Ready to climb to new heights and build some serious muscle at the same time? Maybe it’s time to try rock climbing. If you are unfamiliar with this popular sport, rock climbing will challenge you both mentally and physically and is also considered a full body workout.
We asked top experts to explain how beginners can best start climbing and what’s important to know before hitting the wall.
Meet the expert
- Foxman McCarthy-James is the leader of Brooklyn Boulders in Somerville, Massachusetts.
- Cody Bradford is a certified climbing guide with the American Mountain Guides Association.
Indoor climbing usually takes place in a climbing gym, where you will find climbers climbing on defined vertical routes or bouldering (free climbing without rope). You can search for a venue near you here.
To get started, your local climbing gym may offer a beginner orientation course. Or, you may be able to request a private lesson. “One of the best places for beginners to start rock climbing is at a local climbing gym,” says Foxman McCarthy-James, the manager of Brooklyn Boulders in Somerville, Massachusetts. how to tie knots correctly and how to belay a climbing partner.
During your orientation, you will learn how to put on your harness correctly, attach the rope and belay your partner, where the rope passes through a device that will catch your partner in the event of a fall. All of these skills are essential before getting started.
A complete workout
When you see someone with a lot of experience climbing rocks quickly, it may seem easy. But make no mistake, you’re actually working a lot of muscles when you start climbing.
Even if you are pulling up with your arms, the rest of your body will also be strained. “Climbing is a complete sport,” says McCarthy-James. “Most people assume this requires a lot of upper body strength, but it’s also a great workout for your core, arms, shoulders, back, abs and legs; everything will be fine.”
Along with getting stronger, you’ll also work on your physical condition and mental fitness, notes Cody Bradford, a certified climbing guide with the American Mountain Guides Association. “Climbing itself offers a type of holistic movement in a single activity that many others don’t. You’re doing an anaerobic activity with a great need to focus on your breathing because you’re constantly moving,” he says. “Climbing will also develop your cognitive abilities, as it connects your brain and your body’s need to make counter-intuitive movements (at first) while at height. There is even a small emotional component, as it can be scary at first.
Indoor or outdoor climbing
If climbing in the wild appeals to you more than training in a gym, you might want to make your way up to outdoor climbing. Outdoor climbing is a different beast than a climbing gym, however, McCarthy-James says. This is because indoor climbing is done in a controlled environment. “Outdoor climbing requires technical knowledge to do it safely and ethically,” he says. “But the views are amazing and it’s a great way to connect with the surroundings.”
If you’re new, Bradford suggests starting indoors to get familiar with the basics and build strength. “I would recommend doing some indoor rock climbing a few times to get used to the sport in a controlled environment,” he says. An indoor climbing gym can offer a complete training routine. Most modern climbing gyms often have an entire traditional gym in their facility. You can also do other strength exercises and use the bouldering wall.
If you’re interested in moving outdoors after taking the hit, consider working with experienced outdoor climbers or even a climbing coach who can help you move safely.
Is rock climbing safe for beginners?
Climbing can seem daunting, but once you get familiar with the basics, you can start climbing right away.
“It may sound silly, but the best way to prepare to start rock climbing is to start rock climbing,” says McCarthy-James. “You don’t need to be able to do pull-ups or hang upside down. Rock climbing is quite a unique movement, so it will feel difficult and awkward at first, but our bodies acclimate relatively quickly to vertical rather than horizontal movement,” he says.