How to Improve at Indoor Rock Climbing

Author: Various

Ice Climbing Climbing Wall CloseUp Once you are beyond being a beginner in indoor rock climbing, it is time to move onto becoming a "great" indoor rock climber. Here are some suggestions for those of you wanting to make this your regular sporting activity. It assumes that you have already tackled a few beginner walls and feel up to more intermediate rock climbing pursuits.


Find a good rock climbing gym. As a beginner you may have tried various locations. Moving on to regularizing your climbing will probably mean settling for one or two regular locations for a time in order to methodically conquer a series of increasing skill-level climbing routes. Your experience will be affected by the quality of your climbing gym. Scout out local operations in fitness gyms, rock climbing gyms and outdoor walls. Select those that appeal to you and where the staff appear knowledgeable and helpful. Also ascertain the quality and type of equipment available. Lastly, don't forget the other people: Climbing

is a social sport in some ways, and getting a good partner is an important part of progressing to harder routes and eventually climbing outside.

Increase your strength.

Climbing is both strength and technique dependent. If you do not have a minimum level of strength already, or you are not maintaining the strength that you do have, it may be important to do strengthening exercises. The following list simply provides explanations of the areas on which to concentrate and the types of exercises that may be helpful. Seek professional advice or use a good exercise/climbing book to hone down the exact content of the exercises that will suit your needs

  • Arms: Improve your grip by doing exercises that will strengthen the arms and wrist/forearm region. Use a squeeze ball regularly to strengthen the wrist and hand region; lift small weights frontwards and sideways to improve overall arm strength. Try static hangs on a bar to increase your capacity to do static hangs while climbing. Better to discover on the low bar than a high wall that you can't do this!

  • Shoulders and upper back: Having this area of your body be strong is an important part of being a great rock climber. These muscle groups will help you lock off on holds as you reach for the next one on steeper terrain. Pull-up exercises, exercise elastics, weights and simple arm rotations are all ideal strengthening exercises for shoulders. As you become stronger, look into more sport-specific training exercises like hang boards, campus boards, and system boards.

  • Midsection (or "core"): This is a vital link in the climbing movement chain. Without strong abdominal and lower back muscles, your legs cannot communicate the force they are producing effectively to your arms, and vice versa. The main key here is producing a flexible and stable core. This may be hard to produce, but get creative! Hanging leg raises, dumbbell side bends, and back bridges are all great exercises to strengthen these muscles in a way that is useful for climbing.

  • Legs: Legs do more work climbing than some give them credit for, mostly by putting us in a body position to better use the holds available. Don't overdo the leg exercises, just ensure that they are flexible and strong. A focus on single-leg strength is encouraged, like lunges, one-legged squats, etc.

  • Watch your growth. With all these exercises, don't go overboard and develop bodybuilder-sized muscles. Climbers don't need the extra weight; climbers need strength and flexibility. Your exercise routine should be regular and short in duration; enough to build strength only. Focus on using enough load that you can do only 8 reps or less of any exercise you choose. Ultimately, for the beginning and intermediate climber, the best physical conditioning for climbing is Climbing.

  • Limber up. Before you even put a foot on that wall, do a quick warm-up. You want to raise your body temperature so that blood starts flowing through all your muscles. Remember, extremities are harder to warm up (that means your hands and fingers!) than your legs, for example. This means that once you jump on your first climb, it should be easy enough that you could climb it blindfolded. Slowly ramp up the difficulty until you are on routes that challenge you.

  • Ensure adequate fluid intake at all times. Drink water before the climb and between climbs. Always replace the fluids you lose through sweating from the climb. Your hands and feet are the first parts of your body to start cramping when you are dehydrated.

  • 8 foot bubble: The only things that matter while climbing almost always reside within a 8 ft radius of you. Everything else (outside noise, the climber next to you, work troubles) won't help you climb, so just forget them for the time you are on a route.

  • Take the steady road to increasing your climbing skills. If you go for the hard climbs before you're ready, there's a higher chance of injury, for example, straining a shoulder muscle or even popping finger tendons. Assuming you have already tackled the easier climbs, take on the more advanced skill level walls. Ask staff for the suggested progression. Sometimes it can take several weeks of continued attempts to tackle some routes - be patient and enjoy the challenge for its own sake. This is all part of what makes indoor rock climbing an enjoyable way to keep fit.

  • Care for your body's needs after the climb. Climbing is strenuous when undertaken as a regular and prolonged activity. Ensure that your body has a good fuel-up by eating complex carbohydrates after the climb. Some people find a dark chocolate boost very helpful also. Realize that climbing, like some other sports, can have a mental toll. IF you have an off-day where nothing seems to go right, remember that it's just one day-one of many!

  • Join a climbing club or group. If you have become an enthusiast, join with other enthusiasts. You'll get motivation, friendships and regular activities. Also consider joining up with online climbing forums that will provide you with useful tips, gear exchanges and contact details. Even if you don't feel like joining a club, at least mingle with the other climbers after a climb at the gym. Debrief on the problems and highs of your climbs.

  • Keep your weight over your feet as you climb, doing so will assist your body in going up. This may mean bringing your hips closer to the wall. The goal here is to minimize the amount of body mass you have pulling you backwards off the wall; think of a line drawn up the side of your body, cutting you into a front half and a back half. This line extends from where your feet touch the holds you are on and goes all the way up through your head. As you climb, shoot to have an equal amount of mass in front and behind of this line.

  • When you find good rests, use them! Usually this means that you can have one limb off the wall, so you can rest it. Sometimes you can find a combination of body position and footholds where you can let go with both hands! Take advantage of these. Learning how to rest is an important part of developing good technique.

  • When beginners climb, they have the tendency to look up constantly, refrain from doing this too much it will make it difficult for you to choose your foot holds as you climb. Look up AND down to ensure that you are using every hold to its maximum potential. Most often, when you feel like you can make the next move up, look down at your feet; you may have missed a hold!

  • Leave the wall. Once you have become competent in the controlled environment of indoor rock climbing, get bold. Leave the wall and try outdoor rock climbing. Start small and see how it feels. If you like it, it'll open up a whole new sport for you.


  • Always climb with a belay buddy.

  • Complex carbohydrates include fruit, pasta, potatoes, rice etc.

  • If you get stuck mentally about your climbing ability, keep on thinking: "I can do this, I can do this" and eventually you will get there. Sometimes you have to talk yourself through the hard parts and be your own coach; that is just the nature of a sport like climbing. If you feel fear, it is important to assess whether this is a fear arising from lack of enough skills or whether it is caused by a new terrain, poor equipment or just a "bad day". Each of these sources of fear can be addressed and remedied. Fear of heights, however, is much harder to address and if this is a sudden issue for you, seek professional assistance to address the phobia.

  • Hire a personal trainer if you want specialized attention and help. This is really no different than hiring a personal fitness trainer; instead of gym exercises, you are doing climbing exercises and still receiving the same fit, toned and streamlined body.

  • Visualize your route before you start. Climbing is just as much mental as it is physical and knowing where you will go beforehand will help improve your climb.

  • Use your legs more than you use your arms, if at all possible. Your legs are far stronger than your arms, which will save you lots and lots of energy and prevent your arms from getting pumped. Also, try to have at least 3 points of contact on the wall at all times

  • Relax. Don't rush. Take your time and focus on doing the routes correctly with good form, rather than quickly.

  • Don't stress if you don't get it the first time. You will eventually achieve it, and you will be all the more proud.

  • If you can't seem to get a route, ask the climbing staff at the centre, most of them will be happy to help you.

  • If you really get stuck, go to one that is a little easier, work on that one, then work your way up.

  • Ask someone that has climbed that wall where the tricky sections are.

  • If you are still young enough to get away with climbing the walls at your local park then keep on trying new ways to get to the top.

  • Breath right. Breathe from your belly, or more properly, your diaphragm. It will keep you more relaxed.

  • Work on your balance. Balance is very important when climbing as you need to be aware of your centre of gravity etc. A slackline is a great way to improve your balance and there are many exercises you can do it to combine the training for balance and strength.


  • Start off slowly if you are afraid of heights. Only go as high as you are comfortable, and slowly work on going a bit higher each climb. Remember that with a proper setup and halfway competent belayer you are incredibly safe. Trust your equipment. The weakest piece can support almost 2,500 lbs if used properly, and about 1,000 lbs if not. Falling injuries are rare in a gym, and seem to occur mostly when inexperienced climbers try to race each other.

  • If you get on a route that’s too hard for you, don't keep trying if there’s no way you’ll be able to do it; if you're hanging on the rope for longer than you’re climbing, get off. It will only frustrate your belayer and the people who are waiting to do the route. Move to a different route and come back to it once you have improved.

  • Treat injuries with respect. If you push yourself hard and pull a muscle, give it time to heal before you start working yourself again.

Things You'll Need

  • Harness. Your life depends on it. You can often rent a harness at the climbing venue, but it's safer, more comfortable and more convenient to buy your own.

  • Carabiner and rappel-belay device. These are sometimes provided by the venue.

  • Belay certification. Every venue has its own testing and certification requirements.

  • Climbing shoes. Wearing the right shoes can really boost your performance. Rock climbing shoes may look funny, but you won't believe the difference if you've been climbing in sneakers. Even if you've been renting shoes at the gym, you'll notice a significant improvement in your ability after you break in your own pair. It's essential to get good advice on fit and stiffness so seek advice from knowledgeable climbers or salespeople.

  • Clothing. Almost anything goes as long as it gives you a full range of motion. Loose or stretchy is good; tight jeans are not. You'll be indoors and you'll be getting warm from the exercise, so don't wear anything that will overheat you. You can buy fashionable rock climbing clothes in outdoors stores, or just wear workout duds.

  • Chalk bag, with loose chalk or a chalk ball. Sweaty fingers are slippery.

  • Pre-selected venue with various levels of challenging walls

  • Water or sports drink

  • Tote bag for your gear

  • Climbing skills books

  • Pre-climb preparation

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Sources and Citations

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