Rock climbing to build muscle is more than possible. It may give you abs and it will rock your core in ways you don’t want to think about. But it’s not going to turn you into Mr Olympia any time soon.

If you want to bulk up, you’d best hit the gym.

On the other hand, if you’re cool to have a lean, chiselled look, like Alex Honnold, you may not want to hit those pesky free weights in the first place. Rock climbing to build muscle may help with weight loss, a killer grip and upper body strength that could give guys obsessed with their bench press a good run for their money.

Let’s talk about what’s possible with rock climbing to build muscle – and what’s better left to grunting, free weights and the confines of the weight room..

Will Rock Climbing Get Me in Shape?

Yup, and then some. Rock climbing is the real deal when it comes to getting in shape: there’s no such thing as ‘light’ rock climbing. It’s a high intensity exercise that helps:

  • Flexibility
  • Aerobics
  • Strength

Rock climbing is a low-impact way to get in shape too. Assuming you do it right, your feet won’t touch the ground much. That gives it an advantage over less joint-friendly exercises like jogging.

Plus, if/when you leave the climbing wall for outdoor sites, you’re at one with Nature. No gym is gonna compete with that, and hot dang, you’ll look like a real cool cat in your La Sportiva Solution climbing shoes once you break them in.

Rock climbers tend to have lean, chiselled bodies like Alex Honnold

Will Rock Climbing Give Me Abs?

Possibly, but that depends on a variety of factors. Alex Honnold sports a six pack so defined it belongs in a museum. Rock climbing alone may not do that, but rock climbing exercises certainly can – especially core exercises like hollow-body holds.

Try ‘Mountain Climbers‘. Get in a push up position, with your arms straight. Then pull alternating knees up to your chest and back down again. Do as many reps as you can in 20 seconds. Rest 10. They go at it again.

Will Rock Climbing Help Me Lose Weight?

Probably. As a very rough guideline, you use about 9 times more energy while rock climbing than while your body is at rest. It absolutely blitzes your metabolism and burns so many calories, you’ll likely lose weight unless you adjust your diet.

That’s a whole conversation to itself, but generally speaking, if you do rock climbing to build muscle., you may want to take in more carbohydrates before you climb. You’re going to burn calories as a rock climber, and if you don’t adjust your diet accordingly, you may find you’re a little lighter as a result.

Rock Climbing to Build Muscle: A Basic Summary

Rock climbing to build muscle is a different approach to getting ripped. You’re not going to bench 600 pounds on Venice Beach any time soon. But assuming you go at it regularly, you’ll likely build strength and muscles in the following areas:

  • Upper Body
  • Middle Body (Core)
  • Lower Body

You’ll likely see the most gains building muscle as a climber in your first three months. Bear in mind that assumes you climb two to three times a week and for an hour each time.

After about six months, you may find your muscle mass levels off, although you’ll likely keep your toned physique for as long as you climb.

Rock Climbing is a good workout for the arms and deltoids. Photo Credit/Much Love to: Chip Vincent/

Rock Climbing and Your Upper Body

This is the obvious place where rock climbers add muscle. Climbing rocks your upper body like few other extreme sports – especially the arms.

You’ll see this in your forearm flexors, which are linked to grip strength, along with your biceps. Your lats will benefit too, with all that ‘pull up’ action.

And you’ll give your shoulders a good showing as they hold your torso close to the rock wall.

Muscles Worked: Forearms, Biceps, Lats, Deltoids (Shoulders), Rhomboids, Trapezius

Rock Climbing and Your Core

Rock climbing hits your core muscles too. Yes, that means your abs – your body uses the abdominal muscles to stabilize itself and keep you secure to the rock.

For example, you’ll use your core muscles on climb overhangs, to reduce the load on your forearms, back and biceps.

You may further develop your abs while rock climbing with some of the core exercises we’ve discussed.

Muscles Worked: Abdominals

As a rock climber you’ll develop upper and lower body strength. Photo Credit: Kal Visuals/

Rock Climbing and the Lower Body

Novice climbers tend to use their upper body more as they learn the basic holds and techniques of this challenging sport. Wth time and consistency, however, you may find what more seasoned climbers often prefer:

The real power to rock climbing is in the lower body.

That makes sense. The biggest muscle in the body is, ironically, your ass (glutes, yup, really – look it up), and you’ll definitely be using them to help your body push upwards as you power up the average rock wall.

You’ll be using your quadriceps too, and they ain’t no slouches either in the strength department, when you step from one foothold to another.

Even your calves get a work out when you hit the rocks. For example, when you stand on your toes to reach a hold above your head. And when you’re perched on a ledge with just your toes keeping you in a tiny hold, that’s your calves doing their thang.

Muscles Worked: Gluteal muscles (Your Ass), Quadriceps, Hamstrings, Calves

Rock Climbing to Build Muscle: Yes Or No?

That depends on you, your medical background and the type of body you’re trying to develop.

If you have diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, or you’re pregnant, get your doctor’s approval first. Do that before rock climbing if you have any health concern at all, by the way.

And if you want to look like a body builder, hit the gym.

But rock climbing to build muscle is a good option if you’re looking for a chiselled and lean body, and rock your cardio while you do it. Most rock climbing celebrities don’t look like Jason Momoa, but if you’re not a bouncer, that’s probably fine.

Lean and chiselled counts for something – and you really can’t complain about the view at the top.