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Rock Climbing Gyms vs. Fun Walls

For some of us, the melodic pace of jogging on the treadmill is not enough to scratch the exercise itch. It’s those people who will find the idea of scaling the side of mountain enchanting. However, if the mountains aren’t a close drive, the gear is not within reach, or you are yet at the skill level to take on the most challenging rocks of Joshua Tree or Arcadia National Park, there are indoor rock climbing gyms and fun walls sprinkled throughout the United States, including at several SFM Network facilities.

Rock climbing gyms and fun walls (also known as play climb) share the same physical principles and are both designed to provide a complete workout, spark your inner competitor, and lend some serious variety to the typical strength training or fitness workout. However, the features present in both draw different audiences. In this article, we will discuss the differences between indoor rock-climbing gyms and fun walls and provide insight into the audiences that enjoy them.

Rock Climbing Gyms

Indoor rock-climbing gyms are designed to mimic the experience of outdoor climbing and are a training avenue for climbers or those interested in climbing. It can be likened to a strength workout in which nearly all parts of your body can be positively impacted, especially your arms and legs as they are continuously used to pull and push you up the course.

Indoor rock-climbing features three primary disciplines, and variations thereof:

  • Top rope climbing: This is the most standard form of indoor rock climbing in which climbers have protection both by being anchored with a rope above them and by belaying below them at the ground level. Participants move forward along routes that are labeled for varying degrees of difficulty and color-coded to demonstrate the types of holds that can be accomplished.
  • Bouldering: In bouldering, climbing is done without harnesses or ropes on a smaller course (about 15 feet in length). Climbers work to complete a series of climbing “problems” or specific obstacles. During competitions, these participants are timed for speed.
  • Speed climbing: Speed climbing, as its name implies, is an activity in which climbers are competing against each other to complete a standardized course in the fastest time.


Rock climbing gyms are similar to traditional fitness gyms in that the cater to recreational and serious athletes and their revenue primarily comes from memberships, drops-ins and birthday parties. As rock climbing has emerged as a form of fitness, so too has it grown as a competitive sport with clubs and teams developing throughout the country and its introduction as a competitive sport in the 2021 (formerly 2020) Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo.

Fun Walls

Fun walls are considered a form of active entertainment and are geared towards individuals and groups who are looking for a fitness-related experience that focuses more on recreation and/or team building. They feature creative elements that can function similarly to a climbing wall but aren’t meant to directly mimic the climbing experience. Comparative to traditional rock-climbing walls, fun walls burst with tons of color and may include volcanoes, puzzles, rope climbing nets, spider webs, bean stocks or buttons to be smashed upon completion of the course.

Fun walls are emerging as a central part of many family entertainment centers, including a number of the ones that the team at Sports Facilities Development have guided through our venue planning services. Guests at Apex Sports & Events in New Jersey, Cedar Point Sports Center in Ohio, The Hoover Met in Alabama, or Rocky Mount in North Carolina can all enjoy the excitement, competition, and joy that comes with fun walls.

If you have a vision for a sports, recreation, or event venue with a family entertainment center, we can help. Our team of analysts, engineers, facility operators, construction experts understand the nuances of venue development and can guide you every step of the way. To learn more, contact us at 727-474-3845.

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