45

I used to be a regular climber, and unfortunately I have put on some serious weight over the last 4 years, and I have not been able to climb as much as would have loved to.

While, I am still working on my schedule to get back to climbing gym, many of the people I know have been trolling me that the apple have fallen far away from the tree now (That, its too late for me to start climbing again). I do my best to avoid those talks, but can't help but notice that it is actually making sense, I haven't seen fat climbers around.

My current BMI is "26.8 Overweight".

Why aren't there any fat climbers? Or more importantly, should fat people ever climb?

  • 12
    There are fat climbers in the bouldering gym I frequent, and they are not bad at it either. There's not much difference, if any, in how they climb. They might be somewhat stronger because they have to deal with the extra weight in comparision with slimmer people of similar build. – stijn Oct 30 '17 at 11:21
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    @stijn - same here. But, I've lost about 26 pounds over the past six months, and that's made it possible for me to project harder problems, by a grade or two. – Don Branson Oct 30 '17 at 18:51
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    Be careful of impact. Falls, against the wall, but especially against the floor, will be especially hard on your body if it's a) not conditioned and b) overweight. Otherwise, I know a guy who was 130kg and started climbing and a diet at close to the same time. As he dropped to 80kg his climbing really, really accelerated. It was impressive, and I have to admit the thought occurred to me: "perhaps I should put on some weight". (Of course, I quickly rejected this idea on examination). Good luck, have fun! – mkingston Oct 30 '17 at 23:12
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    Do what you like, rather than what you've got talent for. – Monster Oct 31 '17 at 19:46

12 Answers 12

59

Should overweight people climb? If they want to, then yes of course they should.

I don't have any hard fact to back it up, but I do know a few climbers that are slightly overweight and have participated in guiding climbing days where some participants where seriously overweight (in some cases due to obvious medical reasons, in other cases I don't know why).

As climbing is vertical, there is an obvious disadvantage of the additional weight. This even applies to friends who do cycling and climbing: They usually complain that they need to lift those huge thighs up the wall. Also looking at pros like Adam Ondra (especially in his younger years) and at kids around 8-12 years, the incredible strength to weight ratio is apparent.

Now that all sounds like I am arguing against climbing when overweight - far from it. You need to adhere to the same principles any beginner or anyone on re-entry needs to: Listen to your body, don't pressure yourself or let anyone pressure you into doing anything you don't feel comfortable with. This is especially hard if you climbed a certain grade some years ago: You won't reach it immediately. Go at an easy level such that you enjoy climbing and start raising the level in a way you feel comfortable with or stay at the level you like, nothing wrong with that.

No matter if you are perfectly fine with your weight and just want to climb, or if you want to climb and lose some weight, climbing is a great activity to do it - don't let yourself be talked out of it by obviously badly informed peers.


Addendum (not directly relevant to the question):
As other answers and comments tend to go in a different direction, let me give a motivation for this answer, skip it if you don't care:
I know the OP does already do high-altitude mountaineering, so I considered this to be about rock-climbing in the narrower sense, not climbing as in every activity involving non-horizontal motion in the broader sense. Also the question is centered on social interactions, being negative about climbing while being overweight - that's what my answer addresses. The question does not mention any technical issues about climbing. There are technical/security related aspects to be considered, but there is nothing preventing you from climbing. This is nothing against other answer, it just provides my reasoning why I don't include such points, as brought up in comments, in this answer.

  • 1
    Is it also the case that a wider climber will have their center of gravity further away from the wall? – stannius Oct 30 '17 at 18:11
  • @stannius Yes, definitely. Especially if you tend to carry fat in the front of your body, as opposed to in the rear or more evenly spread out. – user3067860 Oct 30 '17 at 19:24
  • @stannius As mentioned in the comment above, this can be an issue. As soon as the wall isn't vertical, it isn't a problem anymore though. This is not really relevant to my point, as there are numerous other "problems", e.g. flexibility, but the same is true (probably in a lesser extent but still) for all "types of climbers". – imsodin Oct 30 '17 at 21:20
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    Another thing to consider is if the climber weighs significantly more than the belayer, it can cause issues for them (most people aren't used to being pulled off the ground when catching someone on top-rope). – azurefrog Oct 30 '17 at 22:34
32

I'm fat, and I climb.

Now to be fair I climb indoors and not up the side of a mountain, but some of the problems I face would tend to be the same. Also I climb for fun. It's a much better workout than a treadmill. But I am by no means a serious climber.

  1. Safety gear is harder to find. I am a big dude, not just fat (though I am that too). Finding size 16 climbing shoes is tough. Finding a properly fitting harness is tough. Etc.

  2. I think it's harder to do overhangs and roof climbs, there are people at the gym that can climb overhangs and "ceiling faces" (not sure what to call those) with what seems like little effort. For me, once the overhang is past a certain point, getting enough friction with my feet seems impossible. I don't even know where to start with climbing on the roof.

  3. I have to be very careful of weight ratings. Some gear (a lot actually) is only rated for smaller people. You have to be really aware of that and not just assume that the gear is OK to use for you because everyone else uses it.

  4. You have to warn your belayer. It's really easy for them to belay correctly if they know, but the gym I go to requires that belayers use the floor mounts so a good pulley system is in place. If they get lazy though and decide to just use the top mounts, well I imagine it would look a lot like the old Saturday morning cartoons.

  5. You have to deal with a lot of funny looks, I get them all the time from people that haven't seen me climb yet. Going to a new gym is also a lot of extra work. Usually I end up having to convince the safety crew that I do know what I am doing.

  6. This is perhaps more with being generally big than fat (taller than most). But I find that when people move the holds, they place them a bit too close together. And that when I place holds (you're allowed to move them in the gym I go to, to change the difficulty) I place them too far apart. People have complained, as have I. There seems to be a war between tall people and short people over hold placement. Funny thing, if the gym places them, they're fine. I suspect that we climbers just don't know how to place them correctly.

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    Kudos to you - sounds like you are greatly determined! Can you give an example for 3.? All gear I know that you need in a climbing gym is rated to a minimum of 22kN which is plenty. – imsodin Oct 30 '17 at 21:26
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    So I was told (though it may not be correct) that 1 KN is about equal to 225lbs of weight sitting on it. Meaning a rating of 1kN should be able to lift a 225lb weight. BUT that all the safety gear is meant to take forces. For example falling. And that as a rule of thumb, you should aim for a 10% ratio. So 22kN can be used by a 495lb guy and be considered safe as a rule of thumb. That is plenty. But I see a lot of people at the gym using 14 kN or even 12 kN carabiners in their main gear. I mean there fine for keeping your chalk bag attached but 12 * 225 * 0.10 = Not enough for me. – coteyr Oct 30 '17 at 21:47
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    But to be honest I suppose #3 is more of a "check your gear" which is a good rule anyway, regardless of weight. – coteyr Oct 30 '17 at 21:48
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    @uwnojpjm Underwater if you have a negative 10 kg buoyancy you sink really fast if you fall off. Five meters down and I think you run maybe 50% risk of shearing your ear membrane. Generally the more experienced diver, the slower descent tolerated (strained ears, clogged Eustachian tube). – kubanczyk Oct 30 '17 at 22:37
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    Well then their are using biners which are a not certified for climbing, which is a nogo: The relevant norm EN 12275 requires a minimum strenth of 22kN (which is equivalent to 2200kg or 2.2tons in weight, no idea about weird stuff like lb though ;) ). – imsodin Oct 31 '17 at 13:49
25

You could ask the similar question "Most runners I see aren't fat, so is it wrong to start running as a massive guy?"

Of course the good and really good climbers are most likely on the thinner side because of obvious and already denoted reasons. Besides that, as for runners, do the sport but don't start over-motivated. Often people who like to get 20kg off start running and a week later they can't walk anymore. For climbing, even as a skinny person, you shouldn't force it too much. Especially the tendons and ligaments won't get used to the 'new' heavy strain and injuries get likely.

I would suggest to do both: Some endurance sport (which will also help to get some kilos off) and climbing. Especially when you are eager to go climbing, so do it!

  • 11
    I kind of disagree with your example--if you are heavily overweight then running is going to be terrible for your joints, and you would probably be better advised to take up a low impact sport instead (this is even true for some healthy-weight people). But that doesn't apply so much to this question, as long as you start carefully. – user3067860 Oct 30 '17 at 19:23
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    You are right, it's not the same ;) But as you said you have to be careful when starting climbing too. And higher loads due to body mass means higher risks for injuries. – Wills Oct 30 '17 at 20:14
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    @user3067860, yes, vertical versus horizontal. If you trip while running you don't slide across the pavement hundreds of feet into a wall like some kind of Escher horror scene. – user13336 Oct 30 '17 at 20:39
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    I do however believe this has potential for an entertaining reality TV show for Americans. – user13336 Oct 30 '17 at 20:41
  • ~2.1m tall, and 136 kilo, and my weekly (or twice weekly) run is about 5k now. I stick to soft surfaces (trails and treadmills), and worked my way up to bit by bit over a couple years. As your answer suggested, ya just gotta work your way into it sensibly and listen to your body. Enjoy the things you can do, and keep working at the things you can't. – Matthew Wetmore Nov 3 '17 at 23:18
13

I haven't climbed for a long time - not since uni. Our climbing club was famous for its training though, so people from other clubs often joined us for the workout, and a fair number continued to actually doing some climbing. Having belayed a few people much heavier than me (rugby players!), my main caveat is that your belayer needs to be cautious about your relative weights.

This isn't an issue if belaying from above - in that case the belayer is clipped in, and all is good. Belaying from below though, whether that's with a top-rope or seconding, they need to be aware that if you come off, they're going to be heading up at speed! With a climber significantly heavier than yourself, it's best to treat it similarly to belaying from above. Find something behind you to put a sling round, clip the sling to your belay device (not to the back of your harness!), and you're safe. It doesn't need the same security that belaying from above does, because it's only there to catch the difference in weights, but it's still pretty important.

Your belayer may not have thought of this, because they're too used to catching similarly-sized gym rats. It's sensible for you to check this, just in case. It doesn't matter how strong they are or how good their technique is, gravity is gravity, and once their feet leave the ground it's Sir Isaac who decides the outcome.

  • Good point. While weight will not prohibit climbing, its good to point out that there are safety concerns to pay attention to when there is a large weight differential between climber and belayer. – Cort Ammon Oct 30 '17 at 19:51
6

How fat is fat? Some people simply won't be able to because of weight issues, but beyond that: There's no reason not to if you can IMO. Take appropriate precautions, and generally approach it like you are a beginner (take it slow, build up tendon strength, make sure you aren't injuring yourself, and of course make sure your form is on point). Give it some time and you will be back to sending just like before :D

Anecdotally: I sometimes climb with a bigger guy (~6' & ~250-275 lbs), we have to be a bit more careful about me belaying him (I'm 5'8 / ~180 lb, so a ~75 lb / 40-50% weight difference). It definitely takes some getting used to - but it's pretty manageable overall - indoors on vertical routes I will often tie down to a ground anchor so that I don't get dragged up the wall, outdoors I generally do not - because rope drag + the routes we climb are generally not overhung.

5

While I am not brave enough to call John Dunne fat, Climbing Magazine did. So there is at least one objectively fat climber that could send 5.14. That man can float up some seriously hard stuff:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2WO3KNHCZsA

  • so I'm fat too. and I'm far from sending 5.14 – knitti Nov 1 '17 at 8:06
  • IIRC, they discussed John Dunne in The Rock Climber's Training Manual. While undoubtedly a strong climber in all seasons, the book used him as an example of periodizing weight gain, noting that he made his hard sends after dropping a lot of weight, then gaining it back to train more. – user3522 Nov 1 '17 at 18:44
  • @knitti the original question was why aren't there any fat climbers to which I provided John Dunne as a counter example. After the edit, my answer makes less sense, but I also think the question becomes opinion based so will see how things settle down before dealing with my answer. – StrongBad Nov 1 '17 at 20:13
4

It's called the "mountain climber's weight loss program": eat everything you want, and climb two mountains a week.

Serious rock climbers aren't fat because they can't eat enough to get fat. Climbing a mountain, or spending a day bouncing up and down a cliff, can easily burn 10,000 calories. No matter how much you eat, your digestive system can't process food fast enough to replace that.

  • Big [citation needed] for 10,000 calories/day on a cliff. It is a physical quantity, which means there is not very much difference if you go up on 8a or using a comfortable staircase. The weight and height are the same, the potential energy is the same. – kubanczyk Oct 31 '17 at 20:03
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    @kubanczyk, humans aren't perfectly efficient machines. The potential energy change from ascending Grand Teton is only about 250 kcal; if turning food into gravitational potential energy were the only energy expenditure involved, people wouldn't describe the climb as exhausting. – Mark Oct 31 '17 at 20:40
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    10,000 calories!?? That's crazy talk. Downvote for making stuff up and passing it as fact. – foobarbecue Oct 31 '17 at 22:31
  • @kubanczyk's argument is also incorrect -- I upvoted your response to it. – foobarbecue Oct 31 '17 at 22:35
  • My book says 5000 and backs it. But then again on the wall all day might be more. – Joshua Nov 2 '17 at 19:02
4

If your goal in going to the climbing gym is to get stronger, have fun, and / or hang out, then go for it!

However, if you want to optimize your use of workout time to lose weight, you're probably better off choosing a more aerobic sport. Climbing is primarily about strength and technique rather than maintaining an elevated heart rate. Sport climbing involves long breaks to belay, while bouldering generally involves long rests between short spurts of effort.

If you do want an aerobic climbing workout, your best bet is outdoors. Find a nice long juggy boulder traverse and go back and forth on it. Or a V1 that you can do laps on -- do it 20 or 30 times in a row without a break. Most gyms have long traverses for the same purpose, but you have to go when the gym is nearly empty to use them without getting in the way of other problems.

It's much easier to get an aerobic workout and burn a large amount of calories if you choose a sport like trail running, rowing, water polo, or zumba.

And, by the way, I have known overweight climbers, some who seemed to be under the impression they're going to lose weight by climbing a couple of routes every few weeks. I'm afraid it doesn't work like that.

4

I had a friend who lost a significant amount of weight from bouldering and climbing. What was remarkable about his weight loss is that as he began to shed pounds, his climbing strength and abilities soared unbelievably. If you think about it, he had been weight training on the wall for a couple of years carrying all his extra mass up with him, so first of all he developed the strength he needed so he could climb as heavy as he was. Then after he started to lose weight, his strength to weight ratio began to increase, which resulted in transforming him into a stronger than average climber.

The only concern he had was taking a fall on belay. Whoever was belaying him usually went for a trip up the wall after he took a fall, so if he fell too close to the ground, then he was hitting bottom. The person on belay needs to be prepared to go for a lift in the event of a fall if they aren't heavier, or near the same weight as the climber.

When top-roping, some belayers anchor themselves to the floor to prevent lift-offs. I don't recommend anchoring the belayer to the ground if they're lighter than the climber, it actually puts more stress on the rope and gear after a fall. anchoring is of course unavoidable when multi pitching, in which case you want to anchor your belay directly to the wall on the bolts instead of your harness when sport climbing. When trad climbing, you may want to use an extra piece in the direction of pull in case of a fall.

  • Just from bouldering / climbing? Was it combined with aerobic exercise or dieting? – foobarbecue Nov 3 '17 at 18:25
  • He had a climbing regiment he used as exercise for weight loss. I don't know about his diet. – ShemSeger Nov 4 '17 at 1:48
3

It is probably harder for overweight people to climb (as are many other activities for them), but it is not impossible. I don’t see the shlightest reason why they shouldn’t do it.

Successful climbing on an experienced level comes from training and fitness, and - contrary to common believe - fitness is not the opposite of ‘fatness’. You can be fit and fat at the same time, it is just harder. The reason is that you get fit by exercising and being active, and you get fat from overeating, and it is absolutely possible to exercise, be very active, and overeat at the same time.

N.B.: I have personal experience, I spent thirty years of my life with 60 kg (130 pounds) overweight, and I did many years of mountain climbing (difficulty about like El Capitan), thousand mile bicycle tours, and many other strenuous outdoor activities. It is quite doubtful that I am the only such person in the world.

3

Last spring I was in Italy climbing. There was a group from Switzerland, all a bit pudgy, and one guy with a beer belly led something like a 6c or 7a. Seriously frustrating.

Now obviously you should not jump into it without thought: your sinews and tendons have not yet adapted to your weight, and that takes several years. Muscles respond much faster to a workout, so climbing at the limits the muscles tell you will become injury-prone after a few months.

2

I see no reason why not.

I have no idea whether climbing is an optimal way to loose wight or not but an form or exercise which you enjoy and actually do is definitely better than one you don't.

Equally what you don't want to do is try too hard and injure yourself. Having said that climbing a fairly easy route if probably a lot more fun than running a few km.

You might even find that after a few months and losing a few pounds you have better technique than gym bunnies who just drag themselves up with their arms.

protected by Rory Alsop Nov 3 '17 at 0:21

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