Physical Benefits of Climbing
Updated: Apr 20
Rock climbing requires strength, flexibility, balance, and even cardio. The physical benefits of rock climbing are much like the physical benefits of strength training. It’s a full-body workout that can, and should be, fun!
Imagine doing a hundred assisted pull-ups. You’d probably feel a burn in your arms, some in the back or abdomen. Sure, this will yield results, but won’t it get boring? Now think of every time you climb a problem or route. During this, you pull with your upper body and push yourself with your feet while simultaneously stabilizing yourself with your core.
While climbing, your muscles are engaged either by moving or keeping tension. In the same way that doing a plank strengthens your core, tensioning your other muscles strengthens them too. Rock climbing doesn’t look like a traditional workout, and it isn’t, but the physical benefits of climbing are similar!
You’re using all your upper body when you pull up a wall. Whether moving, readjusting your body position, or holding on to assess the next move, your muscles are engaged much like a typical workout would.
Upper body strength is essential to climb longer and harder and will increase the more you climb.
Keeping your body close to the wall is where your core is used the most, and climbing an overhung fence is when it is most engaged. It’s like doing a plank upside down while holding onto a wall. Weird, right? Strengthening the core allows you to take some of the load off your other muscle groups that are needed to get to the top of a climb.
Your arms and core help you get to the top of a wall, but the leg muscles also play a significant role. Imagine climbing a wall without using your legs. How long would you last if you were to campus everything? Indeed, your forearms will give out much sooner than if you were to keep your feet on the wall. Don’t forget; your legs aren’t just for taking the weight off your arms; by pushing into your feet, you’re stepping up to reach the next hold!
Pushing down with your legs, holding tight with your core, and pulling with your upper body makes climbing a full-body workout. More than just muscle growth, though, climbing strengthens other aspects of your body, such as your: flexibility, balance, and coordination, and even acts as a cardio workout.
Have you ever felt too short of reaching a hold only to see the next climber your height (or shorter) effortlessly float up to it? Maybe they brought their foot to where their hand was, and you noticed this gave them that extra height to reach the next hold? This is called a hand-foot match, requiring a lot of hip mobility.
The more you contort your body on the wall, the more flexibility you’ll develop to tackle those long reaches.
Found to be necessary on many slab routes, your ability to balance will often be the deciding factor for reaching the top of a climb. You can get that handhold, but can you bring your foot over and reposition your weight so you don’t swing off?
Being able to reposition your body intentionally takes a lot of balance. Climbing will force you to move purposefully in a way that will foster this type of movement.
Much like balance, this takes a lot of knowing how to position your body. Whether you’re attempting a dyno or falling into an undercling, learning how to grab a hold just right and position your body when you do is all about coordination.
Climbing dynamically requires more coordination than static movements because you must be very intentional with your body. It may feel foreign at first, but the more you do it, the more you’ll find how to reposition your body quickly to stay on the wall.
Climbing doesn’t look like a cardio exercise. This wouldn’t be a full-body workout if cardio weren’t involved! The strength to hold onto the wall and push yourself up takes a lot of blood to flow through your muscles. You will need to use plenty of oxygen to regulate this blood flow. You’d be surprised how out of breath you can be after climbing a small boulder problem.
The physical benefits of rock climbing are much like the physical benefits of working out. Your muscles will strengthen, your flexibility and balance will increase, and your cardiovascular system will improve, all just from climbing!
Like working out, you’ll only get stronger and improve if you keep at it. Expecting to climb V14 after a month of going to the gym is like expecting to be a weightlifting champ after doing HIIT workouts just a few times a week. Remember, try not to be discouraged if you’re not improving faster than expected; learning to climb takes a lot of patience and effort.