When I was at my climbing peak (which I hope to get back to again sometime soon!), I remember one day trying to get something out of a really hard to reach and awkward cupboard. It was something breakable and relatively heavy that needed both hands to lift it out. At another time in life I would have given up and waited until someone taller and stronger than me could help. But at this particular time in life, my climbing hobby had become part of everyday life. And although it may sound silly, I truly believe that it was a combination of some of the awesome benefits of rock climbing that enabled me to get that stupid heavy thing out of that stupid awkward cupboard with no dramas at all.
How could rock climbing possibly help you get something out of a cupboard, I hear you ask. A fair question, so let me enlighten you! Firstly, I had the physical strength to lift the object down. My balance was at its best, so tip-toeing on the edge of the kitchen unit was no problem. My good flexibility enabled me to get up to the kitchen unit in the first place. And I had total control over every movement I had to make to fulfil the task. But secondly, and more important than my physicality, was the mental strength I had to make it happen. I was in the house on my own and I could have easily fallen down and hurt myself, but I held such confidence that I was up to the task, that it never even crossed my mind. I knew I could do it safely and I had a focussed determination that I was going to succeed. I felt empowered by my physical and mental capabilities and had a strong feeling of independence.
That was just one tiny, insignificant way in which the benefits of rock climbing have impacted upon my everyday life. And also one that I have noticed. There must be hundreds of much more subtle and less obvious ways in which I have had the upper hand on life because of my time on the wall.
So if you’re looking for a reason to get back into climbing, or if you fancy trying a new hobby, then the benefits alone might just be enough to give you the push you need. And that doesn’t even take into consideration the pure pleasure that one gains (most of the time!) from clinging to a vertical wall, 30 feet off the ground with the one simple goal of getting to the top!
20 benefits of rock climbing
I’m sure I’m not the only one that would rather go running in the freezing rain than have to plod along on a treadmill in a windowless room filled with hundreds of other people. Fitness gyms just don’t do it for me. I’m more about using my body in physical ways that are fun and varied. Doing exercise without ‘exercise’ being the primary reason for doing it. So for me, the physical benefits of climbing are like a dream. There is so much going on that I get zero chance to remember I am working out. Perfect! The physical benefits of rock climbing include:
1A full body workout
When do you ever go to the gym and come away with sore glutes as well as sore forearms? A heavy deadlift session maybe, but talk me through what’s fun about that?! Start climbing a few times a week and your whole body will be worked every single time. Your core will become super strong without straining your back and neck with crunches and sit ups. Your arms, shoulders and back will get seriously toned over time without lifting a single dumbbell, and your legs will be stronger in much greater ranges of movement than the limitations of squatting with weights.
If you’re not flexible when you start out climbing, then you soon will be after a few months of reaching for seemingly unreachable holds. And if that doesn’t do it, then you’ll find yourself working on your flexibility outside of your climbing hours. Yoga is an excellent complement to climbing and will really help with improving your flexibility as your climbing progresses.
3Improved stamina and endurance
It’s incredible how, when your life depends upon it (at least that‘s how I feel sometimes when I’m climbing), you have the ability to muster some super-human strength from somewhere to make that extra push, or leap for that out of reach hold. When you’re in a tricky spot on the rock, you’ll always hold on longer and tighter than you think you can. And the more you climb, the better your super-human abilities become. You can hold on for longer, climb higher and just be better!
4It burns calories
And lots of them! Oh yes, you heard me right. Burning calories can actually be really fun after all. Of course it depends on your height, weight, age and gender, but average men can burn up to 899kcal per hour of average intensity rock climbing. And average women up to 774kcal per hour. Now that doesn’t count all the time you spend tying knots, belaying your partner, chalking up your hands and chatting about how you would have nailed it if you hadn’t paused for so long at the crux. That’s actual time climbing on the rock. Just so you know.
As your core slowly turns into a chiselled rack of awesomeness, your ability to keep balanced on the rock will start to become more impressive too. The degree of control climbers have over each muscle in the body will enable you to stay centred and stable in even the most volatile of positions you may find yourself in.
6Improved cardio fitness
Yep that’t right. It’s not just your muscles that get a free gym workout. When every muscle in your body is working at its absolute limit to stay pinned to the rock and then progress in an upward direction against gravity, something in your body will be working overtime to help ease things. Good old oxygen saves the day and gets pumped as quickly as possible to where it’s needed – your muscles. And of course all that extra exertion can leave your lungs working overtime to take on more oxygen. Right there you have a cardio workout without even realising!
7It has low impact on your body
Sure, climbers get injured from time to time – just like in any sport. But what’s different about climbing is the lack of heavy pounding your body goes through. There’s very little repetition in the body’s movements like in running or weightlifting, and all the movements that do happen are relatively low impact. There may be the occasional shoulder-wrenching single-arm dyno, and taking unexpected falls can be a little aggressive on the bones too. But those movements don’t happen often so the impact on the body is negligible.
Mental benefits of rock climbing
I’ve played lots of team sports over the years and find that having other people to let down, or succeed for, is a huge motivator in making sure I’m giving my best in training and competition. Being part of a team and competing against other teams has loads of mental benefits that translate over into everyday life. But where climbing differs is the focus it puts on you and only you. When you’re up on the wall, your only competition is you. Your only reason for being up there is because of you. Your only motivator to succeed is you. And to get to the stage where you are able to muster that level of dedication, drive, focus and motivation to simply get to the top of a climb, ends up being a bi-product of climbing for many, and not necessarily a conscious decision or purposeful change. It just kind of happens. These points highlight just how good climbing is for your mental health:
8It focuses the mind
There’s nothing like the idea of falling off a 30 foot cliff to focus the mind (no matter how safely you will fall). As human beings we are innately nervous of falling off high things. Thank goodness for our instincts! For many, a huge part of the draw to climbing is to conquer this fear. And some will manage it. But for the rest of us, the best we can do is to focus our minds wholly and totally on our bodies climbing up the rock in a controlled manner. That underlying fear is a very effective exercise in channelling your focus to the task in hand, and it happens very easily without a conscious decision.
Many climbers become so focussed when climbing that their connection with the wall and their own self-awareness puts them into what many climbers and athletes describe as a flow state. Meditation in its traditional form can be really hard to master and many people who struggle with it have found excellent results from the doing side of meditation, such as climbing. Yoga is another great example of a highly effective physical way to meditate.
So with all that mental focus that you just can’t help but buy into, it really is no wonder that climbing can also be an excellent reliever of stress. But it’s not just the meditative effects that help to combat the cortisol. The physical exertion also does wonders at getting the endorphins going, making us feel better, and thus reducing our stress levels.
11Promotes ambition and personal challenge
I don’t think I’ve ever met a climber that has reached a level of climbing that they are happy with without always wanting to try something harder or different or to improve their technique. Even the most non-competitive people I know just want more after conquering a climbing challenge. Perhaps it’s the highly measurable way in which success in climbing is reached. And the fact that the next challenge is right there waiting on the route next to you. It can be highly addictive.
Many people describe climbing as an art. I like to think of it as a form of dancing. Some climbs have a set way to do them, and by doing them over and over you’ll solve the problems of which foot to put where and when, how much weight to shift up using which parts of your body. And once you’ve figured out the moves, they will flow, just as a dancer pieces together a choreographed dance. And then there are the freestyle climbs that can be done any which way you choose. You get to use your body to its strengths and figure out which movements work with the rhythm of the climb. Just like letting loose on the dance floor! And before you know it, you’ve gotten your problem solving skills working, as well as unleashing some unexpected self-expression. Who knew the two could possibly go hand in hand?!
Most of the time I walk away from a climbing session feeling like I can take on the world. Don’t get me wrong, there are also times when I never want to climb again – luckily they don’t come around very often! But the frequency of great times on the wall, of constantly improving, of succeeding at challenges that I never thought possible, of finally solving that bouldering problem or being strong enough to pull up to that last tough hold, just makes you feel really great about yourself. The good climbing days make you realise that everyday challenges can be overcome with some hard work. And that by believing in yourself, you’ve already jumped the first hurdle.
Other great benefits of rock climbing
So you’re already the picture of perfect health and the most focussed and motivated person on the planet. You don’t need to add climbing rocks to your already very dedicated and ambitious lifestyle. Well I’ve not finished yet. In fact the next lot of benefits of climbing are the ones that keep most climbers coming back for more, time and time again:
14You go to amazing places
You will seriously struggle to find a climbing crag that isn’t surrounded by the beauty of nature in some form or another. And most great crags take a fun journey of exploration to get to. Being a climber, even with little experience, will take you places you would never go if it wasn’t for your desire to get high on the rock.
15You see the world from a different perspective
Sometimes a climb will pop you up out of the forest, or elevate you enough to see over into the next valley. Some crags loom over meanders in rivers that you would only get to see on a map, or over towns and cities. Climbing rocks gives you unique opportunities to see familiar places from a totally new angle, and one that most non-climbers will never get the chance to see. So remember to enjoy the view – it’s the perfect excuse for a rest!
16It’s super sociable
If you climb regularly, either at the gym or outside at your local crag, you will struggle not to become part of the climbing community. Climbers are always happy to have new people to climb with. Stoked on sharing valuable beta to anyone who’ll listen. Excited for any excuse to get outside, and always keen for a coffee or a beer. Climbers, in general, are a really sociable bunch, who together create an energy that you just want to be a part of and contribute to.
17Climbing improves your communication skills
Aside from all that chatting with your ever-so-sociable climbing pals, your communication skills will be improved a great deal when actually on the wall. You and your belayer need to be 100% clear, concise and unambiguous when giving each other instructions. Your life depends upon it. And as a belayer, you will learn very quickly to read the visual cues given to you by your climber in order to support them safely and efficiently up and down the climb.
18It promotes trust
It can sometimes be a little unnerving when you are first belayed by a stranger. Good communication is key from the get go. And then it’s just down to you putting your total trust in them. The more you climb, the easier handing over your life into someone else’s hands becomes. And we can all use a little more trust in our lives, if only in ourselves.
19You can do it all year round
Providing you have access to a climbing gym throughout the winter, climbing is a sport that can be done all year round. And if you’re prepared to travel for it, then you can always just avoid the winter altogether and follow the sun! But even if you can’t get to the climbing gym regularly, there are loads of ways you can keep your strength and climbing fitness up at home: install a pull up bar or training board; use a finger strengthener; build a bouldering wall in your garage!
20You can do it until you’re old
Some may disagree on this one, and I might too when I reach 65 and realise I can’t do what I used to be able to. But climbing is one of the few sports that doesn’t have a negative impact on your body by doing it for years and years. And the physical attributes gained from climbing are all things that one would aspire to keep on top of as one grows older. It’s a little like surfing in that respect. Sure, I don’t expect to still be working the same routes as when I’m at full strength, but the joy of climbing can be gained in so many ways, aside from just climbing harder and harder stuff, that to me, it’s a no-brainer that I will still be climbing for as long as I can still walk.