Indoor climbing gyms have seemingly popped up all over the place. Chicago alone has welcomed many, including Movement Lincoln Park, with 43,000 square-feet of climbing, yoga, and fitness; First Ascent Humboldt Park, with 11,000 square-feet of bouldering terrain, two yoga studios, and climbing classes; and Brooklyn Boulders, located in Chicago’s West Loop, with fitness classes, bouldering, and plenty of rope routes to light your muscles on fire.
If you’re looking for a newfangled way to get in shape, be a part of a community, and learn new skills, then keep reading for everything you need to know about indoor gym climbing.
Learn the Ropes
Olivia Adams, on the First Ascent Climbing & Fitness team, says that anyone can climb and find joy in the sport, regardless of age or body type. “It is completely natural to feel fear or lack of confidence at the beginning,” Adams says. “It is a new type of movement for the body and mind, but both adapt quickly if you make climbing a regular activity.”
Most indoor gyms have informative classes—group or private—so that you can get your bearings. Having someone walk you through the gym is really helpful when you’re just starting out. You can ask plenty of questions, learn where you should spend some time practicing as a beginner, and find out about all of the resources, fitness classes, and instruction that will help you be successful on your climbing journey.
“Take a class and learn from those around you,” Adams says. “They will be able to give you tips. One suggestion to get you started, for example, is to get your arms fairly straight and relaxed unless you are actively moving vertically to increase your endurance on the wall.”
It’s important to warm up and cool down as injury can occur in climbing. “Stretching and cardio warmups help prime the body,” Adams says. “Make sure to take rest days—most instructors recommend not climbing more than three days in a row. Additionally, watch and talk to climbers that are better than you—see how they approach warmups, workouts, and the various styles of routes.”
You’ll need comfortable gym clothes, a harness, and climbing shoes before you begin. Black Diamond has climbing essentials for every level of adventurer. For example, The Women’s Momentum Climbing Shoes are comfortable, grippy, and textbook for beginners. For relaxed climbing and bouldering pants that you can move in, with a wee bit of stretch, check out the Women’s Notion Pants. Finally, the Momentum Harness—Women’s Package comes complete with a harness, belay/rappel device, and chalk bag. Ready, set, go!
Join a Climbing Community
One of added benefits to climbing is the community you’ll be a part of if you attend with regularity. “Climbing is a sport that opens up your world in a variety of ways—it expands connection to community, your body, and the natural world,” Adams says. “It is a collaborative sport, as everyone in a climbing community benefits when you become more skilled and knowledgeable.”
Of course, the more you practice, the more you’ll gain. “Climbing builds bodily confidence and capability and can be done into older age if you maintain a steady and patient connection with the sport,” says Adams. “If you choose to bring your climbing out of the gym, you can also access parts of the natural world that are unable to be reached any other way than to climb there.”
Have Fun, Make Friends, Take Care of Your Body
Jake Burgart, a product line manager at La Sportiva, who is also an accomplished climber, has much to say about what beginner indoor gym climbers should know before starting the sport. “Beginner gym climbers should know that climbing is a complex activity with many disciplines,” Burgart says. “The climbing gym is a great launching pad for your climbing career. Have fun, make friends, and take care of your body!”
Of course, you’ll need to pace yourself and tackle each skill with a fair amount of patience. “Take your introduction to climbing at a moderate pace,” says Burgart. “Climbing at elite levels requires tendon development that requires years to build. Beginner climbers should seek to have fun, climb a high volume of problems and routes, focus on technique, and body control, and honor your body by resting appropriately. Over time, focusing on these skills will serve you no matter where climbing takes you!”
Burgart goes on to say, “We all need to constantly remember that climbing is not just about the grades, and it is not just a sport. Climbing is about having fun and following a lifestyle that incorporates many facets of experiencing a balanced and healthy life.”
Hone Your Craft
After you’ve been in the gym for a while, honing your craft, you might want to seek out outdoor climbing opportunities. “Use the skills and strength you build in the gym, and find a way to try rock climbing outside,” says Burgart. “Outdoor rock climbing is the holy grail, combining movement, self-development, adventure and appreciation for nature.”
Working with La Sportiva, Burgart has learned a thing or two, namely that climbing shoes are made differently, especially if you’re a beginner or an expert level climber, yet this brand makes practical products to get everyone, regardless of where they’re at on the skill spectrum, out climbing. “La Sportiva makes more durable climbing shoe products for beginner climbers, as beginner climbers tend to wear through their sticky rubber more quickly than climbers with silent feet.”
For gear, you’ll need to pick an appropriate pair of beginner climbing shoes with durable rubber soles. La Sportiva has plenty of shoe styles to choose from, as well as climbing pants, to get you started. “Climbing shoe soles generally only last four—eight months, no matter the climber, due to the extra sticky nature of the rubber used in climbing shoes,” says Burgart.
New climbers will do well, as Burgart suggests, to choose an attainable goal, discover what is the most fun for themselves, and celebrate successes. “Small successes build up over seasons and years, and with dedication and hard work, almost anything is possible in climbing,” says Burgart. “Some of the true benefits of climbing include moving and strengthening the body, focusing the mind, finding community, and accomplishing hard fought goals.”
It’s also worth noting, when thinking about the climbing culture and your place in this new dynamic, to be supportive, inclusive, and non-judgmental of others. “Everyone climbs for different reasons,” says Burgart. “Being part of a climbing community will broaden your perspective on what is possible for everyday humans to accomplish—you don’t need professional climber fitness levels to explore some of the wild corners of the Earth or have the adventure of your life!”