At Old Town Hot Springs, we see hundreds of beginners and experts (and many kids) climbing our 37-foot climbing walls weekly, but for those who use our gym for physical fitness on a daily basis, many overlook climbing as a cross-training- Activity that can be as beneficial (or more) as weight lifting or a HIIT class. Climbing can be an exhilarating and adrenaline-pumping activity while promoting mental agility. For those who aren’t afraid of heights, it can be a lot of fun too.
Why should you incorporate climbing into your training routine?
1. It is a full body weight training exercise. When climbing, aim for your core, arms, legs, buttocks, and back at the same time. To be a solid climber, not only can you be strong in one or two areas, but you need full body strength and flexibility to stand up. Your hands, fingers, and feet are areas we rarely exercise, but they get stronger over time, grabbing tiny rocks and making micro-movements to keep your body against the wall. Your secondary, supportive and stabilizing muscles will really benefit from the complex and dynamic movements you make as you move from rock to rock.
2. It is not just strength training, but combines stretching / mobility, cardio and strength into a complete, low-stress workout. Climbing can burn around 8-10 calories per minute, which is close to the activity of running or cycling. In addition, no two increases are the same. Even if you climb the same route, you will be using different muscles, moving your body in new ways, and stretching differently.
3. Climbing is a unique sport as it requires mental strength as well as physical strength and flexibility. Instead of traditional training that allows you to mentally “check out” yourself with repetitive movements, climbing challenges you to always think a few steps ahead while fighting the instinctive fear of falling. The full body coordination and mental stamina required for climbing can improve your working memory, and some studies show that it can help relieve depression.
How should you incorporate climbing into your training routine?
Climbing is a great activity for everyone as you can start with easier routes and increase the difficulty as you gain strength, mobility, and comfort. If you’ve never climbed before, we recommend starting on an indoor climbing wall, where the route’s difficulty level is indicated and the climb is easy. Climbing outdoors offers the same physical challenge, but with the bonus of route finding and equipment maintenance that provides a little extra mental stimulation.
The first time you start climbing, you will find your body knocking out quickly, especially if you are climbing a route that is beyond your ability. Your muscles feel pumped and you may not be able to do as much climbing as you would like in a good workout. Choosing an easier route and climbing up and down the wall several times will help build strength and flexibility instead of overwhelming your muscles after a climb or two. OTHS Climbing Coordinator, Carson Keller, likes to stay on the wall for 10 to 20 minutes while slowly moving.
Once you see the benefits of climbing, we recommend incorporating it into your training routine once or twice a week. It compliments any other activity you do while also giving you a stimulating mental boost. Give it a try, your body will thank you for it!
Holly Harris is the Wellness Director at Old Town Hot Springs.