As sports go, few are as demanding, intense, profitable, and exhilarating as rock climbing. Although it’s commonly perceived as risky, dangerous, or downright foolish, rock climbing can be (and I think should be) a safe sport. Your life is full of enough risks and the complexity of handling. There is no better time to try rock climbing than the fall, so here’s Rock Climbing 101, and a few tips for getting involved.
Benefits of Rock Climbing
First off, I want you to be aware of the benefits of rock climbing. Whether you are trying to improve your diabetes health or just want to get involved in a new sport, rock climbing is an intense and excellent option. It is in a class alone. Let me list a few of the benefits.
Rock climbing is absolutely thrilling. It is not just for risk-takers or people with large life insurance policies. In fact, most forms of rock climbing are safer than your commute to work. Instead, the thrill of the challenge, the thrill of success, and the thrill of achieving your goals is what it’s all about.
Rock climbing creates dynamic muscle strength. It will make you stronger, plain and simple. There is no way to avoid the muscle-toning, fat-stripping power of a rock climbing workout. This sport will make you look good.
Rock climbing provides a total body workout, affecting every muscle, even muscles you had no idea existed. Yeah, they’ll be aching the day after you try climbing for the first time. Legs, arms, torso, back, gluts…they’ll all get a workout. Even your fingers and toes will get stronger.
Rock climbing improves balance. Balance is one oft-overlooked area of physical health and exercise. Most exercises focus on the composition of our muscular or cardiovascular system, while totally neglecting the crucial connection between muscle and mind. Rock climbing hones in on this area of physical fitness, helping you develop a keen sense of balance. A highly developed sense of balance can prevent many of the falling risks associated with growing older.
Rock climbing enhances flexibility. When it comes to flexibility, rock climbing is kind of like gymnastics. You’re going to need to contort your body into some unbelievable positions. You think that the splits are pretty amazing? Try doing the splits on a vertical rock face. While you may never have to do the splits during a climb, you are guaranteed to improve your flexibility.
Rock climbing increases coordination. Back to the mental-muscle link: rock climbing will increase your coordination. Some sports focus on speed coordination, some on eye-hand coordination, some on balance coordination. Rock climbing helps you in every area of coordination.
Rock climbing improves confidence and mental focus. As you mature into an experienced rock climber, or even if you dabble in the sport from time to time, you will undoubtedly experience an increased sense of confidence, risk-taking, boldness, and ability to focus. It just does that to you. The sense of accomplishment and satisfaction you get from scaling a rock face may seem inconsequential, but it produces mental benefits that stick with you long after you pack up your equipment and head home.
Rock climbing gets you closer to nature. I’ve saved this benefit for last, because I think it’s one of the best. If you’re involved in indoor climbing only, sorry, you miss out. But if you opt for outdoor climbing, you’re in for a treat from nature. Rock climbing is another way of getting close to nature—gripping it, holding it, wrangling with it—and thoroughly enjoying every thrilling second of it.
Ready to climb? Here’s how to get involved.
A Brief Tutorial on Rock Climbing
Before I give you a plan for getting involved in rock climbing, let me clear the air about something. Rock climbing can be dangerous, but only if you choose danger. Let me explain. Too often, we think “rock climbing” then immediately think of Silvester Stallone leaping off cliffs in Cliffhanger, or Tom Cruise with his fingernails in some desert crevice in the opening scene of Mission Impossible 2.
Let’s please try to disabuse ourselves of the notion that these stunts have anything to do with the sport of rock climbing. There are several types of rock climbing:
Traditional climbing. This form of climbing has several features. First, it leaves the climb site as pristine and untouched as possible. In other words, you enjoy nature, but don’t spoil it. Second, you make sure you place gear as you climb—nuts, chocks, slings, tricams, and spring loaded camming devices. Ropes are attached carefully during the climb, meaning that if you slip and fall, you’ve still got years ahead of you.
Sport climbing is much like traditional climbing, except that the climb site is prepped with the drill sites in place. Sport climbing is usually more adventurous and quick.
Top roping involves having a rope at the top of the rock before you even begin the climb. The climb partner belays the climber from the ground. This eminently safe version of rock climbing is ideal for beginners.
Bouldering is rock climbing devoid of ropes, but still pretty safe. In bouldering, the climber simply ascends a short climb, sometimes a single monolith. Some bouldering problems (i.e., the route up a boulder) may be as high as 12 feet or as low as six feet. For safety, a crash pad or safety mat is placed beneath the climbing site.
Indoor climbing. Another great option is indoor climbing. Entire indoor gyms are constructed with dozens of climbing walls, intended to mimic the patterns and contours of natural rock. Indoor climbing uses a complex system of belaying (usually with a climbing partner) for safety.
Free soloing. This method of climbing is what Tom Cruise does when he makes an insane twenty-foot jump to a nearby inch-wide cliff with several thousand feet of thin air beneath him. This is not recommended unless you are Tom Cruise. Free soloing is where rock climbing gets its bad rap. Don’t do it.
So, spurning free soloing and excited about top roping (or some other form), let’s find out how to get involved:
Do some research. Here’s where you spend an hour or so on the Internet, watching YouTube clips, reading Wikipedia articles, and find rock climbing aficionado websites. Fun stuff. This really whets your appetite for the sport, and gives you a great way to learn more.
Test the waters…or the rocks. Now, you need to try it. Find out what you like by trying out several methods. Call a local rock climbing club, or just find the nearest indoor rock climbing gym. You’ll probably find some people eager to share their love for the sport and get you initiated.
Buy some equipment. As you learn about rock climbing by actually doing it, you’ll probably have an idea of what methods of rock climbing you’d like to learn better. Get some equipment, and clear some weekends.
Join organizations. Though rock climbing is a solo sport, it’s not a lonely sport. Plus, you’ll need climbing partners to help you, to show you, to coach you, to mentor you, and to keep you safe. Join an organization (or start one), and expand your skills.
Enjoy your new hobby. I virtually guarantee you’re going to love it.