Rock-climbing looks super cool, but it’s actually a very good workout for your back, shoulder and fingers. And that’s why it may not look daunting while you are at the bottom but it certainly is challenging once you start climbing. It’s essential to get some specific workouts before attempting your first climb.

Once you start climbing regularly, you will realise that the climbing community is clearly divided into two types; one would be the purist outdoor climbers and the other would be the indoor or gym climbers. Although rock climbing is essentially an outdoor activity, climbing indoors is more taxing for the body and requires more effort when compared to outdoor climbing – and it can also be customised. But is the thrill of the outdoors the only perk of scaling rocks or does it have anything else besides the scenery to offer in terms of health and technique?

Logging a few focused hours in a climbing gym every week is a great way to get strong –
Erica Linsberry, Cragmama

The great outdoors or the bleak indoors

Most of the time people assume that gym climbing is a lot easier than climbing outdoors on real rock.  It probably looks that way when you have no experience of climbing – the routes are shorter, your path is laid out with brightly colored tape, handholds aren’t as sharp, and footholds aren’t as small.  So it looks a lot less scarier than the great outdoors. There’s plush padding below every boulder, and bolts to hang on to which are 4 feet apart, not to mention many of pre-rigged topropes. But many climbers say that they find indoor climbing rather difficult in comparison to scaling rocks.

Rock climbing is an adventure sport that calls for a strong back and upper body

Erica Lineberry from Cragmama says, “I have always been able to climb significantly harder outdoors than in, and so has my hubby. When I first started climbing, it used to frustrate me – it didn’t make any sense to me how one grade in the gym could be a warm-up in one circumstance and a project in another.”

Well she’s one of the few climbers who is honest about admitting that it takes a lot of persistence and dedication to scale the walls inside a gym than the rocks outside. She adds,”I’m not one of those elitists that snub their noses at all who enjoy pulling on plastic. If I have to workout indoors, I can’t think of a better place I’d want to be!  Not to mention that logging a few focused hours in a climbing gym every week is a great way to get strong.  But long ago I made peace with the fact that my climbing heart belonged outside rather than in, and it showed…”

It’s all about the experience

There are three different types of rock climbing activities. Sport climbing, which is increasingly becoming more popular, has permanent anchors that are fixed into the mountains for anyone to use. This style of climbing prevents rock climbers from having to be fearful of placing their own anchors.

Then there’s traditional climbing style that requires a climber or group of climbers to place their own protection on the wall and then remove each anchor once the passage is complete. There are many hazards to this style and it is preferred by experienced climbers.

And thirdly is the type of rock climbing that will keep someone in the gym is called Bouldering. With bouldering there is no harness; the only amount of safety available is the crash pad 15 feet below you. Bouldering also has different grades ranging anywhere from the easiest grade to the most difficult.

Bouldering or indoor climbing is also difficult and requires high stamina compared to traditional climbing

With traditional climbing it is the thrill of the unknown that attracts many people. On the other hand there are bunch of climbers that prefer the gym because you have all the safety you have pads, and people are setting routes that are safe. According to Justin Bowen, a traditional climber and a senior geology major at Northern Arizona University (NAU), bouldering indoors will get a climber passionate about increasing their grade rating. “I think some people only climb indoor and I kind of think it’s mainly because you have bouldering sport climbing and trad. Bouldering indoor people get addicted to that because of the numbers,” Bowen says. “The grades, you have certain levels and they want to reach that next level, how far can the climb. They know they can progress more so they want to stay inside and keep pushing it indoors.”

While climbing indoors may be more convenient and the preferred type for some people like Bowen, Michael Marshall, a senior biology major at NAU, believes nothing beats the natural beauty of the outdoors.

“True beauty of climbing comes from being out in a completely serene environment where it’s you and the rock and you can see for miles,” Marshall said. “The only thing that is present are the sounds of your feet against the wall and the gear protecting you in the cracks.”

Climbing indoors may increase strength and endurance but it is difficult to go from inside to outside climbing. There are more risk factors and the mentality to climb outside takes a long time to be achieved.

“Pushing your mental limit is a big part of climbing and getting over those hurdles outdoors is hard to get past,” Marshall said. “That’s why going from indoors to outdoors is a difficult transition that takes a while to get used too. They will be good but not great.”

Both Bowen and Marshall feel the culture of climbing is becoming more social and open, whether you are indoors in the gym or with your friends outside. It has become less about finding a difficult route and more about finding your own inner strength to complete it. And both the indoors as well as the outdoor climbers are on a perpetual quest to conquer that next cliff!

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