I’ve been rock climbing for about 5 years and working in a climbing gym for nearly 4 of those years. In those years I’ve noticed a few common myths repeated by people, and women in particular, when they are considering trying out the sport of rock climbing. These myths come from a combination of misunderstanding the sport and insecurity, and they work together to hold people back from trying a rewarding, challenging hobby. So let’s take a look at them, and why they’re wrong.
1. I don’t have enough upper body strength to climb.
This is the number one misconception I hear from non-climbers, and it’s almost exclusively uttered by women. Women seem to be particularly self-conscious that they do not have the same upper body strength as men and that it will prevent them from scaling a wall or a cliff.
Here’s the secret about climbing that non-climbers never realize- you don’t need upper body strength to start climbing. It just isn’t important, and the reason is pretty simple; you climb with your feet, not your hands. You don’t drag yourself up a wall or a cliff- you walk up. The reasons are easy to see once you actually start climbing. First of all, it much more strenuous to do pull-up after pull-up than it is to simply stand up. Second of all, sometimes you can’t reach to next hold- it’s too far away. If you’re only dragging yourself up using upper body strength, you’re going to have a bad time. So, you use your feet- your hands keep you on the wall, your feet get you up the wall.
What many women don’t realize is they have an advantage over men who also believe this myth. Men do tend to have more upper body strength than women. And they use it- they drag themselves up their first couple routes and are tired and can’t do any more. Or they manage to keep going only to be stymied by a route that requires more technical use of their feet and, having only ever used their arms, they’re stuck. Women, on the other hand, typically don’t have the upper body strength to pull themselves up, so if they’re gonna get to the top, they need to figure something else out. And so they use their feet.
I cannot even count the amount of women I’ve heard say “Oh, I can’t do this, I have no upper body strength” only to see them, less than an hour later, at the top of the wall, triumphant.
2. Everyone is watching me and they’ll judge me for not being good.
Again, this is a statement most commonly repeated by women. And it’s easy to understand why- you walk into a gym, and it’s filled with incredibly fit men and women floating up the walls, seemingly with ease. It can be intimidating to anyone, and particularly to women, many of whom have gone through their whole lives being taught to be worried about being judged by others.
The thing is though, 99% of the time, those other people in the gym aren’t judging you. In my experience, the experienced members of a climbing gym fall into two categories- those who don’t even notice new people, and those who notice and want to help. Those who don’t notice- well, they’re certainly not going to judge what they don’t see. And the others? They’re the type of climbers who love to share their sport. They’re also well-aware of one universal fact: everyone starts somewhere. Virtually no one is good at climbing when they first start. So experienced climbers certainly aren’t going to judge new recruits for not being good, if they even notice them at all.
3. I can’t do it. I just can’t.
This myth is most commonly heard by someone who has gotten past the first two and is now actually on the wall, in the midst of climbing. They come to an intimidating move, or they look down and realize their feet are no longer on the ground, and they freeze. Their minds takes over and they become convinced they cannot do it. Now, I’ll admit that there will always be a climb you cannot do, a climb that is simply to hard for your current abilities. But usually when I hear “I can’t” from a new climber, it’s clear that it isn’t their body saying that but their mind. I’ve seen people chanting “I can’t do it” even as they continue to climb up the wall.
The truth is, there’s a climb for every ability level. Climbing is hard- in fact, we often tell new people that it starts hard and gets harder. But to quote A League of Their Own, the hard is what makes it great. And, of course, there are different levels of hard. And there’s one that’s just right for you.
4. I’m just not the type of person who rock climbs
This myth confuses me the most, because if there’s anything I’ve learned about climbing it’s that there is no “type.” In my small gym alone, we have kids, young adults, retirees and everything in between. We have professionals, shift workers and college students. There are type A personalities who love the problem-solving aspect of climbing, and there are the free-thinkers who like the laid-back aspect of the climbing lifestyle. What they all have in common is their love for climbing. Forget the idea that there’s a certain type of person who rock climbs, and embrace the sport.
So forget these myths, seek out your local gym and get climbing!