Climbing brings unexpected benefits

By Melanie Radzicki McManus, CNN

(CNN) – Rock climbing may seem like a niche sport, maybe a dangerous sport. After all, it is about climbing the side of a cliff or a simulated rock face. But experts say it offers participants a wide variety of physical and mental health benefits not always found in other sports. And more people are climbing than ever – thanks in part to hit movies like “Free Solo” and “The Dawn Wall.”

Rock climbing as a recreational sport became popular in the 1980s, with the first indoor climbing gym opening in Seattle. Today, there are more than 500 indoor climbing walls in the United States, fueling a $493 million industry, according to a market research firm IBISWorld.

More than 10 million Americans were participating in the escalation by 2020, and sport climbing makes its debut the following year at the Tokyo Summer Olympics.

The new Olympic sport includes three disciplines: bouldering, which is practiced on lower walls without ropes; speed climbing, where the fastest person at the top wins; and lead climbing, where the goal is to climb as high as possible in a limited time.

While rock climbing attracts thrill seekers, others enjoy it as a great workout that also calms and sharpens the mind.

Here are eight reasons why you might want to try rock climbing.

Important note: Before starting any new exercise program, consult your doctor. Stop immediately if you feel pain.

Increases cardiorespiratory fitness

Fast sports such as running, football and bike come to mind as workouts that elevate your heart rate. But climbing also gets your heart pumping, as it involves a lot of pulling, pushing, and lifting. And the harder the climb is relative to your abilities, the harder you train.

Elite athletes on the United States National Climbing Team have measured heart rates as high as approximately 150 beats per minute while they were climbing, a pretty impressive number, said Zack DiCristino, the team’s physical therapist and medical director. And indoor climbing requires the same energy expenditure as running 8 to 11 minutes per mile, according to a study published in British Journal of Sports Medicine.

Develops muscle strength

It’s no surprise that lifting your body up a cliff strengthens your arm muscles, but rock climbing is a complete exercise. In addition to working your biceps, triceps, and deltoids, it also engages your abs, obliques, glutes, thighs, calves, and more.

“You build a lot of upper body strength when you’re climbing, especially in your hands and fingers,” DiCristino said. “But a lot of people don’t realize that if you’re using the right technique, your lower body is also in high demand, with all the squats and jumps.”

Improves flexibility and balance

Rock climbing requires you to be able to stretch your arms and legs high and wide, as well as contort your body into unusual positions. And, of course, you have to balance yourself on tiny supports. The higher you climb, the better your flexibility, balance and coordination.

“Climbing helps you become aware of your body and improves the way you move your body,” said Nick Wilkes, owner and head instructor of Devils Lake Climbing Guides, a guide service in Madison, Wisconsin.

Improves memory and problem solving

A big part of rock climbing skill is determining and memorizing your climbing route ahead of time. You also need to be able to troubleshoot on the fly, changing your route or sequences if you encounter unexpected obstacles. “Climbing is very cognitive in nature,” DiCristino said.

In fact, activities such as rock climbing have been shown to increase working memory capacity by 50% in a study conducted by researchers at the University of North Florida. And women are better novice climbers than men because they’re used to solving physical problems with their brains, Wilkes noted.

Strengthens communication skills

Communication skills are essential to your safety. Roped climbers have a companion on the ground called a belayer, who manipulates the rope through a device to manage tension or slack, catch any falls, and lower the climber. Throughout a climb, the duo must constantly communicate about concerns such as the desired string tension, when the climber wants to rest, and when it’s time to come back down.

“For me to be a better climber, I need to communicate clearly with the person belaying me so they know how I’m feeling, when I need a break or want to change the climb in any way. whatever,” Lindsay said. Wenndt, certified health coach, fitness trainer and owner of Atlanta-based Break Free Fitness.

“The same goes if I’m the one holding the rope,” she said. “It’s my job to cheer when my partner feels she can’t make a certain move, to show her a more efficient way to complete a route, and to be her biggest cheerleader when she crushes a new obstacle or a new goal.”

Improves confidence

Belaying – whether you are a belayer or a climber – involves a lot of trust as it is essential to safety. “I have to trust my partner implicitly,” Wenndt said, knowing they have it if she goes down. “I also have to trust myself that I’m going to achieve at least one thing on this road that I don’t think I can do.”

You can build trust more easily through rock climbing, compared to a lower-risk sport, Wilkes said. “To assure someone, or to be assured, has a life or death element to it,” he said. “It leads to a deeper experience for people.”

Create a community

Indoor climbing offers physical, social and psychological benefits, including camaraderie, according to a US Department of Veterans Affairs study on climbing adapted for people with disabilities. And most climbers say the best thing about their sport is that it’s a tight-knit community, DiCristino said.

“When you go to a climbing gym, they often have sign up signs where people are looking for a partner to climb with,” he said. “It’s a great way to meet people.”

Fight depression

Like many other forms of exercise, rock climbing can help fight the blues. Researchers in Germany found rock climbing to be an effective psychotherapy for adults with depression, due to its physical, social, and mental benefits. If you climb outside you can get an extra boost because research has also shown spending time in nature is a natural antidepressant.

The climbing is also very thoughtful, Wilkes said. “It’s a big mirror that shows you how you deal with fear, disappointment and success, and how you deal with the rest of your life as well.”

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Virginia F. Goins