There are lots of reasons not to start rock climbing- at least that’s what you tell yourself. You might not be good at it, it might be dangerous, it could be expensive, it could be hard. If you are thinking that climbing is a young person’s sport though, that’s where you’re wrong.
Nobody is too old to start rock climbing, and climbing gyms and outdoor walls are full of people of all ages. Most of the worlds greatest competitive climbers started in their teens, but hobbyists can start at any age. Climbing is a healthy, fun activity for people of all ages.
If you didn’t start climbing right out of the womb you may feel like you’ve missed the boat, but this is not a reason to miss the next boat! Climbing gyms are home to visitors of all ages, and of all experience levels.
Rock Climbing and Age
They say that human brains reach full development at around age 25. By this age, many people have tried lots of hobbies, met lots of people, lived multiple places, and really have a good handle on who they are.
Once we settle into a routine, we regularly see the same people, participate in the same activities, and frequent the same places. Because of this, we can really settle into a groove at this point and it can be hard to start a new hobby.
I think there’s probably a pretty good argument in favor of waiting until your brain is fully developed to start rock climbing! Maybe it will keep you from making bone-headed mistakes or placing too much confidence in your physical abilities.
Climbing, especially indoors, is really not very complicated. You only need to learn a handful of skills and one knot! Most gyms teach these skills over about the course of an hour if you sign up for a class. If you start climbing outside or experiment with sport climbing or trad climbing, you will need to learn a lot more skills- but that comes later.
The nice thing about climbing for novices is that every wall has a variety of difficulty levels. You will start out climbing something no more difficult than a ladder. As you get more comfortable and improve, you’ll advance through the ratings and climb harder and harder.
In 2019 the American Alpine Club put out a report stating that 65% of American climbers are between the ages of 18 and 35 years old.
Climbing for Fun versus Climbing Competitively
If you are starting to climb in your 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, etc., you probably aren’t going to be breaking any world records. Just like with other sports, each generation of professional athletes seems to have started the sport at a younger age than the previous generation. With climbing, this means the next generation of crushers is starting around age 5-7.
You can see a table of the ages that famous professional climbers started in my article What Age Should Kids Start Climbing?
Climbing competitively is not the reason most of us climb though. Sure it’s fun to participate in a competition every once-in-a-while, but we climb for lots of reasons- primarily because it’s fun!
The great thing about climbing is that you can climb with a partner of any age and any skill level, because you are primarily competing with yourself. You may belay your partner up a 5.12a, and then they’ll turn around and belay you up a nearby 5.8. For more info on the rating system, read Is Rock Climbing Hard?
If you do intend to climb competitively, the time to start was yesterday- or the day before. Take it easy getting started- tendons take a while to get stronger and you can hurt yourself if you climb too much too often starting out.
What Age Should You Start Rock Climbing?
If you want to climb competitively you need to start climbing as a young teenager. Otherwise, you can start climbing at any age. Most people pick it up in their early 20’s, as climbing gyms tend to be located near college towns and it’s a fun social activity.
There are tons of benefits to picking up rock climbing at any age. It’s a really fun way to meet people and make friends, it’s good exercise, and it’s good for cognitive development.
Benefits to Starting to Rock Climb
Climbing has always been a great way to meet people. Outdoors, this means showing up to random climbing areas or campgrounds and climbing with strangers. Indoors it’s the same thing.
The thing is, you absolutely need someone to climb with if you want to climb (unless you’re bouldering indoors)- and your regular partner isn’t always available. Everyone is pretty much always looking for another climbing partner to go with.
Within a climbing gym there is usually a solid group of ‘regulars’ who climb multiple days a week around the same times. It won’t take long before you start to recognize familiar faces and pick up people’s names.
Lots of climbing gyms have certain nights set aside for different groups of people (ladies’ night, new climbers’ night, members’ night, etc.). This can be a good opportunity to meet climbers similar to yourself.
Each gym also has a “partner board” where people leave basic contact info so that they can always have someone to climb with. The fun camaraderie that exists in a climbing gym community is one of the best parts of climbing.
Pretty much anyone can climb the easiest routes in a climbing gym. If you can climb a ladder, you can rock climb. As you practice and train, you’ll begin to get stronger.
One of the major benefits of climbing is that it strengthens and improves your balance and core. Your core is engaged while climbing to help you make precise movements and balance on small foot and handholds. The benefits of core strength as we age are many.
Additionally, climbing will start to increase your grip strength and the strength in your hands and arms. You don’t actually need to be able to do pull-ups to climb, though it can be beneficial.
As you get stronger all-around you will notice how it impacts and improves your climbing capability and you’ll start to climb harder and harder routes. The desire to climb harder can also be a great motivator for you to exercise and workout outside of climbing.
I think the hardest thing for most brand new climbers is probably the mental aspect of climbing. It just doesn’t feel natural to dangle 10 meters up in the air suspended by a rope at first!
Trusting the rope and other climbing gear is a mind-over-matter thing. Especially in a climbing gym, the odds of gear failure are minuscule. As you learn to trust the gear, your confidence will increase. To make yourself feel better about climbing gear strength ratings, read my article How Much Weight Can A Carabiner Hold?
Your first day at the climbing gym will be a high adrenaline day. As you progress, the fear caused by adrenaline turns into confidence as you begin to hone a skill and develop proficiency. You will build confidence in yourself and a greater appreciation for your body as you discover your limits and break through them.
Climbing is also an excellent stimulant for creativity. Bouldering routes are called problems, because it takes a lot of creativity and problem solving in order to unlock the sequence and get to the top. This mental stimulation is as fun of a challenge as the physical aspect of climbing.
Is 30 Too Old to Start Rock Climbing?
30 is a great age to start rock climbing! With some life experience beneath your belt you won’t be as fearless as you were as a teenager, which is probably a good thing. Lots of people in their 30’s climb frequently in the gym and outside.
It is a great way to blow off steam after a busy work day, and a good way to maintain friendships. It’s a lot better for you than meeting up with friends at a bar or catching a movie.
Is 40 Too Old to Start Rock Climbing?
It is not too late to start climbing in your 40’s. It is an excellent activity for parents to do alongside their kids, or for you to take time out of a busy week for yourself. Many professional rock climbers are competitive into their 40’s.
Is 50 Too Old to Start Rock Climbing?
As long as you are in good health, you can definitely start climbing in your 50’s. Climbing will help build core strength and keep your mind sharp. It can be a really fun activity to do with friends or to take your children to do.
Pay close attention to your body, as you won’t heal as quickly as you have in the past if you get an injury. Take it easy at first, and give your tendons and muscles plenty of time to recover between sessions.
7 Tips for Older Climbers
1. Start Easy
Starting out it will be difficult to climb harder routes in the 5.10+ range. These usually take a lot of finesse and technique, as well as some solid grip strength. You can’t pick up these skills or build these muscles overnight.
When you first start out, look for routes in the 5.7 to 5.8 range. If you need to “rainbow” your way up a route and use extra holds, go for it! The important thing is to enjoy yourself and learn.
2. Don’t Compete With Others- Just Yourself
It can be frustrating to see people younger than you are flying up the walls and hanging from fingernail-sized holds (trust me, that’s how I feel about 12-year olds!). You don’t know how long they’ve been climbing and training, or if they’re at the gym every day!
The competitive part of climbing is with yourself. Push yourself and practice good techniques so that you can improve over time. There’s no need to compete with anybody else.
3. Rest Days
I see a lot of climbers, of all ages, get hurt climbing too much starting out. Your muscles will get stronger faster than your tendons do, which can lead to injury. As you get older this can take even longer.
Climbing consists of a lot of hanging from tendons in your fingers, hands, and forearms. Make sure to rest enough to let your body recover before climbing again. This probably means only climbing 1-2 times per week for the first month or two.
4. Focus on Technique
It’s more difficult to build muscle as you get older. Fortunately, good climbing technique can compensate for strength training. Learning proper footwork and special grips will help you take your climbing to the next level.
5. Pay Attention to Your Body
Your body is pretty good at telling you when something is off. This can be unusual soreness, a crunchy feeling in a joint, or an unnatural pop. Pay special attention to any of these signs and take time to heal up or get them checked out by a doctor before they progress too far.
Take the time to warm up before each climbing session, and cool down with a few laps on easy routes along with more stretching. Injuries are more likely to happen when climbing cold.
6. Be Social
It can be intimidating to join into a social atmosphere of primarily 20-year olds, but the whole point of a community is that it is stronger because of the variety of members. Make an effort to talk with the climbers around you and don’t hesitate to ask questions.
The climbing community is really cool, and is always very friendly. Everybody is on the same team, and is happy to cheer each other on for their personal successes. Be a part of the community and you will find ways you can contribute.
7. Be Cautious Bouldering
My last tip is a word of caution for older climbers. Bouldering puts a lot more strain on your fingers and arms, and also involves a lot more falling than roped climbing.
A fall when you’re 15 or 20 is much different than a fall at 45 or 50. Bones become more brittle and liable to break as we age. Be careful bouldering that you don’t take any bad falls.
What Injuries Should I Expect as an Older Rock Climber?
While we can all hope that we won’t have to deal with injuries climbing, it eventually catches up to all of us. Fortunatley, the vast majority of injuries are minor things like strained fingers or bumps and bruises.
The worst injuries you can expect climbing indoors are twisted or broken ankles, twisted or broken wrists, and torn ligaments in fingers and hands. These are all very uncommon, and can be avoided by being careful not to push yourself too hard and being cautious as you fall.
As with every activity, you should consult with your doctor before getting started. Climbing is a strenuous activity that engages multiple muscle groups and can get your heart rate going because of effort and adrenaline.
Do You Need to Be Strong to Rock Climb? Elite climbers are usually very lean and strong. The rest of us are pretty average. Climbing routes vary in difficulty so that everybody and every body has something they can climb.
Is Rock Climbing Hard For Beginners? Climbing can be as hard as you want it to be because each wall has a variety of difficulties. The easiest routes are as difficult as climbing a ladder, so pretty much anyone can do them.