Indoor Rock Climbing for Fitness: It's Not Extreme Anymore

by Charles Carter - Date: 2007-06-28 - Word Count: 1182 Share This!

Once an activity labeled as an "extreme sport", rock climbing has in the last few years become a very popular workout activity as the use of indoor climbing walls in fitness facilities, community centers and health clubs has increased and made the sport much more user friendly. Not only can it be fun and exciting, rock climbing is one of the most effective strength training workouts a person can ever have, providing fitness and strength benefits that are difficult to match with any other single activity. If you want to work out every muscle in your body in the shortest amount of time possible and get quick results in strength, body shape, toning and muscular endurance, there is no better thing to do. It burns a tremendous amount of calories as well, assisting with weight or fat loss. And did I mention that it is fun? Participants sometimes have such a blast that they even forget to feel tired! Around twenty years ago, the very first climbing gyms started appearing around the United States. One of the first was The Vertical Club in Seattle, Washington, and that is where I first took a lesson and learned to climb. My experience walking in there in 1993 was TOTALLY different than a new climber would have walking into the average climbing facility now. Back then, climbing gyms were primarily the domain of serious rock climbers who needed a way to stay in shape during the bad weather months or in between trips to outdoor climbing locations. Climbing as a general fitness activity hadn't arrived yet.

When I entered the facility that day, I was first greeted by a man on crutches who told me he had just broken his ankle in an outdoor climbing fall. He seemed pretty intense. There were several men climbing near the front without shirts on, their bodies seemingly made of nothing but muscle and sinew. One of them was attempting a climbing move just a few feet off the ground right in front of his buddies, who stood no more than arms reach from him, shouting him encouragement and prepared to break his fall if he came off the wall. He was exerting himself fully while trying the move, and I was struck by his effort, while all he had to do was literally put his foot down and he would have been standing directly on the ground.

I felt somewhat intimidated by the atmosphere. The place was definitely filled with people who climbed seriously, and at that time I was definitely someone who did not. I was glad I was there to take an actual lesson because I would have absolutely no idea how to start for myself. My teacher was the owner of the club, and he was very friendly and helpful. It was almost like having my own personal trainer. By the end of the 2 hour lesson I knew my way around the gym and the equipment and knew how to belay another climber and tie myself into the rope for safety. And I had climbed from the bottom of the walls to the top several times successfully. I was officially a climber, albeit a very enthusiastic beginner.

In the present day, a first trip to a climbing facility for a beginner will be a completely different experience. There are many more climbing gyms around, and like I mentioned above, many fitness centers and health clubs have climbing walls now. These climbing gyms and fitness center walls are used much more now by the average fitness enthusiast who is looking for a fun way to workout or have some recreation, and beginner classes abound. The look and feel of the facilities is usually very family friendly. Birthday parties and social events for kids, corporate outing and team building for adults as well as family recreation outings make up a huge percentage of the business for climbing walls nowadays. A first time visitor will be greeted by an enthusiastic staff wearing matching t-shirts and typically watch a safety video that gives an overview of the procedures of the facility. Then in a small group or individually, they are led out to attempt a few climbs before they are cleared to use the place on their own. The extensive orientation I received at The Vertical Club is mostly a thing of the past. The equipment and safety set up is much easier for the average person to learn, which gets them climbing and having fun sooner. This has greatly increased the number of people who participate in climbing and has led to the serious climbers that I saw on my first trip to The Vertical Club frequently being the minority in the gym at any given time.

Getting your exercise while climbing indoors usually involves you making your way from the floor toward the ceiling of the facility using plastic holds for your hands and feet that have the same look and feel as real rock. These are attached to a wall that is textured to resemble a real cliff face. As you make your way to the top, a cable attached to an automatic belay device or a rope attached to your partner and tied to your safety harness that you wear keeps you safe from a fall. Most indoor facilities have walls for roped climbing that go up to about 30 feet in height, though some in the United States go from 60 to 90 feet. Most facilities also have a version of climbing called bouldering where the climber is not roped but never climbs more than 10-15 feet off the ground, protecting against a fall with large gymnastics pads moved around on the floor underneath. Snug fitting climbing shoes with specially made rubber soles are worn for incredible grip against the footholds.

Indoor rock climbing requires exactly the same fitness and muscle strength and enduranace demands as doing it outdoors. And the benefits are awesome! Unlike traditional weight training which involves lifting weight in a controlled movement in a gym or home setting, rock climbing is "strength training with a twist": you as the climber are now the weight going up or down and rather than an arbitrary number of repetitions to be performed to complete a set, the goal of climbing is to get to the top of the wall. It doesn't matter how it is accomplished, either. Climbing doesn't have to look pretty to be effective. The result is a change of focus away from the effort of repetitions to the effort of working toward the immediately achievable goal of reaching the top. This can result in a very empowering feeling of accomplishment for the climber, because each trip up the wall holds a challenge that can be overcome and a goal that is achieved. This is what has been known to be addicting and can lead you to want to do more. And when you want to do more, you will keep doing it. And that is the biggest secret for long term success in fitness: keep doing it! It is amazing what consistency can accomplish.

Related Tags: fitness, exercise, sports, rock climbing, workouts, outdoor sports

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