Climbing just may be the fitness craze of the future. You can do it outside, inside, or even in your garage or basement. It has the potential to work nearly every muscle in your body, provides great cardio, and improves balance and coordination. It’s low-impact—almost no-impact. And as big as it’s gotten in recent years, its popularity may climb even higher. Sport climbing (and its close cousin bouldering) are set to become Olympic sports at the 2020 Games in Tokyo.
But maybe the best thing about climbing is that it’s easy to get started. As a workout, it’s not as extreme as you might think. There’s not much special equipment needed. And if you climb with ropes and a harness to start out, you can even get an assist when you need it.
Knowing some basic techniques can help you have more success with your early attempts. You may feel more confident starting at an indoor climbing facility where the climbs are more predictable and you have access to professional equipment and spotters.
When you bend your arms while climbing, the muscles in your arms have to give everything they’ve got just to support your weight. By keeping your arms straight, you not only distribute your weight onto your frame, you also increase your reach—a great help when in search of your next handholds.
Use Your Feet
If you don’t bend your arms, how are you going to go up? Use your legs, which are much more powerful. Your legs provide the lift, your hands provide balance, and your feet—by and large—supply the stability. Try to have your feet directly below you as much as possible, leave them still once they’re set, and keep your heels low to increase the surface area you have on the wall.
Know Your Grips
Once you realize you’re not meant to be pulling yourself up, you’ll learn you have much more flexibility in your handholds. Know all the different types and learn the strategies for each. Some, like “jugs” or “buckets,” are easy, and provide great opportunities to rest and recuperate (provided you don’t grip too hard). Others, like “pinchers” or “slopers,” take more finesse and more practice.
Whatever grips you practice, make sure you don’t take on more than you’re ready for. Your tendons, ligaments, and even your bones take time to adjust to the strain that can come from more strenuous grips. Listen to your body, and to your climbing mentor. And learn great workouts you can practice outside the gym and off the wall to build up your strength.
Learn the Moves
To go beyond the basics, you’ll need to learn some specific climbing moves. Moves like the back step, the drop knee, and stemming are great for preserving your energy and keeping your center of gravity close to the wall. Flagging, lay-backing, and mantling, on the other hand, are moves to help you make progress when the more straightforward approach isn’t available.
They’re all great ways to increase the complexity and creativity of your climb, and help you use more muscle groups in the process.
Once you’ve mastered the moves, you may be ready to try them out on a real wall. No matter where you are, you can find great bouldering spots—some natural, some human-made. It’s definitely a good idea to go with a professional or experienced climber until you get the hang of climbing out in the real world. And make sure you always climb with a friend, to spot for you and to help you out if you get in a jam.