Family Fitness through Indoor Rock Climbing

Looking for a different activity for yourself or your family that is not only fun but can improve fitness, challenge minds and teach knew skills? Rock climbing just might be the sport you are looking for. Rock climbing can be practiced either outdoors or in the warmth and comfort of an indoor climbing gym. During the winter months many climbers enjoy the benefits of year round training via indoor climbing centers. In the greater Bangor there are three indoor climbing options available: Maine Bound at the University of Maine (open daily 207-581-1794), the Old Town YMCA (open daily 207-827-6111), Columbia Street Baptist Church (open Thursday 6 – 8:30, 207-944-8964).

One of most common myths about rock climbing is that you have to have the strength of Schwarzenegger to do it. Nothing could be further from the truth. Instead rock climbing combines and develop a wide range of both physical and mental skills.

On a physical level rock climbing is a lot like gymnastics and can help to develop a multitude of physical skills such as improved flexibility, strength, balance and body awareness. You learn to use your body in different ways to ascend. The basics of climbing are similar to climbing a ladder. Consider a ladder placed in a normal position against a wall. To ascend, you simply step from one rung to the next while using your hands for balance to keep from tipping over. If you were to lower the ladder’s angle, then you would need your hands even less relying solely on your balance. If you took away every other rung, then you would utilize your flexibility to “high step” from rung to rung. If you increased the angle to where the ladder was now overhanging then upper body strength would become increasingly important but with time you would learn to use your legs and core muscles to hold you in to give your arms a break.

As the difficulty increases, climbing requires an increasing amount of focus and discipline as you develop the ability to both see and place your foot or hand on a dime sized edges, down-turned holds etc. Climbing movement is analogous to martial arts training where precise movement is also essential.

One of the great things about all forms of climbing is that you can make it as hard or easy as you like. If you visit a climbing gym, your first goal might be to simply get to the top using all of the available climbing holds. With time, you may want to eliminate certain holds thus making an ascent harder and harder. And because of the individual nature of climbing, climbers of widely different abilities can go to a climbing gym together and both have an equal amount of fun.

Beyond the physical benefits climbing teaches you many useful skills. It takes a little over an hour to teach someone new to climbing the most important fundamentals to be safe in a climbing gym environment. In that initial lesson, a new climber will learn a little about climbing equipment such as ropes, carabiners, harnesses, as well as a few key knots such as those in the figure eight family. Teamwork and trust will play out as you also learn how to protect each other from falling utilizing a belay. And if you are the physics type then you might enjoy understanding the physical principles of anchors and belaying and the relationships of angles, vectors, direction, ect. If you decide to give climbing a try I recommend learning from a credentialed instructor – one who has been trained and peer reviewed by either the Professional Climbing Instructors Association or the American Mountain Guides Association. A trained instructor is worth the investment and almost always will be more effective at helping you learn than trying to learn through your friends.

Taste the vertical, you just might like it!

P.S.: My next post will explain different ways to enjoy a climbing gym.

Jon Tierney

About Jon Tierney

Internationally licensed IFMGA Mountain Guide, owner of Acadia Mountain Guides Climbing School and Alpenglow Adventure Sports Flight Paramedic, Lifeflight of Maine