Benefits, Calories Burned, Muscles Worked



    Rock climbing is a sport that involves climbing artificial rock walls in indoor climbing gyms or natural rock formations outdoors in parks, forests, and other natural areas. Rock climbing has grown in popularity in recent years, especially since becoming an Olympic sport in the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. There are more than 25 million climbers in 150 countries.

    In the United States, indoor and outdoor rock climbing has grown in popularity. For instance, the number of indoor rock climbers peaked at approximately 6.36 million in 2023—roughly an increase of 580,000 from the previous year. Meanwhile, approximately 2.57 million people participated in outdoor rock climbing in 2023, about a 5% increase from the previous year.

    Most people cite the challenge, camaraderie, and connecting with nature (if the climb is outdoors) as the top reasons they are drawn to climbing. However, it’s also a solid workout that challenges nearly every muscle in your body, builds confidence, and provides a sense of accomplishment. Health benefits include improved memory, mood, and heart health.

    When rock climbing, especially outdoors, you often need to plan, memorize, and coordinate your route beforehand. Combine that with the decision-making and problem-solving that must be done at a moment’s notice if something changes or you encounter unexpected challenges or obstacles, and you can see that rock climbing requires brain power and working memory.

    One study found that demanding training, such as climbing for about two hours, can boost working memory by as much as 50%. 

    Studies also have found a connection between rock climbing and a reduction in symptoms of depression. Some mental health professionals have even started incorporating various types of climbing into the therapy they provide.

    While the exact reason for these effects is not known, it may have to do with the mindfulness required. On the other hand, it might have more to do with the physical exertion and the social aspects—or the fact that you’re in nature. For instance, studies have found that spending time in nature is therapeutic and often becomes a natural antidepressant.

    Most climbers note that one of the best aspects of rock climbing is the close, tight-knit community of climbers. Not only do they support one another, but they also collaborate on climbs and cheer one another on.

    Research by the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs found that rock climbing provides a number of health and psychological benefits, including camaraderie. It’s also a great way to meet people, especially if you join a climbing group or look at various lists of people looking for a climbing partner.

    Rock climbing requires a great amount of energy and muscle exertion that must be maintained over an extended period of time. For this reason, it’s an effective way to burn calories while doing something invigorating and challenging.

    One older study found that rock climbing uses the same energy as running a mile in 8-11 minutes. Other researchers have estimated that:

    • A 155-pound person would burn 282 calories in 30 minutes of climbing, or 1,128 calories during a two-hour climb.
    • A 125-pound person would burn 226 calories in 30 minutes, or 904 calories in two hours.
    • A 185-pound person would burn 335 calories in 30 minutes or 1340 calories in two hours.

    When you engage in rock climbing, your body uses multiple muscle groups to push and pull your body upward while providing support and stability to keep you from falling. For instance, you may use your lats (upper back muscles), biceps, forearms, core, glutes, quadriceps (front thigh muscles), and calves in one move.

    Research has also shown that because rock climbing uses your entire body, it may significantly improve VO2 max (the maximum amount of oxygen your body can use during exercise), grip strength, and lower limb power. It can also affect your performance doing movements like vertical jumps, push-ups, pull-ups, sit-ups, and sit-and-reach capabilities.

    Muscles Used During Rock Climbing
    Muscle Group  Primary Function 
    Arms Pulling, hanging
    Back  Stabilization, pulling 
    Calves  Balance, foot movement 
    Core  Stabilization, balance 
    Forearms  Grip, holding, reaching 
    Glutes/hip flexors  Leg mobility and drive 
    Quads  Controlled moves 
    Shoulders  Stabilization, mobility 
    On the Rocks. What muscles does rock climbing work out?.

    Although rock climbing may initially sound intimidating, it is an accessible sport if you start small and work your way up as you gain more experience. You may want to experiment with rock climbing in a local gym before heading outdoors. This way, you can see what it’s like on a fixed surface and determine what your current fitness level can withstand.

    Types of Rock Climbing

    There are a number of different types of rock climbing including top rope climbing, sport climbing, traditional climbing, and bouldering. Here is what you need to know about each:

    • Top rope climbing: This type of rock climbing involves a person climbing with a safety rope attached from above, which helps reduce falling when they release their grip on the rock.
    • Sport climbing: With a safety rope attached, a climber clips pre-placed bolts on the route every few meters to prevent a large fall when they let go of a rock or hold.
    • Traditional climbing: This type of climbing is similar to sport climbing, except that there are no preset bolts. Instead, the climber places their protection into cracks in the rock to prevent large falls.
    • Bouldering: In this type of rock climbing, the climber makes small, powerful moves low to the ground. They may also use a crash pad to protect themselves from injury if they fall.

    Get Educated on Climbing

    If you like climbing, learn the basics of outdoor climbing from an experienced climber or a qualified instructor. Check your community for a local climbing organization or consider hiring a qualified guide to help you. In the U.S., several organizations certify climbing guides including the American Mountain Guides Association and the Professional Climbing Guides Institute.

    An instructor, guide, or experienced climber can also help you learn the language or signals often used in climbing and instruct you on what gear you need. For instance, you may need a helmet, rope, harness, climbing shoes, and carabiners (easy-to-open metal loops that attach to ropes).

    Learn the Yosemite Decimal System (YDS), the standard system for rope climbing in the U.S. This system ranks the difficulty of walks, hikes, and climbs on a scale of 1-5. Climbs that require a rope start with the number five and then use decimals to identify the challenge. So, a gym might start at 5.05, but an outside climb might be as high as 5.12.

    Consider Training for Climbing

    Rock climbing also tests balance, muscular strength, grip strength, endurance, and cardiorespiratory fitness. You need strong legs to support you, a strong upper body to pull up and hold your body weight, and a strong heart to get blood to those muscles when they work. 

    If you are not in shape, you may want to start an exercise regimen that works your entire body and builds your strength and endurance. Incorporate cardio activities like running or swimming and both bodyweight and weighted resistance training. Push-ups, pull-ups, and other similar activities are valuable exercises. You could even try hanging from a small ledge or fingerboard to improve grip strength.

    It goes without saying that rock climbing outdoors can be a dangerous sport. There is a risk of falls, and many other accidents could occur, such as falling rocks, breaking equipment, or other issues. Here are some tips for how to stay safe while climbing outdoors:

    • Keep your climbs within your ability and do not push beyond your limits
    • Make sure everyone in your party knows the commands you will be using as well as agreed upon hand signals in case you cannot hear over the wind or other noises
    • Double-check your equipment, knots, harnesses, and anchors before you start your climb to ensure they are working properly and not damaged
    • Wear a helmet every time you climb—without exception
    • Know your route and share it with others so they know where you are going
    • Have a plan for your climb and stick to it including the turnaround time
    • Check the weather before climbing outdoors
    • Be prepared to self-rescue if phone service is limited or help is unavailable

    If you climb indoors:

    • Double-check your equipment and wear a helmet
    • Avoid pushing off the wall if you fall because that could cause you to swing back into the wall with a harder force
    • Make sure the rope is not behind your leg, as this could cause you to fall into it and cause serious harm
    • If you do fall, exhale as you fall and keep your body relaxed

    Rock climbing is an invigorating and challenging sport that is growing in popularity. In 2023, 6.36 million people participated in indoor rock climbing, and 2.57 million people participated in outdoor rock climbing.

    Rock climbing provides a full-body workout and is an effective way to burn calories. It also offers a number of health benefits. For instance, rock climbing can reduce symptoms of depression, build camaraderie, improve overall fitness levels, and burn calories. It can build confidence and self-esteem and provide a sense of accomplishment.

    If you are interested in climbing, you may want to start indoors or hire a qualified instructor or guide to help you learn the ropes of outdoor climbing. uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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