The opportunity to enter the world of rock climbing is open to anyone with a penchant for adventure and self-discovery. The act of gliding over natural rock faces or artificial walls is without equal as you become immersed in your physical well-being. Whether you hike into a coveted climbing area or take a short walk into a climbing gym, your body needs to be fit and ready to cling to small, tenuous holds.

Enter the world of rock climbing

Components of fitness, including cardiorespiratory fitness, body composition, muscular fitness, and flexibility. Proper nutrition and hydration for optimal performance in climbing are also discussed, along with physiological responses to climbing. If you’re not properly fueled, your physical performance will show it!

In addition, specific training programs for rock climbers are presented in this chapter. These training programs are designed to improve muscular fitness and cardiorespiratory endurance.

With these programs, you can clearly define your training goals and plot a structured training course that will enable you to advance your skills and prevent injuries. You may have observed the experts effortlessly climbing up, around, and over seemingly glasslike walls. You probably wonder how they hang on. Are they naturally talented? Can you train to climb as smoothly as these elite, world-class climbers?

Your ability to become good at rock climbing depends not only on natural talent and a high level of desire, but also on consistent training and practice. To advance in the sport of rock climbing, you must commit to progressive and structured training.

The most important recommendation of any training program is to have fun. If you do not truly give yourself up to the process of training and progressing for the pure fun of it, then the toil of training can become drudgery. Thus, as you embark on a more disciplined fitness program to train for rock climbing and as you use your newfound strength and fitness during unbridled ascents of novel and exciting routes—remember to always convey how much fun you’re having along the way.

To properly devise a training program that enhances overall climbing fitness, you need to have common knowledge about exercise. In general, fitness components include the following: body composition, muscular fitness (includes strength and endurance), cardiorespiratory endurance, and flexibility. Together, these components ensure that muscle groups and soft connective tissues pulling on the skeleton are properly trained to undergo constant stress and strain patterns.

Also, with better overall fitness, you will have less chance for injury as well as a faster recovery from hard days at the crag. In addition to the stress and strain placed on muscle, bone, and connective tissue when a person is rock climbing, the cardiorespiratory system is frequently taxed during this activity. Therefore, this system should not be overlooked when training for the sport of rock climbing.

Note that various measures exist that quantify body composition; one such measure is termed body mass index (BMI) and determines the ratio between your weight (in kilograms) and height (in meters squared). Normal or healthy BMIs fall below 25.0. Another measure of body composition is based off of subcutaneous fat (or fat just below the surface of the skin) through the use of skin calipers, which measure the thickness (in millimeters) of certain body fat skinfold sites to determine an overall percentage of body fat.

Percent body fat, however, is not normally a good indicator of rock climbing ability, but rather a measure that can help you track the progress of your fitness level. Thus, establishing a baseline body fat percentage and tracking this number to determine if it is decreasing may provide information that you’re adding muscle mass and losing body fat.

Body composition and rock climbing tend to go hand-in-hand because having a lower percent body fat implies a greater percent of muscle mass. The goal, then, is to train to increase muscular strength and endurance so that climbing feels easier. Note that 5 pounds (2.3 kg) of fat is not as functional as 5 pounds of muscle tissue. The ratio of fat to muscle tissue is not of importance the first time you go out to the gym or crag to climb, but as you advance in your skills your goal should be to reduce fat tissue and strengthen existing muscle mass.

The underlying message is that you should train your body to be strong and healthy while climbing to the best of your ability at any given time. Overall, you should focus on becoming physically fit with greater muscle mass. This will enhance your climbing ability and your efficiency of movement. It’s interesting to note that body composition may not be the best indicator of rock climbing performance and instead a beginner climber should focus more on developing finger and overall body strength.