Indoor Rock Climbing | What To Know Before Your First Sessions?

by | May 24, 2023 | Rock Climbing, Intro to Rock Climbing, Safety, Skills and Training

Starting a new sport, especially an unfamiliar one, can feel quite intimidating, so we’ve taken the liberty of breaking down the barriers to entry in a six-part series on rock climbing

So now that we’ve got you stoked on the idea of indoor climbing after our first article, Get your grip on | Discover the thrills of Indoor Climbing, how do you get settled in your local gym?

Cover Image Credit: Catarina Monteiro

Before hopping on the walls

Sometimes a small tip can go a long way! These are some of the nuggets that will give you some traction and help get you started on the walls.

Important Tips Before Your First Indoor Climbing Session
There are some important things to know before your first indoor climbing sessions!

Gear and gear rentals for indoor climbing

Contrary to what you’d think, you actually don’t need much for your first climb! All indoor climbing gyms offer shoe, chalk and harness rentals. Climbing shoes are the only type of shoe that can be used indoors because they have a special rubber sole and toe box that make them ideal for gripping onto holds on the wall. When choosing your shoe, opt for something roughly around your street shoe size. Sizing down is quite common but not really necessary for your first session, rather choose comfort to start. That being said, don’t size up too much, you still need the sensitivity of your toes for the small foot holds.

Rock Climbing Shoes Used For Outdoor And Indoor Climbing
Rock climbing shoes

The dress code for indoor climbing is pretty much your standard gym attire so there’s no need for fancy climbing pants. If you’re someone who gets hot pretty easily, we’d recommend a tank top as not all gyms allow climbing shirtless/only in sports bras. It’s also best to avoid wearing jewellery and to bring a hair tie. 

Fun-tip: wear a beanie, even if it’s not winter, all climbers will swear by its ability to make you climb harder grades. 

Grades/Levels of climbs in the gym

Climbing grades are use to score the difficulty of a climb. Every indoor climbing gym has its own grading system and will usually have a board that explains the breakdown of the colours (bouldering) or the numbers (top-roping). Ask someone at the front desk to explain the system while giving you a walkaround to show you how to identify the routes by grade. They are usually marked with colourful tape or can be identified by the colour of the holds. Lookout for your route by identifying holds of the same colour, we try not to do any ‘smartying’ 😉 (i.e. don’t use holds of another colour)

Indoor climbing lingo

Encountering lingo is inescapable when trying something new, so here are a few common terms used in climbing.

Many words for the same thing:  “Problem”, “route” or “climb” 

A “problem” (in bouldering) or “route” (in roped climbing) or “climb” is a specific sequence of holds or features you should follow in order to reach the top of the wall/specified endpoint. They are arranged in a specific way to create a level of difficulty with the goal being to complete the climb without falling.

This Indoor Climbing Wall Has Many Routes!
This indoor climbing wall has many routes!


A “hold” is any part of the climbing surface that can be used by you to hold onto or step on and come in various shapes, sizes, and textures. Note: the big square/triangular/geometric boxes that are also attached to the wall are called “volumes” and are also holds.

Holds are defined by their shape and orientation and have specific names. Indoor gyms typically have boards showing the different holds and their names. Some common hold types ranked by increasing difficulty are: 

  • Jug: A large, easy-to-grasp hold that usually has a positive (inward-facing) edge.
  • Pinch: Requires the fingers to pinch together to hold onto.
  • Pocket: A hold with concavity that can look like a little hole in a tree.
  • Sloper: A hold with a smooth and rounded surface that requires body tension to stay on.
  • Crimp: A small sharp hold that sometimes looks like a credit card. It requires the fingers to be bent at the first knuckle and is an advanced hold.
Indoor Rock Climbing | What To Know Before Your First Sessions?
Using a pinch hold (left hand) and a volume (right hand) to stay on the wall.

Wall angle

Most indoor climbing gyms usually have walls with varying angles. Some walls are straight (vertical) while others lean forwards (slabs) or backwards (overhangs). Slabs and vertical walls are easier to climb while overhanging walls are more challenging as they can vary in the degree of overhang.

Indoor climbing culture vocabulary

Beta: This is info, advice, or guidance about how to complete a climb. It is often shared and can include a wide range of things, such as: what are the holds, the best sequence of moves, tips for body positioning, footwork or hand placement or just simply information on how hard the route is. Some climbers prefer to figure out the climb on their own, without any beta so beware of “beta spraying” to a friend who is wanting to be surprised by the climb. 

Indoor Climbing Beta Is Advice On How To Climb A Route
In rock climbing, “beta” is advice on how to climb a route

Send: A “send” is when you complete a route without falling. A send can be done after many attempts, or it could be done on the first try. 

Flash: A flash is when you complete a route on your first attempt, without having any prior knowledge or beta about the climb. 

Match: Matching refers to the act of placing both hands or both feet on the same hold, therefore “matching” them. You need to do this on the last hold of the route in order for the route to be considered “climbed to completion”.

Dynos”: Dynos or a dynamic movement is a technique where you jump or lunge for a faraway hold instead of making a controlled move. Dynos can be thrilling and can add an extra level of excitement to a climb.

Allez!”: The French equivalent of “go” or “come on” is usually used to cheer on your friends by offering some gees!

Pumped”: Describes a feeling where you’re no longer able to hold onto anything because of fatigue in your forearms and hands. 

Find a friend

Climbing and is like food, it’s better shared with friends! Some indoor climbing gyms offer specials that make going in groups a lot cheaper. Bloc11 currently offers Student Day every day where students/youth & pensioners only pay R90 for day passes any day. They also offer off-peak rates and times. 

Indoor Climbing Is An Easy Sport To Bring Friends Along For!
Indoor climbing is an easy sport to bring friends along for!

Pro tip: Some gyms offer month-to-month memberships and if you see yourself wanting to return after only one session, it is worth getting a membership as they work out cheaper quite quickly. 

Next up

You can now talk the talk. The next two articles will help get you started in bouldering and/or top roping! We’d recommend trying both as they each offer their own unique thrills. I’m a boulderer at heart, what about you?

See you on the wall!

Disclaimer: Rock climbing or similar activities have inherent risks. This article serves as a guideline for the sport, and while it is intended for your benefit, it is not guaranteed that following these steps will prevent injury or harm. WILD AIR Sports accepts no liability for injuries sustained while using these guidelines. The hands-on support of a professional instructor is recommended for beginners.

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