Climbing to your peak: A rock climbing blog

Climbing. What's not to love? The sport of climbing will help keep you fit, explore movement patterns you might not have even thought of since you were a kid, unite you with a likeminded community and have a tonne of fun at once. It is no wonder we've seen a surge in popularity recently in the number of people participating in the sport. This blog explores the ins-and outs of rock/indoor climbing and advice on managing and preventing injuries to keep you on the wall for longer.

What is Rock Climbing?

Just climbing up a wall made of rock, right? Well, yeah, but there's more to it! Rock Climbing is a sport that encompasses ascending natural rock formations or artificial climbing walls. The sport combines the use of attributes of physical strength, technique and mental focus to achieve a goal of reaching the top. It challenges a climber's physical and mental capacity as they attempt to move through intricate routes and problem-solve movement puzzles while maintaining balance and control. Rock climbing demands unconventional movements to complete the climb. Climbers must possess whole body strength, especially their fingers, arms, and core muscles, as well as flexibility and agility to execute precise movements. 

What are the different types of Rock Climbing?

There are multiple types of rock climbing such as traditional climbing, multi-pitch climbing, and free solo climbing. Below we talk about two common forms of climbing: sport, and bouldering. 


Bouldering is a style of climbing that focuses on short, challenging routes known as “problems.” Most problems comprise a short sequence of movements often relying on power, technique and coordination. Most boulders are less than 6m tall and are completed without a rope or harness and instead use bouldering pads for safety. If sport climbing is the endurance event of climbing, then bouldering is the sprint. 

Brisbane based athlete Clea Hall bouldering

Sport Climbing:

Sport climbing involves ascending longer routes with fixed anchor points for protection. Climbers use ropes and harnesses, allowing them to focus on the technical and physical challenges as they climb higher without the risk of a ground fall. Sport Routes are comprised of longer movement sequences with most routes being 15-40 metres. Sport routes vary in difficulty and style from vertical faces to overhangs, demanding strength, endurance, and mental resilience. Sport climbs are longer and require more endurance.

Top down view of a woman climbing on a vertical wall outdoors

Myself working on a on a sport climb

What Are Common Injuries in Rock Climbing?

Most injuries occur in the upper extremities which include the fingers, wrist, elbow and shoulder with overuse having a higher association compared to acute incidents  (Lum & Park, 2019; Jones et al., 2008). Typically, this will occur when one climbs too frequently and use outpaces recovery. Similar to other activities and sports, climbers too experience these kinds of injuries when not enough time is allowed for the body's tissues to develop a resilience to stresses placed upon them. This takes time to develop and overuse injuries can occur especially in newer climbers.

While research on rock climbing remains limited, current studies have found that numerous factors contribute to the risk of injury in both sport climbing and bouldering. These include: age, with increasing risk as age also increases (generally rates of injury is higher in those 30 and above compared to younger climbers);  climbing experience - this is inconclusive, some studies show an increase in climbing in injuries with more years of experience, however, others do not;  skill level - most studies show that injury risk increases with higher skill levels. This is likely due to climbers engaging in more challenging climbs that carry with them greater risks to injury; and engagement in styles with a higher rate of falling such as lead climbing and bouldering (Woollings et al., 2015).

Injuries can be a hit to your confidence.

Sustaining an injury sucks! Not only does it compromise physical strength, but also has a negative impact on confidence in specific climbing techniques or muscle groups. Have you ever injured yourself trying something new? It doesn’t instil confidence for the next time you try it! Confidence can be such an important factor in recovery. Low confidence can slow your journey to your previous level of performance. Even if your tissues have healed and are strong enough to climb, a confidence hit can stop you in your tracks from tackling that climb you could previously do and eventually going beyond.

What Should I Do to Prevent Injuries?

Given the demanding and repetitive nature of climbing, minor injuries are likely and part of the sport. Therefore, prioritising effective rehabilitation, regularly checking in with your body and doing prehab, doing thorough warm-ups, and having injury prevention strategies is important in maintaining peak performance and ensuring longevity in a person's rock climbing. Physical therapists, other experienced climbers and doctors are essential in ensuring the appropriate rehabilitation is completed following an injury (Jones et al., 2008). 

Pulley and ligament injuries are common in rock climbing. Pulley injuries, in particular, occur when the tendons that run through the fingers are strained or torn, often as a result of overuse or excessive force applied to small holds (a spot on the wall where you can generally only hold with your fingertips). Strengthening ligaments and tendons through targeted exercises has shown promising results in minimising the risk of these injuries. Studies have found that conservative (non-surgical) approaches to finger pulley injuries have led to a faster return to sport compared to surgical approaches. Check out this article for more info on hand pulley injuries.

Diagram of a finger with the path of its tendons shown and pulleys.

Finger Pulley mechanism

Bent finger with tendons shown, comparing slightly torn and fully ruptured pulleys

Finger pulley injury

Grip strength and injuries

Research has shown that following a pulley injury, individuals often experience a significant decline in grip strength. Additionally, research also indicates that top-performing climbers typically exhibit higher grip strength. What this highlights is the significance of implementing proactive measures long term to prevent major injuries that require surgery. By doing so, climbers will be able to return to sport after an injury and have a greater chance at improving their climbing performance.

Progressive resistance training, focused on both eccentric and concentric contractions (the shortening and lengthening cycle of muscle work) can enhance the strength and resilience of these connective tissues. This can reduce the likelihood of strain or tears during climbing activities. Additionally, incorporating flexibility and mobility exercises can further support joint health and injury prevention in climbers.

How can I improve my rock climbing? 

According to a Systematic Review by Saul and Colleagues (2019), higher-performing climbers had greater forearm strength, grip strength and postural stability. A high aerobic capacity was also identified. Surprising that something as slow and paced as rock climbing requires aerobic fitness, right?! Elite climbers were identified to have long finger and arm hang times indicating good grip strength and endurance. Elite climbers also showed to have better focus and mindset during climbing. There are some genetic advantages to good climbers, but most of these factors can be honed and improved with training. Overall, this paper suggested regular training including specific exercises for forearm strengthening, improving cardiovascular capacity and mental focus are key factors to consider when improving climbing performance.

Who can I go to for help and advice? 

Talking to more experienced climbers is always a good place to start in learning what methods have worked for them. But it’s also important to find out what exercises will help your climbing performance, and this is where professionals come in. Whether it’s hip or shoulder mobility, finger strength, coordination, core strength or balance, many factors can affect an individual’s performance. Proactively identifying your strengths and weaknesses is essential in injury prevention and performance. Weaknesses can be caused by a combination of muscle group imbalances, weakness, tightness and laxity in different joints and muscle groups. As most injuries result from overuse in this sport, a small niggle you’ve had for a long time may result in a potential overuse injury if not addressed. A physiotherapist can provide a diagnosis of any injuries you may have. Meanwhile, an exercise physiologist can work with you to identify any injury risk markers you may have and provide a treatment/exercise plan for managing them before they turn into injuries. Your movement experts are your best bet when it comes to managing climbing training and rehabilitation. 

Man performing a lat pulldown exercise in a gym

If you think you’d benefit from physiotherapy or exercise physiology for climbing, book in with one of our excellent practitioners at Sycamore Health. They are well versed in all things health, physical activity, sport, and musculoskeletal concerns. Aster, one of our exercise physiologists is an avid climber herself and loves to see fellow climbers smash their climbing goals!


Lum, Z. C., & Park, L. (2019). Rock climbing injuries and time to return to sport in the recreational climber. Journal of Orthopaedics, 16(4), 361–363. 

Woollings, K. Y., McKay, C. D., & Emery, C. A. (2015). Risk factors for injury in sport climbing and bouldering: A systematic review of the literature. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 49(17), 1094–1099. 

Jones, G., Asghar, A., & Llewellyn, D. J. (2008). The epidemiology of rock-climbing injuries. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 42(9), 773–778.

Photo credit: @visualsensations (sport climbing photo) ,  @victorhallphotography (bouldering photo) 

Scroll to Top