Rock climbing is a sport that combines the outdoors with intense physical fitness, but can regular rock-climbing practice replace your gym membership?
Rock-climbing is an excellent all-over workout. It requires good upper and lower body strength, as you need to use your core, legs, and arms to propel you up a cliff face. It can also be a cardio workout, depending on how fast you climb, elevating your heart rate to a similar level as a moderate run.
Depending on what your goals are when going to the gym, you can replace the gym with rock-climbing to either build muscle, get cardiovascular fit, or do an all-over workout like HIIT.
Why rock climbing can replace the gym:
Rock-climbing is a fun, healthy, and balanced way to stay fit and get strong. If you’re interested in building muscle, rock-climbing won’t only build your upper body but will also tone and strengthen the following muscles:
- Calves and toes
- Inner and outer thighs
- Hip flexors
- Forearms and
This is true whether you’re actively climbing or belaying another climber. Belaying involves standing at the bottom of the crag and keeping the other climber safe by providing them with someone to hold the rope if they fall. You need to feed the rope up as they climb and abseil them down. This will keep your shoulders, arms, and forearms warmed up for your next climb!
Anyone going to the gym to build strength can replace weight machines with rock-climbing and see similar results. However, if you’re going to the gym to build a specific bodybuilding physique, you will still need weights to get that look and level of strength.
Rock-climbing can also be an effective cardio workout and can replace more traditional cardio at the gym like rowing, running, or spinning. This is because rock-climbing not only requires strength and agility but explosive movements, which will drive your heart rate up.
If you’re looking for other ways to get your cardio in, rock climbing is a great alternative. Because rock-climbing is a good combination between strength-building exercise and cardio, if you climb in intensive intervals, you can replace your traditional HIIT workouts too. The most effective way to do this is to do a type of rock climbing called bouldering, where you climb up short distances, often in artificial cave-like structures.
This means that you don’t need a safety rope and support your bodyweight entirely with your arms and legs. Because the routes are shorter and require less endurance, bouldering is a great HIIT workout.
Rock-climbing builds muscle
Rock-climbing requires repetitive motions of the arms, back, core and legs. Doing the same movement repeatedly while also using body weight and gravity against you will tone and strengthen those muscles.
Because rock-climbing doesn’t encourage the repetitive motion of a single muscle group, like bicep curls, for instance, it encourages your body to use much wider muscle groups in connection with each other. This is a much more natural type of movement and will prevent you from getting injuries related to underdeveloped stabilizer muscles or muscle imbalances.
The muscles used in climbing range from your forearms, biceps, triceps, and delts to your calves, core, and glutes. Although men often use their upper bodies more than women while climbing, the correct technique will see you standing up on your toes (activating your calves) and using your legs (glutes and thighs) to lever yourself up as much you would pull yourself up with your arms and chest.
For this reason, rock climbing is an excellent way to build well-balanced muscles and strengthen your body overall, especially your core. If you want to get out of the gym and keep your body injury-free, rock-climbing is a good alternative that will still give you good overall body strength. It won’t give you the physique of a weight lifter, so it depends on your goal when going to the gym. If your goal is to get a cardio workout, rock-climbing is a good option too.
Rock-climbing can replace running and other cardio workouts
Rock-climbing is an effective cardio workout. Both indoor and outdoor climbing will boost your heart rate and help you burn almost 300 calories per half an hour, making it as effective as running 5mph. If you hate running, especially on a treadmill, rock climbing is a great alternative. The faster you climb, the more benefit you’ll get from rock-climbing’s cardio workout effectiveness.
Outdoor climbing has the added benefit of the approach to the crag, which is usually a short hike from a parking spot to where you start climbing. This usually involves a steep incline while carrying heavy gear, which will get your heart rate pumping and warm up your muscles to start climbing.
Rock-climbing is a dynamic, rather than static exercise, engaging your entire body while scaling the wall and keeping your heart rate up as you keep moving in a challenging but fun way. Depending on how fast you climb, how much rest you get between climbs, and how long you’re climbing for, rock-climbing can be an effective replacement for other cardio workouts like running, cycling, and skipping.
Rock-climbing is better than HIIT
High-intensity interval training, known as HIIT, has become a popular way of getting fit and building strength. HIIT workouts typically combine exercises that drive your heart rate up (like burpees) with strength-building moves like squats and push-ups. If you climb a few routes at a fast pace with minimal rests in between, rock-climbing can replace even your most effective HIIT workout, challenge you mentally, and give you an all-round workout that will significantly strengthen your core.
The most effective way to get fit while rock climbing is to do bouldering. Bouldering is a type of rock-climbing where you rely on your body alone to keep you on the rock rather than having the rope to help you. This is because bouldering is done close to the ground in smaller cave-like structures.
Bouldering at an indoor rock-climbing gym is an excellent option to do during the week, while you can hit a crag over the weekend. Bouldering involves explosive, dynamic movements like jumping. This, combined with the challenge of supporting your entire body on a vertical rock ceiling and the nature of bouldering, which requires short and intensive intervals, makes bouldering the perfect replacement for HIIT workouts.
The difference between indoor and outdoor rock-climbing
Indoor rock-climbing is the answer to getting out on rock if you’re working a 9-5. Indoor rock-climbing gyms will have artificial walls and structures that allow you to practice sport climbing: climbing using the traditional pitches put up in crags that enable climbers to clip draws into the bolts in the rock to climb to the top.
Indoor gyms will also have newer climbers to rent at each session rather than buy everything right away. They will also have self-belay devices that allow you to climb without a partner.
Outdoor rock climbing comes without the oversight of the indoor gyms, but it’s a wonderful way to connect with nature and challenge your body. The added elements of wind, slippery rocks, and hiking into the crag are not something that can be emulated at an indoor gym. You’ll need to bring your gear and climbing partners, and it’s best to make a day of it.
Outdoor climbing doesn’t always have conditions that are right for bouldering, so if that’s what you prefer, you should stick to an indoor gym.
Rock-climbing is cheaper than the gym
Depending on what type of climbing you do and your gym membership, rock climbing can be a cheaper option than the gym. All you need for bouldering is a pair of climbing shoes, a once-off purchase rather than a month’s expense.
If you want to use indoor climbing facilities during the week, you will need to pay entry or get a monthly membership. Still, many gyms include yoga classes, classes to teach you to climb better, and a community of people you can enjoy climbing with. Most gyms also have student and family discounts.
If you do outdoor climbing, you will need gear like a harness, ropes, and draws for the crags, but again, these will be once-off purchases.
What you need to go rock-climbing
It’s essential to have the right equipment when going climbing, as the tools you use to keep you from dying. Make sure to always buy your tools from a certified rock-climbing vendor. What you’ll need:
- Comfortable, stretchy clothes. There’s nothing worse than hearing pants rip while you’re halfway up a route with your bum in the air.
- A harness for sport climbing (this attaches you to the rope)
- A belay device (this will allow you to belay someone else)
- Climbing shoes (these give you extra grip on the wall)
- Ropes (for sport climbing)
- Draws (these clip into bolts on the wall to give you something to fall against on your way up and keep you safe)
- Chalk (dusting your hands with climbing chalk will give you more grip)
- A love of adventure!
Is rock-climbing resistance training?
Resistance training involves pushing, pulling, or work against resistance. Rock-climbing consists of pulling or resisting against gravity and your body weight while climbing, so it’s an excellent form of resistance training.
Is rock climbing good for agility?
Agility is essential for rock-climbing, and the more you climb, the more flexible and agile you’ll become as your muscles stretch and strengthen from performing the movements necessary to scale a wall.
Will rock-climbing help me lose weight?
Depending on the type of rock-climbing you do, rock-climbing can replace HIIT workouts, cardio, and resistance training. Regular rock-climbing, combined with a healthy diet, should be able to help you lose weight.