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All About Indoor Climbing

Learn How to Climb in a Rock Gym


Chris Sharma, one of the best climbers in the world, competes in the 1999 X-Games in San Francisco.

Climbing in an indoor gym is the best place to start climbing. Later, if you get good, you can compete with Chris Sharma in competitions set on climbing walls.

Photograph © Stewart M. Green
All About Indoor Climbing

You can learn how to climb and belay at your local climbing gym.

Photograph copyright Stewart M. Green
All About Indoor Climbing

Climbers train on an indoor climbing wall in a garage.

Photograph copyrght Stewart M. Green

“How can I learn to climb?” is the second question most people ask after the obvious one, “Why climb?” If you have asked the first question and decided that there are lots of great reasons to go climbing, then you are well on your way to finding the answer to the second one. If you want to try rock climbing, the easiest way to start your climbing career is indoors at an indoor climbing gym.

Gyms are a Safe Environment

Indoor climbing gyms are the best places to learn how to climb. One of the most compelling reasons is that indoor climbing is in a controlled and monitored environment. Climbing gyms are set up and run so that climbers are safe and can quickly and easily learn basic climbing skills, including climbing movement techniques as well as essential skills like belaying and lowering.

Gyms Offer Lots of Learning Opportunities

Indoor climbing gyms offer lots of learning opportunities for novice climbers with classes about climbing skills, private lessons, clinics led by elite climbers, and well as being able to observe experienced climbers. One of the best ways to improve your climbing, besides practice of course, is simply by sitting down in a busy gym and watching the best climbers. Observe how they place their feet on various footholds, how they grasp handholds of different sizes and shapes, how they figure out difficult moves, and how they not only move, but flow up the wall.

Bad Weather? No Problem

Besides being a great place to learn how to climb, indoor gyms never have a problem with the weather. Too cold, snowy, or rainy outside? No problem, pack your climbing pack and head to the great indoors. Indoor gyms allow climbers to train year-round and to maintain climbing fitness so when the weather does improve, they are able to take advantage and get outside to crank on real rock.

Other Gym Advantages

Indoor climbing gyms are perfect not only for learning to climb, but also to meet other climbers, find climbing partners with similar abilities to yourself, and to socialize with your local climbing community by attending photo programs and lectures.

How Can I Find a Partner?

One of the big questions that beginning climbers ask, especially if they want to start climbing but don’t have a friend who wants to learn too, is “How can I find someone to climb with?” You will find the answer to that question at your local gym by meeting other climbers. Take a class. Ask someone who is standing around or bouldering if they want to swap belays. Sign up for an outdoor day trip led by a gym instructor to your local cliff.

About Climbing Walls

The walls at indoor climbing gyms are usually built from prefabricated fake-rock panels or textured plywood sheets that are attached to a metal or wood framework inside the gym. The panels are made by various climbing wall companies including Entreprise and Nicros. The walls are attached to the building’s structure at both the base and the top so that they are stable and don’t move or flex. Most gym walls are vertical, although some are overhanging, form roofs or a horizontal overhang, or slabs, which are faces less than vertical. Indoor climbing walls range in height from 20 to 50 feet and are equipped either with a sturdy anchor at the top for top-roping or bolts with fixed quickdraws for lead climbing. Many gyms also have lower walls for bouldering or climbing without a rope.

Handholds and Footholds

Foothold and handholds are made of resin poured into molds of varying shapes and sizes from tiny edges to giant hand-sized buckets. The holds are bolted onto the walls, forming climbing routes or a combination of climbing moves of various difficulties on the wall. Easy routes have big holds, while more difficult routes usually have smaller holds.

Other Indoor Gym Amenities

Most climbing gyms also have weight equipment, areas for stretching and yoga, hangboards for working out your fingers and hands, coffee bars, and a pro shop that sells basic climbing equipment, chalk, and guidebooks. Some have showers and locker rooms too.

Learn more about indoor climbing in the excellent book Learning to Climb Indoors (FalconGuides How to Climb Series) by Eric J. Horst.

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