing so quickly because it’s such a sociable sport where everybody is happy to interact, help out and talk to one another.”
The climbing arena, based within a beautiful listed building, boasts a trendy rock formation centrepiece surrounded by open-plan high walls, Everest challenges and inclines to test all levels of ability. Bouldering is a form of rock climbing that is performed on rock formations and artificial rock walls alike without the use of ropes or harnesses. With just climbing shoes and a bag of chalk, members can enjoy the 160 set routes at any one time within VauxEast across 8 circuits of 20 climbs which frequently change so that no two sessions are the same.
Around 700+ customers train between the London venues each day with 150 people using the climbing arena at any one time to ensure that there is plenty of space to explore, climb and avoid queues. Climbing the stairs to the second-storey arena, we were instantly hit by an electric atmosphere of excitement, activity and utter-coolness for want of a better word.
This awesome world that I never knew existed seemed so edgy and unusual and so I found myself spending the first few minutes looking around, taking everything in and standing wide-eyed in awe of the climbers up, down and all around me, scaling the walls, hanging from fingertips and showing of their Ninja Warrior skills.
Bouldering focuses on building coordination, hand grip strength and core strength, leaving every muscle of the body burning after. As a spring-board to climbing in the great outdoors, indoor bouldering is becoming an extremely popular sport, extending triumphantly to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. A community of paraclimbers, blind climbers and sponsored athletes have also assisted in putting bouldering on the map for fitness enthusiastic as all ages and abilities can enjoy the courses.
By pushing weight into the feet and gripping and manoeuvring with hands, members as young as 6yrs take to the walls alongside their 85yr old competitors, yet the acceptance, friendliness and team spirit is refreshingly unique and not always present in gyms. A great total body workout, Freddy and I found bouldering the perfect challenge as his 95kg frame and strong shoulders which usually secure his triumphs allowed us to be somewhat on par with each other thanks to my 65kg frame and typically weaker upper body. Because I’m lighter on the scales I found it easier to hang on incline and climb faster, whilst Freddy’s strength and muscle mass made for more challenging resistance.
I started off rather slow and cautious, tentatively checking my route and finding a secure footing before reaching upwards and adjusting my grip, but within half an hour climbing became second nature and I found my pace, confidence and excitement soar as high as my adrenaline as I reached the top of each wall.
Freddy has a fear of heights but found the walls ideal, yet I have to confess I became stuck at one point when we first started as I confidently made my way to the top and asked Freddy to take a cheesy picture for social media, but then couldn’t find a footing to make my way back down. After a few minutes of Freddy laughing and refusing to fetch me a ladder another climber kindly talked me through a safe route down and within seconds I was back on the floor laughing and skipping across to the next challenge.
Freddy says: “I’ve been a couple of times before and really enjoy going bouldering. It’s a great change to a normal gym workout and is much more sociable. It’s always great to see some impressive climbers who are more than happy to give tips and I knew Tracy would enjoy another fitness challenge which we could both be competitive about!”
Personally I love the edginess of bouldering, the high-fives, thumbs up and mutual respect from other members along with watching the insane skills of climbers clinging onto holds by their fingertips, jumping to higher points and swinging from inclines. It’s such a motivational sport that makes you chase the next high and feel like a real life ninja!