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A beginner’s guide to indoor climbing and bouldering

Posted by Sophie Saint

It's no secret that climbing is an intense workout that targets the entire body! And as it also provides a heap of fun that you can share with friends, it makes total sense that indoor climbing and bouldering is one of the most popular activities on Move! 

Climbing is an activity that's so fun it doesn't feel like a workout. Your mind is busy focusing on strategies to help you reach the top, distracting you from the physical exertion. You won't realise how long and hard you've been working your body until the DOMS hit the next day, but you won't care as we're confident you'll soon be addicted.

Dealing with your first climb can be intimidating. The ropes, language, skill, and required strength can feel like a lot. So we've created a beginner's guide to indoor climbing and bouldering to help climbing newbies get to grips with the basics. From the physical benefits of climbing to preparing for your first climbing session, we've got you covered - time to embrace your inner spiderman.

A beginner’s guide to indoor climbing and bouldering

What are the benefits of indoor climbing?

There are multiple benefits of indoor climbing, and if outdoor climbing is your goal, it's the perfect way to prepare for crawling all over natural landscapes. The act of climbing uses obvious body parts, such as your legs and arms, and other areas you may not expect, like your core and back.

Depending on the energy and goals of your indoor climbing session, you can adjust the intensity and difficulty. Select the correct route for your level and a climbing centre that can cater for your needs, especially if you're a beginner.

A beginner’s guide to indoor climbing and bouldering

But enough about the body. What can climbing do for your mind?

Climbing and bouldering are incredibly stimulating for the mind as they require technical skills; you're constantly problem solving whilst also taking your movements and available holds into account. You need to think ahead whilst also focusing on how your body moves. It can be a fantastic form of mindfulness in motion!

And another brilliant reason to give climbing a try is the social aspect. It doesn't have to be a solo activity - working with others on climbs can be an effective way to push your boundaries, work as a team and learn from each other! Not to mention the many weekly meet-ups and socials climbing hangars host. You become a part of the community, which can be so motivating. 

Does climbing make you fit? What improvements will I see in my body?

If you regularly climb, you will notice many physical improvements. And as it's low impact, it can be a bit easier on your joints in comparison to HIIT or other high impact workouts. You should see increased muscle tone, especially in the upper body in the biceps, triceps, and shoulders, from using large muscle groups to traverse walls.

Climbers will often find their core muscles tighten and tone due to frequently using their core to stabilise the body and create the necessary body tension, especially on steeper climbing walls.

And it's not just strength you'll acquire! All the reaching and stretching will improve your flexibility and range of motion, which can be great at protecting your joints from strain. It explains why so many climbers do plenty of yoga to help improve their performance.

A beginner’s guide to bouldering

What is bouldering?

Bouldering is a sub-discipline of climbing that requires no ropes and lower climbing walls. But don't be afraid of falling without a harness. There are large crash mats placed below to catch you if you fall.

There are a few advantages of bouldering over climbing as it's more accessible to solo climbers. You don't need to have all the gear, just an idea of how to move your body correctly!

It organically came about as climbers wanted to work on their skills without depending on a partner. You can tackle the bouldering wall alone as you won't need to rely on anyone helping you with your ropes.

Most of the climbing terminology, including movements and hold types, is very similar in bouldering! The benefits of bouldering are that it helps push you to your limits, and you get the opportunity to repeat complex sequences repeatedly to support progress.

What are 'routes' and 'problems' in climbing?

Climbing routes are ways for you to reach the top, but in bouldering, they're referred to as 'problems' as you need to study the route to figure out the best way to climb up. A boulder problem typically has 5 to 10 holds or moves.

Climbing routes use different coloured holds, and each will be a variety of grades and difficulties. Professional route setters set specific routes on the climbing walls with a sequence to ensure climbs are intuitive - climbers can follow up the walls guided by the coloured holds.

How do beginners train for rock climbing

What are the essential climbing terms?

Anchor: an arrangement of gear set up to support the weight of a belay or top rope.

Belay: A method of controlling the climbing rope used to prevent a climber from falling to the ground should they come off the wall. A belay system relies on an anchor, belay device, belayer (the person that manages the rope) and rope.

Flashing: To "flash" a boulder or route is to complete the entire sequence on your first try. Absolute skill!

Gym: An indoor climbing wall.

Matching: Matching is a technique in rock climbing where you bring both your hands or feet to the same hold. To 'complete' a climb, you need to match the final hold of the route.

Volumes: Volumes are mostly either wooden or fibreglass structures built on a rock climbing wall to assist your climb. They're larger than the coloured climbing holds used to identify routes.

Find out more useful climbing terms here

I want to try indoor climbing - do I need to bring a kit?

If you're new to climbing, you may need to hire items, such as chalk and climbing shoes. The specialised footwear has a rubber sole for traction and has a very close fit, so you can dig into small climbing holds with your toes and get that much-needed grip.

The walls of a climbing wall are also usually textured and could give your everyday trainers a battering. Many climbing hangars provide the option of hiring shoes for the day.

We also highly recommend using chalk on your hands to reduce sweating and increase friction on the climbing holds. Usually, you can hire chalk at hangars, and it's a good idea to get your own if you decide to climb regularly.

I'm nervous about heights - is climbing safe?

If you're not a fan of heights but are keen to try climbing, we applaud you! There are, of course, inevitable risks attached to indoor climbing. However, indoor climbing is incredibly safe.

Many climbing hangars will need you to take a one-off beginner session before climbing on your own/with friends so they can train you correctly and ensure that you have the knowledge to climb safely.

The mats below are specially designed to cushion your fall, and you can go as far and high as you feel comfortable. It's handy to climb in the areas intended for beginners with lower walls and climb finishes. Just be sure to ask if you're not sure, and the friendly staff will help you out! 

I'm a complete beginner to indoor climbing! How can I prepare my body?

The movements in climbing are pretty specific in comparison to gym-based activities. Being flexible will be incredibly useful to help increase range of motion and movement efficiency.

Find out more about how yoga and climbing complement each other!

What should I bring to my first climbing session?

You can hire much of what you need from the climbing centres, but be sure to check ahead just in case. Please wear comfortable clothing that doesn't restrict movement and make sure they're items you don't mind getting scuffed. Steer clear of expensive yoga leggings as you may scuff the fabric against the uneven walls.

Get hangry easily? Bring snacks and water to keep you fueled, as climbing can be pretty intense, and you can end up on the walls for a long time! Time moves differently in the hangar...

So, what should I do now?

If we've convinced you to give climbing or bouldering a try, then look no further! You can find a great variety of climbing hangars and bouldering walls on Move (depending on your location), plus you can access many other activities (such as yoga) to ensure you achieve peak climbing performance!

Jump on the Move app today and see if there's a wall near you.



Written in collaboration with Rock Over Climbing in Manchester's City Centre (2019) -no longer available to book on MoveGB.com.

All images: Sam Pratt 


Topics: Activities, Climbing, Social, Fitness

Written by Sophie Saint

Sophie Saint

Exercise used to always terrify me, until I was forced to face it head-on with an impending surfing trip. I entered the world of MoveGB and never looked back.... Yoga, gym sessions and the odd round with a punchbag opened up my eyes to getting active and feeling awesome from it! Travelling, social media and blogging are what I love both in and out of work. And Turn'd Up dance has become a serious obsession now...

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