Like you, I love to workout, or at least the idea of staying fit and strong. But lets be honest, lifting weights in front of a mirror can get a little boring sometimes. It’s easy to lose motivation when doing the same exercises or activities over and over again. Why not spice up your routine with a new activity that is fun, builds muscle, and challenges both the mental and physical self? Indoor rock climbing is the perfect way to stay active, improve your mental and physical capabilities, and maintain your social life!  But, how do you even begin such a sport?  

The beauty of indoor rock climbing is that it requires very little gear. However, it does require a friendly, encouraging, and open-to-growth mindset.  So, go on, grab your chalk bag and climbing shoes…it’s time to hit the gym!

Types of Indoor Rock Climbing

Indoor rock climbing in an excellent way to stay active throughout the year


This is a popular option for those who do not have a partner, or a harness, but still want to get some good exercise.  Bouldering is a type of climbing where you climb shorter routes without the use of a rope. The focus is usually on powerful moves and technical sequences.  But don’t let that daunt you – there are climbs for every person! 

Top Rope

This type of climbing is for those who want to venture on to higher heights.  Top roping is a form of climbing where the climber is attached to a rope, and their partner belays them from the ground using a belay device.  The rope is already set up and connected to an “anchor” at the top of the wall.  Climbing on taller walls usually focuses on endurance and technical moves.  

Indoor climbing offers many options including bouldering, lead, and top rope climbing

Lead Climbing

Lead climbing is similar to top roping and requires the use of a rope and belay device. However, the rope is not attached to an anchor at the top of the wall. Once the climber is tied into the rope, with someone belaying, they take the rope up the wall with them. While climbing up the wall, the climber clips into quick draws, and eventually the anchor at the top. This protects them from hitting the ground, called “decking”, if they fall.

It is important to note that with both top rope and lead climbing a belay test will be required.  Most gyms offer courses on these activities.  Taking a top rope course first will help to learn and become comfortable with belay techniques and safety.  From there, you can choose to take a lead climbing course.  After these courses, you can take a test to become “certified” to be able to belay or lead climb in a specific gym.  

Indoor Rock Climbing: What you need

When first going to a climbing gym, you won’t need to worry about buying gear before hand.  Most climbing gyms will rent out shoes, chalk, and harnesses.  Eventually, as your love for climbing grows, you’ll want to look into getting your own gear.  Finding the perfect climbing shoe depends on personal preference. An employee at the gym or at an outdoor store can help you choose a climbing shoe that is right for you. You will also be able to find loads of information on the internet about climbing equipment! Chalk and chalk bags can be bought at either a climbing gym or outdoor store.  Harnesses and belay devices can also be purchased at outdoor stores or climbing gyms.  An expert can help you decide which type of harness and belay device will work best for you!

Indoor Rock Climbing: What to wear

Pants that are stretchy and comfortable. Bring clothes that you don’t mind getting a bit of wear and tear on.

Indoor Rock Climbing: What to expect

When you go to a climbing gym for the first time, they may ask what your experience with climbing is, give you a tour, and go over safety concerns.  Some gyms require a “fall test” for bouldering. But don’t let the word “test” make you panic – they will instruct you on what to do, and then get you to demo a fall.  


Bouldering grades are typically graded by the V-scale.  Grades range from V0 to V17, with V0 being the easiest grade and becoming increasingly harder the higher the number.  Some gyms do not use the V-scale, but will usually have a chart or some way of communicating their grading system.  

In Canada, gyms will usually use the YDS grading system for top rope and lead climbing.  Sport Rocks has an excellent article on climbing grades here:

With this grading system, 5.5 would be much easier than a 5.11.  

Next, just climb!

Have fun, push yourself to try routes that you think might be “too hard”.  Watch other climbers, and project routes together.  Climbing with others helps with learning different techniques and how to use certain holds.  Taking classes can help, though it is not necessary to fully enjoy and progress in climbing. 

You will likely find that your forearms and fingers will be sore for the first few weeks of climbing regularly.  Eventually your muscles will begin to get stronger. As you get stronger, you’ll be able to complete harder moves and climbs, while lasting for longer periods of time on the wall.

Climbing builds muscle and improve your overall mental and physical fitness

Rock Climbing Technique

Technique is essential to improve in your climbing abilities.  With technique, you can climb hard things without having to be crazy strong. Techniques such as flagging, toe and heel hooking, and dynoing make climbing routes easier than they may first appear.

Footwork is a key element of climbing technique. Focus on your footwork, keeping it clean and quiet.  Practice pushing with your legs, stepping quietly onto foot chips, and move precisely onto the hold you are wanting to use. 

Ensure you are using your core to keep you balanced on the wall.  A strong core can help keep you on the wall, especially when climbing slab or overhanging routes.

Lastly, focus on how you are holding specific climbing holds.  You are going to hold onto a sloper with a much different grip than a crimp.  Learning different types of holds will be helpful in progressing as a climber.  99 Boulders has an excellent article on climbing holds and different climbing techniques here:

In addition to improving physical strength, climbing will also challenge your mental strength. Often, climbers have to face fears head on while climbing. Learning to manage those fears, whether the fear of falling, failing, or heights will transfer over to your day-to-day life. You’ll likely find that you have become stronger mentally after climbing for a while.

Always remember to warm up and cool down before and after your climbing session!

Indoor rock climbing at Calgary Climbing Centre

Climb on!

So there you have it- you’re set for your first day at a climbing gym! Although climbers have a history of being an “odd” bunch, they are typically friendly, welcoming, and encouraging.  Don’t be afraid to ask questions, try new things, and engage with others at the gym.  After going to the gym for a while, you’ll likely have a group of people cheering you on as you crush (or flail around) on some rad routes!

Want to learn more about climbing? For more info, see here: Climb