When you’re just starting out, there’s SO much to learn about rock climbing. From safety and the best gear to having proper technique and the best ways to learn, you aren’t alone if you feel overwhelmed. Luckily, there’s a lot of information available on the internet so you can soak up as much as you like, but even that can be overwhelming.
We’re keeping it simple with these 20 beginner climbing tips to help you get started. Everything from safety tips to training suggestions (and everything in between), we hope that you’ll feel educated and ready to climb after reading this article.
Top 20 Beginner Climbing Tips
1. Be Safe
Safety is always a number one priority, no matter what sport or outdoor activity you’re pursuing. While rock climbing can be dangerous, we can minimize the risk of danger or injury by using some basic rock climbing techniques to stay safe at all times. The most common injury is overuse, but more on injury prevention below. Otherwise, here are some basic suggestions for staying safe while climbing:
- Never walk under someone who’s climbing or bouldering.
- Listen to your body. Prevent overuse injuries by warming up, easing into it, and prioritizing proper breaks in between climbs and in between sessions.
- Check every piece of equipment before you use it. Regardless of if you’re belaying or climbing, every aspect of your gear should be double-checked before you start climbing.
- Communicate clearly and effectively with your belayer or partner. State your intentions, even if you think it’s common sense. Confirm that you are heard with clear responses.
- Learn how to fall properly, especially if you’re bouldering.
- Take a professional class on belaying and any other classes that help with gear and safety, especially once you start heading outdoors.
2. Warm Up
Speaking of staying safe, one of the best things you can do for injury prevention is to properly warm up before climbing. While it can be tempting to go straight to the climbing wall, take ten minutes beforehand to get your muscles activated and moving.
Start with some light stretching, then do some active warm-up movements like arm circles, leg swings, squats, wrist circles, jumping jacks, or anything else that gets your heart rate up. Follow this up with a short and easy climb (or two) before starting anything more difficult.
3. Ease Into It
Another way to help prevent overuse injuries is to ease into your climbing. As a beginner, your muscles and tendons/ligaments aren’t used to this type of strain, and you can be prone to overuse injuries. You will probably only be able to physically climb two or three days a week because anything more is just simply too much for your body.
You can gradually work your way up to climbing more frequently as you progress into your climbing career. After several months you can incorporate a training routine, but keep in mind that your focus should remain on climbing as much as possible without overdoing it. See below for more about training programs.
4. Make It a Routine
Find the right balance between easing into it and making it a consistent routine. You want to ease into it so you don’t overdo it, but if you don’t make it a routine then you’ll hardly progress. Set aside certain days each week when you go rock climbing, whether it’s indoors or out.
One of the best ways to do this is to see if your climbing gym has a class or group for adults who meet regularly during the week. Even if you have to pay extra, this will help you stay motivated to show up and has the extra bonus of meeting other beginners like yourself. You may even find your new best friend.
Even if your gym doesn’t have a class or group, you should ask the employees if they have any suggestions for meet-ups. I know that our local gym has women’s nights, and this would be a great opportunity to meet new people.
5. Listen to Your Body
Part of easing into it means listening to your body. Rock climbing uses completely different strengths than you use in everyday life, and you will feel all of it in the beginning. Make sure you’re prioritizing multiple days worth of rest in between climbing sessions, as well as resting in between each climb for at least a few minutes.
If you feel any kind of pain, abnormal ache, or a body part that’s bothering you, don’t ignore it. Taking the time to rest when you need it will help prevent having to take longer periods off down the line when a small strain turns into something much worse.
6. Learn About the Different Types of Climbing
In the climbing gym, there will mainly be bouldering and top roping. Bouldering can be a great option for beginners since it requires less gear and no belay partner. It involves climbing boulder ‘problems’ or routes that are on smaller walls typically less than fifteen feet tall.
Top roping is when the climbing rope is wrapped around an anchor at the top of the route, and you clip in with a belay partner who manages the excess rope as you climb.
Some gyms will have the option for lead climbing, but that’s mostly what you’ll see outdoors. It’s similar to top roping but with a lead climb the entire rope length is at the bottom with you and your belayer. As you climb, you clip the rope into safety anchors using quickdraws.
Other types of climbing are less popular but still are options for disciplines that you could grow into: trad climbing, aid climbing, deep water soloing, free soloing, ice climbing, and more.
While it’s not necessary to pick an interest right away, it’s great to have a basic understanding of the different types so you can play around and see if there’s one that interests you more. Depending on what you’re drawn to, you may have different gear requirements when you do purchase products in the future. While some climbers may focus on one discipline, many climbers will participate in multiple disciplines.
7. Understand Grades, But Don’t Focus on Them
It’s a great idea to have a basic understanding of rock climbing grades. If you know around what level you climb at, you’ll be better at navigating the gym as well as have an easier time finding outdoor climbs that are within your ability range. Routes inside a gym will be labeled with their suggested grade, and you can use apps like Mountain Project to find the grade for outdoor routes.
Grades are also beneficial for professional climbers who are looking to push the boundaries of climbing like Adam Ondra and Daniel Woods, who have both established the highest-rated routes in the world. Having ratings helps put numbers on exactly how far they can go.
That’s where the benefits of climbing grades end. There are several ways to benchmark progress like strength, technique, and an increase in the quantity of time you spend climbing, but these aren’t as measurable as grades. But it takes a lot of work to go up in grades, so if you beat yourself up about not hitting the next level soon then you may not enjoy climbing as much as you had hoped.
Instead of focusing on grades, acknowledge them and move on. Appreciate your progress by remembering where you started, and focus on making climbing fun. In the end, if you have fun, you’ll spend more time doing it and get better in the long run.
8. Practice “Silent Feet”
It can be easy to get pulled into focusing on your upper body strength, but your feet are one of the most important tools in climbing. The muscle groups in your lower body are much larger, and therefore will tire less easily. Take as much opportunity as you can to rely on your leg strength more than your arms.
An easy tool to help practice this is climbing with “silent feet.” When climbing, you should place your feet while making as little noise as possible. This will help you notice when your foot is scrambling for a hold instead of being purposefully placed on one. It will help you improve your footwork more than you know.
9. Climb with Straight Arms
Keeping your arms straight is an easy beginner tip you’ll hear and see all over the place when you’re first starting out. This is great advice but it requires some clarification. Straight arms will help prevent you from holding your upper body close to the wall when all that does is tire the muscles quickly. Instead, keep your arms straight so you hang off the wall instead.
That being said, keeping your arms straight doesn’t mean just relaxing into it. You should keep your arms and back muscles activated at all times. Your elbows should be slightly bent and your back should be flexed in a way that keeps it strong while it maintains body tension and supports your body weight.
10. Keep Your Hips Close to the Wall
In addition to working on your arms and footwork, it will help you climb more efficiently if you practice keeping your hips close to the wall. With your body’s center of gravity held in close, it puts more weight on your legs and takes it off your arms.
11. Start At a Climbing Gym, But Get Outside When You Can
Climbing gyms are the best places to start for beginner climbers since it’s a safe place to get acquainted with the sport. You can rent rock climbing shoes, a climbing harness, and even chalk with a chalk bag, which is all you need to get started climbing. They will even give you an introduction to climbing and the staff is extraordinarily helpful when it comes to navigating your new sport.
Once you’ve committed to climbing for the foreseeable future, you should prioritize getting into outdoor climbing. The best way to do this is to find a group or a few friends that already have the gear and knowledge. If you can join, you will learn lots, have a fun time, and get to participate without spending money on extra gear right off the bat.
Your local gym is a great resource for climbing regardless of weather conditions and training without having to hike in somewhere, so the importance of an indoor gym shouldn’t be downplayed. On the other hand, spending time outside will help you fall in love with the sport even more.
12. Buy Beginner Gear, But Only The Stuff You Need
When starting out at a gym, you can rent the basic necessities until you’re somewhat committed. Once you’re ready, you should invest in some beginner climbing gear to help take your climbing to the next level. This means purchasing climbing shoes and chalk with a chalk bag. If you’re interested in bouldering, you won’t need a harness, but you will need one for other kinds of climbing like sport climbing and trad climbing.
Those three items are all that you need at first, so don’t buy extras until you’re really ready. Some examples of extra gear are a crash pad (for bouldering), rope and quickdraws and a belay device (for sport climbing), a climbing pack, hangboard, and approach shoes. If you’re climbing with a group or a more experienced friend/mentor, they will likely have gear you can use until you’re ready to purchase your own.
13. Be Social
The climbing community is easily the most accepting and kind group of people we’ve ever encountered. There’s no competition – it’s just about doing your personal best and having fun. Don’t be afraid to talk with other climbers and ask for advice. Always be the person who says “Hi!” and puts yourself out there.
As a bonus, being social is one of the best ways to become a better climber. Watch others and see how they climb – absorb their techniques and try it out for yourself. Ask for beta (aka information) about how they would attack a certain route or problem – they may think of something you never would have thought of on your own. Climb with as many different people as possible so you can learn the different techniques.
Part of being social while rock climbing also involves being socially aware. There are certain unspoken rules or etiquette that you should follow:
- Do follow the 7 Leave No Trace principles so we can keep areas clean and open for climbing.
- Don’t hog a route or problem. If there are other people who want to give it a try, let everyone have their turn.
- Don’t spray beta, a.k.a. give unsolicited advice or information. Only help out if the climber wants help.
- Don’t leave your stuff everywhere – keep it contained and out of the way so no one trips or falls on it.
14. Find a Partner
If you’re interested in any type of climbing besides bouldering, you’ll need a climbing partner. At the very least, you’ll need a belay partner (someone who can manage your rope as you climb and you can do the same for them). This can be someone you knew beforehand, but it could also be someone you get to know at the gym.
15. Only ‘Train’ If You Are Serious About Progressing
If you’re a climber who climbs to be social, have a good workout, get outside, or have fun, then you don’t need a training program, especially at the beginning. Do whatever to make it fun and remember that each climber has the freedom to climb for their own reasons as well.
If you’re a task-oriented person who’s looking to get better at climbing then you could incorporate a training program, but only if you’re willing to put in the effort. At first, you should continue to focus on climbing only, but after several months you can start to incorporate training that works towards your goal. Some structure will help you progress more than casually hitting the gym a couple days a week.
Take a look at this bouldering training program to get an idea of what to look for in rock climbing training. It’s based on functional movements that will directly benefit the muscles involved in climbing. It does include some grip strengthening, but that shouldn’t be a focus until you’re about a year into your climbing career.
Even if you don’t focus on a specific training program, you could still put some structure into your climbing days by playing some games or practicing 4x4s, projecting, drills, and more. This will give you some direction when you spend time on the wall.
16. Practice Falling
Falling is part of learning and there’s no way to avoid it. The least you can do is take the time to learn how to fall properly, especially if you’re bouldering. Never stick your arms out or try to catch yourself, as this will just lead to broken or sprained wrists. Instead, land on your feet with soft knees, then roll backwards onto your back.
17. Eat Healthy
Part of climbing is finding the right balance of body weight and strength. You don’t want to be too large or muscular that you’re too heavy for your forearm strength, but you also don’t want to be thin where you don’t have the strength you need. In the beginning, you won’t be able to tell a difference, but you’ll hear professional climbers saying that they climb their best at a certain body weight.
Eat healthy, well-balanced meals with healthy fats, carbs, and protein. While climbing, refuel with quick fuel sources like snack bars with chocolate and fruit. Afterward, help optimize recovery with vegetables, carbs, and healthy proteins.
18. Don’t Use Too Much Chalk
While it can be tempting to cake on the chalk, this can actually make your grip worse by giving you less traction on your hands and clogging up the texture on the holds.
19. Take Care of Your Hands
Your hands are your best friend so take care of them properly. This means trimming your fingernails short and keeping your hands moisturized so the calluses don’t get too rough. If you don’t take care of your calluses, you run the risk of ripping them off and getting a ‘flapper’.
20. Wear the Right Clothing
Don’t show up in jeans and a T-shirt. Wear tight-fitting clothes that don’t hang in ways that will get caught in things. Think about yoga clothing like leggings with well-fitted shirts and tanks.
Alex Lowe was a climbing legend (1958-1999) who inspired a whole generation of climbers, and one of his most famous quotes is “The best climber is the one having the most fun.” If you’re having fun, then you’ll stick with it longer, enjoy it more, and be more successful in the long run, regardless of your definition of success.
Either way, we hope these tips will help you understand climbing just a bit more so you can learn about rock climbing tips and have fun doing it.
How should a beginner start climbing?
The best way to start rock climbing is going to your local climbing gym. That’s the easiest way to start learning, meet new people, and rent gear without having to commit to purchasing your own yet. Once you decide to stick with it for the foreseeable future, you can look at getting your own equipment and moving outdoors.
How many days a week should a beginner climb?
A beginner climber should only climb 2-3 times per week when they’re first starting out. This allows the body time to heal between sessions and decreases the chances of overuse injuries.
Do you need to be strong to start climbing?
You don’t need to be strong or in shape to start climbing. In fact, the best way to get better and stronger is to climb and few other training methods can replicate time on the wall or on rock. So don’t let the fear of not being strong enough prevent you from trying it out!