Everything You Need to Know Before Joining a Rock Climbing Gym

If you ever want to see a guy with jaw-ragged forearms, you can go to one of two locations – a jar opening competition or a rock climbing gym. The second option may result in fewer dill pickles, but nicer people whose preferred method of exercise develops amazing core strength and balance. It’s easy to see why the sport has become so popular in recent years: it combines rigorous training with the ability to feel like you in your own National Geographic photo shoot, if only for a moment.

Getting involved isn’t as easy as throwing in a harness and running along the wall as you did once at summer camp. If you’re interested in trying it out, we’ve asked experts to share the important things newbies need to know before their first belay.

  • Familiarize yourself with the lingo

As with any sport, there is a whole new set of terms and phrases that you will need to learn if you are to find the best of them. (Speaking of which: “Chalk up” refers to putting chalk on your hands to help your grip). Be prepared to hear a lot about bouldering, which refers to climbing a rock without a harness, and belaying, which uses a rope to ‘spot’ a partner and catch them if they fall – the ultimate proof of confidence.

To hit any wall in most climbing gyms, you will need to take a Belay Safety Certification course. It’s quick, however, and you’ll get most of that lingo by the end.

  • You’re going to need the right gear

The most important climbing equipment aside from the harness is good footwear. Just like your running sneakers, there are different designs for different levels and types of feet. “Climbing shoes are creations of rubber and leather,” says rock climber Sasha DiGiulian, whom we spoke to at the GoPro Mountain Games in conjunction with GMC. “Expert shoes are aggressive, face down, and fit very small and snug to your foot. These people really aim to increase the sensitivity of their feet, much like skaters who wear smaller skates or pointe ballerinas.


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“When shopping, give yourself a good hour to try on shoes,” says Eli Strauss, director of education for The Cliffs Climbing and Fitness in New York City. “Some shoes stretch when you push them on, some don’t. They’re supposed to be a lot tighter than a sneaker, but as a newcomer to the gym, if it’s so tight you don’t want to climb, you… won’t climb. “

  • Don’t get hung up on grades

Much like in a high school math class, there’s more to tackling a rock face than the level – of difficulty – of what you’re looking at. Optimists might want to jump into some hard-hitting stuff, but it’s a good idea to start by scouting out something a little easier. The American Climbing Level System is based on the Yosemite Decimal System (YDS), which starts with Class 1 (hiking) through Class 5 (ultra-technical climbing). Class 5 is again divided into difficulties ranging from 5.0 to 5.15.

Trying to climb more difficult slopes should be part of your efforts to improve, but focusing only on the numbers can ruin the fun for you and your best belaying friends. “Remember, the ratings are subjective and are there to gauge your progress,” said Margo Hayes, a North Face sponsored pro and the first woman to climb a 5.15 rated course. “You have to celebrate the small victories along the way.

  • Leave your ego on the ground

Rock climbing can be a humbling experience whether you are a beginner or an expert. “I think guys are blown away when they are crushed against the wall by a teenage girl,” says DiGiulian. “You can’t be caught up in what people are doing around you. Just focus on your own ascent.

Some days are bound to be better than others. That’s okay, said North Face athlete Matty Hong. “Maybe you’re having a day off, or all of your friends can make a move that you can’t. It is important not to get down on yourself. Try to use it as motivation. Remember that the best climbers fall all the time. The sooner you accept that this is true, the sooner you will make real and measurable progress.

  • Make friends

Climbing is a social activity, and unless you’re using an automatic belay device – a contraption that will keep you safe if you’re climbing solo – you’ll need a partner to make the most of your time in the rock. fitness room. (Don’t use automatic belay. You could use more friends.)

Having a trusted insurer partner is especially helpful when you need advice on how to reach for it. If you can’t figure it out together, it’s a great excuse to discuss alternative beer strategies afterward. Additionally, cold drinks work wonders when held against sore, worn out forearms. It is in science.


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  • Go outdoors when you’re ready

If you have aspirations to be an outdoor climber, it is a good idea to practice the techniques in a safe environment before hitting a real rock. “Most climbers find it a whole different challenge outdoors – it’s scary, and it’s hard to find hand and foot positions without colored holds or tape, and the natural elements can make difficult access, ”says Hong. “Don’t be discouraged if you don’t climb to the same level as you were in the gym.”

  • Don’t be a purist

Even in indoor facilities, bouldering and rope climbing are very different exercises. “Doing both is great, not only to give you a better idea of the climbing styles you like but also because they are complementary,” says Strauss. “One will give you a lot of power and strength, and the other will be the source of your endurance and endurance. Both are necessary to be a well-rounded climber. “

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