Rock Climbing Workout: Health Benefits, How to Get Started, and How to Get Better

December 14, 2023 by No Comments

As children, many of us enjoyed climbing trees and scaling fences. But as we grew older, this pastime was no longer enjoyable. Rock climbing is a great way to relive childhood memories while getting a full-body workout.

Learn what makes rock climbing a good workout, its potential health benefits, and how you can get started.

What is a Rock Climbing Exercise?

A rock climbing workout involves climbing up a rock. You can either climb a stone that is built to be used in an indoor gym or one that is natural. You will sweat either way.

It combines flexibility, agility, strength, and endurance to provide both aerobic and anaerobic benefits, says John Paul Rue, MD. He says that it combines agility, strength, and endurance with anaerobic to produce benefits.

Mike Julom is a certified personal trainer by the American Council on Exercise and a recreational rock climber based out of Newark, Delaware. Past reviews suggest that you’ll need to hold yourself still while searching for your next foothold or handhold. This will require isometric muscle contractions. It is when a muscle contracts without changing its length (such as holding a plank). Pushing, pulling, and keeping yourself still constantly recruits the majority of muscles in your arms, hands, shoulders, chest and back, core, and legs.

This means that your heart, lungs, and respiratory system must work harder to provide enough energy. Rock climbing is a great cardio exercise. Previous research shows that rock climbing has similar aerobic effects to more traditional cardio exercises like running. You can use your rock climbing exercises to meet the U.S. government’s recommendation of 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has published guidelines for physical activity. You can meet your aerobic activity quota by incorporating other cardio exercises (such as cycling, rowing, and jogging) into your weekly routine.

Research indicates that rock climbing does not offer the same benefits to bone mineral density as resistance training. Aim for two weekly full-body Strength Workouts, as recommended by the HHS Guidelines.

Rock Climbing Types

There are many different types of rock climbing. Not all have the same definition. The following are the most common types of rock climbing you will hear about.

  • Climbing Freely Climbing freely is climbing a rock with your hands and feet. This is according to the Alpine Institute. The rope is used to catch you if you slip but not to pull yourself up. Free climbing can be practiced in an indoor climbing gym or outdoors on any rock face. Be sure to bring climbing ropes, helmets, and harnesses, as well as any other protective gear. Free soloing is an advanced and dangerous form of climbing that involves climbing without the necessary equipment. (More about this in the next section.)
  • Free soloing: This type of free climbing takes place without ropes or harnesses. According to the Alpine Institute, free soloing can take the climber so high above the ground that a fall is almost certain death. It is only done by experienced climbers who understand the dangers.
  • Bouldering, also known as free climbing without harnesses or ropes, is another type of free climbing. According to the Alpine Institute, bouldering differs from free soloing because you focus on “problems” or difficult moves that are relatively close to the surface. Bouldering is safer than free soloing because you don’t have to climb as high. You can boulder either outdoors or in an indoor climbing gym.
  • Sports Climbing The sport of climbing is a competition that was added to the Summer Olympic Games by the International Olympic Committee in 2020. The three categories are Bouldering, Speed, and Lead.

Common Questions and Answers

Rock climbing is a great cardio workout that has many benefits. It can improve VO2 Max (the maximum oxygen consumption your body can handle during exercise), which is a common measure of cardiovascular fitness. Rock climbing strengthens bones and muscles.

The Health Benefits of Rock Climbing

The health benefits of rock climbing are numerous. Here are some notable ones.

Improved cardiorespiratory fitness

It’s a great way to build cardiorespiratory fitness, which is a key factor in preventing heart disease. According to a Clinical Practice Statement published in December 2022 by the American Journal of Preventive Cardiology, rock climbing is a great cardiorespiratory workout that can help prevent heart disease.

The research above found that rock climbing increases heart rate by 74 to 85% of its maximum predicted value and uses the same energy as running a moderate pace (8-11 minutes per mile).

A review and meta-analysis published in October 2018 by the Iranian Journal of Public Health revealed that after eight weeks, rock climbing significantly improved VO2 max, an indicator of cardiovascular fitness. As the meta-analysis only included 27 participants (college students), it is not possible to know if these fitness improvements are typical. We need larger studies.

Stronger Muscles

Climbing uses most of your body’s muscle groups, especially the quadriceps, glutes, and calves. Julom says that climbing is similar to doing pull-ups and squats simultaneously.

Rock climbing is a great way to build muscle. The review above, which looked at college students, found that climbing significantly improved vertical jump height and strength during cycling.

Increased Grip Strength

The muscles of your forearms and hands are heavily recruited when you navigate a vertical rock face. According to the review, rock climbing can be an effective way to build grip strength.

It is important to have a strong grip for everyday tasks such as opening doors, unscrewing jars, or carrying heavy bags. Research published in clinical interventions in aging in 2019 suggests that grip is a good indicator of aging, with a weaker grip being associated with poor health outcomes, such as diabetes, bone fractures, and brain health.

Improved Mental Health

Climbing requires mindfulness and concentration to navigate the routes. This can have mental health benefits. Climbing is often used to treat mental conditions such as depression.

According to a qualitative report published in April 2021 by the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, a majority of 30 mental health experts interviewed believed that therapeutic climbing was a useful and positive add-on therapy and it could have a significant effect on the social, psychological and physiological health of a patient.

In a study published in Heliyon in March 2018, a group with depression was tested on bouldering psychotherapy. The patients took turns in a bouldering group for eight weeks that met weekly for three hours. After eight weeks, the bouldering group returned to its usual treatment program, while the control groups continued the bouldering program. Researchers found that participants in the bouldering program were more likely than control group participants to experience a reduction in depression symptoms.

Greater Bone Density

Rock climbing is similar to resistance training. Like other weight-bearing exercises, rock climbing helps to strengthen bones. This can help to prevent osteoporosis and bone loss as we age.

Rock climbing can improve bone mineral density of the arms and legs. While there are few studies on rock climbing and osteoporosis, research has shown that it does. Rock climbers have lower bone density than adults who are resistance-trained in central areas, such as the lumbar spinal column. You may wish to continue resistance training while rock climbing in order to maintain strong bones.

Rock climbing can help you achieve your weight loss goals. Julom says that rock climbing helps people lose weight by contributing to a deficit of calories. According to the research, rock climbing uses about as many calories (energy) as moderate running (8-11 minutes per mile). Harvard Medical School estimates that a person weighing 155 pounds will burn 281 calories per 30 minutes.

By building muscle, rock climbing can also aid in weight loss. Rock climbing and bouldering are excellent for building muscles, especially in the upper and core body. Julom says that muscle is your best friend when it comes to losing weight.

He continues, “Muscle burns calories more than fat even at rest.” “So the more muscle mass you gain, the greater the calories you will burn all day long, even if you are not climbing.”

Rock climbing is a great way to lose weight, and it’s more fun than the traditional gym workouts.

It’s important to note that rock climbing has not been proven to be a weight loss tool. Your results may differ.

Gear: What do you need to rock climb?

Rock climbing is easy to learn. “It is pretty simple; you just put on your shoes, chalk up your hands and start climbing,” says Gavin Bridgeman. Dynamic Ascents offers rock climbing classes in Southern California.

There are still a few things you should know when choosing climbing equipment. Some items can make climbing more fun. We’ll break down the equipment you need to rock climb:

Shoes Proper footwear is important for safe and comfortable climbing. Bridgeman suggests visiting your local climbing shop or outfitter and trying on different pairs. You can also buy shoes online. Just make sure that the retailer allows returns in case you don’t like them.

Climbing boots should fit comfortably and be comfortable. Avoid buying shoes that are too snug. Bridgeman says that many store associates who are young and climb well very tight wear shoes. These shoes are great for experienced climbers who have mastered complex routes. However, they can be too aggressive for newbies. If you use technical climbing shoes, your toes may be pinched, and toenails could be lost.

Bridgeman explains, “You need to find a shoe that is comfortable and fits well.” You should be able to feel your toes all the way to the end without feeling compressed.

Chalk Bag Chalk is not just for gymnasts. Climbers use chalk to keep their hands drier while climbing and provide a better grip.

Choose from block chalk, liquid chalk, or loose chalk. I like the antibacterial properties of liquid chalk, so it is a favorite in climbing gyms. Bridgeman warns that it can dry out your hands and cause skin problems. He uses loose chalk most of the time. However, some climbing gyms do not allow it due to the mess. It’s important to check the rules for the area you intend to climb at before purchasing chalk.

A bag is also required to hold your chalk. You can find chalk bags in a variety of sizes, shapes, and materials. Choose the pack that best suits your style and preferences. Check that your hand can fit comfortably in the bag prior to purchasing it. Bridgeman says that clients sometimes arrive with a very small bag of chalk and can’t dip their hands in it when they sweat. If you cannot chalk easily, a chalk bag is not useful.

Bouldering MatWhen bouldering outside, you will need a bouldering mat (also called a crashpad). This is a foam pad with a high density that you place on the ground under your climbing area. It softens your landing in case of a fall.

The pads are available in different sizes and thicknesses. Bridgeman advises that you should buy the largest bouldering place that you can afford and that fits comfortably onto your back. This will give you more surface area to fall on.

You won’t save any money by using an old mattress. Bridgeman says that bouldering pads use a high-density, thick foam designed to absorb more than a standard mattress.

Crash pads are available for purchase or rental at many outdoor retailers and climbing shops. Bouldering places are already public in climbing gyms, so you don’t need to buy or rent one unless you plan on going outdoors. If you are using a harness with ropes and a pad, you may not require one. However, you can add it to your climbing as an additional layer of safety.

Apparel: You don’t need to buy specific climbing apparel. Instead, you can choose clothing made from sweat-wicking fabrics like polyester, bamboo, and wool. Bridgeman advises that any type of workout clothing is acceptable as long as it allows you to move freely. He suggests well-built yoga clothing from brands such as Lululemon or PrAna because they can withstand rock. He says that if you don’t, you will have to buy new pants every couple of months.

Do not worry about ropes just yet. You’ll be using the equipment in the climbing gym or bouldering with a guide. Do not use cords without supervision and proper training.

Rock Climbing: Get Started

As a child, you probably used to climb trees. But as an adult, you will likely need some encouragement. Bridgeman explains that it’s a bit daunting to buy a pad for bouldering and then climb a rock in the middle of nowhere.

These tips will help you get started with rock climbing.

Visit a Climbing Gym

Climbing gyms are a great way to re-learn how to climb. Climbing gyms often allow you to start climbing immediately after signing a waiver, watching a video, or being guided by a person. Many climbing gyms have bouldering areas, auto-belays (which allow you to climb roped walls without the help of another person), or lead climbing (which requires expert instruction).

You only need to pay attention to the safety instructions and rules, adhere to any posted rules on the wall, and stay with the beginner routes. The routes are colored to show their level of difficulty. Bridgeman says that as long as you follow the beginner color, you are doing it right.

Progress Slowly

Climbing can be a lot of fun. Climbing is fun. Bridgeman says, “You get addicted and want to climb to the next level of difficulty every time.” Many people are injured because they try to move too fast.

There is a system for grading the difficulty of rock climbing. According to REI, there are several grading scales, but the Hueco “V” system is most commonly used in North America for bouldering. In contrast, the Yosemite Decimal System is used to rate technical rock climbs. The “V’ scale goes from V.B. to V16, while the YDS ranges between 5.1 and 5.15.

As you climb higher up the scale, you will notice that the holds you use to grip the rock wall are getting smaller, more difficult to maneuver, and farther apart. Bridgeman explains, “Imagine holding a monkey bar that is easy to grasp, then imagine holding an edge less than the thickness of a dime.” Your hands and arms have to suddenly exert a lot of force in order to grasp that thin edge.

Your tendons need time to adapt to the climbing stresses. Bridgeman warns that if you move too quickly through the grading scale, you risk rupturing a tendon. Bridgeman suggests that you climb at the same level of difficulty for a couple of months before moving on.

Bridgeman suggests that you climb V0 to V1 for at least two months and V2 to v3 for four to six months. Bridgeman recommends that you stay with V0 to V1 for two months and V2 to V3 for four to 6 months.

Take a Climbing Course

If you need more guidance, or if you are ready to improve your climbing abilities, take a class in your climbing gym. There are classes for all levels of experience and goals. You can learn the basics of indoor and outdoor climbing, or you can focus on specific skills such as rappelling and outdoor climbing.

How to get more out of a rock climbing workout

As we mentioned earlier, you should not move too quickly up the grading scale. You may want to experiment with other methods to make your climbs harder until you are ready to move up a level. Here are some ideas:

  • Accelerate. Time each climb, and aim to finish it a little quicker than the previous attempt.
  • Restless. Slowly reduce your rest between climbs until you can eliminate it. Julom explains that it’s similar in concept to supersets, which are exercises performed quickly with little rest. This can improve your cardiovascular fitness and muscular strength.
  • Change your grip. Try different grips. For example, try climbing without your thumbs. Or keep one hand only on the wall. Julom says that this not only makes climbing more difficult but it also improves your grip strength and technique. It forces you to be creative and make better use of what you’ve got.
  • Try to use “silent foot.”Aim for placing your feet as quietly as you can on the rock or holds. Julom says that although this technique may seem simple, it requires a lot of precision and control, which makes your workout more difficult.

Rock Climbing Nutrition Tips

If you’re hiking to the climbing area, then you will need to eat well to fuel your workouts. Plan your nutrition strategy using these guidelines.

Before you begin, please consider the following:

Emma M. Laing, Ph.D., RDN, is the director of dietetics and spokesperson of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics in Athens.

Some snacks that she recommends are:

  • Banana
  • Serving of pretzels
  • Serving of dried fruits
  • A plain bagel
  • A cup of applesauce

Dr. Laing suggests avoiding carbonated drinks if they upset your stomach. Also, avoid spicy, high-fat, or high-fiber foods between two and four hours prior to your workout. This will help to reduce bloating, indigestion, and gas.


Pack snacks if you are hiking to a climbing site or climbing for more than two hours. Tracy Lockwood Beckerman RD is a registered dietitian based in Greenwich, Co, Connecticut. She recommends choosing foods that are easy to transport and digest. You want to prioritize carbohydrates as your primary energy source.

Some great options are:

  • Energy bar
  • Crackers and a nut butter squeeze packet
  • A smoothie pouch
  • Fruit
  • Pretzels

Drink water between climbing. Water is sufficient if the activity lasts less than 60-90 minutes. If you are sweating a lot, an electrolyte tab (to be mixed in water) may be added. Consider a drink that contains carbohydrates if the activity will last longer than 90 minutes. You will be able to perform better and have more endurance.


It’s possible that you won’t be ready to eat a meal right after your workout. To kickstart recovery, eat at least a small snack 30 minutes after your last climb. Laing suggests that you should look for snacks containing carbohydrates and protein to replenish the energy (glycogen) you use in your workout.

She suggests that you try one of the following snacks:

  • One cup of low-fat milk
  • Apple with 1 tbsp nut butter
  • A protein bar
  • You can use 1/4 cup of nuts, seeds, or dried fruits.
  • A quarter cup of hummus and raw vegetable slices

Consider these options if you are ravenous after your climb.

  • A turkey sandwich with lettuce, tomato, and whole-grain bread
  • Spaghetti (1/2 to 1 cup cooked pasta) with meatballs (3-5 ounces of turkey or beef) and sauce (1/2 to 1 cup).
  • Burritos with beans (1/2 cup), rice (quarter cup, cooked), and vegetables (good choices include tomatoes, spinach, peppers and onions).

Resources We Love: Rock Climbing Exercises


USA Climbing is a national governing body for competition climbing in the United States. USA Climbing also offers a variety of resources to new and experienced climbers. Visit the home climbing workouts and nutrition and hydration guide, as well as the directory of climbing gyms.


Gear Coop, headquartered in Southern California, is your one-stop shop for outdoor and climbing gear. This online retailer offers climbing shoes, crash pads, and ropes. You can also find equipment for outdoor activities such as camping, fishing, hiking, and cycling.

Backcountry is a great online retailer of climbing gear. You can find apparel, footwear, helmets, and chalk bags. Backcountry offers a blog where you can learn more about climbing and other outdoor sports such as surfing, skiing, or hiking.


This is the handbook that every beginner indoor climber should read. Eric J. Horst, a veteran climber and author, covers all you need to start climbing, from what to expect at your first visit to the gym to basic equipment to physical conditioning. As you progress, learn how to transition from a climbing gym to an outdoor wall.

This guide, written by John Long and Bob Gaines – two world-renowned rock climbing experts – covers rock climbing safety A to Z. This guide includes 336 pages with basic and advanced safety techniques. It also compares equipment and offers more. This is an excellent safety guide for both new and experienced climbers.

You can also read about it on the website.

The Enormocast Podcast, hosted by Chris Kalous, is for those who can’t get over climbing. The Enormocast podcast is a series of episodes that explore different aspects of climbing through interviews, discussion, and Kalous’s 27-year experience. This podcast has more than 200 episodes, so you can keep yourself entertained for quite some time.

You can read more about it here:

Rock climbing is an enjoyable, full-body exercise that can improve fitness, build strong muscles and bones, boost mental health, and help with weight loss. Rock climbing comes in many forms, but free climbing, bouldering sport climbing, and free soloing are the most popular. Indoor climbing gyms are a great way to build confidence and learn the ropes for outdoor climbing.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *