How to Start Indoor Rock Climbing

Four Methods:Picking the Right Indoor LocationGetting Fit for Rock ClimbingStarting Indoor Rock ClimbingTaking Care of Your Body

Rock climbing can be a great and fun way to get a full-body workout. Kids and adults can gain muscle from rock climbing. However, climbing outdoors can be a little scary. Try starting out at an indoor rock climbing gym. They are safe places to practice, build strength, and ultimately become an expert rock climber, ready for the outdoors.

Method 1
Picking the Right Indoor Location

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    Find a rock climbing gym. There are many rock climbing gyms in your area and around the world.[1] Look for a gym with top roping, which is when the rope is already set for you. If there are many gyms, look at reviews. Consider the facilities as a whole, what materials they offer, their general location, their operating hours, and their size. Also, make sure there are a staff members available to belay you. Otherwise, you might be bouldering or on auto-belays all day.
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    Try another gym. You won't know what you like or if a rock climbing gym is a good fit, unless you visit several facilities. A different gym could be better, more beginner-friendly, or a nicer place to spend your time.
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    Get a membership. If you like the gym, consider getting a membership. If you get a membership and go frequently, you’ll save money in the long run. Sometimes, memberships have other rewards too. They might offer exclusive climbing opportunities, access to additional gear, or the use of private facilities.
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    Find a partner. Although at the start, you can climb alone on auto-belays or with a staff member, a partner will soon become important.
    • Make sure your partner knows what they are doing.[2] Whether it is simply supporting you or belaying you down the side of the rock face, you want someone you can trust. If you don’t trust them, you will be more likely to panic if you get stuck at a difficult spot or angle.
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    Take a lesson. Most indoor rock climbing gyms offer basic and advanced lessons for climbers. Not only will they teach you how to use the equipment properly, to climb safely, and to develop efficient techniques for scaling certain obstacles, but lessons can be great places to make contacts, find partners, and learn from each other.
    • Technique is more important in the long run than building strength. Think about each move, how your hands should grip around rocks, and what your feet can do for you as you propel up the side of a rock face. Get to know what works for you and what is comfortable. Not everyone climbs the exact same way, but lessons will get you started.
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    Get the necessary equipment. Make sure your gym offers harness and rock shoe rentals. If it doesn't, you might want to choose another gym if you aren't ready to purchase your own gear.
    • Depending on your level of commitment and available money, you should consider getting your own gear. Purchasing a harness, rock shoes, and belay device might seem expensive right now.[3] However, in the long run, you'll have better gear to work with than what is normally offered by a gym. Make sure to get the belay device you learned with, along with a carabiner. A harness should be safe, comfortable, and fit you securely. The rock shoes should probably fit you fairly comfortably, lace-up, and have a flat, not down-turned, sole.
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    Join a climbing club at your gym. There are normally clubs for novices and experts. Some clubs mix the two groups, which gives the beginners a great opportunity to learn from more experienced climbers. Joining a group is a great way to motivate yourself and to learn. Join online groups as well. Learn about new techniques, equipment, rock climbing locations, and rock climbing events.[4]

Method 2
Getting Fit for Rock Climbing

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    Learn how to stretch. Rock Climbing will stretch your limbs in ways you didn’t even know about. Make sure you stretch thoroughly before each climb. You don’t want to pull a muscle or have a muscle tense up at a crucial point. There are many different kinds of stretches in standing and sitting positions. Use stretches with a lot of motion to stretch several regions.[5]
    • Stretch your upper body. Focus on your triceps and lateral muscles the most. These are the muscles that will help pull you up the rock face most.[6]
    • Stretch your lower body. The most important parts of your legs to stretch are your ham strings, quads, and calves. Your legs will do the heaviest lifting. These three areas are the most likely to be pulled.[7]
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    Build strength. Climbing requires both technical skill and a minimum level of strength. If you sacrifice one for the other, you won’t be a good rock climber. Workout. Focus on both your upper body and your lower body muscles. Rock climbing is a full body sport.[8]
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    Strengthen your grip. Work out your upper arms, forearms, and wrists/hands. We’ve all heard the phrase, you’re only as strong as your weakest link. Make sure that every part of your arm is strong. Don’t just focus on biceps. If you do, you’ll be able to lift yourself up faster, but your hands will tire before you even get a chance to fully use your upper arm strength.
    • Use a squeeze ball regularly to strengthen the wrist and hand region. Lift small weights frontwards and sideways to improve overall arm strength. Try to do exercises that replicate rock climbing. Do static hangs on a bar to strengthen those muscles needed for static hangs while climbing.[9]
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    Strengthen your shoulders and upper back. Do pull-up exercises and use simple arm rotations with basic weights to strengthen these muscles. As you become stronger, look into more sport-specific training exercises like hang boards, campus boards, and system boards.[10]
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    Workout your core muscles. Take time to focus on your abdominal and lower back muscles. Your goal is not to have huge core muscles, but to develop a highly flexible and stable core. As with other exercises designed to build strength for rock climbing, focus on exercises that replicate rock climbing movement. Sit-ups, crunches, dumbbell side bends, and back bridges are all great exercises for strengthening these muscles.[11]
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    Don’t forget your legs. Last, but not least, focus a lot of your time on your legs. Many people forget to work out their legs, but when it comes to rock climbing, your legs will propel you up the rock face and will be integral to repelling back down. Be sure to not overdo your legs. Keep them flexible. You might get in tight spaces, where “cumbersome” leg muscles will reduce your mobility. Run on a treadmill, swim laps in a pool, lift leg weights, or walk around with training weights attached to your calves. Emphasize mobility along with strength.[12]
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    Practice balancing. Balance is very important when climbing. You need to be aware of your center of gravity in order to properly assess your next move.[13] A slack-line is a great way to improve your balance and there are many exercises you can do with it.[14]
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    Practice breathing. This may sound silly, but you need to be able to control your breath while climbing. Breathing too quickly is a great way to wear yourself down. This isn’t what you want. Practice breathing with a stopwatch. See how regular you can make your breaths.[15]

Method 3
Starting Indoor Rock Climbing

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    Wear the right gear. Don’t wear clothes that will limit your mobility. Wear shorts and a tighter t-shirt. Wear shoes with excellent grips or shoes designed for rock climbing. Many people like to wear gloves with grips on them. This will save you from building up calluses and will improve your performance overall.
    • If you don't want to wear gloves, be sure to use rock climbing chalk. This fine powder sticks to your hands and adds more to your gripping power.
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    Warm up. Take your time. Warm up your muscles before you start climbing. Run in place. Try climbing just a few steps up and then lower yourself back down. This will tell your muscles that you’re ready to climb. Do your stretches too.[16]
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    Visualize your route before you start. Climbing is just as much mental as it is physical and knowing where you will go beforehand will help improve your climb. Think of the wall like a maze with the floor as your starting point and the top of the wall as the finish line. Trace a path from hold to hold with your eyes and then follow that path.[17]
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    Start climbing. Start slow. Take your time. Don’t push yourself far beyond your limits. Start with easier climbs first. Only after you’ve mastered these, should you advance to more difficult walls. Ask staff members for advice on routes to take, walls to climb, and techniques to try. They’ve been on these walls a lot longer than you and are a great repository of knowledge.
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    Rest on the wall. When you find good rests or places that you can easily hold onto, take a minute to catch your breath. You know it is a good resting place, if you feel comfortable hanging one limb off the wall. Learning how to rest is an important part of developing good technique.
    • This is also a good time to reassess your route. If you found one part of the course more difficult than you originally thought, you may choose to take a moment and trace out a new path. This is what you would do when rock climbing outdoors, so practice this indoors.
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    Concentrate on the wall in front of you. People who are afraid of heights tend to look down, which triggers their anxiety. Beginners who aren’t afraid of heights tend to keep their eyes fixed on the top of the wall. This leads them to overestimate their abilities and to not concentrate on their next hold, which can have disastrous effects.
    • Start off slowly if you are afraid of heights. Only go as high as you are comfortable, and slowly work on going a bit higher each climb. Remember that you are completely safe. The weakest piece of equipment (the carabiner)can support almost 2,500 lbs if used properly and about 1,000 lbs if not. Falling injuries are rare in a gym.[18]
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    Gauge your next move carefully. Most rock climbers tell you not to overreach. Sometimes, you might feel the need to reach beyond your normal radius. Avoid this whenever possible. Reach for the closest rock. Secure your foot in a comfortable position. This will maximize your own safety and ensure that you make it to the top.
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    Use your upper body and legs. Beginners tend to overcompensate with one or the other. Keep your body over your legs as much as possible and use your arms to guide yourself up. The goal here is to minimize the amount of effort placed on one muscle group. This is how you strain muscles. By using both parts of your body and paying close attention to how you use these muscles, you’ll be a much more efficient climber.
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    Take safety seriously. A rock climber's worst enemy — indoors or outdoors — is overconfidence. You might think that you are an advanced climber and that you can take chances. Don’t do it. Make sure you are always secured to the rock face. There are thousands of factors to consider with each grip and foothold. You never know if you’ll need to adjust at the last second or not.

Method 4
Taking Care of Your Body

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    Don’t climb too often. Every other day is a good rule of thumb for most beginners. Just like with other sports, it is necessary to rest your muscles and to review your technique, in order to improve. Rock climbing is no different. Don’t climb with pulled muscles. You’ll need all of your strength to climb rocks successfully.
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    Fuel your body.[19] Eat healthy and pick foods that will rejuvenate lost energy and help build muscle, like protein-rich meats, nuts, and soy beans. Eat complex carbohydrates after your climb. Eat green vegetables, like grains, starchy vegetables, beans, and peas. [20] Some people like to eat dark chocolate as well.
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    Drink a lot of water. Drink water before the climb and between climbs. Cramps are caused by dehydration. Your hands and feet are the first parts of your body to start cramping when you become dehydrated. You don’t want to cramp up on the wall. Always replace the fluids you lose through sweating from the climb. [21]
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    Get enough rest. If you are tired, your brain won’t function well enough to properly assess each step. You’ll be more likely to fall, which can be discouraging and hurt your overall motivation.

Things You'll Need

  • Harness.You can often rent a harness at the climbing venue, but it's safer, more comfortable, and more convenient to buy your own.
  • Carabiner and rappel-belay device. These are sometimes provided by the venue.
  • Clothing. Make sure your clothes don’t impede your range of motion. Shorts and short-sleeved shirts are best.
  • Helmet.
  • Chalk bag, with loose chalk or a chalk ball.
  • Water or sports drink
  • Tote bag for your gear
  • Climbing shoes. (optional)
  • Belay certification. Every venue has its own testing and certification requirements.

Sources and Citations

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Article Info

Categories: Climbing