Indoor Climbing 101: Everything you need to know before your first visit to the climbing gym

Climbing commands are pretty standard at all rock gyms, so you’ll probably hear (and be taught in any beginner’s class) this exchange that happens before the start of the climb:

Climber: “In relay?” – It is the climber who asks the belayer to confirm that he is correctly attached to the belay system.
Belayer: “Belay activated”. – The belayer will double check the carabiner to make sure it is locked in place before saying this.
Climber: “Climbing”. – It means the climber is about to start climbing.
Belayer: “Get in! » – It is the belayer who confirms that he is ready for the climber to start.

Other commands you can learn:
Climber: “Slack! – The climber needs more rope to move comfortably.
Climber: “Rope in the air! – There is more slack in the rope and the climber wants the belayer to catch him for the rope to be taught.
Climber: “Take! – The climber is ready to be lowered from the wall, so the belayer must support the weight of the climber on the rope.

This isn’t a complete list of commands used in rock climbing, but many more won’t really be needed in the gym and are meant for outdoor climbing instead.

The technique

One of the coolest things about rock climbing is that unlike other sports or activities where you really have to learn a movement pattern before you can do it, the movement is quite intuitive; you’re looking at a wall with a bunch of handles, and your body knows exactly what you need to do to get to the top. If you’ve climbed anything before, you’ll have the basic downward movement.

The thing most people need to remember, though, is to use their legs. “A lot of people think climbing is in the arms, but I would say it’s actually in the feet,” Leonard says. He suggests that instead of looking at your hands and planning your next move based on them, focus more on your feet and think about how to walk to the wall. “That way you’re using your leg muscles instead of trying to do pull-up after pull-up,” he says. This will make climbing much easier.

Ashmont notes that when you do an initial session with an instructor, you’ll learn some really useful form tips and can learn IRL how they feel. A few things he says to keep in mind: “Keeping your hips above your feet as much as possible is very helpful.” Basically, keeping your center of gravity in the middle of your body and close to the wall will help you stay strong and control your movements. He also suggests keeping your arms as straight as possible when you don’t need to actively use them to reduce strain on your forearms.

Speaking of forearm fatigue…it’s inevitable. “Often people climbing for the first time or two are in pain, with injured body parts they’ve never used before,” Ciotti says. The reality is that unless you play another sport that requires a lot of grip and forearm strength, your body isn’t used to using those muscles as heavily. Your fingers, hands and forearms will tire very quickly. What I always feel is that I have to stop climbing long before my legs and back get tired, because my hands and forearms have reached their limit. This is completely normal and Ashmont assures you that you will notice improvement week after week.

“Climbing twice a week is great if you’re really trying to see rapid improvement in the first two months,” he says. “But even climbing once a week you will see an increase in fitness, endurance and strength.”

And the best part, I think? Once you’ve had your first session or two and learned how to climb safely, it’s a sport you can do totally to your heart’s content. You don’t have to rely on gym staff members throughout the process, Ciotti says. So you can go with a friend, or go solo and sign up to be paired with a gym partner (many climbing gyms have a belay partner sign-up sheet), and climb straight into the harness and on the wall. Before you know it, you’ll stop overthinking (read: worrying) about every little thing and start feeling right at home in the climbing gym like an old pro.


Virginia F. Goins