Bouldering at the Arches

As I said in my post yesterday, a great thing about the off-season is the chance to try new things. It mixes things up, tests out different muscles and skills, stops swim-bike-run-stretch-strength from becoming monotonous. And you don’t have to worry about DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) affecting your hard workout the next day.

So the new exercise for this week was bouldering. I’ve done it once before, when the Arches was under the railway arches at London Bridge. It was about three and a bit years ago and James and I went and had an induction. We really enjoyed ourselves, be shortly after that I got my first proper bike, started getting into cycling and triathlon, and never went back. James has just started going again with a friend from work and is loving it- he has been once a week for the past few months and has even invested in his own shoes. So when I was thinking of something new to try out this weekend, bouldering seemed like a great idea!

The Arches has moved from London Bridge and there are now three locations: two in Bermondsey and one north at Burnt Oak. We went to one in Bermondsey, a half an hour or so cycle away in an open space under the railway arches. It’s a lovely building, open, light and airy, with bike racks indoors and numerous lockers and pigeon-holes for non-valuables. I didn’t need an induction as they still had me on the system from three years ago BUT if you haven’t had one, you’ll need to book an hour Introduction Lesson for £20. Otherwise, £13 later, I had a pair of shoes and I was in!

James got me started on the easy routes – white  with spots on while he worked on the harder routes. That’s the great thing about bouldering like this. Even though we are vastly different standards, it’s still something that we can do together and both do exactly what we want. No feeling as if someone is having to cycle super-slowly so the other can keep up and they are not getting in their workout, the different routes on the same section of wall means you can work together, testing yourself out and supporting the other person.

I ended up working on the next step up from the beginner route, the blacks. The walls are dotted with these brightly coloured holds and every few weeks or so they are all moved around to create entirely new routes so you’ll never get bored, there will always be a new challenge. You have to reach the top using only holds of the specific colour you are trying, and then can come down however you want.

Annoyingly, my leg was holding me back as I couldn’t push up from my left leg in order to reach higher holds, so had to swap legs and then try the route in a less than ideal way. And obviously sometimes I would get to a certain point and just have absolutely no idea how to move up! I took less risks as I didn’t want to fall and land on my left leg so I was pretty careful. That’s how I excused it to my physio this morning anyway!

Leg aside, it was great fun. It’s a whole-body workout as you push off with your legs but using your upper body at all times, and it has a mental element as you figure out the route to take to reach the top. After about an hour I was getting pretty tired and had developed a full-on blister on my left hand which made climbing slightly sore. By this point the wall had gotten quite busy and there were lots of incredible people climbing so I took a break and sat and watched them. Done properly, it is so graceful and the way people’s bodies move is really beautiful.

For the next few days I had DOMS like I haven’t had in ages in the lat muscles of my back, my shoulders and upper arms. It was fantastic – I love feeling that kind of soreness as supposed to injury, the soreness that means you have really done something.

They run drop-in improvers sessions and even a women-only improvers session ranged at all different levels, with the easiest at 7pm on a Tuesday and the next step up at 1pm on a Sunday. I’m very keen to go again and eventually try out an improvers session as it was so much fun. But not a great activity to you for your first time mid-training as a swim session the next day would have been near-impossible due to how stiff my arms were!


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