The “Rock Climber Physique”

Six-pack abs, ripped biceps, and back muscles. Jacked upper body but wiry legs. All muscle and all bone, no fat. The “rock climber physique.” A lean body, built from an obsession with training and climbing and living off a “granola” diet of beans, rice, veggies, or a combination.

While a six-pack and showy sinew are cool, they don’t make you a rock climber or encompass the “rock climber physique.” It’s all a myth. In a society enamored with comparison and appearances that thrives on making you feel less than others, it’s easy to buy into the myth. But, if you climb, regardless of appearance, you are a rock climber. It’s as simple as that.

Debunking the Myth of the “Rock Climber Physique”

rock climber physique

There are a million and one reasons why a vigorous climber, at first glance, doesn’t look super strong. Genetics is first and foremost, and genetics don’t care how you want to look. So, if you primarily store fat in your mid-section but not your legs, you may have muscular quads but never have a visible six-pack. Yet, vice versa may be the reality for someone else.

Additionally, the climbing community has perpetuated the myth of the “rock climber physique” by ignoring the health of many climbers who have achieved the appearance. Objectively, the lighter you are, the less mass you have to pull up a rock wall. So, in theory, if you get strong at a heavier weight and then cut or maintain a dangerously low body weight, you’ll have an easier time climbing challenging routes and boulders. That has led to a pervasive development of eating disorders and RED-S (Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport) among rock climbers, men and women alike. And, so many people dubbed with the “rock climber physique” may be struggling and engaging in unhealthy behaviors to maintain that look.

If there is any truth to the phrase, it is only in the word physique. Because that is what it ultimately is: a look independent of performance. If a rock climber is under-fueling and over-training to maintain the appearance, then there is a high probability that they are sacrificing performance and risking injury. Many professional rock climbers with a public platform (i.e., social media) have spoken out against this myth, including Allison Vest, Kai Lightner, Melina Costanza, Sasha DiGiulian, Emil Abrahamsson, and Alannah Yip., at the forefront of the competitive climbing world is a push for IFSC (the international governing body for competitive rock climbing) to have stricter guidelines for evaluating a competitor’s health. But this myth has become ingrained in climbing and diet culture, and many still take it as truth. It will take many years, voices, and banding together of the community to break apart the myth and replace it with the truth: there is no specific physique requirement to be a rock climber.

The “Rock Climber’s Physique” and Mental Health

If you’ve ever found yourself equating your body’s appearance to your ability to climb, you’ve bought into the myth. You do not need visible abs or a body fat percentage in the single digits. You do not need tiny legs and bulging biceps. And, if anyone ever comes up to you and says otherwise or comments on your appearance in a rock climbing gym or at the crag, take their words with a grain of salt. Sadly, their words are the only evidence that they’ve bought into the myth that is the “rock climber physique.”

Hopefully, this article has given you a new and refreshed perspective on being a rock climber. Hopefully, it has made it clear that no physique component is necessary to enjoy all the sports offers, despite what it may seem like. Relationships with bodies can be complex, and myths are easily mistaken for truth. If you need help, want to share thoughts on this topic, or have questions, please do not hesitate to comment below. If you or someone you know is struggling, here is the National Alliance for Eating Disorders Helpline: 1 (866) 662-1235.