What is Climbing?


Climbing is a unique sport that can be endeavored so long as you have something to climb. This makes climbing a sport that anyone can try, as there is a vast range of ease and difficulty for climbing different walls, rocks or cliffs. Climbing can be done as bouldering at a big rock near your home or in a gym designed specifically for that purpose. Climbing can also be extremely competitive, as professionals can race to the tops of some of the most challenging climbing walls in the world. In fact, sport climbing will be introduced to the Summer Olympic Games at the 2021 Tokyo Games.

Climbing presents an incredible form of personal achievement, strength and growth. The sport generally requires a great deal of physical effort presenting various challenges to climbers of all skill levels. For this reason, climbing is an excellent opportunity to strengthen your body and fitness through a fun and challenging activity that is a rapidly growing sport around the world.


Climbing History

Climbing has quite a dated history going all the way back to paintings of men climbing mountains in 400 BC. Many of these past climbs are labelled as mountaineering, and over time climbers created systems to compare the difficulty of various climbs. In the early 1900s, specific equipment was developed for climbers. In the 1940s the first records of climbing competitions were completed in the USSR. It was around 1950 that rock climbing began to separate itself as a sport in the US. The first public wall constructed for climbing (using bricks for holds) was made in the 1960s. Ultimately, the earliest roots of climbing tended to do with conquesting and discovery all over the world. This passion for literally reaching new heights has flourished into climbing as we know it today.

Playing Surface

Climbing Wall

Climbing can be done on a great variety of surfaces. The most surface most often associated with climbing is simply a climbing or rock wall, featuring various handholds along a vertical wall that require some sort of effort to climb. However, climbing is not limited by any means to a simple wall with typical scattered urethane molded holds. Here are some examples of the various climbing surfaces often taken on by climbers:

  • Rocks
  • Boulders
  • Cliffs / Cliff Sides
  • Indoor Walls
  • Outdoor Walls
  • Trees
  • Crevices


Climbing Equipment

Climbing is a very physically taxing sport that in some cases can be extremely dangerous. There are some basic equipment necessities as well as some niche tools used to enhance the climbing experience. While climbing is often done in an indoor facility, just as much if not more is done outdoors or in the wilderness. Because of this, there are certain equipment items that are very important to ensuring the safety of a climber. Listed below are some of the sport's unique equipment.

  • Chalk
  • Climbing Shoes
  • Harness
  • Rope
  • Assisted braking device (for belaying)
  • Carabiners
  • Helmet


Climbing Gameplay

Climbing "gameplay" varies for each type of climbing, but ultimately all variations of climbing have the same goal: get to the top. In speed climbing, climbers race head-to-head on identical routes to see who can reach the top the fastest. When bouldering, no harnesses or ropes are used. So, climbers attempt to complete as many routes as possible. In bouldering indoors there is always a soft or safe surface for climbers to fall onto. Lead climbing tests both strength and speed of climbers, and involves climbers competing to reach the highest point on a wall. Harnesses are used to ensure the safety of the climbers when climbing and downclimbing or rappelling.

Position Roles and Responsibilities

climbing position roles and responsibilities

Climbing can be completed both individually or with a team. If done individually, it is important to ensure that you have accounted for the proper safety measures. However, if climbing with a team, there are some important roles and responsibilities for your team members. Position roles and responsibilities for climbing are listed below.

Lead Climber: Climbs first, sets support equipment at top if necessary

Belayer: Holds support rope for person climbing, uses belaying techniques to ensure safety of climber

Rules and Regulations

Climbing is a potentially dangerous sport that can be more complicated than it appears at times. There are some rules and regulations within the sport that are typically obeyed in all of climing's disciplines. Listed below are some of these key rules and regulations.

Coaching: While attempting a climb, the climber may not receive help or that sort of communication from any coach, judge or spectator.

Designated Holds: When various routes are present on a wall, only the designated holds may be used for each specific course.

Disciplines: Climbing is broken up into 3 disciplines: bouldering, sport and speed.

Downclimbing: Permitted so long as no other rules are broken.

Routesetting: The routes to be climbed must be unknown to the competitive climbers prior to competition.

Safety: The most important rule; many precautions must be completed before beginning climbing, including securing knots, harnesses and climbing holds and assuring all involved are ready to climb.

Starting Marks: Tape or adhesive material should be placed next to the designated starting hand positions of a given route.

Timing: If not a signal, the time begins when a climber completely leaves the ground to get into the starting position on the wall.

Referees and Officials

climbing referees and officials

The referees and officials of climbing carry the responsibility of ensuring that all rules and regulations outlined in the official rulebook are met by the competitors, spectators and coaches. At official climbing tournaments and events, there are three categories of officials that are in charge. These officials and their responsibilities are listed below.

Chief Judge: Main judge in competition, enforces rules and regulations.

Chief Routesetter: Head of preparation and maintenance of the climbing routes prior to and throughout the event.

Event Organizer: Ensures the event runs smoothly and takes the place of chief judge if none are present.

Lingo and Terminology

climbing lingo and terminology

Over time climbers have developed many slang terms within the sport to describe unique characteristics, situations and equipment known only to climbers. Some of this lingo is self-explanatory, but there are plenty of terms that only experienced climbers tend to use and may confuse a rookie climber. Here listed below is some climbing lingo and its meaning.

Belayer: Person responsible for the rope supporting the climber

Bouldering: Climbing usually shorter walls or rocks without the use of any supporting or safety equipment

Crux: The hardest part of a climb

Downclimbing: Moving down a wall or rock without jumping off or rappelling the wall

Dyno: A "dynamic" movement, typically a jump from one hold to another

Edging: Stepping on a hold with just the edge of your foot/shoe

Flashes: Tape or adhesive used to mark the starting holds for a climb

Rappelling: Walking down the wall backwards in a seated position with legs perpendicular to the wall, assisted by a harness and belayer

Slab: Wall with a positive angle (less steep)

Top Out: When a climber pulls themselves over the top of the climb instead of downclimbing or rappelling

Skills and Techniques

climbing skills and techniques

Climbing can be accomplished through several different methods and techniques; however, there are some techniques that stand out from others to make for the most efficient climb. With the right technique, feats of incredible caliber can be accomplished that at first seem impossible. Here are some good techniques to keep in mind when climbing.

  • Keep your arms straight when you can
  • Keep as much of your weight against the wall as possible
  • Look up/ahead to find the best holds
  • When you find a good rest spot, make use of it
  • Don't rush


Climbing Coaches

Climbing coaches are generally former or current climbers that have valuable experience and ability that they wish to pass on through teaching their athletes. The best climbing coaches are sure to invest in their entire team, and to focus on the flourishing of their trainees. Not only does it take good climbing experience to be a successful coach, but it requires a great deal of patience and teaching skills that must be developed over time. Some of the most well known climbing coaches are listed below.

Tyson SchoeneUnited States
Urs StoeckerGermany
Danyil BoldyrevUkraine
Patxi UsobiagaCzech Republic


Climbing Coaching

While climbing by its nature is a very intuitive and do-it-yourself sport, having a good coach is key to reaching new heights and getting the most out of your own potential. Coaches are super important for helping to maintain healthiness, develop the best technique and most importantly know exactly what is best for you personally. Talented climbing instructors are not easy to come by, so be sure to be appreciative of the work they do.


Climbing Strategy

To climb successfully, you may often need a considerable amount of strategy going into a climb. Some climbs can be very complicated, and thus require great compensation and good planning before attempting. There are various different strategies that climbers use, but all share the commonality of helping to ascend a rock or wall.

First, it's important to consider your footwork while climbing. Good feet placement is crucial to having a successful climb. When placing a foot, try not to move it too much once it is set. Also, it is good to keep your feet directly below you when you can to have good balance. Next, it is important to keep a hip close to the wall as much as you can. This will keep your weight against the wall, which will help prevent you from falling. Finally, try to pull or push in the opposite direction when making a move to counter the force so that you don't push yourself off the wall.


Climbing Drills

Climbing is unique because there is essentially no end to the number of different routes and courses that one can encounter in the sport. So, it is important to practice various scenarios and drills to prepare for real-life or competition situations. Aside from weight training and personal fitness (very important), there are several drills that can be practiced to prepare for important climbs. Here are some of the best climbing drills:

Blink Drill: Locate a foothold you would like to make a move to. Then close your eyes and make the move without looking. When finished, open your eyes to check how you did.

Rest Practice: Try to find as many resting positions you can while doing a climb. Practice getting into the best and most muscle-relaxing position, and focus on breathing and letting your body recover on the wall.

Glue Foot: When doing a climb, whenever you place your foot on a hold, do not move it. Pretend your foot is glued to the hold until you make your next move. This will help increase stability on small or difficult footholds.

Momentum Climbing: Practice doing climbs without stopping or pausing for anything. This will build strength and help prepare you for climbs that have little to no good resting positions available.

Olympic Climbing

olympic climbing

Sport climbing will debut in the Tokyo 2021 Summer Olympic Games. This is the first time that climbing has been featured in the renowned international competition. In the Olympics, climbing will be separated into three separate disciplines, but athletes are required to compete in all three to total a cumulative score to compete for a medal. The three disciplines are speed, bouldering, and lead, which are further described below.

Bouldering: Climbers climb as many routes as possible on a 4.5m wall within 4 minutes. Bouldering is done with no ropes or additional equipment.

Lead: A team of 2 climbers work together as climber and belayer to climb a wall greater than 15m as high as possible in 6 minutes.

Speed: Two climbers race up a 15m wall side-by-side on an identical course. The climbers race to the top for the fastest time.

Players and Athletes

climbing players and athletes

To become one of the best climbers in the world takes years of rigorous dedication and training. Climbing can be an incredibly physically demanding sport, and for that reason many shy away from putting in the necessary efforts to truly excel in the sport. However, some amazing athletes have gone above and beyond that challenge, and have earned the title as some of the best climbers worldwide.

Adam OndraCzech Republic
Chris SharmaUnited States
Lena HerrmannGermany
Alex MegosGermany
Sasha DiGiulianUnited States
David LamaAustria


Climbing Leagues

Around the world there are several leagues that serve the purpose of organizing and sponsoring climbing events and tournaments. These leagues have various levels, ranging from youth to professional leagues. The most respected international organization is the IFSC, which coordinates events all around the world working with other climbing leagues. Some well-known climbing leagues are listed below.

International Federation of Sport Climbing (IFSC)WorldwidePro
USA ClimbingUnited States Pro, Collegiate, Youth
American Scholastic Climbing League (ASCL) Colorado, USYouth


Climbing Brands

When looking to begin climbing, it is important to have the right gear if you wish to stock up on equipment. While many large companies and stores produce some climbing related equipment, the majority of general sporting stores are not the greatest hubs for finding the best climbing gear. The best climbing gear is usually produced by specifically climbing companies which know what is and is not most important in the production of materials. A few of the best climbing brands are listed below.

ButoraClimbing Shoes
So iLLHolds + Equipment

Youth Organizations

climbing youth organizations

As climbing is a rapidly developing sport around the world, the organizations surrounding the sport are also seeing significant growth. Youth climbing organizations work to develop core values in young athletes while earning an education and experience in the world of climbing. Through hard work and dedication, young athletes look to reach professional levels of competition by beginning in the youth organizations and leagues. Listed below are some prominent youth climbing organizations around the world.

USA Climbing United States
Escalando FronterasMexico
SANCFSouth Africa


climbing tournaments

While there are many different levels of climbing expertise, there are corresponding tournaments in each level to determine the best climbers around the world. Climbing tournaments are held for every discipline, many featuring all-around scores of all three. Tournaments are held for youth, collegiate and professional climbers on all populated continents; listed below are some of the most prestigious.

Climbing World ChampionshipPro
Olympic Sport ClimbingPro
IFSC Climbing World Youth ChampionshipYouth
American Bouldering SeriesPro (Domestic)

Books About Climbing

Climbing Books

While climbing is a very physically active sport, it can never hurt to dive deep into the world of climbing by cracking open a book. Climbing books can be very useful for developing technique or learning about didactic experiences from some of the climbing greats. Setting time aside to learn about climbing in this way can prove very beneficial to a rookie climber. Some good climbing books are listed below.

Lost HorizonJames Hilton
Into Thin AirJon Krakauer
Freedom ClimbersBernadette McDonald
EnduranceFrank Arthur Worsley


Climbing Websites

There are all sorts of climbing websites across the internet. Many tend to do with climbing organizations, climbing equipment or climbing tournaments. These websites are the basis for important data, pricing and scheduling for climbing events across the globe. Climbing websites make important information easily accessible to anyone with access to the Internet. Some useful climbing websites are listed in the table below.

usaclimbing.orgUSA Climbing
rei.comClimbing Equipment
tokyo2020.orgOlympic Sport Climbing


Is rock climbing a good workout?

Rock climbing is a great workout because of all the different parts of the body that are used when climbing. Rock climbing will work your core, arms, legs, glutes and back.

Is rock climbing hard?

Rock climbing routes are classified through a systemized grading scale to determine the difficulty of each course. So, some routes are very easy while some are difficult for even the best climbers around the world.

What are rock climbers called?

Rock climbers are no different than other professional athletes and can be called professional climbers, rock climbers, climbers, pro climbers, adventurers or pro athletes.

What is a problem in rock climbing?

A problem experienced by many rock climbers is fatigue while on the wall, due to a variety of causes like bad technique or a simply exhausting climb. This is why it is important to take proper safety measures when attempting a difficult climb.