Fitness · Wellness

Rock-Climbing: Fitness for Your Body & Brain


If you have been reading my posts for a while, you know how much my fitness routine is always changing. Most recently, I wrote about finding balance by doing workouts that are enjoyable for you.  I still think this is incredibly true. Find something that requires you to move your body a few times a week and stick with it! I have tried almost every type of exercise regimen from cardio-only, to weights-only, to HIIT, running, yoga, plyometrics and body-weight exercises, among many others.

To be honest, I have loved all of them. I haven’t noticed a major difference in my body composition among most exercise styles, but I do enjoy the change of pace. The biggest difference I noticed was when I transitioned from a cardio-focused program to one that incorporated toning. Even then, the difference wasn’t huge.

Overall, I felt better and stronger. I felt leaner. My shoulders broadened a bit, balancing out my wider hips. I could run a little faster, had better endurance and have noticed an increase in my strength. Mostly, I just feel good. I feel well and healthy. I didn’t lose a bunch of weight or have big muscle gains, but that isn’t my goal.  My goal is to have a strong cardiac system and a body that is healthy for longevity.

Rock-climbing was a big inspiration for my current fitness craze: body-weight training. I started loosely rock climbing about 3 years ago, but have been more committed the past year. My husband and I usually climb at least 3 times a week, often for 2-3 hours at a time. I have learned a lot about the importance of technique, but also about strength. As I progress into harder and harder routes, strength in my upper and lower body, as well as my hands and fingers is becoming more necessary.

There are moments when you are climbing an overhang wall when your entire body weight is being held to the wall by your arms, or even just your fingertips. An improvement in upper body strength is a must. For me, this meant spending more time using my own weight for push-ups, pull-ups, etc. and less time spent doing free-weight bicep curls. Technique is also HUGE. Sometimes, you just can’t muscle-through a move. It takes balance and oh-so delicate static movements. So, if you are interested in climbing, I suggest taking some sort of movement class to learn some tricks of the trade. If you notice, rock climbers don’t tend to be bulky and muscular; they tend to be pretty lean and use good form.

There are many reasons that I love rock-climbing:

  1. It’s a full body workout, including for your brain

The ability to complete a move successfully can be completely dependent on body positioning. Figuring that out is brain work. I found this to be great exercise after a 12-hour nursing shift consisting of constant brain-work. I was always mentally and physically exhausted after a shift, but using my brain for rock-climbing felt refreshing and rejuvenating. I also find that on many routes I use muscles in my entire body all at once, especially the abdominal muscles for balance. You are toning your muscles all the time, without the monotony of 10-12 reps for 3 sets. Plus, it gets the heart-rate up. Helloooo cardio!

2.  It’s good for your joints and flexibility

Some moves require an increased level of flexibility. So, you will be more motivated to take that yoga class, or spend more time stretching.

3. It’s good for that panic button & perseverance

I can’t tell you how many times I have been frustrated with my body or my brain or a route over the past three years. I also can’t tell you the amount of times I have gotten part way up a wall and completely panicked, even though I was doing everything as safely as possible. I also can tell you that the moment you successfully complete a route or a move you have been struggling with, you feel the greatest sense of accomplishment. Climbing is a great teacher of patience, positive self-talk, determination and breathing.

4. It’s a great positive energy booster

Being part of a climbing gym is like joining a community. I have yet to meet a climber that hasn’t been social, motivating and right there to be your biggest cheerleader. Everyone started as a new climber at some point and they can relate to what you are going through. There is something about the feeling you get when you are about to let go of the wall and someone yells, “you got this! You got it!” at just the right moment. You don’t always nail the move, but you sure do feel dang good about yourself anyway.  We have even met some of our greatest friends at climbing gyms. The climbing community breeds positive energy. It feels like another home to us a lot of the time.
Ultimately, rock-climbing is a different form of exercise than I have experienced before and it carries so many benefits outside of physical fitness. It can be expensive to get started, but totally worth it. I promise. Especially if you are someone who likes to solve puzzles and does not enjoy the monotony of traditional workouts. Case in point: my spouse rarely worked out when we met, but ever since he tried rock-climbing, he has been hooked. AND he’s in the best shape of his life. Win, Win!

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