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.
If you’ve decided that you’re keen to experience the thrill of heights for your first indoor rock climbing session, then auto-belaying or top-roping is for you! This article will cover what to do just before you hop on the wall and what to do when you’re on it!
Unlike bouldering, high-wall climbing requires extra knowledge, safety orientations, and a few extra gear items.
Types of beginner-friendly high wall indoor rock climbing
If you’re wanting an introduction to indoor rock climbing higher walls, the auto belay system is ideal as it requires no climbing partner or belay test; you simply have to clip in to climb. However, first-time climbers will have to do a safety orientation on how to use the auto belay system. This is done during your first session and is not a separate course.
Top-roping in indoor climbing
Top-roping requires the use of a harness, rope and belay device in addition to the chalk and climbing shoes. All of these items may be rented from the gym, so there is no need to buy anything for your first session. However, it also requires two people: a belayer and climber. The belayer is the person on the ground who manages the rope for the person climbing and this is done using a belay device (you will be shown ‘how to’ at the gym). The rope is anchored at the top of the indoor rock climbing wall which can be upward of 10m high, so some endurance is required for the climber to reach the top.
If you are indoor rock climbing at CityRock, a mandatory top-rope belay test is needed for your first session. This test can be done at the gym but is limited to ages 13 and up. The test covers standard safety checks, tying in with a figure 8 and a belayer test.
You can find their safety rules on their website and watch their top-rope safety course video below. This video details all of the key points you need to know before doing the test. Note, both the climber and the belayer will need to pass this test.
You’re ready to take to the walls, what next?
The temptation to hop straight onto the wall is nearly impossible to resist. But, to avoid muscle and finger injuries, we’d recommend a good 10-15 min warm-up on the floor/in the gym area.
Our basic warm-up recommendation would be:
- Cardio warm-up: A few minutes of jogging or jumping jacks
- Dynamic stretching: Do some arm circles, leg swings, and lunges with a twist
- Shoulder mobility exercises: Climbing involves a lot of overhead reaching. Try shoulder circles, arm rotations, scapular retractions while hanging from a bar and some TheraBand exercises for internal and external rotation.
- Finger warm-up: Use a grip trainer or repeatedly squeeze a stress ball/scrunched-up TheraBand. If the gym has a rice bucket (just a bucket full of rice), take a handful of rice and squeeze repeatedly
- Clear to climb?
Make sure nobody is climbing a route that crosses yours or is sitting or walking beneath the fall zone of the climb. Finally, always check yourself and your belayer before you climb!
- Hopping on the wall
In order to have a safe and enjoyable climb, there are a few common safety and communication terms used between the climber and belayer. This is what a typical top-roping scenario looks like in brief and can be found in the safety video linked above.
Before climbing, both the climber and the belayer need to ensure their harnesses are fastened correctly. They then need to ensure the climber is correctly tied into the rope with a “figure of 8” knot and that the belayer is “clipped in” to the belay device correctly.
The climber needs to communicate with the belayer when they are ready to start climbing by saying “climbing” and the belayer will respond by saying “climb on” to signal that they are aware that the climber is climbing. The belayer should use proper rope management and belaying technique and never remove their hand from the break end of the rope. Once the climber has reached the top of the route, or if they’d like to come down at any point, they can ask to be “lowered”. The belayer will then lower the climber in an appropriate and safe way, as taught in the belay test.
You’re on the wall, now what?
There’s no true rule for how you should climb something – so have fun and don’t be shy to try out your own beta. The person who set the route has probably intended for it to be climbed in a certain sequence so some moves may feel a bit strange if you don’t figure them out immediately, but there are generally many ways around a stopping point. Feel free to try all sorts of weird body movements, hand and foot placements as well as dynos. However, here are some basic dos and don’ts for your first indoor rock climbing sessions.
- Keep your arms straight as much as possible, using them mainly for balance and stability rather than pulling yourself up the wall.
- Use your feet and be intentional about it: Use the very forefront of your shoes to stand on footholds instead of planting your entire foot on a hold or trying to use half of the side of your shoe.
- Watch other people climb, both those climbing the same route as you as well as people climbing other routes. Watching someone else climb is one of the best ways to learn.
- Remember to pay attention to your body position, core and centre of gravity. Think balance and think stability.
- Take rests between climbs, don’t “Jack Russel”.
- Be lekker and cheer your friends on, maybe even offer some sneaky beta (if they’re okay with it).
- Try the different wall angles! Each wall angle differs in difficulty and will require different strengths so don’t feel demotivated by the steep climbs in the caves. Instead, hop on the vert or slab walls.
- Don’t over-grip; gripping the holds too tightly will cause you to fatigue very quickly.
- Don’t rely solely on upper body strength to pull yourself up the wall. Focus on using your legs. Climbing is all about leg power too so make sure to engage your legs
- Don’t rush through a climb, take your time and think about the moves.
- Don’t jump off the wall from the top if you’re unsure of how to appropriately and safely fall.
- Don’t hop on a climb that has just been brushed by another climber as this is a climbing social faux par. Instead, wait for them to attempt the climb or ask if you may climb.
Top-roping requires a bit more endurance and a clear headgame. Regular top-roping sessions will make a huge difference for this, so we recommend going at least once or twice a week to build up endurance over time. But in the meantime, if you’re keen on taking rock climbing outdoors, check out our next article, “Rock On | Discover the thrills of outdoor climbing”.
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.