At Alta Climbing, we often hear the question, “What muscles does rock climbing work?” The answer is simple: rock climbing is a full-body workout that engages a wide range of muscles, from your fingertips to your toes in (usually) a low-impact environment. Whether you’re scaling an overhang or navigating a technical slab, climbing challenges and strengthens various muscle groups. Different types of climbing also use different muscles with bouldering tending to use more dynamic strength and sport climbing to use more static, while speed climbing requires you to have superhuman abilities. But let’s break it down more generally.

1. Forearms and Grip Strength:

Rock climbing is renowned for building incredible grip strength. The muscles in your forearms, particularly the flexor digitorum and flexor pollicis longus, are constantly engaged as you grip holds, support your body weight, and execute moves. Over time, climbing significantly enhances your grip endurance and overall forearm, hand, and finger strength.

2. Upper Arms:

Your biceps and triceps play a crucial role in climbing. Biceps are heavily used during pull-up motions and in holding your body close to the wall. Triceps, although less emphasized, are engaged when pushing yourself away from the wall or when performing mantles.

3. Shoulders and Upper Back:

Climbing is a fantastic workout for the shoulder muscles, including the deltoids, rotator cuff muscles, and trapezius. These muscles help with the dynamic movements required to reach and stabilize on holds. The lats (latissimus dorsi) in your upper back are also crucial for pulling motions and maintaining stability. If you’re not used to climbing, you’ll probably feel the most sore here after a solid session. These muscles don’t always get the attention that climbing gives them!

4. Core Muscles:

A strong core is vital for rock climbing. Your abdominal muscles, including the rectus abdominis, obliques, and transverse abdominis, work to keep your body stable and balanced on the wall. The core connects your upper and lower body, allowing you to perform complex movements with control and precision.

5. Lower Back:

The muscles in your lower back, such as the erector spinae, support your spine and help maintain your posture while climbing. These muscles are particularly engaged during overhangs and dynamic moves, ensuring you can reach holds effectively without losing balance.

6. Hips and Glutes:

Your hips and glutes provide the power needed for upward movement and stability. The gluteus maximus, medius, and minimus are engaged during high steps, heel hooks, and mantling. The hip flexors also play a critical role in driving your legs upward and maintaining flexibility. While a lot of people think climbing is all about the arms, more strength actually comes from your legs and hips!

7. Leg Muscles:

Leg strength is essential for efficient climbing. The quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves work together to push your body upward. Strong legs allow you to make powerful upward movements and provide a stable base for more technical moves. Calf muscles, in particular, are engaged during smearing and edging techniques.

8. Feet and Ankles:

Your feet and ankles are constantly at work in climbing, especially during precise foot placements and balancing on small holds. The intrinsic muscles of the feet and the muscles surrounding the ankles help in maintaining stability and providing the necessary power for pushing off holds. But don’t worry, those feet muscles won’t get so big that you’ll have to buy another pair of climbing shoes.


Rock climbing is an excellent full-body workout that targets a wide range of muscle groups. From the gripping power in your forearms to the pushing strength in your legs, climbing builds a fully balanced and functional physique. The next time you hit the wall at Alta Climbing, remember that every move is working to make you stronger, more agile, and more resilient. Embrace the challenge, and enjoy the incredible physical benefits that come with this thrilling sport!