By Kat Waterhouse
Lots of programs, machines and sports make the claim of being a full-body workout, but few deliver quite as completely as rock climbing. Rock climbing, whether indoors or outdoors, can build muscle strength, increase cardio endurance and improve mental/problem solving abilities. First time climbers will generally try either top rope climbing, bouldering, or a little of both depending on your location. Top rope climbing requires a harness, rope, and trained partner to hold the ropes (belay) for you, while bouldering is shorter, does not use a rope, and usually includes thick pads for landing called crash pads. Both types of climbing can work the full-body, and can be done outside or at an indoor climbing gym.
If you’ve ever tried a new sport or activity, you will be familiar with the usual soreness that comes from working muscles in ways that your body isn’t used to. When you try rock climbing for the first time, be prepared to feel muscles you didn’t even know existed. This is because the act of pulling yourself up a wall is not an activity that is easily duplicated even in the most thorough strength training routines. From your fingers to your feet, every muscle is working to maintain balance and upward motion. A strong core gives an athlete an advantage, but how often do you actually work on your grip strength?
While some climbers prefer to concentrate on isolated, static movements, improving technique and balance, it is possible to get your heart rate up and get a cardio workout on the wall. The easiest way to get a cardio workout through climbing is to visit an indoor climbing gym with auto belays. An auto belay is a system that the climber clips into and allows them to climb without a partner to hold the ropes, then slowly lowers the climber back down. The absence of a partner holding the ropes makes it easier to climb over and over on the same wall, with little to no down-time. Climbers call this technique “doing laps” and many use it to build endurance for longer, multi-pitch outdoor climbs.
The final element of this full-body workout, is the brain. I suppose you could solve math problems while doing burpees, but with rock climbing, the mental workout comes naturally, and masquerades as fun. Like a live action video game, climbers learn to read holds, determining the most efficient route to the top. The through process goes something like this, “If I grab here with my right hand, then put my left foot on that chip, I can step up and reach that hold with my left hand. Ok, now I need to put my foot out to the side to counter balance as I lean and reach my fingers over there.” As the skill or reading the route increases, the thoughts become more natural, quick, and effortless. This type of problem solving, quick thinking, and mental flexibility can benefit climbers of all ages.
Rhode Island is home to some great outdoor bouldering at Lincoln Woods, and although there are some top rope areas in the state, they are limited, and require training and gear to use properly. Crash pads and shoes for outdoor bouldering can be rented at Rock Spot Climbing, and guidebooks are available for purchase as well. If the weather isn’t cooperating, or you’d like a little guidance trying the sport for the first time, then an indoor climbing gym is where you want to go. Rock Spot Climbing operates two indoor facilities, in Lincoln, and South Kingstown, RI. Both facilities are open 10am-midnight daily, for all ages, all abilities.
Kat has been climbing since she was a toddler. She currently works as the Director of Marketing and Special Events for Rock Spot Climbing. RSC operates four indoor climbing gyms, with two in RI, and two in Boston. Rock Spot Climbing also offers outdoor guiding for the truly adventurous.