A strong grip is essential for a wide range of sports, from weightlifting to calisthenics, obstacle racing to pole dancing. Grip strength can be the difference between nailing or failing that last rep.
When performing exercises such as pull ups or deadlifts, grip can often be the first to go. Fiery forearms 2 sets in? Get working on that grip strength!
Adding indoor climbing to your routine will have transferrable gains to other sports and exercises outside the climbing centre. It’s fantastic for muscular endurance, excellent for grip strength and overall provides a full body workout. Your endurance will most definitely be tested as you grasp the climbing holds on the wall and work your way to the top.
I went down to West 1 Climbing Wall in Marylebone for my first indoor climbing experience, to challenge my grip strength and confront my fear of heights…
After being briefed on key safety points and warming up for the session by friendly and informative instructor Tig, we began by tiptoeing over a route taped to the floor to test balance. Next we practiced traversing (moving sideways) across the wall using the climbing holds that were a few inches from the ground to get started. Nice, easy intro. Bouldering is the term for climbing without a rope. These routes will not be as high as when climbing with a rope.
Up, Up and Away!
Before I know it, I’m strapped into a harness and on my way up a 7 metre wall. I’ve not climbed this high before and I’m not great with heights, so my main rule was “don’t look down”. Tig was the belayer (the person who control the safety rope for a climber), to ensure a smooth descent and her thorough explanation of the safety points had reassured me I was in safe hands. Up I go, “this isn’t so bad!”. I get to the top *wipes brow*, all I can hear from down below is, “now let go of the wall!” Gulp. Carefully, I take one hand away from the wall at a time and hold onto the knotted rope attached to my harness. I had to lean back and gradually walk my way down while Tig lowered me back down to earth.
We did this route a few times, starting by using any colour hold to ascend, then using green holds for hands and any colour for feet and finally, only green holds for both hands and feet.
Your upper body tires much faster than the much larger leg muscles. Despite the common misconception that you use your upper body to pull up the wall, it’s the legs that do most of the work, by pushing off the holds. It can take a couple of goes to get the hang of relying on you legs. Instinctively I wanted to grab and pull upwards but found myself much less fatigued after letting my legs do the work.
After 3 ascents of the 7 metre wall, it was time to attack all 13 metres of the next one.
Rope clips in and up we go. This is fun! But halfway up and I’m stuck. I can’t find the blue hold I need. Being mobile certainly helps with climbing and there’s no doubt it will improve flexibility. I’m able to stretch my leg up and across after being tipped off as to which side the hold is, from voices down below. I’m nearly there… 13 metres above ground. I reach up to grasp the last hold at the top of the wall and tap both hands on the top hold to signal that I’ve made it. Hurray hoorah!
That wasn’t so bad. Now… To descend. This is the point where it’s best not to look down if you’re afraid of heights. Curiosity got the better of me of course, and I did take a peek. Vertigo ensues so I quickly switch my gaze to my sweating palms clasped around the knot, clinging on for dear life. I lean back, walk myself down the wall in a seated position… And relax.
What did I learn?
Climbing shoes are meant to be small. They will crush your toes. Having tight fitting shoes enables you to be more accurate with your footing as you can grip onto the foot holds better. As a beginner, you can get a away with having only mild discomfort with the shoes. As you get more advanced, you may want to get smaller sizes as you progress onto more complex routes.
Letting go of the wall at the top isn’t as terrifying as it looks. Just don’t look down.
Indoor climbing is a good laugh and very stimulating. It’s challenging both physically and mentally. The need for concentration when ascending the wall could be likened to solving a puzzle, searching for your allocated coloured holds. It can be a very sociable sport and great for beginners who want to gain confidence in a safe environment before venturing to outdoor rock climbing. You will leave the wall with a sense of achievement no matter what your current fitness level is.
Verdict: Give it a go!
Personal Trainer, Fitness Instructor and Sports Photographer
All reviews are written honestly in order to pass on positive experiences and are not influenced by any third parties. I partake in reviews only for activities I would personally do myself and recommend.