Ascent to peak fitness

Indoor climbing benefits, body, mind and soul

  • Feb. 19, 2020 7:30 a.m.

– Story by Pamela Durkin and Darcy Nybo Photography by Don Denton

While oftentimes we have the will to stay fit, many of us grow weary of monotonous sessions on the elliptical machine, jogging for miles or getting nowhere on a treadmill. It may be time for a challenge that will engage your body and your mind.

Indoor climbing is gathering quite the following, and not just within the climbing community. For most, it is a sport they know little about. Few have considered it as an option for a “real” workout. However, once you try it, you may be hooked for life.

Indoor climbing is one of the fastest growing sports in North America and it’s garnering attention and praise from fitness and medical experts alike, and for good reason. Evidence suggests the sport challenges every muscle group in the body, in addition to being a superb stress-buster and overall brain-booster that can help improve cognitive function and serve as a valuable adjunct in the treatment of conditions like autism and depression.

“Peak” fitness

Impressed, but not persuaded that indoor climbing can give you the same “cardio-oomph” your morning jog does? Consider this — studies indicate ascending a rock wall can get your heart pumping as effectively as climbing stairs or jogging.

In fact, a one-hour climbing session can burn well over 700 calories — much more than the 560 calories you’d burn spending the same amount of time running at a six-mile-per-hour pace. What’s more, climbing utilizes almost every muscle group in the body, not just your arms.

Max Considine, program coordinator for Saanich’s The Boulders Climbing Gym, explains: “You’re like a monkey when you’re climbing. You use your whole body, legs and core to propel yourself up the wall. Climbing improves the strength, endurance, speed and flexibility in most major muscle groups and not many sports do that.”

That full-body workout translates into a pretty attractive aesthetic. Proponents of the sport claim regular climbing can leave you with strong, toned shoulders, lean thighs, strengthened arms, back and neck and a rock-solid core. In addition, the long reaches and intricate footwork needed to scale a wall can develop flexibility and balance, and leave you as limber as, yes, a monkey.

Mental benefits

In addition to helping you achieve peak fitness, climbing can enhance your mental health. According to research from Indiana University, climbers who totally lose themselves in the flow of the sport, enter a mindset that can create euphoria and even block physical pain.

There’s even more good news for your brain. Some small studies have shown that indoor climbing can have positive effects on anxiety, depression and ADHD.

As more and more people get into the sport, doctors and physiotherapists alike are heralding the positive benefits of rock climbing. It has also been proven as a therapeutic approach to treat depression. In Austria, where the sport is heralded as an activity that promotes mindfulness, self-awareness, self-efficacy and trust, there is even an Institute for Therapeutic Rock Climbing.

Max Considine isn’t surprised. “Climbing in general requires a high degree of concentration, focus and perseverance. It really builds confidence, puts you in a Zen sort of state and improves overall cognitive function.”

He adds, “I’ve seen painfully shy children lacking in self-esteem blossom into self-confident, outgoing kids within a month of taking up indoor climbing. It’s wonderful to see that kind of development.”

Getting social

Another salient element in indoor climbing’s trifecta of health perks is its inherent social aspect.

Climbers are a supportive bunch. Spend time at any climbing facility and you’ll see people swapping tricks and tips with individuals they’ve never met before, or several people climbing on a section of wall working out the route together. You’ll also likely see folks who’ve completed a route gathered on the ground cheering on others, who are still propelling up the wall.

Why is all this important? A plethora of studies confirm that socializing is good for us, and heals us through the same basic physical mechanisms as diet and exercise. People with good social connections have stress hormone blood profiles that are significantly healthier than folks who are isolated. They also have more circulating immune cells and lower cardiac inflammatory protein.

There are two ways to get started in indoor climbing. You can join a Just Hang session under the guidance and supervision of skilled staff members. These sessions include all technical equipment and staff belayers to look after all the rope management aspects. There’s also bouldering, where people climb without ropes over safety mats at heights of up to four or five metres. It’s a great way to experience climbing without the need for equipment.

Indoor rock climbing is a great way for friends and corporate groups to partake in something fun. The Boulders Climbing Gym offers both options and also rents, at a nominal fee, any equipment you may require. All you need to do is show up and begin your own ascent towards peak physical and mental health. There are also several classes you can sign up for as a beginner, or to improve your technique. They are open 3 pm to 10 pm Monday to Friday and 10 am to 6 pm Saturday and Sunday.

Boulders also welcomes families with only a few restrictions: children must be at least six years old with a parent/guardian or 14 years old without a guardian.

If garnering some insight into the benefits of indoor climbing has piqued your interest, take some time to explore The Boulder’s Climbing Gym’s website (climbtheboulders.com). You’ll find them at 1627 Stelly’s Cross Road.

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