Do I Weigh Too Much to Rock Climb?

A woman rock climbing in Vinales, Cuba
Holly Wilmeth/Stone/Getty Images

Wondering if you weigh too much to start climbing is a common fear for beginning climbers. The short answer is "No, you don't have to be stick-figure thin to be a good rock climber."

Climbing Helps You Lose Pounds

You don't have to be super skinny and feather light to be a good climber—but it helps. It also helps if you lose some of your excess pounds, although they won't stop you from getting up easy climbs. If you get out climbing regularly, like going to your local indoor climbing gym a couple of times a week, you'll probably lose some of those extra pounds. It's also good to climb outside since you will also lose pounds by burning calories while hiking, usually uphill, to the cliff and moving across the stone.

Use Your Legs to Push

Rock climbing is about using good techniques like footwork and body position rather than about brute strength and pulling yourself up the rock with your arms. Successful climbers use their legs to push their bodies upward rather than relying on their arms to get up steep rock. That makes sense since your legs are far stronger than your arms.

Start by Climbing Slabs

When the rock surface steepens to vertical, you do have to use your arms and shoulders to help lift your body upward. This can be difficult, depending on your strength-to-weight ratio. The more pounds that you pack on your frame, the more weight you have to hoist up so you will reach real limits in what you will be able to climb. It's best to stick with climbing cliffs that are slabs or rock faces that are less than vertical. You will be able to keep your weight centered over your feet and will be able to rely more on leg power to propel yourself up the cliff.

Avoid Tendon and Muscle Strains and Injuries

If you are heavy or overweight, also remember that you are susceptible to finger and elbow tendon injuries and strains when you climb. To avoid tendon injuries, don't climb too hard, let go and lower down if you feel any strain, and avoid getting pumped or too tired. It's best to retreat down and pick an easier route. Flexibility is important too when you climb. Stretch completely before climbing to avoid straining or tearing muscles and tendons.

Climb as High as You Want

If you are overweight, go out and try rock climbing with a reputable guide service or at an indoor gym. When I guide large groups on corporate team-building outings through Front Range Climbing Company in Colorado, there are always a few folks that are overweight and concerned about their ability to go rock climbing. First I ask them, "Do you want to try climbing?" If they do, then I outfit them in an extra-large harness (always make sure you use a harness that is large enough to fit your girth safely) and tell them to climb as high as they want on an easy route. For some, twenty feet is high enough, and that's enough climbing. Other heavyweights, however, love it and want to try other routes.