I’m climbing the walls! (maybe you should too)
Any of you who know me personally are probably taking the title of this post to mean that I’m somehow very bored or restless. But no. This time I’m not referring to a mental state – I am actually climbing walls!
It’s been incredible. For the past 6 months or so, I have been participating in a form of exercise that, in my opinion, has no downside – indoor rock climbing. Yes, I am sort of afraid of heights. But the thing is, after watching my son climb at our local rock gym (Philadelphia Rock Gym) once a week during his summer break last year, I worked up enough courage to give it a try. I mean, why would I allow my 13-year-old son to climb the face of a 32-foot wall if I didn’t consider it safe enough for me, right? Admittedly, I shook like a leaf before my initial climb, but afterwards I was hooked. I’ll tell you exactly why I am hooked in a minute. First I’ll explain a little bit about the basics of indoor rock climbing.
Indoor rock-climbing walls are of various heights and levels of steepness, from not-quite-completely vertical to completely horizontal, and everything in between. Each wall has many differently-shaped climbing holds bolted to it. These holds are either placed randomly or along a specific “route” or “problem” and are changed now and then for continued variety. Different “problems” are marked using strips of color-coded tape placed under each hold so that as you are climbing, you can always tell whether or not you are using only those holds specific to the route you’re following. Each of the color-coded problems also has a rating based on difficulty level. The levels are determined based on things like size and shape of the holds, distance between holds, angle of the wall, how much weight shifting, core strength and overall technique come into play, etc. Obviously proper technique becomes increasingly critical as the difficulty level rises.
As far as safety goes, the truth is that there is absolutely no negative consequence (except for a bruised ego!) to falling off an indoor climbing wall as long as all safety measures have been followed. You are fitted with a harness to which a safety rope is attached. The rope is controlled by the “belayer”, a person who is responsible for taking up the slack and locking the rope into place as you climb to prevent a fall, and lowering you safely to the ground when you’re finished with the climb. The rope is attached to the belayer’s harness and to a daisy chain that connects to an anchor in the floor. If you slip off of a hold, you will fall only as much as the slack allows – next to nothing. Based on this configuration and the attention to safety, it took me no time at all to feel at ease, which, in turn, has given me the necessary confidence to reach for challenging holds and attempt higher level problems.
Now here is why I’m now hooked on this incredible form of exercise:
First, I equate rock climbing to a vertical form of yoga, as climbing has a similarly positive effect on my mind and body. You see, in order to complete a “route” or “problem” the climber must use core strength, balance and weight transfer. Some holds are completely out of reach while in one position, but when you shift your weight (sometimes in a very awkward manner), the hold becomes an easy grasp. This has reminded me of my yoga practice from the get-go. And not just because of the physical movement. I also find that I become incredibly focused, as though it’s just me and the wall, as I maneuver my way to the top. At the end of the climbing session, my muscles are all exhausted, and my mind is completely clear. For me, just like yoga.
Another reason for my love of climbing is the emphasis on goal-setting. I absolutely love setting small goals for myself along the route and then figuring out how to reach that specific objective. Since I continue to attempt more difficult routes as time goes on, I may make it only part of the way up before slipping off. This forces me to think outside the box and determine how I can change my technique or shift my weight or merely rid myself of self-defeating thoughts in order to complete the problem. It’s like a physically-based puzzle to be solved. Making it to the top after multiple unsuccessful attempts is incredibly satisfying. It provides evidence that both my body and my mind are become stronger with each climb!
Lastly and to sum it all up, while I climb I’m using every muscle in my body to push, pull, stretch and reach. Then while I’m pondering what my next move will be I’m using core strength to steady myself. Based on these facts there aren’t many aspects of health that indoor climbing won’t improve upon! Don’t take my word for it though. You can search online and easily find tons of studies that show the positive effects of climbing on cardiovascular fitness, dynamic muscle strength, overall muscle tone, flexibility, coordination and mental focus. But the most important health benefit of all? You’ll have fun doing it! Climb away!
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