Is Indoor Rock Climbing a Good Workout?


Working out doesn’t have to suck. Your workouts don’t have to be boring and monotonous like a jog on the treadmill or a visit to an overcrowded fitness center!  Mix things up and add rock climbing into your workout routine. Try it for a great way to get into shape, physically and mentally.

Indoor Gym climbing can be an excellent workout, involving cardio and strength training of the whole body if done right; however, the focus is definitely on the upper body and arms. Many gyms offer additional strength training sections to supplement the roped walls and boulder caves.

I took 5 college weight lifting classes, and am a registered dietitian, so I know a thing or two about working out and exercise. Here is what indoor rock climbing does for your body.

Read on to learn about the exercise benefits of rock climbing.

Benefits of Rock Climbing for Exercise:

If you start rock climbing you’ll quickly realize that it is a very challenging sport. It’s a great workout and can help you get into shape. Here are some of the benefits of rock climbing for exercise:

6 Exercise Benefits of Rock Climbing

1. Cardio and strength training in one workout.

Believe it or not, you can work a variety of muscles in your body during rock climbing. You’ll target and strengthen many major muscles including your biceps, triceps, abs, obliques, trapezoid, deltoids, quads, lats, calves, and more……especially your forearms! That’s where you’ll likely be the most sore the next morning after a killer climbing session. Worth it!

2. Rock climbing is a challenging workout.

Rock climbing is physically engaging. It works your core and all the major muscles in your body. Climbing tests your physical abilities, balance, coordination. It also tests your stamina, mentally and physically.

3. Climbing is a full body workout.

You’ll use your whole body as you work your way up the wall with the handholds and footholds at the gym or at the crag. Climbing is a total body workout that can help get you in top shape. As you improve, you’ll learn to utilize your entire core.

4. It can help you lower BMI and decrease body fat.

Rock climbing is a great form of exercise that helps you burn calories and fat. Rock climbing can help you burn anywhere from 300-800 calories per hour, depending on your size and the intensity of your climbs.

According to Harvard Health, you can burn 409 calories per hour rock climbing if you weigh 155 pounds (70.4 kg). If you are climbing hard and not taking long rests between climbs, you could burn a lot of calories that could help you lose weight and maintain a healthy BMI.

5. Improves flexibility.

As you rock climb, you’ll increase your range of motion and improve flexibility over time. You have to get creative to reach the handholds and footholds as you work your way up the wall to the top. From heel hooks to offwidths, there are a variety of interesting contortions you’ll put your body through. There’s a reason rock climbing and yoga share a lot of the same enthusiasts.

6. Clears and challenges your mind.

Climbing also is great for your mind! It reduces stress, challenges your brain with problem-solving, increases your mood and overall happiness, and helps you conquer fears of heights and falling.

Sounds awesome right? Rock climbing is the sport for you.

The proper way to descend from speed climbing

What Qualifies as a Good Workout?

We’ve already established that rock climbing is a sport (check out our post for all the details here: Is Rock Climbing a Sport?), but is it a good workout? Will it get your heart pumping, strengthen and build your muscles, and help you shed unwanted fat and get in great shape? I’ll dive into some explanations below.

It may even convince you to trade your regular gym membership in for a rock climbing gym membership!

You can work up a pretty good sweat and get really tired from a session of indoor rock climbing at the gym- not to mention the muscles in your forearms will be really sore the next day.

If you want to get technical, the Webster Dictionary defines “workout” as

  1. a practice or exercise to test or improve one’s fitness for athletic competition, ability, or performance.
  2. bodily exertion for the sake of developing and maintaining physical fitness.

Activities such as jogging, swimming, workout out at the gym, and sports such as golf or tennis all count as forms of exercise. Really anything that includes movement technically counts as exercise. No matter how light of movement- it is far better than sitting on the couch.

What I count as qualifying as a good workout are exercises that are long enough and intense enough to get your heart rate up as well as help you improve your ability and fitness over time.

So for rock climbing does it….. get your heart rate up? Check. Help you improve your fitness? Check! I’d say it does because you are using muscles all over your whole body to hang, stand, reach, leap, and pull yourself up the wall. Try going rock climbing a few times a week for a month, you’ll notice a difference.

You’ll be able to climb harder routes, master new moves, and find things are much easier for you because you’ll be in better rock climbing shape. You’ll be able to carry all of your groceries from the car into the house in one trip (in reusable bags, of course). You can quickly improve if you practice and put in the time, you’ll even notice new muscles that are more defined after getting into rock climbing.

Is Rock Climbing a Good Way to Get in Shape?

Have you ever seen a chubby climber? Most climbers seem to be thin and ripped. Does that mean that rock climbing helps you to be skinny or skinny people rock climb? Either way you’ll get great benefits.

Are you a bigger climber? Don’t worry- you can still benefit from the exercise! You can start with easier routes and problems, and advance as you get stronger. Need some tips on shedding weight to become better at climbing? See below and also check out my post on Is There a Weight Limit to Indoor Rock Climb?

So what are you waiting for? Ditch your gym membership for a climbing gym membership– you won’t regret it. You can get just as great of workouts that will be fun, exciting, and challenging.

Most people want to get in shape by burning calories, shedding fat, and building muscle. Here’s how rock climbing can help you with both:

  • Burn Calories and Fat- Remember you can burn up to 500 calories per hour climbing, or more depending on your size, the difficulty of the climbs, and how many breaks you take. That’s a great workout’s worth of calories! If you are burning 500 extra calories per day you could realistically lose 1-2 pounds per week. That’s a healthy rate for sustainable weight loss. And if you cut out a few hundred extra calories through your diet, you could lose even more.
  • Build Muscle- Rock climbing is a full-body workout. You’ll strengthen almost all of your major muscles as you rock climb. If you are serious about improving on the climbing wall, you should include some extra workouts in your week such as pull-ups, push ups, and some total-body weight training to complement your rock climbing.

Fitness Gym vs. Rock Climbing Gym

If you give up your regular gym membership to join the rock climbing gym, you will get many of the same benefits and more, plus even more fun and enjoyable camaraderie from your fellow climbers instead of the gym bros.

At the regular gym you probably hit the weight rack for some squats, bench press, etc. etc. etc., maybe the treadmill for a mile or so, and occasionally a class for a serious sweat session?

Well say hello to your new workout model- on the plastic at the gym! A lot of rock climbing or bouldering gyms are set up for workouts. They might have weight racks or workout machines off to the side so you can complete your day by totally exhausting every ounce of energy you have out of your muscles.

It’s pretty common for climbing gyms to have a separate section for weights. They usually always have an area for training your grip strength and arm strength as well. You’ll find hangboards, pull up bars, and many different holds to challenge yourself for practice.

Many climbing gyms have teams or classes you can join. You show up and they give you a workout as part of your climbs for the day. There is usually a workout posted to the side as you climb and fit in the best training exercise you can to improve yourself physically and your climbing ability. As a bonus incentive, some climbing gyms have a Ninja Warrior section for practicing and competition. Might be fun to test your abilities.

Most climbing gyms offer yoga at certain times as well. I find that rock climbers and yoga-lovers tend to be the same type of people. Probably because yoga helps rock climbers improve their flexibility to improve climbing.

I love yoga, I’m an amateur yogi at best, currently working on mastering my crow pose. I’m pretty sure it will help me become a better climber, either way it looks awesome and it’s totally challenging. If you’re into climbing you may like yoga and enjoy the benefits as well.

Basically, you won’t regret it if you join a climbing gym. If you don’t have a committed partner or two to go with,  just meet new friends at the gym! Everyone is always looking for more buddies to climb with. For recommendations for getting a new climbing partner, read this post: Can I go Rock Climbing without a Partner?

If you get really serious about climbing, the dream is to transform an area of your home into a home rock climbing gym, at least for me. We have big plans, but we’re starting small…… check out this rock climbing wall we made for our 1-year old.

Climb On!

Exercise Recommendations

For most healthy adults, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week, that’s about 30 minutes per day, 5 days per week. That’s the minimum recommendation, greater amounts of exercise will bring greater benefits, especially when spread out throughout the week.

I don’t know about you, but I can fit in my 150 minutes if I go rock climbing once in a week (though sometimes my arms can’t make it that long!). They also recommend to include some sort of stretching/flexibility exercises each day and also muscle strengthening activities twice a week….. that includes rock climbing!

What counts as exercise: taking stairs, walking from the parking lot, gardening, house chores, etc. As a registered dietitian I counsel people to include a certain amount of exercise into their days (however, I’m not a personal trainer). While daily activities are helpful to get you moving, try not to count them.

Try your best to specifically plan some sort of physical activity into your day, especially if you have a goal for weight loss. Your body becomes used to the amount of activity you regularly do, so mix things up and plan in 10 minutes per day to set the habit of regular exercise. Once that becomes a habit, add a few minutes at a time until you reach your required exercise recommendations and goals.

Try it out, start by including rock climb once or twice a week. It won’t take long until you are hooked. You will love it as a form of exercise. It’s challenging, rewarding, and will get your heart pumping for a great workout. Then you can decide if you want to join a gym or just include rock climbing every once in a while as part of your workout routine.

Best Pattern for a Rock Climbing Workout

Here’s how to use rock climbing as exercise. Start with this workout pattern and over time you’ll build your own tried and true warm-up and workout ritual to make the most out of a climbing session.

  1. Stretch– start by stretching, but not the static stretching where you hold poses for 30 seconds. You’ll want to do dynamic stretching where you loosen up your muscles by doing lunges, jumping jacks, arm windmills, and maybe even some neck movements.
  2. Climb– Follow the Pyramid Climbing pattern. Start with something a few grades lower than your top ability. Engage your climbing muscles and practice good technique for a warm-up. Rest for a few minutes between climbs and take a few more climbs to build up to your highest limit. Try not to rest more than 10-15 minutes between climbs (belaying can count as a part of your workout too, but you probably won’t be working as hard). Climb as many tougher routes as you can and then slowly start to cool it down with a few slightly easier grades.
  3. Finish strong– Once you feel like you have climbed your max amount and your forearms are really feeling it, finish off strong with whatever energy you have left in you. I like to do as many pull ups as I can, lift some heavy weights, or do some extra cardio like running for 10-20 minutes. This gives your workout an extra boost as you give every ounce of energy you have left. When I climb with my dad, we end with as many cone pull-ups as we can…
  4. Cool down– Rest and relax after you are finished, but be sure to do some static stretching to relax and calm your muscles. A short yoga session is perfect, or some movements to stretch out your arms, legs, and even your neck would be perfect.

Make sure you have a plan in place and don’t skip the stretches or you’ll be more likely to injure yourself.

At the gym I like to climb until I can’t climb anymore. You’ll definitely be sore the next day, but not too sore that you won’t be able to climb again tomorrow for 2 days in a row!

What is the best type of exercise to help you get in shape and lose weight? 

The type of exercise that you will actually do and commit to is the type you should do! Whether that is running, pilates, kick boxing, dancing, basketball, tennis, or rock climbing. Just make sure it happens, fit it into your week and you will enjoy the benefits of being active.

Overall the goal is to move more and sit less, however that looks for you! I recommend trying rock climbing if you haven’t already.

I’ll say it again- are you looking to get in shape and have fun doing it? Climbing is the sport for you.

Related Questions:

Is Rock Climbing Better than Weight Lifting? Climbing trains the muscles that are required for the routes and problems you do, but climbing is not equivalent to a total body weight training workout. The muscles you use for climbing can benefit and be strong and defined, but you need to have a full-body plan for strength, otherwise you might end up with injuries from neglected muscles.

Climbing is a form of weight lifting, it works many muscles in your body but is it sufficient strength training to build and maintain muscle mass?

It is recommended to weight train at least 2 times per week, targeting all your muscles. Do rock climbing for much of this requirement, and then add in some focused total body weights in order to not miss anything. As a bonus, lifting weights will also make you a better climber.

Does Rock Climbing Count as Cardio? Rock climbing is an effective form of cardio exercise as long as you are working hard and taking limited rest periods between climbing moves. Rock climbing has been found to be comparable to running at a moderate pace. Benefits of rock climbing as cardio depend on level of intensity and difficulty of route climbed.

Cardiovascular exercise, or cardio, is any type of aerobic activity that increases your heart rate and respiratory rates.

Can Rock Climbing Help You Lose Weight? Rock climbing is a great way to help you burn some calories and excess fat to lose weight, as long as you are in an overall calorie deficit. To lose weight, you need to burn more calories than you consume. You can do this through a combination of exercise and healthy eating- by eating a little less and exercising a little more.

Any kind of exercise can help you lose weight as long as you are burning more calories than you consume. Rock climbing is a great exercise to get your heart rate up and burn calories. If you are climbing hard with only short rests between routes, you could burn anywhere from 400-800 calories per hour rock climbing (depending on your weight and climbing intensity). If you eat about 200-500 calories less per day, you could realistically lose 1-2 pounds per week.

Rock climbing is the perfect workout to complement any weight loss plan. It combines cardio and strength for a great way to burn fat. Add in healthy eating and you could start losing some weight.

Even if you are a beginner you can burn a good amount of calories while rock climbing. Any type of exercise will be beneficial to your weight loss goals, overall you just need to move more and sit less. If rock climbing helps you get off the couch, then do it!

Remember, the best type of exercise for weight loss is the type that you enjoy and will commit to doing regularly. Climbing is probably a lot more fun than many other types of exercises- running, weights, push ups, so what are you waiting for? Have fun and burn calories at the climbing gym!

Diet Tips for Rock Climbers:

I’m a rock climber and also a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist. I do my best to stay fit and healthy. 

As a Dietitian I help people with their nutrition goals- I’m especially interested in athletes and sports nutrition. If you are interested in meal plans, be sure to check out my post The Best Diet for Rock Climbers -With FREE Meal Plan

Here are some basic eating/exercise tips for rock climbers, whether your goal is to lose weight or just get in shape. 

  • Don’t drink beer, or at least limit your intake. Alcoholic beverages can add a lot of unnecessary calories to your diet, plus lots of negative health effects. You don’t want your beer gut in the way of your climbing.
  • Follow a meal plan with an appropriate amount of calories and a plan for regular physical activity.
  • If you want to lose weight, exercise regularly and eat about 500 calories less per day to lose a healthy rate of 1-2 pounds per week.
  • Eat regularly throughout the day with at least 3 meals and 1-3 snacks. Plan pre-workout and post-workout snacks around carbs and protein.
  • Drink plenty of water during the way and especially during workouts.
  • Plan your meals around vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins.
  • Include other exercises besides rock climbing- you’ll want a mix of other cardio and strength training, as well as stretching.

For more details on rock climbing meal plans check out this nutrition post. 

Rock climbing is such an addicting workout. It will help you get in shape and reach your overall fitness goals.

Check out some of our other popular rock climbing posts: 

How Much Do Rock Climbers Weigh?

How Many People Die Rock Climbing?

Indoor Climbing Attire- What to Wear Climbing

Can I Go Rock Climbing While Pregnant? 

Are Climbing Pants Worth It?

How Can I Make my Climbing Shoes Last Longer?

Katherine Harmer

I'm a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and a weekend warrior who loves rock climbing, canyoneering, camping, mountain biking, and anything to get outside. Also a cool mom.

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