#1 – Pack your bag
Indoor climbing doesn’t require much equipment at all, and if you’re doing an Intro Lesson, all the climbing gear is going to be provided for you. However, there are a few things you want to remember to bring:
- Comfortable clothing that allows a full range of movement. It doesn’t matter if this is yoga style leggings and a sports bra, loose tracksuit bottoms and a tshirt, or even, god help us, “meggings”. You want to be able to throw your arms up high, go into a deep squat position, and kick your legs up and out to the sides without fighting against what you’re wearing. Don’t wear anything that’s really delicate or if getting a scuff on it would ruin your day.
- Some thin socks to go inside your rental shoes.
- A water bottle and a towel for afterwards. You’re probably going to sweat.
#2 – Clip your nails/take off the rings and watches
Doing hard work with your hands and fingers is rare in modern life. They’re going to push and pull against hard surfaces, get covered in chalk, and they’re eventually going to be able to do what they’re supposed to – support your own weight. Climbing is fun from the start, but the very first visit can be a hard reality check on your hands.
Climbing with rings on is a huge no, it can cause you some really nasty injuries, and even if it doesn’t, you’re going to ruin your bling when it gets scratched to pieces.
#3 – Get there early if you can
Doing anything totally new can be a little bit stressful, and trying to learn anything under stress is going to make it harder. Running through the doors one minute before the lesson begins, with a wild “rush hour” stare on your face, is the last thing your brain needs in this situation.
Try and get to wherever your first climbing session is at least 15-30 minutes early, then slow down and give yourself time to fill out the registration forms, change clothes, observe what the pace of activity is (probably more mellow than you imagined, right?), who else is climbing (they look like regular people in all different shapes, ages and sizes) and what the centre feels like (hopefully friendly and relaxed).
Have a drink of water or tea while you wait, ask staff and climbers any questions you might have, and get ready for a great first time experience.
#4 – Leave expectations at the front door
It really doesn’t matter if you think you’re super fit, or super un-fit, or what other sports you do – the first time you climb, you’re going to find it really hard and you’re probably going to get shut down at some point. We’ve all been there. Even Alex Honnold got shut down to start with. It’s fine.
There are a lot of mental, physical and technical aspects to climbing, and no one arrives for their first session with all the pieces of the puzzle fitted together. So try enjoying what you can do, instead of worrying about what you can’t. You only get to be a beginner once, so you might as well enjoy it!
#5 – Next day, rest day
You are going to feel some sore and tight muscles the day or two after your first climbing session. To help reduce the dreaded DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness), try and stay hydrated throughout your climbing day (before, during and after), and warm down properly at the end of your climbing session.
To warm down, some people swear by light stretching and mobility work, while others will just do progressively easier climbs at the end of a session.
There is also a third group that just drinks lots of tea.
All three of these approaches have their benefits, it’s up to you to see which one works the best! But don’t plan to do anything physically too extreme the following day, just to be on the safe side.
#6 - Yes, the shoes are tight
Not snug, like a new pair of trainers. Tight, like colourful little suede boa constrictors crushing the very life out of your feet. When you’re asked about shoe sizes for your rental shoes, be generous and go up a size. Try not to get too comfortable with the sizing though, a bit of tightness is good – climbing shoes aren’t supposed to be super comfortable, but you’ll be ok, you’ll be able to stand on tiny edges, and as an added bonus your feet will feel awesome afterwards.
#7 – Talk to people
Throughout the lesson, your instructor is there to keep you safe, teach you the important foundation techniques, and show you how to use a climbing centre unsupervised in the future. Don’t feel afraid to ask them any questions throughout.
Once your lesson is over, and you’re climbing in the centre unsupervised, maybe with the rest of the group from the Intro Lesson, try engaging with other climbers and the staff at the centre. Ask them for advice on particular climbs, or on how they manage to do a particular move that you’re struggling with. A climbing centre is a friendly place, and generally people are only too happy to offer advice to beginners who want to learn more.
And there you have it. We all hope you have an amazing first session learning to climb, wherever that may be.
Climbing is an amazing, challenging and enjoyable activity. You can take it in many different directions – de-stressing, socialising, fitness, competition, travel and adventure… The journey is truly endless, and you’re at the best part – the start.