The benefits of rock climbing can be summed up into 3 main areas; Physical, Mental and Social. We’ve included an additional section focusing on disabled people and the specific advantages they can gain by climbing.
Rock climbing is an indoor and outdoor recreational sport that is one of the world’s fastest growing mainstream sporting activities. Once thought of as a sport only for adrenaline junkies, with good instruction and modern safety equipment, it is safe and enjoyable for anyone of any age to climb at their own comfort and ability level.
In this article we’ll explore what Climbing will do you for you.
Rock Climbing is one of the best total body workouts available. It’s a unique sport in that boys and girls are equally capable. A common misconception is that climbing requires an already strong upper body. This idea often discourages girls from participating. An effective rock climber is one who understands that much of climbing is related to technique, balance and leg strength.
No matter how strong your upper body currently is, there is a grade you can start at and work from. The motion of climbing works every part of you. From your fingers and forearms as you grip the rock or climbing hold, your abs and core as you lift your legs into position then your whole body as you propel yourself up with your legs and pull up with on your arms.
Climbing develops lean, endurance muscles (the same muscles used by marathon runners). It strengthens core muscles better than exercise routines designed to focus on that particular region. The core stabilizes the body, and leads to a stronger, less injury prone body. Climbing strengthens your hands and forearms, biceps, shoulders, neck, traps, upper back, lats, lower back, abs, glutes, thighs and calves. Your entire body, including cardiovascular systems, benefits from rock climbing.
Rock Climbing complements and boosts performance in other sports too. Climbing assists by further developing the primary muscles needed for the sport, as well as the secondary muscles which benefit it, but which are not adequately developed in the practice of it. Just a few examples of sports rock climbing will help with:
- Rugby – Hand strength for grip on the ball. Flexibility leads to less strain injuries.
- Racquet or bat sports like Tennis, Squash or Cricket – Hand strength for holding onto the bat. Arms for a mean smash. Agility.
- Soccer – Builds upper body and core. Agility.
- Running and Cycling – Build upper body, flexibility
Some teachers we’ve spoken to have commented that they’ve noticed many more instances of low muscle tone in kids nowadays than there used to be. This is because our lifestyle simply isn’t what it used to be. Whether you blame technology, property developers or fear of crime, the fact remains that our kids are not as active as they should be.
Humans learn to climb before we even walk, pulling ourselves up to get a higher view (or Mom’s special ornament on the table). Our natural human instinct is to climb anything we can hold onto. That is, until it’s scolded out of us. This instinct ought to be heartily encouraged, instead of discouraged. The outlet of a climbing wall will benefit the kids in so many ways. Kids don’t think about boring things like learning & exercising. They want to have FUN and release energy. In a controlled environment they'll learn how to productively channel their youthful energy.
Each climbing route is like a puzzle, which takes patience and planning, forcing the climber to make decisions as one gets to a spot and strategizes where to go from there. Climbing requires for you to make spot decisions as you go, commit and follow through. Your ability to assess a problem, look for a solution, and then execute a plan is required. Beginners typically decide their route hold by hold, not looking ahead to see the larger picture in front of them. Soon one begins to visualize a route before grabbing the first hold. With practice, the climber is able to see the entire route in his mind, building his problem solving and planning abilities.
Goal setting is a natural development in rock climbing. If you are familiar with a climbing wall you would be aware that it contains several hand and foot holds (also called Grips) creating a route for your climb. Each route has a difficulty rating usually attributed to the size of the holds and the complexity of the path. Once you’ve accomplished a route that’s your highest grade level, the bar is automatically raised. You’ll set your sights on the next grade up, or that epic route you previously peeled on. Sometimes you’ll need to work that route for some time before finally sticking it. The practice of keeping track of those projects and fitness goals helps goal setting become a habit.
Having a plan is only the first step though. Once a strategy has been determined, it must be implemented to be successful. This is another benefit of rock climbing. You develop the concentration and determination to follow through with your plan.
As you can see, the skills developed in Rock Climbing lend themselves to all areas of life. Nearly everything worth achieving in life requires drive, planning and execution.
For many, one of the most beneficial aspects of climbing is stress relief. The climbing wall takes your all and in return, takes it all off your shoulders. When you’re climbing, you’re concentrating on your body movements, and the goal of the summit. The real world drifts away, leaving you and gravity to duke it out. After a rigorous climbing session your endorphins are peaked and you can get back to life with a clear head. A climbing training wall at home or work is perfect for those go getters with busy, stressful lifestyles that want to live a healthy life.
The sense of achievement gained by reaching the summit is second to none. Whether it’s a route you’ve just on-sighted, or one you’ve been working, outdoor or indoor, you’ll find yourself somewhat changed every time. By achieving something which once seemed impossible, it forces the climber to realize their true abilities versus their perceived abilities, increasing confidence. When put into perspective of what has already been accomplished, anything seems possible.
Although the practice of Rock Climbing is essentially you vs. yourself, it can still be regarded as a team sport, because you’re never alone (or shouldn’t be). You’ll either be climbing with a group of friends, school mates, colleagues or family. Learning to put your trust in the person holding your rope fosters relationships pretty quickly. Bouldering is shorter climbing without a rope, but still requires a spotter to guide the climber to the landing mat safely.
The different roles one plays when climbing, build character and leadership skills. Every climber will get the chance to be the student and learn from others, then the teacher sharing that knowledge. One minute they’ll be the climber being supported by others encouragement or advice, then they’ll turn around and be the belayer or part of the encouraging group. The climbing community is one where every achievement is celebrated.
Communication between the climber and belayer is paramount to climbing safely. The safety system consists of a series of commands or statements and recognition statements, used to inform each other of one’s status in relation to the rope and climb.(Eg. Climber to Belayer: “Slack” for more rope when climbing up, “Take” to pull rope tight and hold.) . Speaking clearly and listening attentively come naturally when your life depends on it.
Friendship has got to be one of the best, yet unexpected advantages of becoming part of the rock climbing community. I personally count some of the people I’ve climbed with, from the school clubs, mountains, backyard climbing walls and indoor climbing gyms, as truly great friends.
Rock climbing can also be an excellent activity for children with physical or mental disabilities for a number of reasons. It has been shown to increase special perception, hand-eye coordination and balance. It also teaches goal setting, communication, problem solving and planning. For children that need to overcome gross and fine motor difficulties, what can be better than giving them the opportunity to be part of a team, build friendships and develop their leadership skills in a sport that everyone can do.
This is therapy disguised as play. Children and adults with cerebral palsy often have movement problems that make it difficult to walk, let alone exercise. Studies have shown that within 3 months of training, they show improved aerobic capacity and an improvement in their ability to stand, walk, jump and run.
Sometimes people who are exceptionally challenged have sensory integration dysfunction, which are improper neurological interpretations of sensory information. Rock climbing is very tactile, both in the holds and in the texture of the walls. The holds are brightly coloured with different shapes and can stimulate visually and hold interest. Rock Climbing Holds & Accessories feature a set for number and shape recognition.
First time climbers often try to rely on their arms to do all the work, but it is the actually the feet that propel the climber up. However, climbers can climb through adapting to their capabilities. There are paraplegic climbers who do rely exclusively on their arms to pull themselves up, sometimes using an adaptive device attached to a rope that helps with the pull-ups; amputee climbers who use their prosthesis optionally when climbing and climbers who find a way to use their residual limb for support.
Blind climbers rely on the touch of the wall and strong communication skills with their belayer. I remember being quite inspired by George, a child that climbed our Mobile Climbing Wall at a Mall. He quite confidently approached the wall, got a feel for the grips and wall while we fitted his harness and explained what we were doing and how he can get up the wall. He proceeded to climb the wall like a true champ (although ‘chimp’ would also be applicable). What struck me was that he would crank on smaller holds that most sighted kids would complain were ‘too hard’ and would sap their energy hanging around or stretching for a bigger one. It wasn’t that George was any stronger than them; but he dealt with what he had and gave it his all.
Children with chronic illnesses or disability can often benefit from the right exercise program, showing improved quality of life, greater aerobic capacity and better function. Low impact physical activity is also beneficial to individuals with certain spinal cord injuries. Exercise is crucial for helping children with type 2 diabetes manage their illness.
Physical activity is also a positive intervention for children growing up with the challenge of learning disabilities like ADD/ADHD and I'd like to share my personal experience of this. To give you some background, I was the kid on the outfield picking grass or studying the birds flying overhead. If the balls weren't coming my way, I lost interest and was onto the next thing that caught my attention. Needless to say, when the balls came whizzing (or even crawling) past me, I quickly realized I'd never be a world class cricketer. It was a good thing that in 1995, in Grade 7 I had a student teacher who was a climber and he took us out climbing at Monteseels and setup Abseiling rigs off the roof of New Germany Primary. Although that teacher's name has escaped me, the influence that introduction to climbing had on my life is paramount. Shortly after that I went to Kloof High School where I joined the climbing club. Climbing appealed to me because it was so different to any other sport, and so were the people that did it. Growing up with ADD, I'd always had an inate feeling of being different to most other people. In the climbing club was a bunch of people who were in their own way different to the crowd, which helped me learn to celebrate my own differences and to a degree diminished my need to "fit in", even as a young teen.
I liked that it wasn't a team sport in the sense of soccer, cricket or rugby (I tried them all) where each player is answerable to each other player, and the success or failure of the whole team can and is often attributed to certain players. A team win is celebrated, but each loss is mourned and depending on the coach, sometimes scolded. As any ADDer or parent of one will know (or should), we cope way better with positive reinforcement. The teacher or coach who realized this always got top acheivements out of me, and if not I found it difficult to give them my attention. Its simple, if something brings us joy or reward, we're much more likely to actually do it, and we'll do it damn well too. In rock climbing, a win is also celebrated, but a loss or failure is never treated as such. Failing to get to the top is never seen as a failure, only a temporary set back, which serves to strengthen one's resolve to try again and again and again until success is acheived.
Climbing gave me my independance. I became a self-starter as the goals I strove for were completely my own. The success of those goals were directly linked to my own determination and focus. The more I did, the more I wanted to do and believed I could do, and the more I believed I could do, the more I did. I feel Rock Climbing has been crucial to me now being able to plot my own course in life. I am able to use my creative ADD brain to dream big, then set the goal and strive for it. Rock climbing demands your attention and focus. Doing this repeatedly forms new pathways in the brain, making it come more naturally.
I don't mean to say that climbing is a cure for ADD. I definately still have it, and I still need my 'fix'. If I haven't been climbing in a while, I do start feeling overwhelmed. A trip out to the crags or climbing gym always sorts me out (Sometimes my fiance will even send me out climbing!). I always come back feeling physically great with a clear head.
Mathew Childs did this great TED Talk about 9 life lessons he's learned from Rock Climbing.