Health for beginners in climbing

Health for beginners in climbing

Youth, gymnastic ability and a strong upper body will all help you climb to higher levels, but contrary to what you might believe, they are certainly not essential. This article answers the questions: How fit do you need to be to start climbing? Does age matter? How strong do you need to be? What are the key aspects to help your climbing?

How fit do you need to be to climb?

Unlike running, the basic fitness needed to go climbing is surprisingly low. As long as you can get to the bottom of the crag or climbing wall you are half way there already! Many crags are close to the road so pick one of these and you're laughing.


As long as you can get to the bottom of the crag or climbing wall you are half way there already!

You will be surprised how easy the easiest routes are. If you pick the right one i.e. lots of good holds and not too steep (less than 65 degrees), then your feet, not your arms, can support most of your body weight. Using your feet well is one of the key aspects of a good climber.

The steeper the climb, the more fitness becomes an issue, but there are plenty of routes that are not steep.

Does age matter?

I know a climber who is over 80 years old and it certainly doesn't stop him enjoying himself! Being young can help, but what you may lack in youthful exuberance you can overcome with wisdom.

I know a climber who is over 80 years old and it certainly doesn't stop him enjoying himself!

How strong do you need to be?

The steeper the climb the more strength you require. If you never climb steep routes you can get away without being able to do one pull up (hanging with two straight arms and then pulling your chin up to your hands without assistance). At 15 years old I used to be able to fire off 5 sets of 20 pull-ups on small finger edges. Now I can't get anywhere near that, but using my feet well and good technique has enabled me to climb so much harder. (Maybe I need to pull my finger out and start training again!)

Key aspects to help your climbing.

A good head for heights is probably the most important attribute. However, if you go bouldering and always stay lower than 10 feet off the ground, even this can be overcome.

You need a basic degree of mobility and flexibility (although I have one friend who has climbed one of the hardest routes in Britain and he is about 12 inches off touching his toes with straight legs!) Flexibility increases the number of holds you are able to use, so it can help you immensely.

Coordination and balance certainly help. It must be said that I am very clumsy on two feet and I'm always happier when I am on the rock with three or four points of contact!

For climbing harder routes, a high power to weight ratio can make all the difference, and generally, the lighter you are the less strength you need. This is because the muscles in your forearms that power your fingers are the weakest muscles in your arm and upper body. The lighter you are the less strain you have on your fingers and the more you can hang on.

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