Climbing (on real rock or on man-made, indoor walls) has often been viewed as an “extreme sport” rather than as a workout. But in recent years, more and more people have been turning to climbing as a way to get fit.
In this post, I explain why.
1. Climbing uses every muscle in your body.
Take a look at the typical climber…. well, there isn’t really a “typical” climber, they come in all shapes and sizes: from tall and lanky, to small and powerful… but they do tend to have a few things in common:
- low body fat
- well defined muscles
- muscular all over, not just in one area
There is a reason for this. Climbing is a full-body workout and recruits pretty much every muscle in the body.
Beginners tend to think that climbing is all about upper-body strength. This is because, when you first start out, the sensations in your hands and forearms are often the most intense as your body gets used to the activity.
However, good climbing technique involves core tension and power generated from the legs and hips, making climbing a fantastic, full-body workout.
2. Climbing uses different muscles every time
Many gym workouts and activities use the same muscles over and over in repetitive movements (think of bicep curls, rowing, and push-ups). Climbing is far more diverse. No two routes (indoors or outdoors) are the same so you will end up training different muscles every time.
This means you will be less likely to get repetitive use injuries and you will build a more balanced type of strength that will serve you better in the real world
3. Climbing is great aerobic exercise
As well as training strength and power, climbing can also be a fantastic cardio workout. It just depends how “hard” you are climbing. If you climb something that is right at your limit, you will build strength in your muscles. If you climb something slightly easier but for a longer period of time, you will be working aerobically.
When you are training in your aerobic heart rate zone, that is when your body is most likely to be burning fat stores for energy, this makes climbing a great way to burn body fat.
I like to use Phil Maffetone’s definition of “aerobic”:
Find your aerobic zone by subtracting your age from 180. Anything below this is aerobic for you. For a 30-year-old, 180-50= 150. If your heartrate is 150 beats per minute or below, then you are working aerobically. Anything above is anaerobic.
Phil Maffetone, The Big Book of Endurance Training and Racing
I regularly climb with a heart rate monitor. When I am climbing routes that are a few grades below my limit, my heart rate is usually between 130 and 160 beats per minute. I will do “reps” of the same routes over and over again, staying on the wall for 10-20 minutes. I will do that for four or five sets in a session – totaling over an hour of cardio.
4. Climbing burns a lot of calories!
has shown that a climber weighing 155 lbs. / 70 kg will burn between eight and ten calories per minute. That is almost as much as spinning. This would mean that an aerobic climbing session, as I described above, would burn around 500 calories as a ball-park figure.
5. Climbing is fun
Don’t underestimate the fun factor. If an exercise is fun, you will feel far more motivated to do it regularly. Unlike other types of full-body workout that are very repetitive, climbing is diverse and mentally challenging which also boosts motivation.
Climbing gyms are really social places. They are a great place to meet people, and total strangers will cheer each other on and try and puzzle difficult moves out together. There is a real sense of camaraderie.
How can I start climbing?
If you are new to climbing, getting started might seem intimidating. The best place to start would be at your local climbing gym. If you are unsure, take an induction course so that you can boulder and use the auto-belays safely. Climbing gyms will often have social evenings where you can go along and climb with others and learn the basics.