2

votes

Is rock climbing complete exercise?

Answered on September 12, 2014
Created January 07, 2012 at 11:38 AM

Hey,

I love rock climbing, and recently I have been climbing (bouldering, actually) indoors 2-3 times a week, for about 2 hours each time. I've cancelled my gym subscription because going to the gym is just so much more boring than climbing (and paying for both seems a bit excessive).

Climbing indoors involves 30 second to 5 minute bursts of activity followed by a short rest, then more climbing. It gets your blood pumping and works a lot of different muscles.

My goals are to be as healthy as I can be, and to be as good at climbing as I can be. If those goals would ever conflict, the first one would take priority.

I do not have any specific weight-loss goals (I have some fat to lose, but it's going all by itself since eating Paleo), and I do not have any specific muscle mass goals either, I am interested in being strong so I can climb better, but I don't care about getting bigger muscles.

What do you think, is climbing a complete workout or should I incorporate some other forms of exercise for optimum health?

Just so it's clear, I'm not asking if you can sit around all day every day and then climb and be optimally healthy, I take it as read that a generally active lifestyle is a necessity and does not count as "exercise".

Thanks for reading my rambling post!

1e9164a5a54003ac247d49c574dc7bfc

(396)

on September 01, 2012
at 03:16 AM

I respectfully disagree. It in no way takes away from your climbing, if your goal is to improve and become more fit, and to balance out your muscles. Even if you're top-roping or leading, doing 10 of anything, except maybe pistols or HSPU would take less than a minute. Otherwise, who cares what anyone else thinks? You're there for a reason, so are they, you each do your thing. Everyone enjoys and goes home happy.

C45d7e96acd83d3a6f58193dbc140e86

on August 28, 2012
at 07:44 PM

Doing your recommendations might make someone slighly more fit, but will become a hindrance to their actual climbing. When climbing, focus on climbing. Save the other stuff for another time.

C45d7e96acd83d3a6f58193dbc140e86

on August 28, 2012
at 07:42 PM

If improving your climbing is the goal, then climb a lot. Doing some weekly HIIT, or sprinting would be good for overall health, and won't hurt your climbing ability also. But spend the majority of your "exercising" time climbing. doing pullups or weightlifting will not help you climb better.

A9808a71e03d9b9602aae53622c64d70

(123)

on August 28, 2012
at 09:05 AM

Thanks! I'm now mainly interested in improving climbing, and to be as healthy as possible (note I use the word healthy, rather than "strong", or "fit").

1e9164a5a54003ac247d49c574dc7bfc

(396)

on July 10, 2012
at 03:32 PM

I second what Dangph said, that is something I'll do too. Also, a lot of my friends will put on their backpacks and get on the stair master for 30minutes to an hour post climbing. This simulates carrying packs up trails and such, carrying equipment in, hiking in general.

1e9164a5a54003ac247d49c574dc7bfc

(396)

on July 10, 2012
at 03:30 PM

I disagree. :) I tell my classes, "Climbing should be 90% failure. If you're not failing, you're not climbing hard enough." That means, yes, as you improve, things should get easier, but that doesn't mean you should just keep climbing V2s or V3s, if those are easy try V4s and V5s, and so on. Just like with CrossFit, as you improve, you push harder, go faster, lift heavier, move quicker. With climbing, you pick longer routes, you pick routes that have difficult aspects for you (slopers, over-hangs, crimps, cracks), that are more difficult in rating. Aka, you get stronger, climb harder.

1e9164a5a54003ac247d49c574dc7bfc

(396)

on July 10, 2012
at 03:26 PM

Bouldering in general is a more phsyical sport, in terms of power, than regular top roping, or even sport climbing. Trad is a whole other beast, though.

5662d1262516ccbd70249e7aeaf58901

(681)

on May 28, 2012
at 03:43 AM

I often end up a climbing session by doing laps. (That is, pick an easy climb and do it many times in a row.) That gets my heart going.

667f6c030b0245d71d8ef50c72b097dc

(15976)

on January 29, 2012
at 02:31 AM

One great thing about climbing of any sort (especially for boulderin though) is that it's very slanted towards pulling, whereas much of "exercise" in the US is all about pushing. Climbing is great, like pull ups

724ba4f39f7bbea7f74b45c0a79615f2

(1968)

on January 09, 2012
at 04:49 PM

Actually, I sort of agree with this. I think you plateau, after which you don't get stronger by climbing, but you maintain your muscles and you become a better problem-solver, i.e. there's a point at which the difference between easy and hard climbs for you is no longer muscle/physique-related, but is about being most efficient and being good at puzzles (plus having killer calluses on your hands and the Hulk-type thumb strength). But, if you're not looking to bulk up or anything, the muscles you can maintain at that level of climbing are still pretty sweet.

724ba4f39f7bbea7f74b45c0a79615f2

(1968)

on January 07, 2012
at 02:19 PM

Yeah, I think I"m lucky that I live just that far from work. I don't get a runner's high until about mile 3, and anything more than 4 is too much of a time suck (currently it only adds about 30 min. over public transit).

A9808a71e03d9b9602aae53622c64d70

(123)

on January 07, 2012
at 01:46 PM

Hey Krisha, thanks for the answer. I know what you mean - climbing never gets your heart going like running does. I walk quite a lot (not as much as you - kudos for walking 4 miles to work!), and find that gives me the kind of "base load" of activity that I need to keep me happy and focused. I also go mountain biking (a lot in the summer, not so much in the winter).

724ba4f39f7bbea7f74b45c0a79615f2

(1968)

on January 07, 2012
at 01:31 PM

I think that's where bouldering is different, because they're short difficult bursts that tend to include more pull-ups/smearing/dyno, so it's more arm-heavy.

A9808a71e03d9b9602aae53622c64d70

(123)

on January 07, 2012
at 12:22 PM

Excellent, thanks for your answer. That's what I thought, but a little knowledge is a dangerous thing and I've probably been reading too many paleo/exercise blogs which make you second guess every aspect of your diet and your exercise regime!

A9808a71e03d9b9602aae53622c64d70

(123)

on January 07, 2012
at 12:20 PM

Thanks, I climb on overhangs all the time - there are many routes where your arms provide most of the movement. My legs are never really tired after a climbing session, my arms (especially forearms) almost always are.

Dfada6fe4982ab3b7557172f20632da8

(5332)

on January 07, 2012
at 12:12 PM

Legs are bigger though, they should be used more. And how much more upper body strength do you need than to be able to climb? I guess you could have more fun on the boulders with some artificial bodyweight exercises.

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8 Answers

3
Dfada6fe4982ab3b7557172f20632da8

(5332)

on January 07, 2012
at 11:46 AM

I'm sure there's a theoretically better and more complicated exercise regime, but the fact that you enjoy it, are motivated to improve at it etc. is more important. Plus it is great all body, intense burst, classically paleo activity.

Of course taking it outside will add an extra element, particularly as part of gret outdoor expeditions. I'd be tempted to say some sport that gets some sprinting in would be good, but from a health perspective I'm pretty sure you'll be doing perfectly fine with the climbing.

More specifically, you have strength, upper, lower and core, and aerobic stress along with mental challenge. Pretty tiring and hard to maintain intensity but you can vary your routes. If anything it may be too good!

A9808a71e03d9b9602aae53622c64d70

(123)

on January 07, 2012
at 12:22 PM

Excellent, thanks for your answer. That's what I thought, but a little knowledge is a dangerous thing and I've probably been reading too many paleo/exercise blogs which make you second guess every aspect of your diet and your exercise regime!

2
724ba4f39f7bbea7f74b45c0a79615f2

on January 07, 2012
at 01:37 PM

Hey, I recently did the same thing (quit my old gym so I could climb more).

I love climbing, but I can't do it as often as I used to be able to run (I could run every day, 6 days a week, climbing I really can only do 2-3x a week both for time reasons and also because I really need recovery days).

Also, I can't really work up a sweat climbing. I get tired, trust me, and I get the muscle-building endorphin WOOHOO feeling, but I don't really get a good heartrate going, at least not for more than like 4-5 minutes at a time. I don't think that matters per se, but I'm a runner and I"m used to getting my runner's high and I find it very therapeutic for my mood. So instead of running + climbing, I just walk to work (4 miles) 4-5x/week and find that it's equivalent, mood-wise, to running about 3 miles, and doesn't require a gym membership or huffing and puffing in subzero winter temperatures.

Anyway, so if you get any of those sort of psychic/neurochemical benefits from cardio, then I'd go ahead and add some in. Otherwise I think climbing's a wonderful sport and works a whole array of muscles and is really in line with the idea of both play and functional exercise. You're not chasing ghosts on a treadmill, you're throwing your body around and scaling walls. Awesome!

724ba4f39f7bbea7f74b45c0a79615f2

(1968)

on January 07, 2012
at 02:19 PM

Yeah, I think I"m lucky that I live just that far from work. I don't get a runner's high until about mile 3, and anything more than 4 is too much of a time suck (currently it only adds about 30 min. over public transit).

A9808a71e03d9b9602aae53622c64d70

(123)

on January 07, 2012
at 01:46 PM

Hey Krisha, thanks for the answer. I know what you mean - climbing never gets your heart going like running does. I walk quite a lot (not as much as you - kudos for walking 4 miles to work!), and find that gives me the kind of "base load" of activity that I need to keep me happy and focused. I also go mountain biking (a lot in the summer, not so much in the winter).

5662d1262516ccbd70249e7aeaf58901

(681)

on May 28, 2012
at 03:43 AM

I often end up a climbing session by doing laps. (That is, pick an easy climb and do it many times in a row.) That gets my heart going.

1e9164a5a54003ac247d49c574dc7bfc

(396)

on July 10, 2012
at 03:32 PM

I second what Dangph said, that is something I'll do too. Also, a lot of my friends will put on their backpacks and get on the stair master for 30minutes to an hour post climbing. This simulates carrying packs up trails and such, carrying equipment in, hiking in general.

1
1e9164a5a54003ac247d49c574dc7bfc

on July 10, 2012
at 03:24 PM

Yo,

I'm a fellow climber. An instructor in fact. One thing I recommend, that I do, pick a simple body weight exercise each time you go into the gym to practice (don't do this when you go outside, that's rarer and you should save your energy). Each time you complete a problem, whether new or old, warming up, in the middle or at the end, do a set of 10 or 20 or 30.

For instance, I'll go in, warm up on two or three easy problems, which means I've also done, say 20-30 pushups, or 20-30 pistols-or 20-30m of handstand walks, or 20-30 sit ups. It's just a way to add in a little bit more work with your workout already. Helps build up muscle too.

I'd make sure pushups are in there at least every week, as your chest gets worked, but in a weird way with climbing, a lot of wide grip, hold out movements. The emphasis on the chest will balance you out, as your back will be getting built up a lot, helping with posture and overall strength, same with handstands, or HSPU.

Cheers, Jared

C45d7e96acd83d3a6f58193dbc140e86

on August 28, 2012
at 07:44 PM

Doing your recommendations might make someone slighly more fit, but will become a hindrance to their actual climbing. When climbing, focus on climbing. Save the other stuff for another time.

1e9164a5a54003ac247d49c574dc7bfc

(396)

on September 01, 2012
at 03:16 AM

I respectfully disagree. It in no way takes away from your climbing, if your goal is to improve and become more fit, and to balance out your muscles. Even if you're top-roping or leading, doing 10 of anything, except maybe pistols or HSPU would take less than a minute. Otherwise, who cares what anyone else thinks? You're there for a reason, so are they, you each do your thing. Everyone enjoys and goes home happy.

1
C45d7e96acd83d3a6f58193dbc140e86

on July 10, 2012
at 02:01 PM

Wow, so much to comment on. I have been climbing for 10+ yrs, and can say emphatically that climbing will develop a fair amount of muscle, and depending on your goals, you might or might not want to supplement with weight training. I would definitely do some antagonist muscle exercises, such as pushups, and also do pronators and supinators with your forearms. As far as cardio benefit, My heartrate can easily hit 160+ during a single pitch, and has hit 177 on a V8 boulder problem. Is your goal to just maintain fitness or improve climbing. I can give individual suggestions for whatever your actual goal is.

A9808a71e03d9b9602aae53622c64d70

(123)

on August 28, 2012
at 09:05 AM

Thanks! I'm now mainly interested in improving climbing, and to be as healthy as possible (note I use the word healthy, rather than "strong", or "fit").

C45d7e96acd83d3a6f58193dbc140e86

on August 28, 2012
at 07:42 PM

If improving your climbing is the goal, then climb a lot. Doing some weekly HIIT, or sprinting would be good for overall health, and won't hurt your climbing ability also. But spend the majority of your "exercising" time climbing. doing pullups or weightlifting will not help you climb better.

1
D06d9059ea563ed9551bb67aad3a44e8

(10)

on January 28, 2012
at 11:42 PM

I did the same thing as you about 3 years ago with giving up the gym membership and I now only use the climbing gym for my training and fitness. I too only boulder although I did get into the sport by climbing routes, I find that I prefer the social and problem solving aspects of bouldering a lot more.

Personally, I do think that bouldering gives me enough strength and cardio workouts. You just need to tailor it to suit your session. For instance, bouldering walls aren???t usually very high or long, so traversing in a circular fashion on an overhanging wall (Maybe < 45 degrees overhanging) for 30 ??? 50 moves definitely gets my heart rate up and improves my endurance. I do this just by jumping on a wall and climbing up, traverse to the right, downclimb, traverse to the left, repeat. Doing 8-10 moves on a roof climb helps with upper body and core strength.

One thing though, and this became more apparent to me when I went back to school to be a personal trainer, is that you cannot ignore or forget about your antagonist muscles (in this case your pushing muscles) i.e. pecs, triceps, forearm extensors. Just primarily due to the fact that climbing/bouldering focuses so much on the pulling muscles that it is quite easy to become imbalanced in your pulling/pushing muscles, leading to injury. I try to do pushups, tricep dips and reverse forearm curls to balance out the training whenever I can when I???m not climbing... Hope that helps.

1
510bdda8988ed0d4b0ec0b738b4edb73

(20898)

on January 07, 2012
at 03:18 PM

I use climbing as a supplement. Especially for mobility and stretching muscles while under tension. I climbed for a lot of years before I did any weight training and I only got so good. After I got strong my climbing got a whole lot better. My technique is still pretty lacking; however, I can keep up with most of the good climbers in the gym just because I'm strong. They do the climb all pretty and efficient, I do it ugly but still make it to the top. So I'd say climbing is a good exercise but if that's all you do, you're only going to get do strong. In fact if all you do is climb, you'll get really good and efficient at climbing and you will get less actual exercise out of it. It's still really fun and there are lot worse things you could be doing.

724ba4f39f7bbea7f74b45c0a79615f2

(1968)

on January 09, 2012
at 04:49 PM

Actually, I sort of agree with this. I think you plateau, after which you don't get stronger by climbing, but you maintain your muscles and you become a better problem-solver, i.e. there's a point at which the difference between easy and hard climbs for you is no longer muscle/physique-related, but is about being most efficient and being good at puzzles (plus having killer calluses on your hands and the Hulk-type thumb strength). But, if you're not looking to bulk up or anything, the muscles you can maintain at that level of climbing are still pretty sweet.

1e9164a5a54003ac247d49c574dc7bfc

(396)

on July 10, 2012
at 03:30 PM

I disagree. :) I tell my classes, "Climbing should be 90% failure. If you're not failing, you're not climbing hard enough." That means, yes, as you improve, things should get easier, but that doesn't mean you should just keep climbing V2s or V3s, if those are easy try V4s and V5s, and so on. Just like with CrossFit, as you improve, you push harder, go faster, lift heavier, move quicker. With climbing, you pick longer routes, you pick routes that have difficult aspects for you (slopers, over-hangs, crimps, cracks), that are more difficult in rating. Aka, you get stronger, climb harder.

0
3d0093dd591d9b88db74d7bba970dea0

(222)

on July 10, 2012
at 03:39 PM

It depends on ones goals, too.

Increased body weight comes at great cost in climbing since it is difficult to strengthen fingers in proportion, and fingers typically become the limiting strength factor in climbing. So I think it is kind counterproductive to try to get huge and try to climb. It isn't impossible but you are making each harder by the other.

That said, climbing is such an amazingly comprehensive full body exercise that I think it is sufficient for most goals. One can become a lot stronger without necessarily becoming huge.

But I'm kind of a noob. Just did my first V4 recently.

Shout out to Planet Rock, Ann Arbor, where I climb. - Allan

0
6b8d12fc3e43179f9ae1765a4d1a9dc2

(5914)

on January 07, 2012
at 12:07 PM

From the climbing that I have done, and discussions with an instructor mate of mine, rock climbing is actually not as good upper body exercise as people would assume. Unless you are doing climbs with overhangs, you use your legs a lot more than you use your upper body. that being said it is still good exercise and if you like it, keep doing it. I would do some weights as well, but I love doing weights.

724ba4f39f7bbea7f74b45c0a79615f2

(1968)

on January 07, 2012
at 01:31 PM

I think that's where bouldering is different, because they're short difficult bursts that tend to include more pull-ups/smearing/dyno, so it's more arm-heavy.

A9808a71e03d9b9602aae53622c64d70

(123)

on January 07, 2012
at 12:20 PM

Thanks, I climb on overhangs all the time - there are many routes where your arms provide most of the movement. My legs are never really tired after a climbing session, my arms (especially forearms) almost always are.

Dfada6fe4982ab3b7557172f20632da8

(5332)

on January 07, 2012
at 12:12 PM

Legs are bigger though, they should be used more. And how much more upper body strength do you need than to be able to climb? I guess you could have more fun on the boulders with some artificial bodyweight exercises.

1e9164a5a54003ac247d49c574dc7bfc

(396)

on July 10, 2012
at 03:26 PM

Bouldering in general is a more phsyical sport, in terms of power, than regular top roping, or even sport climbing. Trad is a whole other beast, though.

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