Rock climbing can seem like an intimidating sport to get into, especially if you aren’t familiar with the jargon, technique, and customs of the climbing community. It can also seem like a very difficult sport that requires tons of upper body strength and a ripped physique. However, this is not necessarily the case.
Rock climbing can be as hard or easy as you want it to be. While it is a physical activity that requires some coordination, balance, and so forth, there are both indoor and outdoor climbs that are roughly as challenging as climbing a ladder. However, there are also many climbing routes that are exceptionally hard, and new/more difficult routes are constantly being established.
In this article, we’ll look at some of the required skills for rock climbing and how to assess whether you are ready to begin climbing.
Required Skills for Rock Climbing
While you absolutely can go rock climbing in a gym with no prior knowledge of the sport and have a good time, there are some basic requirements to keep in mind when deciding whether you want to give climbing a try.
Climbing does require a fair amount of strength, from grip strength to overall body strength. However, it doesn’t require nearly as much upper body strength as you might think – at least for easier routes. You’ll primarily be using the larger muscles in your legs to propel your weight up the wall, and using your arms more just to hold your body close to the wall.
As you advance in the sport, you will definitely need to develop your strength in order to climb progressively harder routes. Some routes require big powerful moves, using one limb to move the majority of your body weight, and so forth. But, if you can effectively climb a ladder, you can get started with climbing without any undue risk.
Stamina is another big requirement for climbing. While the easier routes don’t require too much stamina, harder or longer routes will require you to be on the wall for a good amount of time. Certain muscle groups can become fatigued quickly, such as your forearms. This is referred to as being ‘pumped,’ which makes it harder to grasp the holds. Only building your stamina will help reduce the incidence and/or delay the onset of getting pumped.
Rock climbing also isn’t for the faint of heart. When bouldering, there is the risk that you can fall to the ground at any time, from as high as about 25 feet in the air. Of course, bouldering gyms have thickly padded floors to mitigate this risk, but if you are bouldering outdoors, your only safety net is whatever crash pads you have laid out. When leading sport or trad climbing, there is the potential to take big falls or ‘whippers,’ which can be scary and potentially dangerous.
If you are feeling nervous about falling from heights, consider starting with top roping in a gym (where you’ll be protected at all times from big falls by the rope) or traversing boulder routes – that way you will never get too high off the ground. Taking some low-stakes practice falls can also help you build your confidence in order to eventually take on higher/longer/scarier routes.
Basic Understanding of How The Sport Works
It’s also a good idea to have a general understanding of the sport before diving into it. Many gyms offer introductory climbing classes where you learn how to find routes that are appropriate for your skill level, gym and crag etiquette, how to fit your shoes and harness properly, and so forth. If you’d rather not take a class, do some basic research on how the systems work so you are prepared when you arrive at the gym or crag. Or, ask someone at the gym for pointers! Most climbers are happy to help and offer tips and advice.
Obviously, most climbers start with essentially zero knowledge of climbing technique. You can either opt to take a class, learn by watching others in the gym, learn from a more experienced friend, or just figure it out through trial and error. However, a basic understanding of climbing techniques is also helpful, both so you can climb more effectively and for your safety.
Finally, you may need some technical knowledge, depending on the type of climbing that you’ll be doing. If you are just bouldering in a gym, you can essentially show up and start climbing. However, if you are sport climbing in a gym, you’ll either need a partner and to know how to belay or you’ll have to stick with auto belay routes. To belay a partner on your own, you’ll both need to pass belay tests where you show that you can tie in properly, belay safely, and use the common climbing commands.
Outdoor climbing requires its own set of technical knowledge. Someone will need to lead the route, you’ll need to clean your gear after you are done climbing, and you need to possess and know how to use much more gear than you would use in a gym setting. If you have never climbed outdoors before, it’s best to go with someone who knows what they are doing and has all the right gear, or take a class.
Frequently Asked Question
Do you need to be strong to rock climb?
You don’t need to be exceptionally strong to start rock climbing. If you can climb a ladder, you can climb easy routes. However, if you want to start climbing more difficult routes, you will need to build your strength up.
How long does it take to get good at rock climbing?
It depends on how fit you are when you begin, how quick of a learner you are, and how frequently you climb. Some people have a natural affinity for the sport and can become intermediate climbers within a few months, but for other people it might take a few years to be able to climb anything beyond the easiest routes. Taking climbing classes and climbing frequently can speed up your progress, but you also need to allow your body to strengthen itself slowly over time to avoid injury.
Is rock climbing scary?
Rock climbing can be scary, but it’s also quite safe if you climb within your skill limits, use good climbing and safety practices, and keep your ego in check. If you feel nervous about heights, try top roping first or traversing boulder routes. That way you can build your confidence and try out the sport without risking big falls.