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How Many Calories Do You Burn From Climbing

How Many Calories Do You Burn From Climbing

Rock climbing is a great workout and you may be wondering how many calories a session of climbing burns so you can lose weight.

For a climbing session that is moderately difficult, the average person burns the following amount of calories per hour, according to MET Value.

  • A 100lbs person burns an average of 340 calories per hour
  • A 150lbs person burns an average of 510 calories per hour
  • A 200lbs person burns an average of 680 calories per hour

These numbers, however, fluctuate based on the intensity of the climbing session, age, gender at birth, heart rate and V02Max. 

Since “average” often doesn’t represent anyone accurately, I decided to do some research into how to measure calories burned so that I could get a good idea of how many calories I burn during each climbing session. What I learned was that most measurements of calories burned is more often overestimated when using devices such as smart watches or activity trackers and that professionals often use your heart rate and V02Max to be more accurate.

With that in mind, I gathered all of this research into one article so that you can measure your calories burned and get a more accurate idea of how many calories you burn during your climbing session.  

Using Your Smart Watch

Many people resort to buying a smart watch when they are trying to count calories to lose weight. Myself included. Unfortunately, smart watches aren’t the most accurate way to measure calories and often overestimates calories burned.

In an article published by Harvard, smart watches have been found to help improve the health of the person wearing it. However, in a study by Stanford, it was found that though smart watches have relatively accurate heart rate measurements, the calories counted are often overestimated.

According to my watch, during my climbing session earlier today, I burned 512 active calories and 620 total calories.

That being said, I don’t plan on throwing out my smart watch and I still recommend people climb with a smart watch, but that is a different story. 

The watch still has good use for measuring your heart rate, which is necessary for some of the calculations identified in this article. 


Using MET Value To Calculate Calories

MET Value, the Metabolic Equivalent of Task value is a number associated with different activities that can help you identify how many calories each task consumes. When it comes to MET Value and climbing, there are three main numbers, which are, essentially, easy, moderate and hard.

  • 8: rock or mountain climbing
  • 7.5: rock climbing, ascending rock, high difficulty
  • 5.8: rock climbing, ascending or traversing rock, low-to-moderate difficulty

Once you identify the MET value, you multiply that number by your weight (in KG). From that calculation, you have get the average calories burned for that activity.

Example: someone who weighs 45KG and climbed hard for one hour would use the following calculation: 45×8=360 calories burned.

100lbs (45.35 KG)150lbs (68.03 KG)200lbs (90.71 KG)
Easy263 Calories Per Hour394 Calories Per Hour526 Calories Per Hour
Moderate340 Calories Per Hour510 Calories Per Hour680 Calories Per Hour
Hard362 Calories Per Hour544 Calories Per Hour725 Calories Per Hour

There aren’t clear indications of what is considered easy, moderate or hard. I imagine that a more relaxed climbing session that includes climbing on grades under my redpoint and mostly on slabs so I can climb for what seems like forever would be considered easy. For a climb that is over hung and difficult to finish and maybe I can’t finish it, that is likely considered hard.

At the time of writing this article, I weigh 146lbs (66.2245 KG) so the calculation would look like this:

  • For climbing sessions that are hard, 66.2*8 = 529 Calories per hour
  • For climbing sessions that are moderate, 66.2*7.5 = 496 Calories per hour
  • For climbing sessions that are easy, 66.2*8 = 383.96 Calories per hour

This calculation seemed like the golden bullet I was looking for when I first discovered it and I was excited to easily measure my calories burned based on it. However, after significantly more research, I learned that though it is convenient and easy to calculate, it isn’t accurate.

A Problem with MET Value Calculations

A major issue with MET Value calculations is that it doesn’t take into account your gender, which heavily affects how many calories you burn. Nor does it consider your height or age.

Luckily, there have been online calculators to take those numbers into account so that you can get a more accurate idea of the calories you burn while climbing, which you can view here.

When I input my information into this calculator, my estimated calories burned for a difficult climbing session went from 529 Calories to 495. So a pretty significant drop.

Another reason people don’t like using MET Value for climbing is because most of the studies used to identify those numbers are elite climbers so traversing for them is like walking, whereas traversing for an average person may be closer to the energy expenditure of jogging or running.

Using Your Heart Rate To Measure Calories

Some professional climbers like Adam Ondra and Alex Honold have tested their heart rate during strenuous climbing routes and have found that their heart rate actually drops when they get on the wall. However, this phenomenon is unlikely to occur for the average person climbing.

I may not represent the average climber but if it helps to know, my heart rate elevates significantly while climbing. Especially when I’m bouldering. 

And yes, your mental game/strength plays into your elevated heart rate so if you have a stronger mental game, your heart rate may not elevate as much.

Though heart rate is generally a good indicator of how hard you are working, heart rate alone isn’t a good indication of calories burned because heart rate is heavily dependent on the cardio health of the individual. 

For example, an elite athlete has a lower resting heart rate than a more average person so a 60 beat increase may only be 110 beats per minute compared to 140 beats per minute but that doesn’t mean the elite athlete isn’t burning just as many calories.

Despite this, studies have shown that combining heart rate with gender, weight and age is a way to measure calories more accurately than the conventional smart watch. One nice thing about this method, is that you can gather the average calories burned for your session based on that session’s average heart rate so if you work harder during one session than another, the calculation will reflect that.

Male: ((-55.0969 + (0.6309 x HR) + (0.1988 x W) + (0.2017 x A))/4.184) x 60 x T

Female: ((-20.4022 + (0.4472 x HR) – (0.1263 x W) + (0.074 x A))/4.184) x 60 x T

  • HR = Heart rate (in beats/minute)
  • W = Weight (in kilograms)
  • A = Age (in years)
  • T = Exercise duration time (in hours)

For me, my average heart rate for today’s 1 hour climbing session at the bouldering gym was 140 so the calculation would be ((-20.4022 + (0.4472 x 140) – (0.1263 x 66.2) + (0.074 x 26))/4.184) x 60 x 1

Copy and paste this calculation into google and I get: 512.93 calories burned for that session.

There have been a few calculators created online so that you can just input the information and it’ll output the result with no calculation or copy and paste necessary. The calculator that I liked the most when doing research for this article is here.

I would throw in a word of caution here because the calculation may be based on the average resting heart rate for your age. The average resting heart rate for a 26 year old like me is 71-74 but my average resting heart rate for the last month is 56, which is significantly lower…

As you can imagine, being able to track your heart rate accurately during a climbing session is necessary for this calculation. Luckily, there are many smart watches such as the Apple Watch (what I use) and Fit Bit that have been proven to get a relatively accurate heart rate measurement. Another option would be a chest strap, which does typically get an even more accurate measurement than a heart monitor on the wrist.

If you’re using an Apple Watch, I’d recommend getting the Redpoint app. It is specifically for climbing and in addition to measuring your heart rate, it also measures how many routes you climb, the distance you climb and you can also track the grade of the route to track progress.

Using Your V02Max To Measure Calories

Probably the most accurate way to measure calories burned during your climbing session is by using a calculation that takes into account your V02Max and heart rate. 

V02Max is the volume of oxygen you can consume while exercising at your maximum capacity. In other words, it’s an indicator of your aerobic health and can be a baseline for measuring how hard you are working during your exercise.

  • V = Volume
  • 02 = Oxygen
  • Max = Max

By combining your aerobic health (V02Max) with your heart rate, gender at birth, age and weight, you can get calories burned during your climbing session that is customized to your body and how it functions.

Once you have your V02Max, you can use the following calculation to identify how many calories you burned during your last climbing session:

Male: ((-95.7735 + (0.634 x HR) + (0.404 x VO2max) + (0.394 x W) + (0.271 x A))/4.184) x 60 x T

Female: ((-59.3954 + (0.45 x HR) + (0.380 x VO2max) + (0.103 x W) + (0.274 x A))/4.184) x 60 x T

Of course, you could do the calculations yourself, or you can use this online calculator that I found really helpful.

As great as this sounds, measuring your V02Max accurately requires special equipment that clinics charge a hefty price for. Plus, your V02Max can improve with more exercise so what may be your rate right now, may change in a couple of months.

The apple smart watch attempts to measure your V02Max using an algorithm that considers your heart rate and your movement but since it doesn’t actually measure your oxygen, it isn’t able to create an accurate measurement of your V02Max.

For me, I haven’t paid a professional to measure my V02Max so the following is based on what my apple watch told me is my V02Max, which as mentioned above, isn’t the most accurate. Despite that, I thought it’d be helpful for you to see how I used this calculation to measure my average calories burned during this morning’s bouldering session at the gym.

  • V02Max = 34.5
  • HR = 140
  • W = 66.2
  • A = 26
  • T = 1

((-59.3954 + (0.45 x 140) + (0.380 x 34.5) + (0.103 x 66.2) + (0.274 x 26))/4.184) x 60 x 1 = 439.63

Conclusion

Part of the reason I shared my calculations for each of these ways that measure how many calories you burn during a climbing session was to show the variability between them. For reference, here they are again:

  • Smart Watch: 512 Active Calories and 620 Total Calories
  • MET Value: 529 Calories
  • MET Value + Details: 495 Calories
  • Heart Rate + Details: 512.93 Calories
  • V02Max + Heart Rate + Details: 439.63

As you can see, they are all different (though the heart rate calculation is very similar to the apple watch active calories).

So which method should you use to measure calories? Great question! There are sound scientific studies to back up each of these methods so it’s hard to say which one is best. That being said, I think the more information you input about yourself, the more likely the information will be accurate, so I’m inclined to say the V02Max calculation that included your heart rate, age, weight, gender and birth. However, getting an accurate V02Max makes this calculation inaccessible to most.

Therefore, I’d recommend using the MET Value calculation that includes your height, age, weight. It’s highly accessible, you don’t need any equipment (well a scale for weight, but this is relatively common to have in your home or at least at your annual doctors check-up) to get the measurement and therefore it is the most accessible means of measuring your calories burned.