Rock climbing: The (sometimes) painful art of calming down

21 Jan 2020
By Ellie M., Post-grad at University of Glasgow
Earlier this year, my friend and I took an impromptu two-day beginners’ course in rock climbing at the Glasgow Climbing Centre. What began as a fun little idea has now become a full-blown hobby.


You don’t need superhuman strength to climb. The key is to pace yourself.

So here’s why you should consider going for a climb.

What’s rock climbing all about?

We climb indoors, where the aim of the game is to get from the bottom of a wall to the top without falling off. Each route has a difficulty level that ranges from pretty easy to insanely hard. The three main types of climbing are:

  • top rope, where your climbing partner holds the other end of the rope and belays (stops you from falling if you come off the wall)
  • lead climbing, where you clip the rope into the wall yourself as you ascend
  • bouldering, where the walls tend to be significantly lower but require much more problem solving.

Rock climbing can be an expensive hobby because you need to either hire or buy the equipment on top of paying the centre entrance fee. However, most centres do a student discount and you probably won’t go more than once a week anyway, at least to begin with.

So what are the benefits of rock climbing?

You don’t need superhuman strength to climb. The key is to pace yourself.

Improve your fitness: See your strength and stamina increase

You don’t need superhuman strength to climb. The key is to pace yourself. If you warm up properly and don’t try anything too far beyond your level, you’ll be able to spend several hours at a centre taking it in turns with a partner. When we do it properly, Alastair (my climbing buddy) and I can spend up to six hours climbing with a break in the middle. Without warming up though, we struggle to last two hours.

As you progress, you will get stronger and find routes much easier. But climbing is also a great way to practice cardio. It’s really important to keep your breathing steady while climbing, otherwise you will tire yourself out and either struggle to get to the top or injure yourself getting there. Longer sessions will also increase your stamina.

It’s also great if, like me, you don’t want to do anything too energetic or impactful like running or playing hockey. Climbing can be slow and calm if you want it to be, but also full-on and aggressive if you push yourself hard on difficult routes.

Stress-relief: Forget your worries with intense focus

Apart from improving your fitness, the other huge benefit of rock climbing is stress-relief. Whether you have exams coming up or are feeling a bit homesick, climbing can calm you down.

You are very focused while on a wall - focused on not falling off, on knowing where to put your hands and feet, on solving the problem of the route, and on keeping your breathing steady. I find it quite difficult to think of much else while I’m climbing, and those few hours of not thinking about whatever is stressing you out are incredibly calming.

On top of that, if you are climbing with a partner and you’re belaying on the floor, you have to focus on them and their climb. A moment’s lapse in attention and they could fall. You have to put a lot of trust in the person belaying you, which means it can be a great way to build strong friendships.

Achieve goals: Challenge yourself and feel proud

There is a really obvious progression in rock climbing, which makes it a brilliant way to set and achieve goals. One week you might try a route and fail. But that’s okay, because the next week or the week after that, you will go back to the same route and find that you can do it.

As time goes on, you will see a change in the grade (difficulty) of routes that you are attempting. The progression in climbing is incredibly tangible and achieving the goals you set can make you feel really good about yourself.

The community: Meet people and make new friends

Most cities have clubs or groups you can join, and there are always solo climbers out there who are looking for a belay partner, which can be a great way to meet people and make friends. Everyone is helpful too and always there to recommend which kind of climbing shoes to buy or which route to try out.

There’s lots of information out there about centres, equipment, and groups - just have a look on Google, or pop in and ask at your local centre.

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Crafter, casual gamer, and future forest ranger. I'm Ellie and I graduated from the University of Glasgow in 2021 with a degree in Film Studies and Theatre. I grew up in rural Aberdeenshire and am still trying to figure this ‘adult’ thing out.