Rock Climbing 101
Although I always enjoy a good cardio workout, I often steer clear of strength training. That's because it’s probably my biggest weakness, fitness-wise, so I know I should do more strength training--not less.
Thankfully, I’ve recently discovered rock climbing, which provides a great workout for both your arms and legs. It also helps to improve flexibility (another weak spot for me). And even though it seems pretty stationary compared to say, running, after climbing for a few hours you’ll definitely break into a sweat (and burn over 700 calories an hour!).
I had my first rock climbing experience at Chelsea Piers in NYC where I tried belaying, a technique in which you wear a climber's harness and a partner helps prevent you from falling too far.
I would love to say that I mastered every climb, but the truth is I was utterly exhausted after three hours, and had to repel back down halfway through my last climb.
But I did learn a lot, and, now that I (sort of) know what I’m doing, I’m determined to go back and try again, and maybe even try bouldering, which is rock climbing without the rope and harness.
Here are a few facts and tips I picked up along the way:
Knots matter. Before I could even start climbing up the wall, I was given thorough training instructions on how to tie a figure eight knot. This is what secures the climber’s harness to the climbing rope, so it’s important to master this one!
Be aware of numbers. Rock walls aren’t colorful just for fun. The colors indicate different paths climbers can try, with each trail having a different level of difficulty. Levels can range from 5.1 to 5.15.
Beginners can try only grabbing holds of a certain color, but placing their feet anywhere. More advanced climbers can try only using one color for both their hands and feet.
Remember to communicate. It’s important for the climber and belayer to be aware of what the other is doing, and tell each other what they need. For instance, the climber will say “on belay,” and wait until the belayer says “belay on.” The climber will say “climbing” once they are ready, and begins when the belayer says “climb on.”
Chalk it up. You should have a chalk bag attached to your harness. The chalk helps you grip the holds better when your hands start getting sweaty.
It’s not all about the arms. In the beginning, I thought I would primarily be using my arms for climbing. I quickly learned that the smartest way to climb is by using a lot of leg strength to push yourself up, rather than pull.
Don’t overexert yourself. Try to make a bunch of smaller moves, rather than several big ones. Stretching for bigger moves will use up more energy than necessary.
Be creative. Rock climbing is like a puzzle; you need to figure out where to put your hands and feet in order to get to the top in the quickest and easiest way possible.
Take advantage of the rock wall itself, not just the holds. Try putting your hands on the same hold, if possible, or switch feet by shuffling one to the other if necessary.
Take a break. Don’t be afraid to just let go of the wall and “hang” if you’re getting tired. It’s not a race to get to the top.
“Sit” back and enjoy the ride down. When you’re ready to come down, lean back and come down in a seated position. Try to keep your legs fairly straight, with your feet flat on the wall (you can “bounce” off it).