Bouldering Vs. Rock Climbing

Bouldering Vs. Rock Climbing

The major noticeable differences between rock climbing and bouldering are the height of the climb and using climbing equipment. In bouldering, a person attempting the sport does not require to use a harness or rope because the climbing routes or bouldering routes are shorter- wall height is only 12-15 feet. On the other hand, a rock climber needs a rope and harness for rock climbing or rope climbing because the wall is more than 30 feet. 

We have highlighted some major differences between these two climbing disciplines in different aspects. Keep reading to develop a better understanding of bouldering and rock climbing. 

What is Bouldering?

Bouldering refers to a form of climbing, but in bouldering, the climber does not use a climbing rope or harness for safety precautions as in this sport climber take shorter routes with smaller rock formations. This sport does not use a rope for safety precautions, so the routes are typically 15 feet higher or shorter. 

In case of a fall, a climbing pad is kept on the ground to catch the boulder climbers and soften the impact. As a result, bouldering has become popular among climbers, and with its debut in the world Olympics, its popularity has even increased.
What is Bouldering?

During bouldering, the goal is to reach the top of the climb. For indoor bouldering, the climbers use handholds of the same color on the artificial walls to reach the top. Players must not use different colored handholds to reach the top. 

Bouldering Pros:

  • Climbers can climb all by themselves without coordinating and organizing to climb with a climbing partner or climbing buddies. That means you can do bouldering without a spotter.   

  • This sport requires less gear, which helps you stay lightweight. 

Bouldering Cons:

  • Bouldering is not known to teach endurance. 

  • While the gears are less, climbers are required to haul up a large mat, which is sometimes a pain to store and carry.  

  • As climbing mats are large, climbing more distances is not possible. Also, taking the climbing mats with you is not possible. 

  • Falls in bouldering can make you start from the beginning. 

What is Rock Climbing?

While bouldering does not require any harness or rope, rock climbing surely requires climbers to carry ropes and harnesses for protection. In this type of climbing, the wall height is around 30 meters and more off the ground.

What is Rock Climbing?

In this sport, a person climbs up, down, and sideways. It's a physically demanding activity that combines agility with fitness to conquer transverse. All over the world, a rock climber can find different rocks for the activity, which makes the activity more fun. 

There are several types of rock climbing- trad climbing or traditional climbing, sport climbing, aid climbing, top rope climbing, and so on.

Rock Climbing Pros:

  • Climbers like this activity because they can climb for long periods without getting bothered by other climbers. It is because the routes are high. 

  • Compared to bouldering, rock climbing offers you access to more outdoor activity. 

  • The climbing gear used in this sport does not take up much space. Most gears of activity are travel-friendly, which makes it easy to bring them for vacations. 

  • A rock climber can perform rock climbing all year round. 

  • After a fall, a rock climber can start from between because there is a rope to catch the climber. It can be used to get back on the wall. 

Rock Climbing Cons:

  • The major downside of rock climbing is that an individual requires a buddy or belayer with belay devices or a belay partner to go rock climbing safely. 

  • Beginners are likely to struggle with the advanced techniques as this sport is endurance originated. 

  • A rock climber must carry heavy gears for safe rock climbing. 

Different Climbing Grades 

The climbing grades in both these sports are a way of representing different climb levels. This way, a rock climber can easily distinguish between easy and hard climbs, which helps them track their performance.
Different Climbing Grades

It's important to note that both sports have different grading scales as their goals are different. For instance, bouldering requires a person to have massive energy for less time as this sport is technique focused. In contrast, rock climbing needs steady energy for a longer time. 

Each climbing type needs a different discipline and has a US-based grading scale. Also, there's an international grading scale, which originates from French. 

Below are common grading scales for different disciplines. 

Bouldering Grades 

Compared to rock climbing, bouldering grades are different. Here are two of the common ones. 


In the US, the bouldering grades are different. For example, bouldering uses a simple scale named V-Scale, short for Vermin, rather than the YDS grading scale. In this situation, the V-Scale runs from the V0V17, which is a typical breakdown of the level of climbing. 

  • V0-V2: Beginners Level Climbing 

  • V3-V6: Intermediate Level Climbing 

  • V7-V9: Advanced Level Climbing 

  • V10-V13: Pro Level Climbing 

  • V14-V17: 0.01% Level Climbing

Front Scale 

The next climbing grade for bouldering is the front scale, an international climbing scale. This scale and the French scale work in a similar manner, including three parts of the grading system. 

For instance, 7a+ can be broken into 7 – a – +. However, this grading goes from 4-9 instead of 1-9. Here, 

  • 7- stands for the difficulty of the climb, which can be on a scale of 4-9 

  • A – stands for the degree of difficulty within the number scale of the first part of the grading system, which can be a, b or c 

  • + – is the additional difficulty for the a-c grading part of the scale, which can be + or -. The + means that it is on the more difficult side of that part of the grading scale. For example, 7a+ is more difficult than 7a, and 7a-

Rock Climbing Grades

Grading scales in rock climbing is different from bouldering. But similar to bouldering, this activity also has a different grading scale in the US. Below are the US and the international grading scales for rock climbing.

Rock Climbing Grades


Rock climbing is graded in terms of the Yosemite Decimal System (YDS) in the US. Around the world, a few YDS grades are scattered among the French grades. It includes three parts to the grading system, like 5.10a can be broken into 3 parts, 5 – 10 – a.

Here, 5 - is the class of climb. Classes are on a scale of 1-5. Class 1 represents a flat hike, whereas Class 5 represents dangerous and requires a rope. 

10 – is the second part of the YDS grade, which refers to the climb's difficulty. A – is the third part of the grading level. There can be an a-d at the end of the grading, representing additional difficulty within the standard 2-15. Here is the typical breakdown of the level of climbing required for each grade. 

  • 5.2-5.9: Beginners Level Climbing 

  • 5.10a-5.11d: Intermediate Level Climbing 

  • 5.12a-5.13d: Advanced Level Climbing 

  • 5.14a-5.15c: Expert Level Climbing

French Scale

This scale is commonly used in the climbing world. Climbers in the US are making themselves familiar with this scale grading. 

Like the YDS scale, there are three parts to the grading system. For example, 7a+ can be broken into 7 – a – + 

  • 7- stands for the difficulty of the climb, which can be on a scale of 1-9 

  • A – stands for the degree of difficulty level within the number scale of the first part of the grading system, which can be a, b or c 

  • + – is the additional difficulty level for the a-c grading part of the scale, which can be + or -. The + means that it is on the more difficult side of that part of the grading scale. For example, 7a+ is more difficult than 7a, and 7a-

Bouldering VS Rock Climbing: Muscle Building

As already discussed, bouldering and rock climbing are two different disciplines. By comparing these activities to running, you will conclude that bouldering is like a sprint and climbing is more of a marathon. This distinction shows the distance of climbing, type of muscle, and training one gets. 

Anyone performing bouldering needs explosive movements to build stronger agility and explosiveness. On the other hand, rock climbing needs a rock climber to have the endurance for energy conservation. Additionally, regular climbing is known to build raw strength and muscles in a different way. 

Muscle Used in Rock Climbing 

  • Calves: During rock climbing, an individual is mostly using their calves. It happens while placing their tow on a climbing hold and pushing up. Calves are more engaged because they are more used when going straight up than climbing the inclined wall. 

Muscle Used in Bouldering

  • Abdomen: Bouldering needs more abdomen work because this activity requires more incline, which engages your abs to stay on the wall and keep the hip against the wall. 

  • Forearms: For bouldering, an individual requires more forearm strength as it helps with better grip strength in climbing. 

Muscles Used in Bouldering and Rock Climbing 

  • Upper Body: For bouldering and rock climbing, an individual needs better upper-body strength because different upper-body muscles are used. The main muscle includes: 

    • Deltoids: During climbing, Anterior Deltoids are mainly used for pulling the body positioning up. It is also the most dominant muscle that climbers mainly use. 

    • Biceps: During the sports, climbers can pull themselves up with their arms. It's considered to be a heavy bicep exercise. 

    • Triceps: Climbers can use triceps the way they use biceps to pull themselves up on the climbing wall. For this reason, climbers are considered to be great at pull-ups. 

    • Pecs (Pectoralis Major/Minor): It's the chest muscle that climbers use for pulling themselves down. After continued climbing, one recognizes pectorals. 

  • Core: The next muscle used is the core, considered the powerhouse for climbing. One cannot make necessary movements without core muscles. The main core muscle used in climbing includes: 

    • Lats (Latissimus Dorsi): This muscle helps you pull yourself down without hassle. Climbers are constantly building lats and pulling themselves. 

  • Lower Body: An under-rated part of the climbing activity in the lower body. This part plays a huge role in helping a climber get up the wall and offers increased muscle strength. Here are the main lower-body muscles used in climbing: 

    • Glutes: Glutes are most commonly used in climbing, which is the bridge to your legs.

    • Thighs: While climbing is mostly about the upper-body workout, thighs are mainly used for rightly climbing the wall. 

Different Techniques Used in Bouldering vs. Rock Climbing

Different Techniques Used in Bouldering vs. Rock Climbing

In climbing, different techniques are used, including footwork, balance, and body composition. Every climber must use bouldering skills and rock climbing techniques to complete the activity without any hassle. 

While you can apply the bouldering techniques in rock climbing, both have different climbing requirements. 

Climbers in bouldering have to do smaller amounts of moves, especially dynamic moves and explosive moves, but the activity is difficult to complete. On the other hand, rock climbing includes energy conservation techniques, which is an endurance-based climbing technique. One can easily complete climbing problems with proper climbing skills or proper techniques. 

Common Techniques for Bouldering 

The below-mentioned techniques can be used in rock climbing, but they are mostly used in bouldering. 

  • Balance:

    • Pushing: Climbers can push their feet in the opposite direction to create counterpressure. 

    • Pulling: Counter pressure can be created by pulling with your hand, heel hook/toe hook. 

    • Leaning: You can create a counterbalance by leaning your body weight in any direction. 

Common Techniques for Rock Climbing 

A rock climber can use these techniques in bouldering, but they are commonly used in rock climbing. 

  • Straight Arms: A rock climber can conserve energy by keeping their arms straight to climb long distances. 

  • Rest: Whenever you find a stronghold that is easy to hold, you should rest for a while. With frequent resting, you can conserve and renew your energy, which will help you to get through the difficult part of climbing. 

Common Techniques for Rock Climbing and Bouldering 

Common types of rock climbing techniques are:

  • Footwork: 

    • Edging: It's a technique where you use the shoe’s edge to step on the climbing hold. 

    • Smearing: When there is no foothold, you use a wall for resting. It is called smearing. 

  • Hips: 

    • Hip Direction: Beginners often square their hips to the wall because it helps them to feel safe. But in reality, doing so can push you away. It can also stress the hip-flexor muscles to learn to move hips in different directions. 

    • Hip Distance from Wall: You can maintain a perfect center of balance closer to the wall with your hips closer to the wall. It makes it easier for the climbers to rely on your leg muscles. 

  • Using Your Eyes:

    • To watch the foot placement, you must look at each foothold for the best coordination outcomes. 

    • Similarly, look at each hold for hand placement to have better coordination. 

  • Flagging: You can counterbalance by making a move with your foot like a cat's tail. 

Gear Required for Bouldering and Rock Climbing 

Rock climbing and bouldering are similar in different ways. Below is a list of general safety gear that is shared in both sports. 

  • Climbing Shoes: Climbing boulder walls with the right climbing shoes can make this activity a lot more fun and interesting for you. Shoes also allow you to use small holds for your feet, which makes climbing easy. 

  • Climbing Chalk: Another important piece of safety equipment required for both these activities is climbing chalk and a chalk bag. While it's not a tool, climbing chalk can be used for indoor and outdoor bouldering. It helps to maintain a better and stronger grip. 

  • Climbing Brush: Using a climbing brush, you can clean off dust and remaining chalk from any safety equipment. Good-quality brush effectively cleans the surface, helping you to maintain a stronger grip. 


Is bouldering hard on your body?

If you are performing indoor bouldering, there is a low risk of injury and serious discomfort. But outdoor bouldering is not considered to be this safe and can result in accident injuries. Acute knee injuries and overuse bouldering injuries (Mostly for indoor boulderers) are the most injuries that you can get from bouldering. You should choose between indoor and outdoor bouldering on the basis of your physical demand or physical limit.

How high is it safe to boulder?

Generally, climbers are not advised to boulder a wall that is more than 12 or 15 feet. 


Both rock climbing and bouldering are different forms of climbing activities that challenge you physically and mentally. Bouldering is considered more of a sprint as it needs the climber to have more core strength. 

In contrast, rock climbing requires an individual to have additional endurance, as it's similar to a marathon. One can train in both the activities as they are different yet have many things in common. 

If you fear height and want to win it, then these two sports are best to do so. You can also experience beautiful scenery by participating in these climbing trips and healing your body tension. If you are a beginner climber, then you can take rock climbing courses to get bouldering techniques before going to outdoor bouldering or rock climbing.

Kevin Macey
Follow me

Leave a Comment