Strength. Endurance. Good old-fashioned sweat. These are the building blocks of personal growth and achievement, whether your goals are physical, mental, or professional. No matter what your goals are, it takes perseverance to make progress.
But there’s more to reaching your goals than working hard. You also need mental focus, strength of will, and a close community of like-minded friends who will cheer you on and help you overcome obstacles.
Where can you find all of those things in one place? Millions of people find them at one of the nation’s hundreds of indoor rock climbing gyms every year.
What Is Indoor Rock Climbing?
Rock climbing is one of the biggest trends in physical fitness, and with good reason. Climbing appeals to people of all ages and skill levels – not just to elite athletes with impressive upper body strength – because it’s easy to get started. Since you don’t need any fancy equipment right away, anyone can show up at a local gym and start climbing. Indoor rock climbing is excellent for both beginners looking for a safe place to get started and for seasoned climbers who want to challenge themselves.
So what exactly can you expect when you show up at the gym? You’ve probably seen the walls with colorful wedges and shapes to grip with your hands and feet as you climb. To climb your first wall, you’ll just need a pair of shoes, a bag of chalk (to keep your hands from slipping), and a harness (if you’re doing a roped climb).
But don’t equate simple with easy. Successfully reaching the top will challenge both your body and your mind. You’ll get a great upper and lower body workout, and every climb will require mental focus and a willingness to step outside your comfort zone.
The best part is that you won’t be going it alone. Climbers are a supportive tribe, encouraging one another to reach their goals and tackle the next challenge. Whether you’re a beginner or a climbing veteran, you’ll find a community of new friends that will scale the wall beside you as you pursue your fitness goals.
Need more reasons to climb the wall? Here are nine amazing health benefits you can expect, starting with your very first climb.
Physical Benefits: Why Climbing Gives You The Best Workout of Your Life
When you think about reasons to engage in a physical activity, most people naturally want to know the physical benefits first. That’s fair, because if you’re going to spend your time doing something, then you should have something to show for it when you’re done. Climbing doesn’t disappoint. When you start climbing, you will:
- Work Out Your Whole Body
Climbing a wall will work every muscle group in your body, and it’s also a fabulous cardiovascular workout. Climbers burn calories at a rate equivalent to high-intensity activities like spinning and resistance workouts. But unlike some other cardiovascular exercises, climbing integrates aerobic exercise with muscle building. That means you get a full-body workout every time you climb (and you won’t get bored while you’re doing it).
- Build Strength
Not surprisingly, it takes strength to climb straight up a vertical wall. But don’t worry if you’re not already a weight lifter with ripped biceps and shoulders. You’ll be working all of your muscle groups simultaneously, and each day you climb you’ll grow stronger. In fact, research suggests that dynamic movements requiring multiple muscle groups are more challenging (i.e., they build strength faster and more effectively) than simpler exercises. Takeaway: you get a full range of strength-building benefits without having to pump iron at the gym. Worth it? Oh, yeah.
And climbing isn’t just about your arms, shoulders, and back. Yes, you’ll get a great upper body workout, but you also need core strength to keep yourself parallel to the wall. That’s especially true as you increase your skill and start taking on more challenging walls, like the ones that begin to angle out over your head. Experienced climbers also use their legs just as much as their arms as they ascend. Pushing up with your legs while pulling with your arms keeps you from tiring out too quickly and enables you to climb longer and farther than relying on your arms alone.
- Improve Balance and Coordination
In addition to the benefits for your heart and muscles, climbing will also improve motor skills, balance and coordination. That’s because successfully navigating the various hand- and footholds on the wall requires meticulous eye-hand-foot coordination, balance, and stamina. You have to pay attention to your breathing and your core muscles (which are essential for balance) as well as watching where you came from, where you are, and where you’re going. Simply put, climbing is a total body exercise that increases power from your head to your toe.
Mental Benefits: How Climbing Feeds Your Brain
If you’re getting pumped about the physical benefits of climbing, we’ve got great news for you. Climbing offers a boatload of mental benefits as well. When you tackle a challenging new course (or revisit an old one), you’re working out your body and your brain at the same time. Here are just a few of the mental advantages you’ll enjoy:
- Banish Boredom
If you get bored out of your mind jogging around your block (or even worse, pounding it out on the treadmill), you’ll love the mental stimulation and challenge of climbing. Each time you climb, you’ll have to engage in problem-solving (just where are you going to put your foot next?) and mind-body connection. It’s also an ongoing competition with yourself as you aim to improve your performance. Climbing is fun and challenging, and it helps you learn to handle pressure in a supportive, low-risk environment.
- Reduce Symptoms of Depression
The mental aspects of climbing, such as decision-making, planning, and focus, reinforce the neural pathways in your brain and can improve overall mental function. Studies show that climbing reduces the symptoms of depression, improves coping skills, and reduces anxiety even more than other kinds of physical activity. Researchers speculate that climbers enjoy these benefits because climbing requires increased mental focus. Participants feel more in control of their outcomes as they work their way through the challenges of the climb.
- Overcome Your Fear of Failure
Worried about an upcoming project or test? Afraid you might make a fool of yourself in front of your peers or make a mistake in your career? Climbing can help with that. Everyone fears falling the first few times they tackle a wall, but sometimes it pays to just get it out of the way. Because you are in a safe environment, falling can be a learning experience rather than a catastrophic failure. As you overcome that fear, you’ll be willing to try new strategies, take risks, and challenge yourself.
Social Benefits: Climbing Is Good For Your Social Life, Too
Tired of trying to eke out a social life in your free time? Frustrated that you can’t find “your people,” even when you do find some time to chill? Forget bars and frat parties. Thousands of people have found their social niche at the climbing gym. Climbing will help you:
- Get Social
If you’re looking for a way to meet people but you’re tired of the bar scene, climbing may be the social opportunity you’ve been looking for. Unlike more competitive sports or gyms, climbing promotes collaboration and conversation. As you tackle new challenges, there will be people climbing alongside you and people willing to help if you get into a jam. Still, if you love a good competition, you’ll find plenty of that at your climbing gym as well. It’s all good-natured, though. And who knows? You might find yourself heading out for coffee or drinks with a group of climbing buddies at the end of your workout.
- Find Your Tribe
Climbing introduces you to a rich, diverse community of like-minded people who will help you achieve your goals and cheer you on when you do. This community tends to be extremely tight-knit and supportive. As you watch other people face their fears, overcome challenges, and reach new goals, they’ll be doing the same for you. Climbing veterans say that finding the right people to climb with will make or break the experience, so it’s worth taking some time to get to know the people scaling the wall alongside you.
- Have Fun
There’s no question about it. Grabbing a group of friends to go climbing is a lot more fun than going out for drinks. Shared experiences and common goals are the foundation of long-lasting friendships. When you climb, you get the added benefit of supporting each other as you go farther than you thought you could. It’s an empowering experience, and there are always new options to try and new challenges to overcome.
If you’ve never considered indoor rock climbing, think of it as a personal challenge to try something new. Step outside your comfort zone once, and you’ll find yourself coming back to do it again and again.
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