First off, let me emphasize that GM and I are not experts in this sport. Rather, we have enough intermediate knowledge to pass onto others just starting and unsure of what to do or how, where to go, or even why. Hopefully after reading, this might be added to someones list of “fun new workouts (to try).” This has become a regular part of our fitness lives, and we think it’s blog-worthy.
I thank GM for introducing me to the sport in 2007. If you had asked me about it before then, you would’ve gotten a long blank stare and a “huh?” I knew that people would climb outdoors at one of our local state parks, but never knew there were indoor facilities. The first night I went with G and some of her friends, I was hooked. Being newbies we enjoyed it enough to get memberships and enroll in some of the intro classes. We’ve been climbing ever since, and it’s become one of my favorite fitness workouts.
There are two blanket terms for climbing; Indoor and Outdoor. GM and I are indoor climbers, although we will try “the real thing” outdoors once we’ve taken more classes and found some people to go with! While indoor climbing is great, it is merely an imitation of outdoor settings. It’s preparation and practice, like being in school for 12+ years, graduating college and going into the real world working a 9-5 job. You go through all of that “education” so you’ll be ready once you face the big mountain. Climbing is exactly the same.
There are three styles of indoor climbing; Bouldering, Top Roping, and Sport Climbing. Bouldering is done without a rope and usually limited to short climbs over a soft crash pad (effectively a giant pillow), so that a fall won’t result in injury. In a climbing gym, the bouldering section is separated from the top roping section. Mostly for safety purposes, but also to give everyone the right amount of space to do their thing. It can also be done outdoors on natural boulders (hence the name, ‘bouldering’). The grades in America range from V0 (least difficult) to V10 (most difficult), and there are different rating systems in Europe, Asia, etc. For any of the three climbing styles, it takes time to get to the higher grades. Watching some people climb, you might not think it’s a workout, but it can be very deceiving. All three styles require upper and lower body strength, but I feel bouldering uses the most strength overall since you’re essentially carrying your own weight without a rope to stop your fall. Bouldering doesn’t require any classes to climb, but classes are offered to make you more fluid and efficient on the wall. You’d be surprised to learn that you don’t use your body right (efficiently), most of the time. I recommend taking at least one basic class, because the information will definitely help and can carry over into Top and Sport.
Top Roping and Sport require classes because there is a lot more to do and know. You’re tied in via harness and rope, plus you will also belay a climber, so having the knowledge from class and trust of your partner is crucial. You cannot belay anyone until you take a short test with a staff member to go through tying in, feeding the rope, and terms to say. In Germany, you’re not allowed to belay unless you’ve taken a 6-hour course and received a card!!
Top Roping is when a rope runs from the belayer (person holding the rope) at the bottom through at least one carabiner connected to an anchor at the top of the route, then back down to the climber by harness. It is done this way for the climber’s safety, and is the most common style at indoor gyms and in situations where other styles are unsafe. Sport Climbing (aka Lead Climbing) is similar, with the rope connected to both climber and belayer, but the climber LEADS the rope up to the top. This person might also need to get a special ‘lead climbing’ license or take a test in order to do this, because it’s definitely the most dangerous way to climb in the gyms. The rope is clipped into pre-anchored bolts all the way to the top to stop your fall. The belayer in this instance will feed you rope instead of taking the slack. Both range in grades from 5.0-5.15c.
When I started climbing, I truly thought you had to be physically fit to get anywhere up the walls; which is true, to an extent. I had muscle in both arms and legs, but because I had never done anything this extreme prior, I had to train them to adapt to this type of workout. You use your upper body and core a bit more than legs at first, so rather than being out of breath, you will be sore and tight. It’s always good to stretch a little in between climbs to prevent stiffness. Climbing is great for strength building, and could be considered cross-training because you’re working muscles in an order/way that you normally don’t. Inside the climbing gym, it’s a great community. Although there will always be some jerks everywhere (I think that’s a law or something), the staff and fellow climbers are very helpful most of the time, and will give you advice on how to get up the wall, or where to go next on the route. It was nice knowing that random people were watching and willing to help you out, even while you’re mid-climb.
It’s also something of a mind game. For me, it happens when I start to fatigue and have tight forearms. Whether it’s an old or new route, if you have doubts about grabbing the next handhold or you think you’re tired, you have to push yourself to keep going. In the same token, when you’re NOT tired and are scared that you might not be able to reach the next hold, it’s like taking a leap of faith and understanding that you might fall in reaching for that next grip. It’s an amazing accomplishment, forcing yourself to go farther than you THINK you can. I always come down from the route feeling more confident and at ease after pushing myself to finish, hard or not. I’m sure GM can testify the same. My boyfriend and I go at least once a week with some friends, and it’s great to go with a group because we can push each other. We alternate between local gyms, and sometimes venture out of state to experience other gyms.
Much like any other workout, this is both physical and mental, and you need motivation. Some routes might take time to figure out and finish, but once you do, you’ll feel proud of yourself. Overtime, you will also see results in your body.