Skip to main content

Switch Up Your Workout:Try Indoor Rock Climbing

Jan 29, 2013 02:27PM ● By Erin Frisch

Switch Up Your Workout—Try Indoor Rock Climbing

As the temperature plummets the further we get into winter, those who are active seek refuge in the gym for their workouts. Even those with new resolutions to be more active are spending significant amounts of time in the gym. The problem is that gyms can get boring. Treadmills, ellipticals, stair climbers, and stationary bikes . . . how many days in a row can you spend on these machines before you need a change of scenery that the weather might not allow? Even the weight room can get old after awhile. So why not switch it up and try an indoor activity that offers both the cardio and strength training you’re looking for? It will even throw in a little mental exercise. Give rock climbing a try!

People who’ve never tried rock climbing may be under the impression that it requires an incredible amount of upper-body strength, and they might be intimidated by that. The truth is good technique is more important than sheer strength. While upper-body strength can be helpful, the focus is more on linking together different types of movements in a functional way. You also need to think a couple of steps ahead, which is where the mental-workout aspect of climbing comes in. Routes are set indoors and marked with colored tape. The object is to get from the bottom of the route to the top using only the handholds and footholds designated by the route that you’ve chosen.

As you learn the technique, you’ll discover that climbing is a full-body workout. Shorter routes might include some strength-building moves that require you to jump to a hold a little ways out of your reach (building your leg muscles), or to pull yourself up and stretch out to the next place to put your hand or foot (working the upper body). Climbs that are longer and higher will build endurance and will definitely have your heart pumping by the time you get to the top. The important thing to remember is that the more you use your body weight and positioning to your advantage, the less brute strength you’ll find yourself needing. If you’re new to the sport, stand and watch some experienced climbers, and you’ll see how they turn their hips into the wall when they are in certain positions, and how they hang with their arms extended for breaks instead of keeping them flexed. You’ll also see how much their overall fitness has benefited from this great sport, and in time, you’ll notice similar changes in yourself.

Now for the logistics. If you’ve never climbed before, it is helpful to take a class (offered by most rock gyms) that will teach you the basics of climbing, belaying (controlling the rope as a climber makes it up the wall), and safety. You’ll learn how to correctly wear your harness, tie the rope into it, and how to manage your belay device to help a climber up the wall, as well as the proper climbing lingo to use with your partner. Every gym requires a test at the end of these classes to ensure that safety takes priority. If you already know how to belay, you can simply take the test when you get to the gym and go on your merry way when you pass.

If you can’t find a partner, don’t worry. Rock climbing gyms tend to be very social places. Many college-age students and young professionals head out in droves to climb after class or work. Most gyms have a list you can put your name and description on if you’re looking for someone to climb with. There is also an option if you aren’t looking for a partner. “Bouldering” is climbing on lower walls without being tied into a rope and harness. There are pads on the ground to catch you if you fall (usually less than 15 feet at the very most). Even with bouldering, strangers often bond over discussing the best techniques to get to the top of various routes (called “problems” in bouldering lingo) that they’re working on.

If you’re ready to change things up, throw on some comfortable clothes you can move around easily in (and grab a friend or two if they're adventurous) and instead of hitting the gym, check out your local rock gym, Green Mountain Rock Climbing Center in Quechee. Happy climbing!

Like what you're reading? Subscribe to Woodstock Magazine's free newsletter to catch every headline