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8 REASONS TO CONSIDER ADDING ROCK CLIMBING TO YOUR GYM ROUTINE
Written by Lydia Yang in Health & Fitness on the 3rd November 2021 / 8 Reasons to Consider Adding Rock Climbing to your Gym Routine
Rock climbing is an umbrella term for many different types of climbing. It is often thought to be primarily about reaching the top of a rock face or mountain. Rock climbing as a sport is, in fact, also about the process of the climb rather than simply trying to get to the top of the mountain. In this way, rock climbing focuses on the route and the wall itself.
We divide rock climbing into two main categories: aid climbing and free climbing. A common misconception is that free climbing is climbing without protection such as rope. This is a subcategory of free climbing called ‘free solo’. Aid climbing is climbing whereby equipment is used to hold a climber’s bodyweight. Free climbing is the most popular and requires strength and endurance as you only use your rope for safety - if you use a rope at all.
The types of climbing you might find in a gym are subcategories of free climbing - lead climbing, top-roping, and bouldering. Naturally, all three types of climbing are common outside the gym as well. In this way you can climb inside and outside, with and without protection, aided and unaided, long and short routes, in preset routes (sport climbing) or routes that you set (trad climbing). With such variety in climbing and so many disciplines, rock climbing can at first seem intimidating. There are, however, universal benefits that can be noted across the board.
1. Small gender gap
Climbing has been proven to be one of the most gender-neutral sports in terms of performance. In September 2019, British rock climber Emma Twyford successfully became only the third person to ascend the Lower Pen Trwyn UK’s first 9a (1996). Ashima Shiraishi is widely considered to be the best teenage climber of either gender after climbing V13 boulder problems by the age of ten, establishing herself as one of the top bouldering and sport climbers in the world.
Rock climbing is something males can do with their female gym buddies. This, of course, means that it is the ideal sport to do with your partner and can lead to many stunning experiences as you partake in Rock Climbing holidays. It can deepen the trust between you as well, as a partner might have to belay or spot you.
If you are looking for a flattering way to show your physique in a non-provocative manner then climbing is something to consider. Show off your athleticism for your dating profile game in a natural way. Place yourself in an environment full of agile, daring climbers glistening in sweat as they scale rock faces in packed gyms. Assemble with adventurous ascenders in alpine areas.
2. Mental benefits
Climbing has many mental benefits that can help you both outside the gym and inside the gym. Navigating a rock face can help you mentally before you even start the ascent. Climbers can develop their problem solving and planning skills as they decide:
- Where they will put their hands and feet
- How they will manage their body weight
- How dynamic the move from one hold to another will be
- Where they will rest (In climbing lactic acid can build up in your appendages - something referred to as ‘pump’ - so it is important to find somewhere to shake it off)
- Difficult sections within a route
These factors are what compounds what is known as the ‘beta’ - the methodology to tackle a route. This is so important that in Olympic lead climbing, participants get six minutes to plan their route (time equal to that of the time of the actual climb) and it will be the first time they see the route. Even in Olympic bouldering, where there is no allocated time to plan, climbers use the time to plan their ascent. In this way problem solving and visualisation skills are developed before you even climb the route and with every attempt.
Executing a beta requires concentration and the self-confidence and determination to commit to difficult manoeuvres. Fast reactions are needed to adapt to the situation when things don’t go according to plan, meaning you must adjust your route or hold and stop yourself from falling off. Hand-eye coordination, motor skills, and mental agility are needed to execute difficult sequences. Climbing allows you to exercise these different soft skills in a fun, productive environment which will inevitably result in improvement being seen outside of climbing as well.
Of course, there is the stress relief you feel when you manage to execute a difficult move that you were stressing about as well as the sense of achievement when reaching the top. Perhaps not so glamorously, climbing will give you patience - you may have to attempt a route multiple times making very little progress each time. Your mental endurance and pain tolerance will be tested as you cling to painful holds by the tips of your fingers and jam your hands into painful cracks. Climbing can be quite humbling too, as you see other people succeed where you fail.
3. Target different muscle groups
Climbing is a low impact aerobic workout, one of the best full-body workouts, and can help you develop:
- A lean figure
- Your core muscles
- Hand and finger strength
- Your forearms and upper arms
- Your shoulders, neck, and the upper back
- Your cardio
You don’t have to be bulky to be good at climbing. Many of the best climbers are more lean than bulky. However, if bulk is what your target body shape is, explosive climbing styles such as speed climbing and navigating ‘dyno’ transitions (a hard thrust or jump from one hold to another) can help you develop large muscles.
4. Improve on sports you already do
Climbing helps you develop the core. This, in turn, stabilises the body and leads to a stronger, less injury-prone body, meaning you are less likely to injure yourself when playing the sports you love. Having to contort your body in different ways to bridge the gaps between holds will also develop your balance, flexibility, and agility. All of which will go towards more effective and less injury-prone Climbing assists by further developing muscles needed for the sport, as well as muscles which are not needed but certainly beneficial to it, but which are not adequately developed in the practice of it. Here is how climbing can help when playing the top sports in the world:
- Football (soccer), Basketball, and Volleyball: Increased agility and upper body and core strength.
- Racket/bat sports such as Cricket, Tennis, Table Tennis, and Baseball: Grip strength to hold the bat. Agility to get to the ball. Arm strength to hit the ball.
- Field Hockey and Golf: Spatial awareness to hit the ball. Grip strength to hold the club.
5. Low level of entry
People often think that climbing is mainly about having a strong upper body. However, when you become an effective rock climber, much of your success is due to good technique, balance, and leg strength. This means that even people without the grip strength or arm strength to do things like monkey bars or hold their weight for more than 10 seconds have a grade which they can start at and improve from there. If the idea of falling is something that scares you and you haven’t got the confidence to clip yourself in then you can (and should anyway) start with top roping whereby the rope is above you so you do not fall as far when you come off.
6. You can improve your rock-climbing skills at home
Not everybody has the time or money to travel to the gym or popular rock-climbing destinations. Rock climbing uses the whole body and so exercising the whole body can be beneficial in improving your rock-climbing skills. This can be done easily at home with bodyweight workouts or if you want workouts targeting areas you may lack in such as grip strength, you can utilise simple tools like a finger strengthener that helps aid your finger and tendon grip strength.
7. Easy to control the intensity of your session
Climbing gyms have a variety of grades which you can choose from, meaning that you get to choose how much to challenge yourself. If you want to make the grade you are currently on harder but are not yet ready to move to the next one, you can simply choose to increase the speed at which you ascend the wall. Additionally, climbing routes are often made in such a way that there are periodic places in which you can stop to rest; you can choose how long to rest and recover. If you are having an off-day you can still benefit from the positive endorphins released when you exercise without overworking yourself.
8. Social benefits
Rock climbing by its very nature has developed many tight-knit communities – inevitable when your safety depends on the person belaying you or spotting you breaking your fall. There’s also the fact that you are often sharing the climbing wall with multiple people. Such an environment can lead to the people around you encouraging you when things get difficult or giving helpful advice to help you improve your skills. This kind of interaction often leads to great friends and/or partners. Of course, it isn’t just the climbing gym where you reap the social benefits of climbing; the positivity of achieving goals and confidence it brings stays with you. People often share in your positive vibe, meaning better interactions with those in your everyday life.
Rock climbing is a versatile sport that has great social, mental, and physical benefits. Rock climbing can allow you to exercise inside and outside so you can enjoy the convenience of a gym as well as its atmosphere and social facets, or you can enjoy the freedom and beauty of the outdoors anywhere in the world. Rock climbing is physically accessible for everyone of any body shape as it has many different grades. If you hate heights and do not like the idea of falling then you can begin by top-roping. And if all of that isn’t enough, rock climbing is a great environment to show your physical and mental strength to potential companions.