Outdoor Rock Climbing: Getting Fit Can Be Fun

by: Evan Small

When you think of exercise it’s easy to imagine racks of weights, tight spaces and treadmills galore. The grunting sounds of those around you and the always-occupied equipment are encouragement to take the workout elsewhere…to the couch. Your only hope of staying at the gym is the non-existent chance that the next song on your iPod will psych body into completing another set of bench press!

Enter rock climbing as exercise. Outdoor Rock Climbing in its initial form was thought to be reckless and a form of rebellion against authority. In climbing gyms across America today, rock climbing is being sought after for a total body workout that also challenges psychological aspects of its participants. Climbers are being trained at younger and younger ages in climbing gyms with the hopes of competing in climbing competitions and becoming a respected professional in the sport.

These gyms provide a unique experience for all skill levels and can be tailored to your desired experience. It’s like doing yoga on a climbing wall! Climbing gyms have a certain culture that is extremely supportive and inclusive, something that is hard to come by in a fitness facility unless you attend a body pump or Zumba class. If you are looking to put the dumbbells down and pickup something adventurous to challenge all muscles of the body, rock climbing is your answer!


An initial inspection of rock climbing leads you to believe it is 100% an upper body exercise. Upon one visit to the climbing gym, most climbers realize they have to use their legs equally as much as there arms. Large muscles in the calves and hamstrings are under constant contraction during a climb. Because foot and handholds are placed in a certain pattern, climbing offers a balanced exercise and forces you to engage potentially weak muscles that could be avoided in a typical fitness facility. Depending on the climbing routes length and the break taken between climbs, you can obtain a cardio workout as well. Studies have shown that experience climbers have similar body fat content to individuals who participate in regular aerobic exercise such as running or cycling (Macdonald & Callender, 2011)

Participation in rock climbing, especially in gym settings, has grown exponentially in recent years. In 2020, the Olympics will host climbing for the first time. Competitions such as USA Climbing Nationals, Climbing World Cups and climbing’s future in the Olympics are a display of what climbing can do for the body given extreme dedication to the sport.


If going to the gym to lift weights is a burden, try going to the local climbing gym such as Threshold Climbing + Fitness set to open April 1st of this year. Challenge your mind and get a total body workout in, all while having fun and being adventurous!


Macdonald, J. H., PhD., & Callender, N., B.Sc. (2011). Athletic profile of highly accomplished boulderers. Wilderness & Environmental Medicine, 22(2), 140-143. Retrieved from https://vortex3.uco.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com.vortex3.uco.edu/docview/876012838?accountid=14516


Assistant Professor, Kinesiology and Health Studies department