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Does Rock Climbing Build Muscle?



Well-known member
May 22, 2015
Rock climbing seems scary and fun from a general perspective, but on closer observation, it's one of the best workouts for your body. If you've ever attempted rock climbing, you must know it's not an easy task as it involves using different parts of your body, like your arms, core, back, legs, and more.

You can try different types of rock climbing, such as bouldering or route climbing; whichever one you choose, it will still build muscles in other parts of your body, which will help you climb in the future. The areas most affected when you go rock climbing are your forearms, back, arms, and core.

When you climb, your body experiences tension which may be inconvenient initially, but it's to keep you on the wall. Picture yourself climbing and being halfway up a 60-foot climb and relying on strength to keep you on the wall. You stick your toes into the small foot holds while you extend your arms to reach the next hold. Your core stays tensed to sustain your upper body close to the wall, and you feel the vibration in your legs as they work to keep your feet out of the small foot jobs.

While trying to sustain yourself on the wall, you're unconsciously straining and building some muscles.
Continue reading to learn more about rock climbing and building muscles.

Will Rock Climbing Get Me in Perfect Shape?

Rock climbing is a fun activity that inadvertently serves as a workout session. It's an ideal sport when it comes to getting in shape. Rock climbing involves putting in a conscious effort to get to the top and keep yourself from falling. Rock climbing is a high-intensity sport, and it helps work on your:

  • Flexibility
  • Aerobics
  • Strength

Rock climbing is a way to get you back in perfect shape. If you do it correctly, you won't be stressing some joints like another less joint-friendly exercise like jogging. Also, rock climbing is almost similar to your daily activities of climbing down and going up the stairs, only with additional intensity. It brings you out slightly of your comfort zone and gradually gets in shape as you engage in the exercise.

What Muscles Are Worked in Rock Climbing?

The more you engage in rock climbing, you'll witness significant changes in some muscles on your body, which means rock climbing has a way of building your muscles. Below are five of the muscles you work the most when rock climbing.

Your Lats

Your latissimus dorsi(also known as lats) is one of the muscles you work most when rock climbing. When trying to ascend the wall, you're engaging your lats and some other muscles at your back; as you move vertically up the wall, you'll strain this muscle which develops significantly over time.

Your Biceps

Your biceps are the muscles on your upper arm; you use them most when you need to pull yourself up on the wall or draw your body closer to your hands. Your biceps also experience significant changes the more you engage in rock climbing; strong biceps also increase your climbing efficiency. You aren't going to build Ronnie Coleman's biceps but you will be surprised just how much muscle you can build rock climbing.

Your Forearms

You will only be able to climb to the top if you have a strong grip. However, the more you climb you'll be able to develop a strong grip since you're constantly holding on with your fingers. The muscles in your fingers are linked to your forearms, and the more you flex your fingers, the stronger your forearms become. Strong forearms help you have a firmer grip while climbing.

Your Core

To sustain yourself correctly on the wall, you'll have to engage your core. As you climb, keep your pelvis and chest up against the wall using your core while pulling yourself upward. You majorly experience this when climbing a steep part of the wall; a strong core is needed to properly align your body against the wall as your body becomes inverted.

Your Calves

By outing your toe in the steep holes and standing on them so that you can reach the next hold, you're straining your calf muscles. Your calves are used to hold your foot in position when your foot is in the steep holes. Pulling yourself with your toes on the ledge requires strong calf muscles. People with weak calves may find it hard to pull themselves upward, putting them at risk of falling.

Rock Climbing and Your Upper Body Muscle.

The more you climb, the more you're working your arms. The major muscles you use while climbing is the forearm flexors; they're used to open and close your hand around the rock climbing hold. They're also the smallest of all the muscles used to climb and often tire out very quickly. Consequently, resulting in what climbers call "a flash pump." However, as beginners continue to climb, they discover new techniques to work their forearm flexors without putting too much pressure on them, and the pump feelings they experience reduce gradually.
Experienced climbers rely instead on their lower body muscles to help their ascent on the wall rather than entirely depending on their arms. Climbers also depend on their biceps to sustain themselves on the wall.

There are other muscles in your upper body that you work on while climbing; they're usually located on your back. The lats are the large wing-shaped muscles on the side of your back. You engage them when you try a pull-up motion and are used to pull the body higher to the next handheld.

Your rhomboids hold your torso close to the wall, and the anterior deltoid(located in the shoulder) helps you pull back your upper arm to reach for other holds. The lats, rhomboids, and deltoids work simultaneously to sustain you on the wall.

Rock Climbing and Your Middle Body Muscle.

The core or abdominal muscles are mostly overlooked when it comes to climbing. But these muscles are used to keep the climber stable on the wall; without them, it's challenging to sustain your body on the rock.
You use the abdominals mostly when you climb steep roofs; this is the point where your core helps to keep the pelvis aligned with the chest while you're hanging on the rock wall. Engaging your core helps to reduce the pressure in the upper body.

Rock Climbing and Your Lower Body Muscle.

As beginners become more experienced, they will depend less on their upper body to help their ascent and learn how to use their lower body to push themselves upwards.
The quadriceps(the muscles in the front of the thigh) keep the lower leg straight and prevent it from bending as you step from one foothold to the next.

The calf is made of two muscles, namely the soleus, and gastrocnemius. These muscles are used to sustain the heel, which is needed because you mostly stand on your toes to reach the best hold. They also support your heel, especially when standing on a thin ledge with your toes.

So, Does Climbing Build Muscle Mass?

There's no specific answer to whether rock climbing helps build muscles because the results depend primarily on the individual involved. An individual can start experiencing muscle gain within the first three months of rock climbing. They'll experience significant muscle changes if they climb at least 2-3 times a week or an hour per session.
However, after the initial muscle build, climbers don't experience more muscle gains which are why most climbers lean and have a toned physique- not big.

People who benefit more from rock climbing focus on reducing fat to promote muscle tone. Climbing is a high-intensity sport and can also function as cardio which makes it very effective in muscle gain.


It's still not a proven fact that climbing causes muscle gain. However, most beginners indeed tend to gain a bit more muscle in their first 3 - 6 months of climbing, and that's if they're constantly climbing. There's little to no proof that experienced climbers continue to build muscles as they climb, especially if they don't have any other workout routine besides climbing.

After the initial muscle lump or muscle gains that happen with beginners, there's every tendency that the body doesn't undergo any other change except there alternative exercises like weight training.

The thrill about rock climbing isn't that you're gaining more muscles; it's simply a way to have fun and serve as a distraction from work, relationships, and other commitments. Gaining muscles through rock climbing is an added advantage, and you can add other varieties of exercises if you're intent on muscle building.
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