What Type of Workout Is Rock Climbing?

Last Updated on 01/06/2022


What Type of Workout Is Rock Climbing

What Type of Workout Is Rock Climbing?

In this article, we discuss what type of workout is rock climbing and share some of the many benefits of rock climbing for exercise. We talk about how rock climbing can be both cardio and strength training as well as some facts about calories and oxygen supply.

Rock climbing is an excellent and incredibly fun, whole-body exercise. The type of rock climbing you do (e.g. bouldering vs top rope climbing) has an effect on what kind of workout you’re doing.

If you do bouldering, which is shorter and more intense, the type of exercise you’re doing is more strength-based and anaerobic. If you’re doing top-rope climbing, which is longer and requires more endurance, the type of exercise you’re doing is more stamina-based and aerobic. A good analogy would be with running – bouldering is more of a sprint; top-rope climbing is more of a marathon.

How is Rock Climbing Cardio Exercise?

The definition of cardio is to increase heart rate and respiratory rate for a prolonged period of time. This in turn increases the level of oxygen in your brain and muscles.

Whilst climbing, you are pushing off the wall with your legs, pulling your whole body with your arms, or lifting yourself off holds. Rock climbing, especially difficult or longer projects can be an excellent cardiovascular workout. Check out these women’s rock climbing shoes.

However, as bouldering routes often don’t go higher than 4-5m high, routes are often done in under a few minutes, depending on difficulty. Beginner routes might take 1 minute, whilst more complex rules might take 3 or 4; this means that your heart rate does go up, but not for a prolonged period of time and you are supposed to rest in between routes.

How is Rock Climbing Cardio Exercise

How is Rock Climbing Strength Exercise?

Whilst climbing is a good cardio workout, the best part of rock climbing is how it combines cardio and strength. Because you are performing constant complex and dynamic movements, and because you are working your shoulders, biceps, triceps, core muscles, and glutes – rock climbing is basically a full-body workout.

Because all routes are different, it means you take different approaches and work different muscles each time. So if you are trying to build up muscle and strength, or create tone and definition, rock climbing is ideal.

What Muscles Does Rock Climbing Workout?

Rock climbing works out the muscles in your upper body, your core, and your legs.

Upper body – whilst you are supposed to use your legs to push you up the wall, so you don’t prematurely tire yourself out, your fingers, forearms, and shoulders are constantly moving when you climb. You develop grip strength in your hands, a definition in your arms, and muscles in your shoulders when you climb.

Core – when climbing overhangs, you often have to use your core to keep your legs on the wall so that you don’t fall off. This works the upper half of your abs (from your belly button upwards), through to your chest.

Legs – you use your legs to push yourself up the wall but you also use your legs to pull yourself up or across, or to keep yourself in position when performing a more complex move (by either using a toe or heel hook or by smearing). Because you also traverse during climbing (i.e. go side to side) your legs are often the first to move and help stabilize you before moving your arms.

How Many Calories Does Rock Climbing Burn?

Rock climbing will not only help you build and strengthen your muscles, but it will also increase your heart rate to work your cardio conditioning – this means you will burn calories.

Check out how many calories you would burn based on your weight and minutes exercised with this calculator.

This calculator uses the MET value (Metabolic Equivalent of Task), which is a way of estimating how many calories are burned whilst performing a physical activity, according to the American Council on Exercise.

A higher value means there are higher levels of oxygen being used by the body during the activity. For example, yoga is 2.3, weightlifting is 6.0 and rock climbing is between 5.0 to 8.0 depending on length and difficulty.

What Muscles Does Rock Climbing Workout

Is Rock Climbing Aerobic or Anaerobic Activity?

Aerobic exercise refers to any activity that requires a steady supply of oxygen to the muscles to perform the activity. This includes running, biking, swimming or walking.

Anaerobic exercise refers to activities that don’t require any additional oxygen to be taken to the muscles to move the body. This includes weightlifting, yoga, or high-intensity interval training.

Bouldering is primarily anaerobic, which makes sense as it is usually smaller routes that require more strength and technique. Whereas top-rope climbing would be primarily aerobic, as routes are longer and so require more endurance and stamina.

Does It Help to Be Flexible to Rock Climb?

Yes, it absolutely helps to be flexible, it’s not just strength and cardio.

When climbing, you are performing both long and short-range movements. Short-range movements can be cramped or awkwardly positioned and long-range movements can involve deep hip stretches.

A lot of the time in climbing, you have to maintain a certain position, in order to move to the next hold, this requires strength and flexibility as the positions are often uncomfortable, using muscles you never knew you had!

I am often surprised the next day after a climbing session when a muscle I didn’t think I had used is sore.

What Else Do You Need to Be a Good Rock Climber?

You also need good balance!

It’s not just about strength, cardio, and flexibility. When climbing, developing a good technique goes hand in hand with good balance. You’re often balancing on small holds, or holding one leg against the wall on the opposite side to where you’re reaching to keep your balance central (called smearing).

Good balance will also help you save your energy for more complex, dynamic moves.

Hopefully, this guide has answered your question of what type of workout is rock climbing and you understand a bit more about the type of exercise that it is.

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This article has been written and/or edited by Andrew N. 20+ years of hiking, mountaineering, and camping experience, with access to all the latest outdoor gear.

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