Intro to Indoor Rock Climbing

Thinking about getting into indoor rock climbing? Great! You’re going to be loving it in no time.

Life is about exploring (!) and there’s plenty of things to try indoors. Here is a quick intro on the different types of indoor rock climbing: top roping, lead climbing and bouldering.

Intro to indoor rock climbing

Starting out as a Beginner

I started out by top roping when I got into indoor climbing, and I think everyone should. You’ll learn to belay, which is a fundamental and easy skill to learn, and also get comfortable with heights and basic climbing techniques. Most gyms offer a beginner package with a belay class and a month of rentals for a low price. This way you can decide if it’s something you’ll continue with before investing in equipment. Check out Groupon and Living Social for deals!

Top Roping

Top Roping

Top roping can feel scary the first few times at 50+ feet off the ground, but after a few climbs it gets better. After all, on top rope you’re in constant tension, so you never really fall. Top rope routes start around 5.5 or 5.6 in most gyms and can go all the way to a 5.13. If you’re wondering what that whole numbering scheme is about, it’s part of the “Yosemite Decimal Rating System”, and all top rope routes will be rated using the scale. For a way of thinking about it, consider a 5.5-5.7 as beginner, 5.8-5.9 as intermediate and 5.10- and up as advanced.  Using the scale will help you choose climbs within your range or little above.

Lead Roping

Lead Climbing

You may see people lead climbing your first time in the gym and wonder what they’re doing. Lead climbing is the step up from top roping in difficulty, and most people don’t get into it until they’ve been top roping for months and climbing 5.8s comfortably with no rest. Lead climbing allows you to climb overhung routes  which requires a lot of strength and good technique. There are clips every few feet on lead rope routes that the climber clips their rope into as they go that keep them tethered to the part of the wall close to them. When I began lead climbing I took a course at my gym to learn how to clip and belay properly since it’s different than a top rope belay (belayer feeds slack instead of taking it).




Some people strictly boulder and could hang out for hours by the bouldering wall. Bouldering only requires shoes and a chalk bag; no harness and no rope. Also, when you’re bouldering you call it a “problem” instead of a climb (because it’s hard to figure out, and sounds fancy).

Bouldering walls are only around 12 feet high or shorter and you are protected by a crash mat only. Bouldering problems typically require more explosive and dynamic moves as you advance and start out at a V0. Bouldering is graded on the “V-Scale” and people say a V0 is equivalent to a 5.9 or 5.10 on top rope. For bouldering you can think of a V0-V2 as beginner, V3-V5 as intermediate and V6 and up as advanced.

Feeling ready to get to the gym? Do it! Climbing builds confidence, gives you a full body workout and is a great social get together with all your daring awesome friends. 🙂

Need any advice on starting out? Send me a line in the comments 😉 >>




I share fitness inspiration for the daring and every day ways to get better on my blog, AcroCafe by Eliannah. I’m passionate about alternative fitness and doing what makes you feel alive.

Life is better upside down!

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  • Awesome post! I know there’s a climbing gym near my apartment but I’ve yet to go!! I really want to though! I can only imagine how much strengthening benefits it has and it just looks fun! I’m all for “unique” workout ideas because I get bored of the gym sooo quickly (am actually doing a UFC class in a few weeks, even).

    • It’s so fun and such a good workout! I hope you get to try it soon, the UFC class sounds really cool too. Who said working out had to be boring? 🙂