Get a total-body workout from rock climbing–a popular sport that offers weight-loss benefits

  • 3 Minutes Read
Joanna Kriehn
Joanna Kriehn, MS, RDN, CDCES - Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist (CDCES)

Think beyond cardio equipment or weights and consider rock climbing for weight loss. More mentally engaging than stationary equipment, you’ll have fun while getting in a great workout.

Rock climbing weight loss

Basic gear needed for rock climbing–possibly your newest weight-loss activity

Many people first experience rock climbing indoors at a climbing gym. This controlled environment means you won’t have to worry about rock falls, high winds, or other outdoor hazards. Plus, routes are marked, guiding your hand and foot placement.

A pair of rock climbing shoes and a chalk bag are all you need to get started bouldering or climbing on small rock walls. Next, you’ll need a harness (if you want to try roped climbing), easily rented at a climbing gym. That way, you save money and discover whether you like the sport enough to purchase equipment. Once you have a harness, you’re ready for roped climbing on taller walls. Every gym is different, though wall heights range between 25-50 feet (about 7-15 meters). If you don’t have someone to belay you, check if the gym supports auto belays, mechanical devices that catch and lower you safely to the ground.

If rock climbing is new to you, consider touring a climbing gym alone or with friends. Many gyms provide tours and offer instruction. Working with an instructor ensures you maximize safety, learn essential knots, and understand proper belaying techniques (catching a roped fall).

Burning calories on the wall

Many people associate rock climbing with upper body strength. Yet, the most talented climbers have perfected the ability to push with their legs instead of pulling primarily with their arms.

Your heart rate will increase as you ascend the wall, providing a cardio workout. In addition, you’ll use various muscles in your upper and lower body, which help you build strength. You’ll do a lot of stretching and reaching from one hold to the next, increasing flexibility.

The combination of cardio, strength training, and flexibility makes for a complete workout that burns calories and builds muscle. Rock climbing is an excellent workout if your goal is weight loss.

How many calories will I burn rock climbing?

The number of calories burned for weight loss while rock climbing depends on such factors as age, gender, fitness level, the intensity of the climbing session, and how often you rest between routes. Like any sport, the more you weigh, the more calories you’ll burn for the same activity. But novice rock climbers burn more calories, regardless.

Specifically, rock climbing burns around 180 calories in 30 minutes for a 35-year-old, 165-pound female. Remember to track only your minutes on the wall. Resting and belaying don’t count toward the calorie burn.

How does rock climbing compare to weight lifting?

You’ll burn almost twice as many calories rock climbing as light weight training! To learn more about estimating calories burned during different types of exercises, check out this article.

You can easily track your rock climbing minutes to estimate calories burned with the MyNetDiary app. If you don’t mind wearing a device on your wrist while climbing, you can capture calories burned using a fitness tracker. These devices offer the best solution for tracking calories burned because they calculate calories expended based on measured heart rate. MyNetDiary syncs with Fitbit, Withings, Garmin, and Apple Watch.

Important note about weight loss

While physical activity is a crucial component of any weight-loss program, you’ll also need to reduce your calorie intake consistently to see results. An app like MyNetDiary makes it easy to track what you eat and drink to understand better how many calories you consume daily and provide you with a calorie budget for weight loss. To learn more about how to maximize your tracking efforts, click here.

The mental benefits of rock climbing

Because of the strategic focus required, indoor and outdoor rock climbing offer mental health benefits. Deciding where to place your hands and feet most efficiently, challenges your brain. While making it to the top of a route or boulder problem is profoundly satisfying and improves confidence.

Because rock climbing is so mentally demanding, it forces you to concentrate and block out unpleasant thoughts. Some studies have shown bouldering can help combat depression.

If you’ve had a stressful day on the job or simply need a break from your screens, check out indoor rock climbing. Then see for yourself if your mental clarity and focus have improved after some time on the wall.

Healthy snacks for pre- or post-climbing workouts

Make sure to fuel your climbing sessions by eating something several hours before your workout. Check out these nutrient-rich, highly transportable, dietitian-approved snacks – perfect for the climbing gym or local crag. Avoid eating a heavy meal before climbing or any high-intensity workout to optimize your activity.

Stay hydrated by drinking about 8 ounces of water 20-30 minutes before your workout. Drinking too much liquid will leave you feeling sluggish, making it harder to move smoothly on the wall. Make sure to sip on water between climbs to stay hydrated and mentally sharp throughout your workout.

Important note about safety

Rock climbing is a fun and engaging sport. However, whether inside or out, it is inherently dangerous. Make sure you use safety equipment and know how to use it properly. Prevent injury and stay safe by tackling the easiest-rated routes. Finally, don’t hesitate to take a climbing class and ask questions.

Rock climbing involves so many components of the body and brain to get you moving. In the end, the best exercise for weight loss is the one you will do. Try indoor rock climbing today to see if it becomes your new favorite sport!

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Jul 3, 2023

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