Is rock climbing a good workout? Let’s play a game to find out. Use “Cntrl (or Cmd) + F” and type in a body part.
Your task is to name a body part, and our task is to tell you how you use it in your climbing. Name any body part (well, almost any - don’t get too weird or crazy here), and we are confident we can explain how you will engage it while climbing.
The common misconception is that rock climbing is all arms. Upper body strength comes with the territory, but it isn’t the end all be all. Instead, balanced, full-body muscle will get you a lot further than big biceps and lats ever will.
Ready, set, go!
Rock Climbing: A Full Body Workout
Here is a list of the major muscles, or muscle groups, you will work (some without even realizing it) while climbing. If anyone ever dares to tell you that climbing isn’t a good workout, send them the link to this blog, and they’ll be proven otherwise.
● Biceps: This is a visible muscle when worked. Think of pulling up into a 90-degree angle over and over again. Many climbing moves require using the biceps to move from one hold to the next.
● Triceps: Likely apparent, the triceps are notably engaged when pulling hard off a hold out to your side. These moves are typically called gastons.
● Back: Another visibly worked-out muscle group. Your back muscles, including the trapezius, rhomboids, and lats, are used every time you advance up the climbing wall. Whether you feel them engage, repetitive pulling movements engage your back muscles simply due to anatomy.
● Shoulders/Chest: Sometimes, you will encounter compression movements in climbing. These require conditioned shoulders and chest to maintain contact with the wall. Other moves, such as mantles, force you to push your weight up and over your wrists. This movement taxes the shoulders and almost every other muscle in your body! Don’t believe us; find a mantle move and try it.
● Forearms/Extensors: Say one thing about rock climbers - they can grip. To grip, in general, requires the engagement of the forearm and extensors. If you want to maintain a firm grip for an extended period, you’ll need to train these muscles specifically in addition to their activation while climbing.
● Wrists: Connected to your forearms and extensors, the wrist muscles are taxed on slopers, pinches, mantles, and really through any movement loading your tendons. After all, everything is connected.
● Quads: Now, here’s where things get fun. Rock climbing is great for working out your legs as well. If you aren’t engaging your leg muscles with climbing, shifting your center of gravity and resting is more taxing, and your forearms will tire out quickly. A great example of quad activation is standing off of climbing hold on one leg. This movement is almost identical to a pistol squat, and if you’ve ever done one of those, you’ll know the quad burn we’re referencing.
● Hamstrings: Every rock climber loves a good ol’ heel hook. But to use a heel hook effectively and to advance your progression up the wall requires strong hamstrings. Resting your heel on hold is one thing, but pulling with the hamstrings to create tension through that heel is a game changer.
● Calves: If you haven’t heard anyone compare climbing shoes to point shoes, those people aren’t far off in their comparison. The tight fight and pointed-toe boxes enable you to place much pressure on your toes while climbing. If you’ve ever tried walking tip-toe, you’ll know how much of a calf workout you’ll get. If not, head to the climbing gym to experience it for yourself.
● Core: Strong abdominal muscles are essential for daily life. You also work them out even harder while climbing. Climbing movements heavily depend on body tension and keeping your hips close to the wall, both of which require a solid core.
● Brain: the hidden workout. (Yes, we know it’s an organ, not a muscle.) Rock climbing is a giant puzzle. For each climb, you must figure out how to get to the top of the wall. If you fall, you must figure out what went wrong and how to avoid falling next time. The sport gets you thinking and adds a cognitive workload involving problem-solving, patience, and concentration.
There it is - the complete workout. If you believe rock climbing qualifies as a full-body workout, we hope this proves you wrong. Of course, we left out many smaller muscles and anatomical components that are stressed when you go climbing, but we hopefully hit on the biggies. If you have any questions, comments, or tips for other climbers or us, comment below! We’d love to hear from you!