Rock climbing is the sport of climbing sheer rock faces and outcroppings, using specialized equipment and climbing techniques. The principles of rock climbing are similar those of mountain climbing; rock climbing is not directed at an ascent to the peak of a mountain, and the suitable rock formations for sport climbing can occur in any elevation. Wall climbing is a sport that is a man made creation; wall climbing is a miniaturized form of rock climbing, where the participants climb artificial surfaces constructed from wood or other materials and built either indoors or outdoors. Both rock climbing and wall climbing are a part of the growing group of activities often classed as extreme sports.
Rock climbing first began as an organized activity in the hills of England's Lake District in the 1880s, with the climbs attempted on the face of the sheer 115 ft rock (35 m) outcropping called "Nap's Needle." The sport also became popular as a training aid for mountaineers intent upon climbing various peaks in the European Alps in the later part of the nineteenth century, as the mountaineers sought out very difficult individual sections of boulder or rock face upon which to train for their expeditions.
The primary object of both rock climbing and wall climbing is simple—to move safely from the ground to a desired objective on the climbing surface, and return. The techniques employed to achieve the climbing objectives vary according to the difficulty of the climbing surface (including the presence of overhangs and crevices) and the skill level of the climber.
In rock climbing the essential equipment includes specialized shoes to provide extra grip on the rock surface, a harness to attach the ropes that will be used in the climb, and various types of anchors to be inserted into the rock face into which the ropes are secured or the climber's body may be positioned. All climbers carry a chalk manufactured from magnesium carbonate, a chemical that dries a climber's hands and fingers from the perspiration generated during a climb.
Rock climbs are divided into two general categories, free climbing and aid climbing. Free climbing is performed without assistance, as the climber ascends a particular section of rock using their hands and feet only, which entirely support their body weight. The climber is usually secured to a safety line, known as the belay line. The belay line is secured at a point on the rock face to prevent the climber from falling more than a short distance in the event of an accident or misadventure. In an aid climb, the climber uses artificial devices such as extra ropes, slings, pulleys and other hardware to assist in the movement of both themselves and any other equipment upwards along the rock face. The sling permits the climber to rest as they move along the climbing route.
As with any sport, rock climbing has developed a number of systems to grade the level of difficulty that a climber may encounter from a particular climb. The degree of difficulty attributed to a climbing route is determined both in terms of the decimal ratings, scored between 5.0 and 5.14 (easiest to most difficult), and the commitment rating, a measure of how long a climber of a particular level of ability would take to finish the climb.
Wall climbing involves the ascent of a structure that is generally smaller than the typical rock climb. The climbing wall used also has pre drilled holes and grips built into the surface for ease of use by the climbers.
The fundamental movement in rock climbing is the pull up, where the climber pulls their body weight upwards using the fingers and arms above, and the legs positioned below. The position of the climber's center of gravity (the place in the body where its mass is equally balanced) is a fundamental element to rock climbing. As a general proposition, the closer to the rock face the climber positions their body, the greater the importance of the larger leg muscles below the body in support, as the center of gravity is positioned over the climber's feet. As the climber moves away from the rock face, the smaller muscles of the arms and shoulders will be required to provide a greater amount of the necessary support to the body.
Brute muscular strength is not as important to rock climbing as is excellent over all fitness, well developed endurance capabilities, both aerobic and muscular, and a combination of balance and flexibility. In rock climbing, the concept of strength to weight ratio is especially important, as the larger the body mass of a climber the greater the muscular effort required to successfully ascend the obstacle. The constant demands that climbing places upon the fingers, wrists and forearms require specialized training for these muscle structures. A periodized approach to training is necessary to assist the climber in building each of these fitness areas; each period is directed to a specific climbing fitness need, and the subsequent periods build to the establishment of the necessary base to climb safely.
The first training period is directed to climbing endurance. In addition to cardiovascular training such as running, the climber seeks to build over all fitness by performing repetitions up and down a particular segment of a climbing wall. These segments have the same physiological effect as any other interval training.
The second training period builds upon the first by developing exercises specifically aimed at the climbing motion. These exercises include finger and wrist strength grip actions, pushups, and squats performed without extra resistance, to take the hips, thighs, and abductor muscles through a range of motion similar to that to be encountered on a climb. The athlete also extends the degree of training difficulty through the addition of a weight belt to the climber when using a climbing wall.
The third phase is a blending of power and endurance concepts, replicating the sport itself. Using the methods of the first two phases, the climber incorporates further core strength training (abdominal, lumber [low back], and groin muscles), the muscle groups essential to the maintenance of balance during the climb.
The final training stage is that referred to by athletic trainers as active recovery, where the climber continues with vigorous workouts that avoid undue stress on the muscles subjected to repetitive strain during rock climbing, such as the fingers and forearms. Swiss ball training and other abdominally focused exercises are useful. The four periods of training can be used as a training cycle in preparation for an actual outdoor climb.