Get a rockin’ body with a climbing workout that feels like an outdoor adventure.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

Get a rockin’ body with a climbing workout that feels like an outdoor adventure.


You don't have to be outside to go rock climbing. You don’t have to be an extreme athlete either. Climbing is super-accessible. Chances are you’re within reach of one of the 10 – and counting – climbing gyms in Singapore.

An instructor will help you strap into a harness and clip on your ropes, then anchor (that is, belay) you as you play Spider-Woman. Indoor walls generally range from 6m to 20m in height, with routes that vary in difficulty based on where the hand- and footholds are. An 18m wall will take about five minutes to scale, says sport scientist Jerry Medernach, the president of the National Climbing Community in Luxembourg. Most climbing gyms rent the harnesses, shoes and chalk bags you’ll need, so all you have to do is show up in spandex.

And the thrill is just one perk of making it to the top. Climbing works your entire body and your brain by keeping your muscles and grey matter guessing. Here’s why you must try it.

YOU’LL TONE FROM ABS TO CALVES Climbing is about much more than using the arms, says Michael Deyhle, a US exercise scientist who has studied climbing mechanics. When you do it right, you use your legs a ton (a coach can teach you the technique). Michael’s best quick tip: Move your foot up before reaching with your hands, so that you can use the power of your legs to help you grab the next hold, rather than using your arms to pull you up. Meanwhile, your abs will fire to stabilise you with each advance. “Your core is involved in every move you make while scaling a wall,” he says.

HARD WORK WILL FEEL EASIER Even strong runners can get winded walking up a flight of stairs. When you walk or run, you’re moving horizontally. “But when you climb a wall, you’re going vertical, against gravity, which requires more effort and oxygen,” Michael says. “The more you climb, the more efficient you’ll be at using oxygen and the easier tough things will feel, like tackling flights of stairs.”

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THERE’S A DOMINO EFFECT ON TONING Which muscles will you use a lot during a climbing session? Your finger flexors, according to a US study co-authored by Michael. While that may not rank high on your strength hit list, it’s actually something to get psyched about. “Many lifting exercises, including the dead lift, can be improved with better grip strength,” he says. That’s because, typically, the first thing to give when you’re holding a heavy barbell isn’t the muscles but your grip. Other often unworked muscles you’ll strengthen during a rock climbing workout are your elbow flexors, which initiate the pull-up movement. “I know several female climbers who are capable of more than 10 strict pull-ups in a row,” says Michael, who suggests doing a couple of assisted pull-ups once a week and seeing how much easier they get the more you visit the rock gym.

BOREDOM IS A NON-ISSUE Doing biceps curls with 7kg dumbbells will eventually make your muscles yawn and your progress flatline. “But climbing varies with every route you do,” Michael says. And even if you repeat the same route, there are limitless ways to attack it. Still, the staff at most indoor rock gyms switch up the rock holds often to change routes and challenge the regular climbers. “Your body doesn’t really know what’s coming next, so each climb is always a new workout,” he says.

YOU GET MENTALLY STRONGER… The word “problem” is used when describing climbing routes – which is fitting because you have to flex some mental muscle as you go. “With each movement, you have to choose the best strategy, such as body position or which hold you’re going to reach for next. And this provides a rewarding mental challenge that can be transferred to daily life,” Michael says. (For example, how to quickly negotiate crowds or nail cardio-dance choreography.) Plus, encountering tough challenges in climbing and then surmounting them builds confidence. “It may be that the realisation of ‘I can do this, even though it’s scary’ can be applied to other things, such as public speaking,” says Eric Brymer, a psychologist who studies the mental elements of extreme sports.

…AND BUILD LASER FOCUS During a run, you can zone out and think about a million things other than running. Climbing forces you to be present. “My mind and body are so occupied in solving the way up the wall that I’m not concerned about anything on the ground,” pro climber Sasha DiGiulian says. “Everything else fades away. Life’s chaos becomes background noise, and I can focus on the movement in front of me.”