Does Rock Climbing Help More Than A Normal Gym?

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Rock Climbing is an amazing form of exercise that incorporates strength training and cardio in a fun challenge. Many avid gym-goers will find themselves questioning a gym membership vs rock climbing after just one visit. Is climbing better than a normal gym though?

The real truth is that it depends. We’re assuming you go to the gym for a few reasons. The main things you can do at the gym are general strength training for building muscle using weight or machines, or using a range of cardio machines.

Rock Climbing – whether it’s outdoors or in a climbing or bouldering gym – definitely requires strength and a little muscle. It also counts as a form of cardio and is pretty good as a full body workout. However, whether it’s better than a gym it depends on what you’re looking for in a healthy activity.

Rock Climbing Vs Gym

Whether rock climbing helps more than a normal gym is really down to what you want from the gym or a workout. If you want to build some upper body, core, and back strength as well as do some light cardio – climbing as an alternative to lifting can be excellent. Here are our pros and cons for the two.

Rock Climbing


  • Basically a full body workout
  • Good for upper body, back, and core especially
  • Fun and rewarding
  • Engaging and a real challenge
  • Regular route setting changes things up
  • Excellent for balance and co-ordination
  • Super social, often have great coffee, café, or bar for after
  • Good stretching areas, sometimes offer yoga classes


  • Mostly works a small group of muscles
  • Can be a struggle when you hit a grade plateau
  • Can be high impact if you don’t climb down when bouldering – roped climbing is less so
  • Not great cardio unless you do circuits

Traditional Gym


  • Can target specific muscle groups very efficiently
  • Best way to build muscle
  • Cardio is easy with a variety of dedicated machines
  • Range of classes
  • Good stretching area


  • Can be boring and repetitive
  • Hard to motivate yourself to go
  • Not very social

Can Rock Climbing Replace The Gym?

Absolutely. If you are like most people in that you just want to keep up decent level of fitness for general all-round strength and some level of cardio-vascular health – rock climbing is excellent for that. It’s great as an exercise that you’ll enjoy and be way more likely to come back to regularly.

Personally we both climb and use the gym, but if we had to pick one it would be climbing by far. Going to the gym is essentially for strength and physique. If you have less time or don’t care hugely about those, climbing and a few accessory body-weight exercises can make up any gaps.

Nowadays many climbing gyms also include a smaller training area with weight racks and traditional gym equipment and cardio machines. If you can find one of these you’ve struck gold! Some also offer free or discounted yoga, pilates and other classes.

Why You Should Join A Climbing Gym

When you’re just finished work and want to chill out, chat to friends, and enjoy yourself – which would you pick? Joining a climbing gym comes with a range of benefits. The biggest for us is that we actual enjoy our time climbing. The activity really engages both your brain and your body.

You also get to choose if you’re there to really push yourself and hit targets, or enjoy a social climb with a decent workout thrown in. Having a crew of like-minded people that are also up for other outdoors stuff is an added plus.

Rock Climbing Gym Vs Normal Gym Costs

In general you’ll find that climbing and bouldering gyms are more expensive than normal gyms. That’s because there is often a lot more work being done in a climbing gym that includes high quality route setting, regular safety checks, rope and mat replacement, and normally a larger space.

Having employees that regularly check for the safety of climbers, spectators, and anything that could be a hazard is important too. The use of chalk creates a massive need for regular cleaning and hoovering. Consider doing your friendly climbing gym’s employees a favor a switching to liquid chalk.

However, this does depend on the area and what gym you use. Bouldering gyms tend to be cheaper than ones with roped climbing because of the space and maintenance costs. You might also find you actually use your membership instead of letting it waste away like most Planet Fitness memberships do.

More Rock Climbing Health Articles
Physical and Mental Benefits of Rock Climbing
Rock Climbing For Exercise – Is Rock Climbing A Good Workout?

What To Supplement Rock Climbing With

There are a few things that rock climbing misses in terms of a full workout. These are often to opposite of the muscles we use in climbing and these would be called antagonist exercises. It’s worth adding a short session or two of these each week if you only climb and want a bit more of a rounded workout schedule.

One noticeable one is the pushing muscles. At a gym those exercises would be the bench press, overhead press, and dips. At home you can do pushups, overhead presses with anything heavy, and dips between chairs. Climbing gyms often have a dips bar or other floor equipment for these.

You might want to add more exercises to aid you climbing. Core work like planks, crunch variations and hanging leg raises are excellent. Fingerboarding is an excellent way to build tendon strength but don’t start it until around 6 months of climbing experience, or if you are a teenager and still growing. This could lead to serious injury.

Leg exercises like squats and lunges – especially one leg at a time – are helpful. While climbing doesn’t require massive legs, we do need leg strength and training the motion of pushing is very important.

Lastly it’s always worth doing a bit of cardio and stretching or yoga weekly. Being flexible and having a healthy set of lungs and a strong heart will help you no matter where you are in life – as well as heading off problems in later life.