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Indoor Rock Climbing Tips for Beginners

BY: Editors | Jun 28, 2017

Indoor rock climbing gyms have been popping up all over the US in recent years. And, thanks to famous rock climber Alex Hannold's recent scaling of Yosemite's famous El Capitan (without ropes!), we're betting that the trend is only going to continue to climb in popularity (pun intended).

Of course, it can be intimidating to jump-start a rock climbing hobby if you've never stepped foot on a climbing wall (or scaled anything higher than a step ladder). One of our writers, Mae, traveled to Chicago's Hidden Peak Climbing Gym to try indoor rock climbing for the first time, and we put together this list of tips for first-time climbers based on her experience.

1: If you're a beginner, try bouldering.

Because you never get more than 10 or 12 feet off the ground, bouldering doesn't require harnesses or gear, making it feel a bit more accessible to those who have never climbed before. The main focus in bouldering is on moving sideways, and the main challenge is "sequencing," which Hidden Peak manager Dave Hudson described as "a chess game about where I should step, what holds I should grab."

Beginners may also venture onto a top-rope course, which is more gear-intensive, requiring a harness, rope, and belayer (a person on the ground who holds the other end of the rope to make sure you don't fall). Some gym's also ofter lead climbing courses, but those are really aimed at more experienced climbers.

2: Keep your weight on your feet.

Because your hands are busy trying to reach and grasp different handholds, they get tired faster than your feet. Mae's hands actually started twitching once they got too tired! Try to limit the work they have to do by paying attention to your leg placement and letting your foot and leg muscles support your body as much as possible.

3: Rest in the corners.

If you are bouldering and reach a corner on the climbing wall, take a breather there. With one leg on one wall and the other leg on another wall, you will feel stable and happy.

4: Dress the part.

Dave recommended wearing loose-fitting clothes that you can move in easily. And Mae suggested putting on your harness long before you even start climbing. "It is a very secure and nurturing feeling, which will help calm any pre-climb jitters," she said.

5: Don't worry—the mats are really soft.

Mae accidentally jumped off the bouldering wall at a height that seemed super high (she was actually only 6 feet up). But she was fine! Dave pointed out that jumping from anywhere in the bouldering area is safe, though for the softest landing, be sure not to lock your knees.

6: Expect a safety class before you start.

Dave noted that before climbers try a top-rope course at any new gym, they typically need to take a safety course on proper belaying techniques, knots, and other fundamentals.

7: Don't be intimidated.

Hidden Peak is the type of gym that attracts experienced climbers, but even this hard-core spot strives to be as friendly and welcoming to beginners as possible. They even offer classes for kids as young as 5! But no matter where you go, every bouldering wall will have a specific route for beginners, so don't be afraid to practice there until you feel comfortable.