Rock climbing - a brief overview

11 May 2021
6 min

Ready to kick start your climbing journey? Here’s a brief overview with the key information you need to know. 


Like with many other sports, the origins of rock climbing are unclear. But various forms of evidence suggest in ancient times it was used as a necessity, rather than a sport. For example, the American Southwest is scattered with evidence that suggests native tribes lived in the Mesa Cliffs, which could only be accessed by climbing. Towards the end of the nineteenth century, this adrenaline pumping activity had gone from a necessity to a recreational activity. Due to it’s sheer popularity, the world’s first mountaineering club was born in 1857, called the Alpine Club. Back then equipment was basic, but this club helped revolutionise the activity with advanced technology. These improvements enabled complex climbs to become possible and by the 1920s, mountaineering expeditions were happening all over the world. By the 1950s, this recreational activity had developed into an athletic sport. Climbing competitions were organised, where grades were used to determine the difficulty of each climb. Fast forward to today and speed climbing, lead climbing and bouldering are now included in the Olympics.

Indoor or outdoor?

There’s perks to both methods of rock climbing. The most obvious difference is that indoor climbing can be done all year round and you won’t be affected by weather conditions. Many people begin their climbing journey using indoor walls to build up their strength, skills and confidence. This method is ideal, as most climbing gyms have the routes marked with brightly coloured holds, meaning you can get your practice in before hitting an outdoor climb. Another factor to note is indoor climbing gyms have foam mats on the floor to create soft landings. Unlike outdoors, where it’s rocky and hard. Both methods have many of the same gear requirements so if you’re comfortable with indoor climbing, it could be an exciting challenge to try outdoor climbing. That being said, outdoor climbing requires more knowledge of systems, but the qualified guide who leads your trip will teach you all about this. 

Types of climbing

There are a few different types of climbing, here are our top three:

Trad climbing (also known as traditional climbing) is a style of outdoor climbing, where the lead climber places removable protection along the route, which is then removed by the final climber when the pitch is complete. Due to climbers setting their own path and there being no route set in stone beforehand, trad climbing is often associated with exploration and adventure. However this also means there’s a greater risk factor than sport climbing. 

Sport climbing uses permanent anchors fixed to the rock face for protection, where a rope that’s attached to the climber is clipped onto the anchors to assist a fall. Sport climbing is associated with flexibility, technique and strength and often follows more direct routes than traditional climbing. 

Bouldering takes the best bits of rock climbing and condenses them down into just one boulder. It’s rock climbing stripped down to it’s essentials with no rope or harness and just a crash mat, your technique and strength. 

Why we love it

Rock climbing has many benefits, both physically and mentally. Here’s a few of our favourites:

It strengthens your muscles. Rock climbing engages most muscle groups in your body, making it a full-body workout. From using your arms and legs to pull yourself up, to using your core to keep yourself balanced on the wall. Furthermore, the more you practice and increase your strength, the more improvement you’ll see with your balance. There may be the occasional injury, but unlike other sports such as running, rock climbing is a relatively low-impact exercise. Meaning it’s a great option for a full-body workout without the long lasting damage on your joints.

It improves coordination. Not only is rock climbing perfect for improving physical health but it’s also great for the brain too. Your cognitive and problem-solving skills will be boosted from figuring out where to put your next foot or hand. We’re not saying you’ll get it right the first time, but through some trial and error you’ll become more familiar with what your body is capable of. Many climbers have said this fantastic activity dramatically focuses the mind and even has meditative effects sometimes. The self-awareness of being so high up with an end goal to get to can put many climbers into a flow state. Not to mention the huge sense of achievement you’ll get from reaching the top of the wall or cliff. Having said that, it’s not very often you’ll meet a climber who’s completely happy with their progress. Rock climbing often encourages ambition to reach the next height, which is fantastic for our mental well being as it gives us something to work towards.

It boosts your heart rate. Even from the very first step, pulling yourself up the climbing wall is hard work and will get your heart rate up. Meaning it’s not only your muscles that get a workout, but your heart too. Not to mention it dramatically improves flexibility from all the reaching and stretching that comes with climbing up a wall. Just one of the many reasons why we love it, as it’s one of those activities which is great for your physical health, but doesn’t feel like exercise.

It’ll take you to amazing places. From the Lake District to Portland, there are so many fantastic locations that are perfect for climbing and beautifully scenic at the same time. Where will you go next?

If you’re wanting to begin your rock climbing journey using indoor walls, we have a range of qualified guides on our website. Click here to view our trip for improving your rock climbing with a performance coach in Llanberis. But if you’re ready to challenge yourself with outdoor climbing, we have a selection of trips available in a variety of locations. Click here to view our range. 

Ready to go adventures

Find an trip created and led by a local guide and start your next adventure

Discover trips