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What Rock Climbing Can Do for You by Katie Levy

Female Rock Climber

Rock climbing is more than just another outdoor sport and another excuse to accumulate an entire closet worth of gear. It’s a way to form incredible bonds with others, an excuse to travel to beautiful places, and a way to learn more than you ever thought possible about who you are and how you respond to challenges. For me, climbing has been an incredible teacher, even though I’m not always a willing student. It’s a sport every outdoor enthusiast should try and provides benefits every outdoor enthusiast should know about!

Pushing Physical Limits

Whether it’s a day hike in Northeast Pennsylvania, a backpacking trip in the Catskills or a day at my favorite local crag, I love being active and getting outside. My mood and quality of life are generally proportional to how much physical activity I do. Waking up to my body’s gentle reminders of activities from the day before can be the best feeling in the world.

Rock climbing is a full-body workout, but the sport involves so much more than strength. At its best, climbing is a dance; a delicate balance between finesse and physical power. As a beginner, I found back and core muscles I didn’t know I had until the next-day soreness kicked in. I’m still discovering ways to move on the wall with the goal of executing that perfect dance, that perfect combination of balance and strength. One of my favorite things to do is to watch a climber who has truly mastered the dance; it’s beautiful.

Testing Emotional Toughness

Rock climbing brings out the best and the worst in me. It scares me to death, but that fear is what keeps me coming back for more. In climbing, I have to be present. All physical and mental energy I have has to be dedicated to each move I make. If I don’t focus completely, my worst fears come true – I fall. It’s the only sport I’ve found where the consequences of giving into fear are an instant guarantee my fear will materialize. It’s something I have to fight every time I climb.

We all have internal battles we wage, and for me, the battle is overcoming my fear and learning to believe. Many of the mental challenges I have in climbing parallel those I have in life, particularly in the realm of self doubt. I’ve discovered if I can deal with these challenges in one area, dealing with them in the other becomes easier. Climbing forces me to believe and to trust. If I don’t, success on a climb is difficult if not impossible.

Exploring Uncharted Territory

I’ve been backpacking in the Adirondacks for years now, but up until recently, it never occurred to me to examine some of the rock faces I walked by as places to explore. Joshua Tree National Park, a classic rock climbing destination, isn’t a place I would have made it a priority to visit had I not discovered the sport. Climbing opens up a whole new world of possibilities.

Finding a Community

Climbing as a sport is built around the concepts of trust and sharing knowledge. Most climbing can’t be done without a partner or two and in some cases without trusting those partners with your life. No new climber gets started without a little help and no seasoned climber can advance without support. When I started getting interested in climbing outdoors after some time in the gym, the first step was to find a willing friend who had equipment. Even for seasoned pros, there has to have been a time when each had to ask questions of someone with more experience. The inherent cooperativeness in the sport seems to foster a bond within the community. Just as anyone who’s ever attended a Tweetup.

Getting Started Rock Climbing

If you haven’t tried rock climbing yet, there’s no better time than now! Here are four options for getting started climbing:

    • For most climbers, the ultimate goal is self-sufficient climbing outdoors. There’s no better feeling than going outdoors with your own equipment, setting everything up on your own, and feeling confident in your knowledge! Some climbing gyms offer outdoor instruction which can be great if you’re starting in the spring or summer seasons. The Philadelphia Rock Gyms near where I live, for example, offer several local beginner classes. Outdoor guiding companies can also be a great resource.
    • Find a friend who climbs and ask them to take you outdoors or to the gym with them. I love introducing friends to the sport, as do most of my climbing buddies.
    • If you don’t know anyone that climbs and aren’t ready to shell out the cash for instruction,find a local climbing meetup group. I’m an organizer for one in the Philadelphia area, and it’s how I was able to meet most of my climbing friends here.

If you decide to try climbing after reading this, or have any thoughts about climbing in general, let us know in the comments. Climb on!

About the Author

Katie Levy is a Philadelphia-based outdoor addict with a passion for playing outside and sharing that passion with others. She’s a rock climber, ice climber, hiker, backpacker and most recently a mountaineer having completed a Summit for Someone climb up Mount Rainier. When she’s not strapping on a backpack or tying into a rope, she’s chronicling her adventures at


  1. These are exactly the reasons I started. The most important reason to me is the community aspect. It's feels great to know that you belong somewhere. Thanks for cystalizing these concepts for us!

  2. Great post Katie! Another suggestion I would have for females getting into rock climbing is Katie Brown's book "Girl on the Rocks" It's been a while since I've read it (short read) but I remember thinking it would be a great start for someone getting into climbing. She discusses the basics, fear, and there are also quick interviews with women who climb (of all ages). Good stuff, especially for a beginner! :)

  3. I love this post Katie, this really speaks to the core of why I climb and how I feel about the sport in general. The only thing I would add is that it feeds my addiction to gear (I now own more belay devices than I need).

    Awesome post. And readers, if you haven't tried climbing yet, do it!

  4. Matt – so glad you can relate! I feel the same way about the community aspect.

    Whitney – yes, Katie Brown's book is amazing! I read it when I was getting started too. thanks for the recommendation!

  5. Absolutely perfect article!

    I just fell in love with this sport 3 months ago. The way you describe "the dance" is perfect, and I have never thought of it that way.

    I have spent most of my life in gyms training for traditional sports like football and basketball so my hand strength and technical skill is really what's holding me back.

    Also, it has taken me years to build my body to look the way it does, and now, here I am trying to lose precious muscle mass below the waist in order to be more efficient on the wall.

  6. Great post! I'll have to look in to attending a climbing tweetup near Denver.

  7. Great job putting into words what every climber feels out there on the rock – you really nailed why I love climbing! :)

  8. Very interesting post :) I started climbing in order to build up hand strength for my submission wrestling, but it turned from a training workout into a fulltime passion. It's interesting to see how you define it as a dance, to me I still see in climbing all of the facets of Brazilian jujitsu, the self-reliance needed, the importance of tenacity, balance and determination, the inner strength required to overcome inertia and move beyond the comfort zone. All of these things are core aspects of BJJ and climbing, so to me they are similar, despite how different they appear at first glance.

    The feeling of risk and reward is what brings me back to both sports. In BJJ, that fear of giving up a safe position to try and finish the fight with a submission. In climbing, that feeling of terror when you are hanging on to the crux of a 7 by your fingernails, and slowly have to release one hand to bring it up to the next hold. And in both, the intense joy of overcoming the challenge(r).

    I'm getting sweaty palms just thinking about it :)

  9. I started rock climbing a year ago and this post couldn't be more true! I especially agree about 'emotional toughness.' The days where I don't believe I can reach a hold, or get to the top, I don't – because my mind already gave up before my body could. But when I am optimistic, I can achieve far more than I expected.

    I went outdoor climbing a few months ago and it brought me face-to-face with an intense irrational fear of mine. I gave up climbing for a while because of how shaken I was, but I've gone back to it again. I know it's cliche to say: but the fear didn't kill me, and in many ways, that scenario has helped me grow.

  10. Sixth grade project student

    This in amazing. I love to climb and this is helping me write a persuasive essay on the benefits of rock climbing. This page is so cool. I hope that this will help more people in. The near future. Rock on.

  11. Sixth grade intense climber

    This in amazing. I love to climb and this is helping me write a persuasive essay on the benefits of rock climbing. This page is amazing. I hope that this will help more people in. The near future. Rock on.

  12. But at 40 years young and slightly paunchy is it a realistic sport to get into? Isn’t it sort of a ‘sport for the young’?

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