Let’s Talk About Bouldering – An Interview with Guillaume Raymond

If you’re one of our regular readers, you may remember an article I wrote a while back about bouldering.

If you haven’t heard of it before, then said article is a good place to start. For the rest of you – and especially those of you that are new to the activity, or simply thinking about giving it a try – I would like to share with you an interview I did with Guillaume Raymond, a very talented kinesiologist, “pro climber”, and my climbing instructor.

We talk about everything from picking shoes to reducing pump, and anything else I could think of that would help newbie climbers. Having said that, I would like to issue a minor warning. Guillaume’s native language is French, and though I’ve done my best to edit, there may be a few rough edges.

Enter Guillaume…

Chad: Alright, so let’s jump right in here: Guillaume, could you tell our readers a little bit about yourself? What do you do, how long have you been climbing… you know, that sort of thing. Spare no details!

Guillaume: Okay, well, simple. I’m Guillaume, I’m a 26 years old climber/personal trainer for climbers, and I try to center my life around those 2 passions. I’ve started climbing in 2004; it was the very first time I’ve touched a climbing hold, and I went top roping. To tell the truth, I was SO scared. I’m afraid of heights!? It is now pretty funny to look at this knowing what kind of climbing I’m doing. After the first few years of learning, I had only one thing in mind – climbing full time.

Hah, I think fear of heights is a pretty common one. I’ve had at least a few friends who were terrified, especially of falling. What helped you get over your fear? Is there anything you can recommend that helped you?

Fear of falling is very common. We’ve been walking forever, so learning to deal with your feet not on the ground is hard and takes patience. First thing you have to do is start falling down. Fall from a height you’re comfortable with, whether it’s 2 feet or 10. Increase the height more every time. Second trick I could give someone is to climb while listening to music. It takes you focus on something else then where you are on the wall. Third one, might not work for every body, it’s kind of the crash course. Go to the top and let yourself go!

The "Devils Tongue Project" - 5.14b. Clearly not afraid of falling here...
The “Devils Tongue Project” – 5.14b. Clearly not afraid of falling here…

When people think of rock climbing, they usually picture people in harnesses climbing up cliff faces. How is bouldering different?

Bouldering is kind of a condensed form of route climbing. You basically take 60 feet of climbing and put it in 10 to 15. Means the moment you leave the ground, you’ll need to go at it with full force. With the nature of the climb being shorter then routes, there’s no need to use harness, rope, and climbing protection. We, boulderer, use crash pads, so every time you fall, there’s only one thing you know for sure: you’re going to hit the ground. But, with the climb being so short, it is one of the safest way to climb.

Why should our readers try bouldering? I’ve heard lifting little pink weights is a perfectly good way to get fit…

HAHA! That’s a good one. In another life I used to be a semi-pro hockey player and thought of myself to be some of the fittest… what did I know. Benching or squatting your body weight won’t help much to climb the hardest climb. Climbing is all about you weight to strength ratio, beefier doesn’t mean stronger in climbing terms. A good climber isn’t the fittest athlete there is, but he/she is certainly in better shape than most people that hit the gym. Climbing is about pure power, power endurance, core strength, flexibility, work capacity…

So why should you try bouldering? Everything! Bouldering is everything, from a good way to get fit, to a social place and an excellent mental training. It has everything and it is fun, unlike regular training.

What does a person need to get started with bouldering? ie: equipment, level of fitness, attitude, etc

Simple, a pair of climbing shoes if you have one, otherwise rent some at the local gym you’re going to try. Why can’t you use your old running shoes? Well, the rubber used on climbing shoes is WAY stickier then any running shoes, and friction is really important in climbing, as well as normal fitness clothing and a very positive attitude. Remember that we, the human race, have been walking for the past 10,000 years or something, so going vertical is a little way back in our evolution…

I’m glad you mentioned shoes, because that’s a big one. What should people look for in a good pair of climbing shoes? I know they need to be nice and snug for one thing…

Your first pair of climbing shoes must be comfortable. Your first pair should allow you to walk with them. The more you’re going to climb, the the more you’ll want a tighter secure fit. So the second ones you’ll get, well that’s something else. Get them a little tighter. The thing is the more you’re going to climb the more desensitized your feet get, and you end up like me having feet that looks like hobbits ones and wearing a size 7 of climbing shoes when your street shoes are 9. But remember, climbing is about sensation, so you must feel something on the bigger toe.

Is it useful to warm up before climbing? If so, what should people be doing exactly?

A good warm up is quite simple and consists of 3 things. A cardiovascular activation either jump roping, running, cycling,etc. Second component is an active stretching, not a static one. Recent studies shows that stretching statically reduce strength in strength oriented sports. Third thing is a specific activation, climbing on big holds. If you have access to a foam roller, auto-massage is an other good activation tool.

Working on "Salamander" - V9
Working on “Salamander” – V9

What are three common mistakes that newbies make over and over again, and what’s the best way to correct them?

  1. Climbing is not a contest of how many pull-ups you can do! So climb with your feet.
  2. Don’t go sit in a corner and do everything by yourself, don’t be shy ask question. Unlike a conventional gym, experience climbers like to share their tips and technique with newcomers.
  3. Don’t get frustrated, have fun, be like a child who plays on the monkey bar in a park, after all it’s climbing!

Can you tell us a bit more about climbing with our feet? Many inexperienced climbers pull themselves up the wall with their arms, but how can a person use their feet more?

You need to get your hips toward the wall. By doing so, you’re naturally blocking the pulling, and enabling you to push with your arms. But most of all, it’s an habit! Play games like climbing with one hand, climbing blindfolded, etc.

I’ve often heard climbers described as having a really weak lower body. Do you think that’s true, and if so, should people be focusing on strengthening their legs?

Climbers don’t care about leg muscles. The moment they can take a fall, you’ve a strong enough lower limb. Legs mass is waste mass for climbers. So don’t even bother on training them if you are able to walk!

What was the most important lesson you’ve learned since you started climbing?

For life in general: passion. Love what you do and you’ll become better at it and generally you’ll be a more positive person for others. Passion is contagious.

Climbing wise: to become a better climber, climb, climb and climb!

Okay, so people should climb a lot to get better, makes sense. Having said that, when I first started climbing, I would get pumped very quickly and have to stop climbing. Can you explain “pump” a bit, and some suggestions to help inexperienced climbers deal with it?

The boring definition: it’s blood that is stuck in your forearms, because of the muscle contractions. Without blood flow there’s a lot of organic residue that stays in the muscle, creating the pump. Now the fun one: your body isn’t used to climbing, so your forearms aren’t trained for it, hence the bigger blood flow to the forearms. Unfortunately there’s no miracle recipe for that, just climb! A little specific program might help, but ask your local climbing trainer.

Guillaume climbing "Never Left Hueco" - V8
Guillaume climbing “Never Left Hueco” – V8

How are you able to climb full time? Have you had any help over the years?

Well, to climb full time is now possible, but it involved A LOT of sacrifices in the past years! First of all this would not have been possible without the help of my wife. She supported me and our lifestyle for many years. Second of all in the past three years I started to work and get sponsored with some awesome companies. First of them is Climbing Hold Review. The owner – Jeremy Dowsett – saw a lot in me and helped me get my first sponsorship. Also, there is Shakti Rock Gym in Montreal who gave me awesome opportunity of work and trust. They are now more friends, and the business side of the relation is of second importance. L’écurie in Montreal is also sponsoring me. It is by far the best training facility in Montreal and their support gave me more physical gain in my performances then anything I’ve done. Revolution Climbing is also a major part of how I can afford to climb full time. Project Holds is also supporting me.

It is the whole thing that enables me to climb full time. I still have to work 20 hours a week as a personal trainer, but hey, I train rock climbers! I consider myself pretty lucky to live that lifestyle, climbing, training either myself or others, and traveling.

Is there anything else you want to tell our readers?

The moment you’re going to finish reading this I want you to go on google and find the closest bouldering gym to your home and try it.

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Chad

I'm a co-founder and writer here at Unfinished Man. I write, manage the look and feel of the website, and make sure that nothing breaks. I also reply to the vast majority of our emails, so if you're sending one through, I suggest you be nice. Everyone says I'm the least offensive of our writers, so they gave the email jockey task to me. When I'm not improving the site, I write about fashion, video games, politics, and anything related to science and technology.

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