Rock Climbing: Turn Your Workout Into Playtime

by Jasmine Sawatzky

September 13, 2019

I’m a twenty-five year old who’s always had an interest in fitness, since the days of swinging around a jungle gym and racing my friends in the school yard. Unfortunately as we get older, a busy schedule cuts into “playtime” and going to the gym becomes more of a chore. Getting up early for a run or to hit the gym made me dread my mornings, and squeezing a workout in between my commute home from work and cooking dinner was nearly impossible. Welcome to adulthood. 

For me, rock climbing became my gateway back into playtime. It made fitness fun again. Instead of swinging around on a jungle gym, now I’m climbing up colourful holds at the bouldering gym or up real rock walls in the great outdoors. The difference between rock climbing and playing on a jungle gym is rock climbing requires a much higher level of fitness, technique, and strategy. This provides the perfect stimulation for our now grown-up minds and bodies. My first time climbing I had a realization: “Oh ya. I always liked climbing things. I just forgot.” 

Top Benefits to Expect From Rock Climbing

You’ll get ripped without even realizing it

Rock climbing does wonders to increase your strength and endurance. It requires more than just upper body strength, a good rock climber develops lean muscle mass from their fingers to their toes. It also requires intricate footwork and flexibility. Not to fear though, climbing gyms tend to have a great range of projects from beginner to expert. Rock climbing is also a great form of cardio, and can burn up to 700 calories in one hour. If you’re anything like me, you’ll be so focused on trying to send your project you won’t even realize your heart is beating out of your chest and your forearms are pumped. 

You’ll meet a great community

Many beginners are intimidated by the thought of climbing a wall in front of a bunch of strangers. Fortunately, in my experience, climbers tend to be the most easy-going and non-judgemental group of athletes. Strangers quickly become friends while offering each other beta (beta is climbing jargon for information about a project and how to send it). There’s nothing that brings people together like working towards the same goal. 

It will lead you on great adventures

Rock climbing in Thailand

If your climbing journey starts in your local climbing gym, it probably won’t be long before you want to get your hands on the real rocks. This will lead you into the wilderness of your own neighbourhood, and to climbing areas you never even knew existed. Do a little research on the web or ask your local climbing gym about the closest places to do some outdoor climbing. As you improve your skills and experience, you may want to make your next vacation a climbing trip. Some of the best climbing destinations in the world include places like Yosemite National Park in California, Kalymnos in Greece, Railay Beach in Thailand, or Todra Gorge in Morocco. Rock climbing will help you to explore the natural beauty of a country, and even give you a birds eye view from the top.

Now that you’re convinced….

Here’s How to Get Started

One of the first steps is to learn the different types of climbing and try them out before investing in equipment. If you walk into an indoor rock climbing gym the most popular types of climbing you’ll see are bouldering and top roping. 

Bouldering

Bouldering is done on rocks or walls that are not very high so the risk of injury is minimal. In a climbing gym you’ll find the floor covered in crash pads in the bouldering area. If you’re doing some outdoor bouldering, you may need to bring your own crash pad and a trusted pal to spot you. Because bouldering can be done alone in a gym and only requires climbing shoes and chalk, it’s the most simplistic form and a great way to get started. Routes in indoor rock climbing gyms are usually colour coded by holds and have their difficulty marked. If I spontaneously get the itch to go for a climb, you’ll most likely find me on the bouldering walls. 

Rock climbers top roping outdoors with a belayer

Top Roping

Top roping may be the most popular form of roped climbing, and is great for anyone to try, even beginners. It can be done indoors or outdoors. This is where the rope is anchored at the top of the climb, one end of the rope is attached to your harness and the other end is attached to your belayer. Your belayer is the person who stays at the bottom and is responsible for picking up the slack of the rope to minimize the distance of a fall. Top roping gives you the height you just can’t get bouldering, and works on your endurance on the wall. 

Tips to Stay Motivated 

As with any fitness endeavour, no matter how fun, it’s likely that at some point you’ll hit a plateau or lack motivation. Here are some tips for staying motivated.

 Chalk on hands

Change up your fitness routine

If you feel like you’ve plateaued, working on your overall fitness with the goal of becoming a better climber may help. Some great exercises you can do at home to improve your climbing included pull-ups, dead hangs, tricep dips and pushups. Core strength is also essential for climbers, so you’ll want to throw in some planks. After gaining some strength you’ll be stoked to try out your new muscles on the wall. 

Go with friends

This one is fairly simple. Climbing is a very social sport, and you’ll find yourself spending more time resting and chatting about beta than actually on the wall climbing. Bringing a friend will help you have fun, stay motivated, and maybe even encourage a little healthy competition. 

Play games

If I’m not having the best climbing session, my favourite way to snap out of it and keep things light is by throwing in some games. 

One popular game is known as “Eliminator”. For this game, choose a route that is well within your skill level. Climb through it once, and choose a hold to “eliminate” that the next player can’t use. Keep going until no one can complete the problem. This game helps you work on your problem solving and dynamic moves. 

Another popular game reminiscent of childhood is “Boulder Tag”. This game is exactly as it sounds. Each player will spread out on the wall and start traversing. The goal is to tag the front player without falling off the wall. If you get tagged you’re out, and if you fall off or push another player off the wall you need to start from the beginning. 

Conclusion 

Climbing to me has never felt like a chore or an obligation. Getting fit from climbing has been more like the side benefit. In the words of the famous American mountaineer Alex Lowe, “the best climber in the world is the one having the most fun.”

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