Is Indoor Rock Climbing Dangerous? A Safety Guide for All


Rock climbing is incredibly popular for the full-body workout you can get, requiring stamina and strength. Beyond the physical challenges, it also pushes you to be a good problem solver and plan your next move. With its increase in popularity, there are plenty of indoor facilities where you can go and climb. This makes this activity much more accessible to participants.

Is indoor rock climbing dangerous? All rock climbing is inherently risky as you are trying to climb without falling many feet below. Indoor rock climbing presents very low risk of serious injury, especially as compared to outdoor climbing. The only dangers associated with indoor climbing are related to negligence. Minor injuries can also occur as with any sport.

The risk of serious injury and danger is quite low in indoor climbing, making it a great activity for all participants. At the same time, it does present dangers if you do not adhere to the proper safety protocol and do not follow instructions. This guide will present all the dangers associated with indoor rock climbing and how to best avoid them to keep the sport safe.

 

Dangers of Indoor Rock Climbing

While indoor rock climbing is a relatively safe sport, let’s go over the potential dangers. Knowing the risks associated with the activity will help you to be mindful of your preparations and movements to ensure a safe and fun experience. This list may seem fairly long, but it is just to share all the potential dangers, so you are well informed. Most of these risks are quite rare.

It is important to note that when referring to indoor rock climbing, we are discussing top rope climbing, which requires the user to be secured by a rope and harness. Bouldering is a separating climbing sport that presents its own dangers. We will cover this sport briefly later on.

Negligence Causes Injuries for Indoor Rock Climbers

The major cause of most indoor rock climbing injuries is related to user error and negligence. Not following proper safety protocol is the cause of most accidents and injuries. Negligence is typically related to not taking the time to make sure equipment is secure. Make sure you clip yourself into the belay in order to give yourself the ability to descend with a breaking device.

Not only can the person who is climbing engage in user error, but the belayer (the person on the ground holding the rope) may not be paying close enough attention. Oftentimes multiple climbers are participating at once, leaving the belayers on the ground to talk and become distracted. This may be taking their complete focus away from the climber.

Belayers must have a secure hold onto the rope, focusing on providing tighter holds or giving more rope depending on the situation. This requires focus as distractions could lead to the rope slipping or releasing completely. The belayer is the most important piece of equipment when indoor rock climbing. If they did not exist, there would be nothing to secure the rope.

All of these accidents are avoidable if enough time and attention are given to ensuring safety measures are followed. Make sure all equipment is fastened and that the belayer has their focus set on the climber.

Here is the quick checklist to avoid user error when participating in indoor rock climbing:

  • Clip yourself in: You should always be secured to the rope, harness, and belayer. This includes making sure the belay device is secure.
  • Focused belayer: Make sure the belayer is completely focused on the climber so they can make necessary adjustments to the rope and provide support for falls.
  • Proper knots: Make sure you are using the proper technique to make knots. These knots will prevent clips, harnesses, and other safety devices from coming loose.

Indoor Rock Climbing and Fall Related Injuries

While not a high risk, one of the dangers related to indoor rock climbing is falling. This is closely tied to user error, as this is when most falling accidents occur. With insecure equipment or a distracted belayer, falls can occur when a climber loses their footing or slips on the wall.

Falling is fairly uncommon in rock climbing when participants are properly secured with all their equipment. But it is still a danger. The risk of falling should be a reminder to take all necessary steps to keep yourself safe, especially with greater heights.

One of the great risks in falling is returning back to the ground safely. Sometimes you may try to land back on the ground from too high of a height as the belayer releases you completely. Landing on the ground from higher heights can result in injuries. When your feet do not have the proper placement, and your body weight is shifted, accidents can occur.

Some common landing injuries include (which are fairly rare):

  • Sprained ankles
  • Dislocated knees
  • Strained muscles

These do not frequently occur, but they are possible with a heavier landing from greater heights. Make sure you can safely land on the ground with the proper rope tension.

Skin Abrasions and Injuries from Indoor Rock Climbing

The greatest danger (and we do not really consider this dangerous) is getting a little banged up while climbing. You may experience some bumps and bruises while climbing as you try to make your way up the wall.

Some of your rock climbing movements can result in:

  • Blisters: These may be common in indoor climbing, especially if you are newer to the sport. Hand callusing and blisters may start to form from grabbing onto rocks.
  • Cuts and abrasions: Skin injuries may occur from grabbing rocks at certain angles, cutting yourself on long fingernails, and continued long and tight holds wear down the skin on your hands.
  • Rope burns: If the rope gets caught near your skin as you are climbing or descending, it can rub against your skin quickly. This will be a bit painful and result in some redness and irritation.
  • Bruises: Hitting your body against an artificial rock can be painful and result in bruising. You may notice this, especially on or around your knees or elbows (bonier parts of your body).

Some of these injuries are inevitable as you increase the difficulty level of many indoor climbs. These are not outwardly dangerous, but if they do occur, you should take proper care of your skin afterwards.

Watch Out for Other Climbers When Indoor Rock Climbing

Not only must you be aware of user error related to your own climbs, but dangers could arise when other climbers do not adhere to proper safety measures and are not considerate of other climbers. Getting incredibly close to another climber is not safe and may cause them to make mistakes. Try to keep your distance as best you can from other climbers.

If another climber starts to encroach on your area, you can either let them pass and wait or alert them that you are making a move. Clear communication can prevent further accidents from happening with others on the wall.

Using Your Own Equipment Can Cause Injuries When Rock Climbing

Dangers could arise when climbers bring their own equipment to a climbing gym. This is often not allowed to mitigate the risks of climbers getting injured. When climbers use their own equipment, there is a greater risk that it is not in as good of condition as equipment provided by an indoor facility. You should also double check the company’s equipment before use.

Typically, this issue arises with using your own harnesses. The harness should be in good condition, to make sure it is secure around your body and will successfully clip into the rope. It is suggested to use the gym’s equipment unless you are an experienced climber.

Fatigue Can Cause Injuries for Indoor Rock Climbers

In any sport, most injuries and risks occur as the athlete becomes more tired. With longer time spent climbing, you will likely start to experience muscle fatigue. Hand and foot placement may become more difficult, increasing your chances of becoming injured. You should listen to your body. If you become tired or start to feel pain, stop, and pick back up next time.

In addition to the physical injuries you could accumulate when being strapped in properly, fatigue may also lead to user error and oversight in safety. If you hop back on the wall while tired, you may forget to properly clip yourself in. When you are tired, it is especially important that you follow all the safety steps for climbing.

Some days will not be your day in terms of ability and climbing due to fatigue. It is okay to take a bit of a break if your body is feeling tired or sore. Focus on smaller climbs and ones that will not increase your risk of injury or danger.

Indoor Rock Climbing Safety Statistics

While we just presented all the things that could go wrong while rock climbing indoors, we will prove to you that the risk of these dangers is very low. Indoor rock climbing is considered a safe and very low risk activity.

According to a study completed in Germany, risks for indoor rock climbing are incredibly low as they found that injuries only occurred at a rate of 0.2 out of 1,000 hours spent climbing. This was studied over a five-year period, with most injuries being minor. Most of these injuries occurred among intermediate climbers.

Risks of injury are higher for almost all other common sports. Because lots of attention is paid to safety to prevent injury and accidents, indoor rock climbing is a very safe activity. Rock climbing gyms are responsible for making sure their equipment is in good condition and that climbers are well-informed.

The most common injuries in rock climbing are related to finger and hands, as well as shoulders. Older participants are at a greater risk for injuries than other age groups. Children and adults typically experience the same types of injuries.

Safety Precautions When Indoor Rock Climbing

Now that we have gone over the risks and the data, it is important that you know how to best keep yourself safe while climbing. Safety precautions are the most effective way to prevent accidents and injuries from occurring.

Check Equipment Checklist

You must check all your equipment before each rock climbing session. This includes making sure it is in proper condition and that you properly secure yourself. Follow this checklist every time you go indoor rock climbing for optimal safety:

  1. Check Harness: Once you have slipped the rope through the harness, check that both the climber and belayer’s harnesses are fastened correctly. You will want to make sure the harness loops are also tight to your legs for extra security.
  2. Helmet: While this may not be as necessary indoors as there are mats and you are in a controlled environment, it does not hurt to have a helmet on in case of accidents. In the event of a fall, your head is protected.
  3. Belay Security: Make sure the belay is properly attached to the rope so that you have the necessary protection and breaking mechanisms.
  4. Carabiners: Carabiners should be used to attach the belay loop to the belayer. Use locking carabiners for extra safety.

Clip In

One of the largest risks to indoor climbing is climbing a wall and trying to descend without being properly clipped in. Always ensure that your rope is properly attached to the belay and the belayer below. If you forget to clip yourself to the belayer or properly clip your harness to the rope, you will drastically increase your risks for injury.

Especially if you are lead climbing, which means that the top climber is responsible for attaching to a carabiner with climbers hanging on their rope below, you will need to make sure this is securely clipped. You can also lead climb with no one below you. You will need to clip in at multiple points as you make your way up the wall.

Top rope climbing will not require clipping in as you make your way up the wall. The belayer must clip themselves into this rope, and you are responsible for clipping yourself into the rope and harness so you can be secure while moving higher up the wall.

Learn How to Fall

As you become more advanced in climbing, you are likely to fall when you are clipped in. This means that the belayer will have to pay extra close attention to make sure you do not descend too quickly or far. Learning what to do while falling will help to mitigate the risk of injuries or accidents.

These are things you should do when you are falling to keep yourself safe:

  • Warn the belayer: You can calmly yell “falling” or something to warn the belayer that you are falling. This will keep them alert and help them to best support your weight on the rope. This will trigger them locking the belay device.
  • Look for obstacles: As you are descending, try to look for objects that may be in the way. In an indoor gym, this will most likely be other people. You can warn them as you make your way down.
  • Bend arms and legs: Once you make contact with the wall or ground, you will want to keep yourself loose. Stiff limbs will increase your chances of injury.
  • Widen arms: By keeping your arms away from your body, you will prevent hitting the wall or the rope. This will help to avoid bruising and abrasions that can easily occur with quick contact.
  • Keep the rope in front of you: If the rope is behind you, it may catch on your skin. The rope being behind you can cause injury and make the descent more difficult.
  • Do not push off the wall: Pushing off the wall will only put you out of balance and increase the chances of you hurting yourself when coming back at the wall. This should be reserved for more advanced climbers.

You can practice falling to become better at it and decrease your chances of accidents if you are actually falling (not on purpose). Make sure you are working with an experienced belayer so they can prevent further problems from occurring.

Preparing for Your Climb

Muscle injuries can occur when indoor rock climbing, especially as the climber tries to reach for further holds. Many of these injuries can occur in the shoulders as well as leg strains. To prevent this from happening, you should create a pre-climb routine to ready your body for the activity.

Before you begin to climb, you should do the following things:

  1. Stretch: Stretching is key in any sport to prepare your muscle groups for exercise. In rock climbing, you should stretch all major muscle groups as well as your arms and shoulders. This will allow you to be more flexible when trying to hit new holds that are more challenging. Improving hip flexibility will also be helpful.
  2. Wear proper clothing: You should also wear the proper clothing for optimal climbing. These clothes should be comfortable and not interfere with mobility. You do not want the clothes to be too baggy so that they do not interfere with the ropes and other equipment. Climbing shoes will help with grip.

After the Climb

What you do after the climb can be just as important as the safety procedures before and during the activity. Because you just participated in a strenuous activity, you should replenish your body with food and water. This will help rebuild the muscles you just worked and allow them to get the nutrients they need to become stronger.

You should also wash your hands immediately after rock climbing. This is especially true if you begin to develop blisters or have cuts and abrasions. Especially with chalk on your hands and sweat, this can be a breeding ground for bacteria. Keeping this area clean will allow your hands to heal faster and get you back on the wall without pain.

Indoor Rock Climbing with Children

Indoor rocking climbing is a safe activity for participants of any age. It is important to note that children should be well informed of the protocol in staying safe. They may have a more difficult time remembering the steps for safety, making it necessary that these are reviewed often. It is recommended that children can start climbing around age five.

Smaller Walls

Children may want to start on smaller walls to become comfortable with the sport. This will help them to become more confident and avoid potential fear of heights. Smaller walls can be equally as challenging as larger ones, but they may seem less intimidating.

The colored holds on an indoor gym wall may also be easier for children to tackle. This will dictate what moves the child should make. This is helpful for users of all ages but may help a child more in building their motor skills and climbing strategy. Different colors present different levels of difficulty.

Supervision

There should be ample supervision paid to children when they are on the wall or not in an indoor rock climbing gym. The belayer should have complete focus on the child while they are climbing, not only for safety but to make them feel supported and more confident in their tasks.

When a child is not on the wall, they should be sure to stay away from other climbers and not stand under the wall directly in case other climbers fall. Having an eye on your child and reminding them of this is important. If other children who are not climbing are present, make sure they do not wander too close to the wall. It is an interesting place, and they may be drawn.

Types of Indoor Rock Climbing

There are multiple types of rock climbing offered in an indoor gym. We have addressed top rope climbing throughout this article, which is the most common type of rock climbing. It is also the most popular type of climbing offered at indoor gyms. There are other types offered as well, most notably: lead climbing and bouldering.

The different climbing types are separated in a gym if all of them are offered.

Lead Climbing

Lead climbing is done by connecting your rope to carabiners as you ascend up the wall. Sometimes other climbers are attached below you, hence you being the “leader” in lead climbing. The most important safety precaution for lead climbing is ensuring you are clipped at every progression.

Bouldering

The final type of indoor rock climbing type is bouldering. Bouldering could be considered the most dangerous of the three types as you are not attached to a rope. These walls and rock formations are much smaller, typically not over 15 feet. Even at this height, risks of falling are high. There will be safety mats below you, but landing incorrectly can result in injury.

When bouldering, these are important safety measures to take to prevent injuries:

  • Improper landing: Wrists and ankles are at a higher risk of injury if you land on them with excessive force. Be very mindful of foot and hand placement when you fall from a wall. Keep your arms and legs bent for less impact.
  • Standing under someone: Do not stand under climbers in the event that they fall. You can injure yourself and the climber.
  • Use a spotter: This is a person who can help to catch you if you fall from a wall. This can be very helpful in preventing injuries.
  • Do not jump: Once you make it to the top of your boulder, try to avoid jumping to the ground. This can lead to similar injuries as falling. Try to down climb as far as you can by facing your boulder and retracing your steps or using other holds to climb down.
  • Falling in horizontal positions: You may not have time to move your body when falling onto your back. Bend your knees, keep your chin tucked, and slap your arms wider than you onto the mat.

Practicing your falling technique can prevent the risks of injury while bouldering significantly. There are multiple ways to fall, and this video does a great job of explaining these techniques.

Why Indoor Rock Climbing is A Safe Activity

 

Indoor rock climbing is a safe activity for all ages because of the necessary safety precautions that are taken and adhered to when climbing in an indoor setting. Staff at these places are trained and well versed in all things rock climbing to ensure that climbers are participating in a safe and fun way.

As the data shows, there are very few accidents that occur when indoor rocking climbing. Those that are hurt have minor injuries as more advanced climbers. They are often trying new things and working on harder climbs when these accidents occur. As long as you are following safety protocol and reviewing your equipment checklist, accidents are very unlikely to occur.

If you are looking for a new activity that allows you to build full-body strength and give you a unique way to exercise, you should consider indoor rock climbing. It works your body as well as your brain and is easily accessible with the many gyms that offer it. It is often a much safer activity than running and many sports you might consider participating in.

Because safety is not a large risk of participation, you should give indoor climbing a shot!  

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