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Pros and Cons of Indoor Bouldering

Pros and Cons of Indoor Bouldering

If you are considering purchasing a gym membership to a bouldering gym and are wondering what the pros and cons of indoor bouldering gyms are, then here is a list that may provide some insight. I’ve also included a guide at the end of the article to help you decide if you should buy a bouldering gym membership. These questions can help you decide if the gym is the right bouldering gym for you and if it provides everything that you need/want out of your climbing gym.

Pros of Indoor Bouldering Gyms

The indoor bouldering gym is a great place to train. For example, you may find that most professional climbers train at their indoor gym. This is likely because there is additional opportunities in indoor climbing such as exercise equipment and multiple bouldering problems in one place. In addition, bouldering competitions are done on indoor bouldering walls so it’s good practice to train indoors.

Bouldering Gyms Have Training Equipment

When you need to do strength training there is a huge limitation if you just climb compared to using training equipment such as free weights or pull up bars etc. By doing exercises that use training equipment, you’re able to increase your strength faster.

Bouldering Gyms Have A Lot Of Climbing Routes/Problems All In One Place

When your bouldering, it’s nice to be able to do multiple climbs, especially if you want to do a couple of easier climbs and then work your way up to harder climbs. An indoor climbing gym is perfect for this because it has so many routes in a small space, so you can try multiple problems at multiple levels with multiple styles in a short period of time.

This also adds to the challenge and the excitement of climbing because you get to try different types of climbs and if you get tired of doing one climb you can move onto a different climb.

Bouldering Gyms Cater To All Levels

Bouldering gyms have intro grades through V13 or higher (depending on the gym) so no matter your climbing experience or what your skill level is, you will be able to find multiple routes that match or challenge you. This is also true for the different types of skills ranging from crimps to slopers so no matter what you are good at or what you need to work on, there is a route that will challenge you and there are routes that are easy to warm up on too.

Bouldering Gyms Have Climate Control

Climate control makes it so that you can climb year-round no matter the weather outside. This can be especially important if you live in an area that snows or rains frequently because you can still boulder without the worry of whether interfering with your climbing. 

Bouldering Gyms Make It Easy To Meet New People

Bouldering gyms have a bunch of people that have similar interests as you all in one place so it’s a great place to meet new people. You can also feel safe meeting new people while at the climbing gym because there are other people, employees and frequently cameras that promote a safe environment. 

Bouldering Gyms Can Help With Beta and Training

Bouldering gyms have many climbers of different skill levels as well as employees that are likely familiar with the route you are working on and can provide you recommendations or beta if you ask for it. Though gyms and climbers don’t usually provide training sessions for free, they may give you basic pointers or a recommended exercise training to help you get stronger when you need to be stronger or more precise when you need better technique. 

In addition, you will likely see someone else work on the climb or complete the climb that you need help with so you can watch how they climb and get beta that way or you can ask them for their recommendations. Climbers are usually pretty nice about providing tips/beta, especially for climbs that they just finished or worked on for a long time.

Bouldering Gyms Are Conveniently Located So You Can Maximize Climbing Time

Bouldering gyms are frequently located in town near where you live or work. This makes it easy if you want to boulder during your lunch break and you don’t have time to drive to the mountains, hike to the crag climb, hike back to your car and drive back to work. You can start climbing at the gym for a short period of time and then drive back to work easily. Many climbing gyms even have changing rooms and showers so if you need to, you can shower before you go back to work.

Climbing At The Bouldering Gym Has Mental, Emotional, Social And Physical Benefits

Just like bouldering outdoors, bouldering indoors has many mental and emotional benefits. For example, studies show that climbing decreases anxiety, depression, enhances your learning and performance skills, increases your memory capacity, etc.

Bouldering has many social benefits as well such as improving communication skills, increasing your ability to trust and builds friendships.

Bouldering has many physical benefits such as cardiorespiratory fitness, muscular endurance, muscle strength, etc.

For a full list of climbing benefits check out this article, The Benefits of Rock Climbing.

Bouldering Gyms Are Built To Be Safe

Most countries regulate climbing gyms and have laws that encourage gym owners to create a safe place to boulder. This means that there is usually sufficient padding surrounding the entire fall area so injuries are minimal. In addition, the facilities are usually cleaned frequently, including the climbing holds. Most injuries in the bouldering gym is overuse related such as tendon overuse in your hand and it is less common to get injured from falling or getting stung by a bee or anything like that.

Bouldering Gyms Have Bathroom Facilities

A perk of indoor bouldering is that there are facilities such as a bathroom that gets cleaned frequently and has toilet paper, which is a nice touch. Some climbing gyms also have showers and changing rooms so you can go straight to work without stopping home after a climbing session, or vice versa, you can go straight to the climbing gym after work. 

If you do use the bathroom or shower facilities at the gym, make sure that you remove your climbing shoes and put on flip flops or some other soled shoe. This will ensure that you don’t track bathroom crap onto the climbing wall with your shoes and it will prevent you from getting any foot fungus from other climbers.

Cons of Indoor Bouldering 

Climbing Is Dangerous

Even though climbing gyms are built to be as safe as possible, and are safer than climbing outdoors, climbing is dangerous. There are mats that surround the fall zones and this minimizes the likelihood of getting hurt, but you are still susceptible to sprained ankles/wrists if you jump or fall off a climb. Even though you aren’t likely to get stung by a bee or eaten by a bear, you can still get foot fungus from walking barefoot or other sicknesses at the climbing gym. 

If you are going to the bouldering gym frequently, avoid touching your mouth or face and wash your hands thoroughly after each climbing session. This will decrease your chances of catching something that another climber sneezed all over the handholds.

Climbing Gyms Cost Money

This is probably the biggest con for indoor bouldering because compared to going to the mountain, climbing gyms usually have a larger price for you to climb their walls. These fees cover the maintenance of the facility, the equipment, the route setters, the rental gear, etc. Many climbers choose to get a gym membership so that they can climb frequently for a cheaper price than paying each time you go to the gym.

Indoor Bouldering Gym Handholds Are Rough On Your Skin

Handholds on indoor climbing walls are made from rough plastic handholds. The texture is usually rough on your skin and when you first start climbing indoors, you are likely to get flappers, skin tares, harsh callouses, etc.

Indoor Bouldering Gym Footholds Are Rough On Your Shoes

Just like handholds in the bouldering gym, footholds are made of the same plastic with a rough texture. The rough texture can be damaging to your shoes if you don’t use a quiet-foot technique while in a climbing gym. To use the quiet-foot technique and save your shoes from wearing out too fast, be deliberate with your foot placement and place it in such a way that you don’t have to replace the foot and so it doesn’t make a noise when you place your foot.

Indoor Bouldering Gyms Have “Regulars” That May Make You Feel Insufficient

Though the majority of climbers are nice people who either don’t care how good you are or are understanding of how good you are, there are some climbers that think they are better than you and might make snarky remarks. This isn’t very common and I haven’t met anyone that has mentioned this problem but apparently, some climbers, like athletes from other sports may say something that makes you feel like your climbing skills are insufficient. If this happens to you, keep in mind that they were at the same level of climbing that you are and you can get to their level through hard work and training.

You Will Always See Someone Much Better Than You At A Bouldering Gym

There will always be someone better than you at bouldering but you will probably notice them more when you are climbing at a bouldering gym. This can be a con if you like being the best or feel bad when other people are better than you. I sometimes find it challenging when I see a child half my size and age cruise through a climb that I’ve been working on for a few days with great difficulty.

This is especially the case when you are a beginner but even as you get into higher grades, the bouldering gym is where professionals climb so unless you are number one in your region, you will probably see people do harder climbs with ease than you are capable of at the moment.

Climbing Gyms Are Usually Open to Families, Including Excited Children

Though many of the children in the climbing gym are probably better at climbing than you are and their focus is to train and compete, it is highly likely that you will find children running around, climbing directly beneath you or hopping on a climb that you were clearly chalking up for. There is usually a children’s zone at the gym that they are invited to stay in or parents nearby to keep them corralled and that helps. However, unless you go to the gym while they are in school or sleeping or eating, then there is a high chance of seeing them there. I don’t frequently have this problem and usually, college students are worse than children but it is something to keep in mind so you don’t forget your headphones with decent music or a nice audiobook to drown their voices out.

If you are a parent, however, this may be a pro because this means that you have a place to bring your children and provide them an outlet for their energy as well as builds their physical, mental and emotional well being.

Indoor Climbing Gym Handholds Are Oily And Chalky

Depending on how nice the bouldering gym is that you go to, it is possible that a route has been climbed so often that the chalk and oil build-up is pretty gross. Most gyms prevent this by changing the routes every month or so and wash the handholds before re-using them. However, some holds are gross and you can use a chalk brush and shirt to clean it off.

Indoor Bouldering Gyms Have Different Routes On The Same Shape Wall

Even though bouldering gyms frequently update the routes so that you can try something new, some climbers complain that the shape and angles of the wall stays the same and thus there is limited variability in the routes provided. This is a very uncommon concern and most people recognize that the fresh routes create plenty of diversity. In addition, many climbing gyms do change the shape of the walls with volumes.

Climbing Gyms Smell

Some climbing gyms have different ways of dealing with stinky feet and sweaty bodies. Most gyms use airflow and cleaning supplies to help with the smell, but some older gyms are built in a way that seems to cultivate the smell. This is a similar problem in other types of exercising gyms so if you are ok with that, then you will likely be ok with climbing gyms.

Should You Get A Gym Membership?

After reviewing the pros and cons of indoor bouldering, you may be interested in trying indoor bouldering. Trying it out is an important step before purchasing a membership because you may try it and decide that you’d rather just climb in the mountains on the weekends and when the weather is good. However, if you try it and you enjoy indoor bouldering enough that you are willing to pay for a gym membership, there are a few things that you should consider. This is especially important if you are trying to decide between different climbing gyms. 

Indoor Bouldering Gym Location

One of the biggest benefits of indoor bouldering is the convenience of being able to take a quick trip to the gym, climb for as long as you want and then go home. However, if the bouldering gym is an hour away and the mountains are 15 minutes away with a 20-minute hike, then a bouldering gym may not be as convenient. Here are a few questions to consider about the location of the gym prior to getting your bouldering pass.

  • How far away is the bouldering gym to your work?
  • How far away is the bouldering gym to your home?
  • Is the gym closer or more convenient than the crag or other climbing gyms?
  • What time of day do you want to go climbing? Is the traffic reasonable at that time?

Safety And Cleanliness

Most countries have laws that climbing gyms have to comply with to remain open, however, they are still important to evaluate for yourself so that you can feel safe and clean while climbing. For example, does the gym have a policy against wearing climbing shoes in the bathroom? If there isn’t, then there is a high chance that the climbing holds you touch have bathroom floor all over them.

  • What type of training do employees have to help keep climbers safe?
  • Does the climbing gyms have any rules to promote safe climbing?
  • How frequently are facilities cleaned?
  • Does the gym clean handholds when they set new routes?
  • Are there signs about safety or cleanliness posted throughout the gym? 
  • Is there a sign on the bathroom door that asks you to remove your shoes before entering?
  • Is there a first aid kit on-site and easily accessible?

Membership Benefits

In addition to getting unlimited access to the climbing gym with your membership, you may want to compare the membership benefits with other climbing gyms. For example, some gyms have clinics or yoga classes that are complementary to rock climbing and may be a great opportunity for you to participate in something new.

  • Is there guest passes included in the membership?
  • Does the climbing gym have adequate padding so you can climb without a spotter?
  • Does the climbing gym offer additional classes such as yoga or strength training included in the membership fees?
  • Are their climbing clinics, what are they, who are they for, and are they included with the membership fees?
  • Are there member-exclusive events or competitions?
  • Are there hours that only members are allowed to climb during?
  • Are there discounts available at in-gym retail items or nearby climbing stores?
  • Are there gym trainers available for members to use? Is it included with the membership fees?
  • Are there shoe rentals that you can use for yourself or a guest free of charge or do you need to rent/buy them?

Climbing Gym Facilities

All climbing gyms are made differently and some facilities have a lot of benefits that you may be interested in knowing before deciding what climbing gym to sign up for. For example, some climbing gyms play classical music in the background to help climbers reach a “zen” state of mind but some climbers don’t like classical music and would need to have headphones for their climbing session.

  • How often are new routes set?
  • Are there showers and/or changing facilities available at the gym?
  • What is the check-in process for going to the gym? Is it long or short and easy?
  • Is there climbing training technology such as a climbing treadmill or moon board?
  • Is there strength training equipment available to use?
  • Are there multiple gyms/locations that the membership works at?
  • Is there music playing in the background?
  • Does the climbing gym provide chalk for you to use or do you need to bring your own?

Climbing Gym Rules

Climbing gyms may have different rules that may affect your decision to get a membership with them. Below are a couple of questions to ask before signing up for a membership. Most climbing gyms have the same basic rules that all bouldering gyms have, such as climbing down instead of jumping off the wall. However, there may be additional rules that may make using that gym more difficult. For example, some climbing gyms don’t allow you to boulder by yourself so you will need to coordinate with a friend if you want to go climbing.

  • Are you allowed to boulder by yourself?
  • Are you allowed to wear earbuds/headphones while climbing?
  • Are there rules related to apparel/what you wear?
  • Are there any tests you need to pass before you are allowed to climb or training/tutorials you need to go through?

Conclusion

As you can see, there are many pros and cons that you should consider before deciding to climb at a bouldering gym. If you decide that the pros outweigh the cons, then you may consider getting a bouldering gym membership. 

I am a climber who is interested in upping my climbing performance to become the best climber I can be. Being a member at a bouldering gym has been a key influence on my ability to improve my performance and get closer to my goal. I have easy access to a ton of different routes and I can go there during my lunch break when I don’t have any other time to go climbing.

If you are considering indoor bouldering for your climbing regimen, what do you consider as pros and cons? Are there additional questions that you recommend asking before deciding on what climbing gym to go with? Comment and let me know what you think.

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