Why I Climb

I have to retract a statement. In a recent post I called kickboxing “the only workout I can stand.” It turns out that was a lie. I guess I didn’t know myself as well as I thought. You see, I’ve taken up rock climbing and I am smitten. 


Grace in motion.

A couple of years ago my boyfriend, Brian, and I were walking through the local Apple Harvest Festival and stopped by a tent for the nearby rock climbing gym. The young man who was manning the booth gave us a couple of free passes. In our joint quest to get in better shape, we finally used those passes in March. I was feeling a little worse for the wear after throwing myself whole hog into cardio boxing. I went to three classes in 7 days and by the last class I was seeing improvement in my cardio stamina but my abs were D.O.N.E. We got to the last 15 minutes of class and I could hardly pick my legs up off the ground. I’m pretty sure I pulled a muscle.

So when Brian asked if I wanted to finally use our climbing passes that weekend, I lept at the excuse to not have to go back to the boxing gym right away. We took a belay class and were unleashed on the gym.

We haven’t looked back since. 

I eventually went back to the boxing gym (though I did have to take a week off to let my poor abs heal), and purchased a 10 class pass. I need to get my cardio in order and build strength. Boxing helps me do that, but I’m only doing it for the love of climbing. When I’m done with my 10 classes, I probably won’t re-join. In a move of sheer genius, the climbing gym offers basic gym equipment (weights, treadmills, rowing machines, etc…) and has classes (yoga, bootcamp, pilates. H.I.I.T). In other words, you don’t need a normal gym membership in addition to the climbing gym membership.

I’ve been a little intimidated by the bootcamp and H.I.I.T. classes, because so many of the climbers at the gym are in incredibly good shape. Like, before I started climbing, I didn’t know it was possible to be in that kind of shape. Even some of the the yogis are intimidating. I figure that by the time I finish my boxing classes I will have gotten myself to a respectable level of fitness, and will be able to walk into those classes with my head held high.

For now, though, I find myself having to drag myself to the boxing gym… and can barely keep myself out of the climbing gym.

There’s a lot to love about rock climbing. It’s a great way to build confidence, which, of course, team building exercises and ropes courses have known for a long time. Last night, though, I had a bit of an epiphany about how appealing it is to be involved in a sport where improvement is so evident.

I was alone at the bouldering wall, repeatedly attacking this V1 route that had been giving me trouble in the month and half that I’ve been climbing. The overhang combined with some of the long reaches have combined to keep me from getting past the first few holds. But last night I suddenly made this one very important move–after about 6 tries–and surprised the shit out of myself. The next few moves were relatively easy, though the last reach stymied me. While I was hanging there, upside down, trying to figure out this last move, a guy below me moved the crash pad underneath me, afraid it wasn’t in the right place–and I’m sure it wasn’t because I never imagined I’d get that far. But I lost my momentum, and made the mistake of looking down, realizing just how far I would fall when I missed that reach.

So I let my feet go and then dropped the 15 or so feet to the pad below. Sure I was a little disappointed not to have completed the climb, but considering how much I’d improved in that one day, I was satisfied. Well, sort of… I’m going back tonight to try and finish it up.

Sure, I can see a bit of difference in my stamina and strength from one boxing class to the next. And runners can see their speeds improve incrementally. I’m sure if I started lifting weights I’d see improvement, and it’s always nice to move further into a yoga pose… but there is something about the very concrete improvements I can see in my climbing that keep me motivated.

There is something contemplative and calming about climbing. In order to do it well, you have to quiet your mind. You can’t let fear or anxiety creep in, and you have to be patient and thoughtful about where you place your feet and how. You have to learn to fight your instincts to always use your arms, and to use your legs instead. You have to learn to put faith in your fingers to hold onto tiny little nubs. You have to trust your belayer not to drop you, and trust yourself in general. It’s a workout that works on so many levels. So if you’re looking for a way to keep that fit that’s a lot more fun and rewarding than the treadmill, get ye’ to a rock climbing gym.



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