Why Rock Climbing Is The New Workout You’ll Get Hooked On

Ready to learn some new rock climbing exercises for beginners? Here’s what you need to know before scaling the wall.

July 20, 2018
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Having the strength to pull your body up a rock wall is no easy feat. But once you reach the top, the feeling of accomplishment is second to none.

If you’re considering rock climbing as a way to switch up your workout routine—or a potential new passion, you might be wondering how to get started. From equipment and classes to workouts and jargon, there’s a lot to learn prior to scaling your first rock climbing wall.

Before you chalk up your hands and strap on a harness, here are some basic tips and guidelines you should know.

What You Need to Know Before Your First Rock Climbing Workout

Indoor rock climbing gyms are the ideal place to learn more about rock climbing workouts, especially if you’re new to this type of activity.

Many rock climbing gyms offer monthly memberships that include access to free climbs and classes with knowledgeable instructors. The price varies depending on the climbing gym you choose but ranges from $40 to $200 per month on average.

Climbing indoors typically requires less equipment than outdoor climbs. To do an indoor rock climbing workout, you will need loose fitting (but not baggy) clothes, a harness, a locking carabiner (this attaches your belay device to your harness), rock climbing shoes, a chalk bag, and a belay system that you will be fitted for and taught to use at your first visit.

Other than shoes and clothes, many gyms have equipment you can rent. Due to liability reasons, most climbing gyms will provide you with ropes. There are some exceptions to this, but when you’re first starting out, the ropes you’ll need will be available to you at the class.

Speaking of classes, one of the best ways to learn how to safely rock climb is to take a beginner class. Most climbing gyms will start you with a bouldering class or a top rope class.

A bouldering class does not require a harness or a rope. The goal of this class is to keep you on routes that are close to the ground and help you build skill by focusing on strength and balance to keep yourself on the wall.

During a top rope class, the climber is attached to a rope that is anchored both to a system at the top and to a belayer at the bottom of the climb. This provides additional security and minimizes the distance one could fall.

What are the health benefits of rock climbing?

One look at a skilled rock climber and it’s easy to see that a rock climbing workout is both physically and mentally challenging. As a newbie, you will feel the physical benefits immediately, and as you progress, you will experience the mental challenges of conquering the wall too.

In addition to challenging your overall strength, indoor rock climbing exercise benefits include:

Increased Flexibility

Rock climbing requires you to reach and leap, which increases your range of motion. As you gain experience, your flexibility will improve, and consequently your climbing skills.

Increase in Grip and Arm Strength

When you are climbing on a wall, Brett says you are essentially holding the entire weight of your body in your arms and fingertips. This helps to build upper body muscle.

Coordination and Body Awareness

Indoor rock climbing workouts also help to improve coordination and body awareness. “When you’re on a rock wall, you have to use both your arms and legs in conjunction with each other to move up the wall efficiently,” says Brett.

Burning Some Serious Calories

The Harvard Heart Letter reported that a 155-pound person can burn approximately 409 calories in a half-hour rock-climbing ascent and 298 calories in 30 minutes of rappelling.

Challenges You Mentally

It’s obvious that rock climbing taxes you physically, but it also pushes your mental skills to the limit. Not only do you have to remember the skills and terminology the instructor is teaching you, but you also need to use your problem-solving skills to figure out where to put your foot so you can reach a higher hold with your hand.

Creates a Social Environment

Even though you’re climbing the wall by yourself, the support you feel from other participants in the class helps foster a fun and social environment.

Exercises You Can Do at Home to Prepare Your Body

With indoor rock climbing workouts, certified personal trainer David Brett says the activity is mainly a strength-based workout. “While your heart might be beating fast due to the intense climbing and scary heights, rock climbing is not a cardiovascular-based sport,” he explains.

To get better at climbing, Brett says you need to work on grip strength, upper body strength, and climbing technique.

The goal at home, explains certified personal trainer James Shapiro, is to focus on core control, improving mobility through endurance (particularly those spider crunches, which will prepare you for opening your hip to reach with your leg a bit more), and loading tension in your forearms and knees.

The three bodyweight exercise Shapiro recommends you try at home are bear crawls, spider crunches in a push-up position, and dead bugs.

Additionally, Brett says one of the best exercises for getting better at rock climbing is pull-ups, since they force you to lift your body weight against gravity, similar to climbing rock to rock.

Brett says there are three key exercises you can do at home to help you prepare for an indoor rock climbing class.

Pull-ups

Pyramid sets are a great way to improve your pull-up strength. For a pyramid set, do one rep, then rest; two reps, rest; three reps, rest, etc. Work up to eight (or whatever number you are comfortable with). You can do this workout two to three times per week.

Farmers Walks

Farmers walks are one of the best ways to build grip strength. To do a farmers walk, simply pick up two equal weights (they can be dumbbells, kettlebells, etc.) and walk with them. For example, you could pick up two 20-pound dumbbells and walk 50 feet with them. Set them down, then turn around and walk back. Repeat for five sets. You can do this exercise one to two times per week.

Planks

A great way to build core strength is to do planks. To plank, you simply have to get into a push-up position (you can also do this with your elbows on the ground) and hold that position with your abs braced. Start with one 30-second hold and work your way up to holding the position for one minute. Repeat three to five times.

Exercise You Can Do at the Climbing Gym to Prepare for Rock Climbing Workouts

The rock climbing gym you join will have structured classes that go over rock climbing exercises for beginners. But if you want to climb during a non-class time, Brett recommends practicing static hangs while holding on to a rock hold (simply grab a hold above your head and hang).

“Doing this will help your fingers and grip strength to get stronger,” he says. You can practice holds of 20 seconds and add more time as you get stronger.

For instance, Brett says to do a 30-second hold, rest a minute, then repeat for five rounds. “I’d recommend doing this after your rock climbing session when you’re forearms are already tired,” he explains. “This will give you a little extra work and will help to get you stronger for your next rock climbing session.”

Rock Climbing Tips for Beginners

Now that you have some basic information to get you started, here are a few tips to keep in mind when you head to the gym for your first rock climbing workout.

Relax and have fun.

You don’t have to reach the top right away. Focus on strength, skill development, and building confidence.

Your lower body is a lot stronger than your upper body.

That’s why many experts recommend focusing on ways to improve foot friction and leg placement.

Take as many classes as you need to until you feel comfortable and confident.

Make sure you understand the basic skills, jargon, and safety rules before you try a rock climbing workout on your own.

If you’re ready to increase your overall physical strength, challenge your mental stamina, and be part of a community that encourages and supports each other, then it’s time to add an indoor rock climbing workout to your fitness program.

Review the jargon before you go.

You will hear specific terminology repeated during a rock climbing class, so take some time to review what these terms and phrases mean. In addition to the classes described above (bouldering and top rope class) there are a few other terms to be aware of:

Anchor

Point of attachment for your climbing rope.

Belay

Attaching a rope to your harness and a fixed point (most likely your instructor). This will support your weight when you descend the wall. It also prevents you from falling if you lose your grip.

Chalk and chalk bag

You will need chalk to help with your grip and a bag to hold it in.

Harness

A belt you wear around your waist that loops around your thighs. You will tie the rope to the front of the harness, which will support you as you come back down the wall.

Locking carabiner

A device that attaches your belay to your harness.

If you’re ready to increase your overall physical strength, challenge your mental stamina, and be part of a community that encourages and supports each other, then it’s time to add an indoor rock climbing workout to your fitness program.

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