Indoor Rock Climbing Basics

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Before we get into things there are two main places where you can practice climbing and those would be inside and outside. In today’s blog post I’m here to talk to you about indoor climbing and the basics everyone should know before they head to their nearest climbing gym. Don’t worry, these indoor rock climbing basics are not that hard to remember and are easy to comprehend.

Types of Indoor Climbing


For indoor rock climbing you basically have two types of ways to climb. You can either boulder or you can use a rope/lead. Some people tend to prefer one over the other or they like to both but let’s explain the differences between the two below.

Bouldering: is when you climb without ropes. This type of climbing is not meant to go super high and can really help with learning specific moves and how to balance. Think of it this way, you can stay low to the ground and learn those tricky moves you might come upon while using a rope that you can potentially get tangled up in.

The great thing about bouldering is you do not need a friend to accommodate you while climbing the walls at a gym. If you should fall there are foot thick pads below you to save your fall. (I’ll get into how to fall and basic moves you should know in another blog post.)

Lead/Top Rope Climbing: This type of climbing is just how it sounds, you are going to be using a rope to climb higher up a wall. This is needed for safety precautions so that when you are 30+ feet in the air you do not fall off the wall and break something in your body or even worse kill yourself.

The positive to climbing this way is that you can get long routes in and really work on stamina. Compared to bouldering where routes tend to be shorter and quicker, this can definitely increase the types of boulders you climb through climbing for extended periods of time.

Difficulty Levels

When you go to climb at the gym you might notice at the start of a problem there is either a V with number after it or a 5 with a number after it as well. These are the difficulty levels.

(I’m only going to give a quick preview and breakdown of the levels though because we will go into a more detailed overview in another post.)

V-Scale: This scale is used for bouldering and is pretty easy to follow. It starts at 0 and can go up to 10+. The lower the number the easier the bouldering problem. For example a V1 is going to be easier than a V6. A beginner at bouldering might start with V0’s and V1’s but the more advanced the climber is the higher he or she will climb in difficulty. This system can also be broken down into smaller groups for advancing yourself.

YDS/ Yosemite Decimal System: This scale is used for top roping and lead climbing. It starts at 5.0 and goes all the way up to 5.13. Compared to bouldering, this system can get a lot more complicated. Just like bouldering though, these can be broken down into subdivisions as well. 5.0 will be your easiest and 5.13 will be your hardest to climb.

What Should I Wear?

Just like any other type of workout, you want to feel comfortable. The two go to outfits are either loose fitting clothes or a more tight but stretchy fit (yoga) clothing. (I always wear my college spirit wear to start conversations with other climbers around me.) Another thing to take note of is to make sure that you do not mind getting chalk on these clothes as it is bound to happen.

I’d recommend wearing something that can start a conversation with someone; whether it be a favorite sports team, a shirt from a recent vacation, or even your favorite place. Having a conversation starter will allow for a better experience with others around you.

There is more to get into as of clothing/gear wise but I would rather have a whole separate post for explaining all the different types of gear you should be looking into depending on your type of climbing. (Since my blog is focused on indoor climbing, we will stay focused on gear needed for indoors.)

Respecting Other Climbers

When climbing at a gym there are some indoor rock climbing basics you should observe. There is basically a set of “undeclared” rules you should follow when at the climbing center. Let’s discuss these imaginary rules to make sure you do not ruin another climbers ascend.

Chalk Dust: We all love to chalk our hands up but did you ever think about all that extra dust flying everywhere? Instead of coating your hands right out in front of you, try to keep them in your bag or low to the ground. This will prevent unwanted dust that can get a little annoying to other climbers. One method that can prevent this is liquid chalk. I discussed the pros and cons to this type of chalk in my blog post “Rock Climbing Chalk – Does It Matter”

Stand Back: This may sound like common sense but I see this all to often, someone will be climbing and all of a sudden people walk right up underneath them and start a problem. I have no clue why people do this but it is very dangerous. If that person would slip and fall, they would land right on top of you. Not to mention what are you gonna do once you are 5 moves into a problem and you have reached a point where you are now climbing right on top of the person that was just going up the wall. STAY BACK please.

It will benefit you in the long run if you just let the person climb and finish the problem before you attempt to go and do yours. This includes problems around the climber as well, make sure you are a good distance away so if the person would wall from the problem there is no way you could get hit.

Beta: Some climbers love knowing beta while others want to figure their way through a problem without help. Before you go and yell out some beta to a climber make sure to ask them politely if they would like some help to figure out a certain move. I’ve had people try and tell me beta but I’ve turned them down or looked away because I wanted to figure out the problem myself. So please don’t be that guy revealing how to move through a problem if they don’t ask for help.

Be The Person Everyone Likes

After discussing some undeclared rules of the climbing gym and understanding some indoor rock climbing basics you should now have a better feel for the gym. Bouldering and lead/top roping is one of the greatest communities to be a part of. Everyone has a lot of respect and will most likely include you if you make a small effort.

Dress comfortably and be prepared to make new friends at your local gym. If you’re a regular you’ll start to notice certain people so go up and introduce yourself. Just be yourself and be friendly. Now that you know some differences between things and know how to respect others, being a part of this amazing community will reveal you to some awesome people.

Don’t forget to wear your spirit wear so you have a conversation starter for others to come up to you, try to one up your difficulty level, try both bouldering and top roping, and be the person everyone likes with some undeclared rules one should follow at the gym.

Get out there and beta on climbers!

Let me know what you thought about this article in the comments below.

Founder of Bouldering Nation, Brandon!





10 Replies to “Indoor Rock Climbing Basics”

    1. Hey Mariette,
      Hey, 2 meters is better than nothing! lol. Yeah feel free to share this with them and be apart of my network. Have a great day and hope to see you climbing soon. 🙂 haha

    1. Shyla,
      Thank you, glad you liked my blog post. Ask your friends if you would want to go one day and go from there. Search for a local gym as well. It’s a great workout and a very rewarding sport. 🙂

  1. I think rock climbing is a great sport and I would like to try it. Indoors should be good for learning the basics, but I think the outdoors is much more fun. Thanks for sharing.


    1. Hey Ivan,
      You should definitely get to your local gym and try it out. It’s a full body workout and very rewarding. The outdoors would be fun once you get the basics of indoor climbing. Hope you get out and climb soon!

  2. Now I know what the term bouldering means, I always thought it’s the same as rock climbing. To go without ropes certainly is adventurous and daredevil.
    I think it’s such great information and reminders you have here, especially about respecting other climbers. Especially in an indoor facility, it can really get cramped and crowded.

    1. Hey,
      Glad I could help you distinguish the two! It is adventurous but if done correctly you will be fine. Thanks you, I wanted to make sure I got the basics out there for everyone because even sometimes advanced climbers do not even know some of these.

  3. Great information.
    What a great way to challenge yourself with a very important aspect: you are not risking your life like the freestyle climbers. Those guys are brave. But in terms of health and challenge and adrenaline, this is magnificent.
    Thank you for a fantastic post.

    1. Exactly, it’s such a great way to make yourself feel good. Reaching the top and finishing a climb makes you feel so good. It’s great knowing you’re safe because you have the foot thick pad below you to break your fall.
      Glad you enjoyed the article.

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