Disclaimer: I am not a professional climber or a professional instructor. However, I taught introductory rock climbing classes for a year and a half and have six years of climbing experience.
Have you ever been on a hike and glanced up to find someone scaling the cliffs surrounding you? If you’re anything like me seven years ago, you probably thought, “Those people are crazy!” And you’re not too far off. Climber’s are a breed I have come to know and love through their eccentricities, boldness, and passion.
If you’re crazy too, your next thought might have been, “I kind of want to try that…”
You’re not alone! I would guess that the majority of people who started climbing had that exact thought before they dove head in to the sport. In the word’s of Alice in Wonderland, “We’re all mad here.”
So how do you go from dirt to granite? Fortunately climbing access has been made infinitely easier in the last few years with the rise and expansion of climbing gyms across America and the world. Rock and Ice has an indoor climbing gym directory. You just plug in your state and go from there.
Once you find the gym closest to you, I suggest you wrangle in one of your closest, or most curious friends, and ask them to tag along. While climbing is unique and wonderful in that you can boulder on your own, I’m under the school of thought that everything is better with friends.
Before you set out to the world of indoor plastic, take a quick look on Groupon to see if the gym you’re interested in is peddling offers on climbing sessions or classes. The gym in Spokane where I began climbing, Wild Walls, regularly offered discounted multi-day passes through Groupon.
Okay. So you’ve got your friend, you’ve looked for some sweet deals, and you’re in the car feeling stoked. Once you rock up to the front desk, the staff will ask you to sign a waiver, and if you need to rent gear.
There are three types of climbing you can do in a gym: bouldering, top-roping, or lead climbing. Most people progress through each discipline in that order.
Bouldering is the best route for beginners. In the gym, you only need a pair of shoes to start. It’s a great introduction to the muscle groups, style, and overall feel of working your way up foreign plastic holds. And with most boulder walls topping out around 15 feet, it’s easy to bail if the height makes you dizzy.
Top-roping and lead climbing require more technical skills like how to belay. If a climbing gym has ropes and walls that are 30+ feet high, they probably offer belay classes. Typically these classes last anywhere from 1-2 hours and you learn the basics of rope management. If you decide climbing is something you’d like to stick with, I definitely recommend learning how to belay and testing your endurance on longer routes.
Lead-climbing requires more in-depth knowledge and skills, and requires more detail than this intro post offers.
Once you’ve signed the waiver, and rented the shoes, the next logical step is to climb!
Here are a few techniques that helped me when I learned to climb, and helped a lot of my students when they were learning.
Focus on your toes
Remember that Spongebob episode where he stuck his big toe out of his shoe to depress the gas pedal? I like to think about that. One of the most common ways to begin climbing is to place the middle of your foot on the foot hold. I highly, highly, highly, recommend NOT doing this. Think about how we walk. Think about how we climb ladders. We walk with our toes forward, not the middle of our feet! Climbing is no different. Try to get as much surface area near the front of your shoes on the hold as possible.
Use your legs
Would you rather do 100 squats or 100 pull-ups? Down the road of climbing and training, there is a time and place for using only your arms, but now’s not the time! Our legs are our powerhouses and carry our entire body weight every day. Our arms? Not so much. Try to do a handstand push-up and you’ll see. Think about how you can use your legs to your advantage. Sometimes moving your foot an inch higher is the difference in being able to grab the next hold, or peeling off the route.
Don’t get crazy
Oftentimes in the gym I see people working on these really hard problems and routes and they make it look so easy. So easy in fact, that it tricks me into believing that I too can climb that hard. I jump on, all eager and full of belief, only to get shut down on the third move. It’s good to push yourself in climbing, otherwise your progression and strength will move at a snails pace (which is okay too, if that’s what you’re after). But going from a V0 climber to a V6 climber won’t happen overnight. It takes time and dedication, but trust me. It more than pays off.
Climbing can be rewarding, fun, and a great way to be part of a like-minded community. If you’ve been on the fence, or itching to try, I say go for it. All you have to lose is space in your closet where your future gear will have to go.
Questions? Let me know in the comments below!