The first couple of weeks in January – actually, let’s be honest, from Boxing Day onwards – is a barrage of diet plans, gym memberships and ‘new year new’ you speak.
While anyone wanting to get healthier, stronger, or fitter is not to be derided in any way shape or form, it is hard to sift through the nonsense and find something that actually works for you and that you’ll enjoy enough to stick to.
Now that - hopefully - all the noise has started to subside, we thought we’d put our hat in the ring and volunteer an opinion on why climbing can be a useful way of getting fit. We’ll be honest with the pros and cons, and if it is not for you, then we’ve got some other suggestions…
The biggest pro of climbing is the fact that you can do it with your mates, siblings or partner. Or all three. You’ll need to rest between climbing routes, so that’s the perfect opportunity to have a chat and a laugh, or to cheer on your fellow climbers.
No one to come with? Fortunately, the mats are full of friendly types, so provided you bring your can-do attitude and a bit of a smile, you’ll make friends to climb with in no time.
Struggling for time and can’t decide between hitting the gym and catching up at the pub? Combine the two. Come for a climb, a chat and a beer afterwards. It really is the best of both worlds.
It’s strength training
Weights have had a proper buzz around them in the last few years, especially for women. So often the province of Popeye-esque, bicep-popping men, the health benefits of weight training are well enough known that most women are starting to lift. But if you still find the rows of dumbbells at the gym a bit intimidating, then climbing has many of the same health benefits. It will help you increase your lean muscle, increase bone strength and will work your whole body too.
But it has other fitness benefits too
Can a dumbbell improve your flexibility and coordination? Well technically… Never mind. The point is that climbing has many fitness benefits, it is a brain workout as you try and problem solve how to climb a route, flexibility will improve and so will confidence. There is no better feeling than completing a move that you used to think was impossible, or finally reaching the top of the wall if you’re scared of heights. It’s a lot more than just strength.
It’s easy for beginners to start
How many sports are a nightmare to take up? Team sports for example, if you don’t have hand-eye coordination from word go, you can feel like you haven’t achieved anything in a session except be a passenger. Or some sports require so much gear to get going. Bouldering has colour-coded routes for every ability (and we mean every) and all you need is to rent shoes from reception and you will get to the top on several routes a session, leaving with a big sense of achievement.
It takes you on adventures
Most climbers these days start inside and then when they start to improve, move their skills outside. There is so much rock out there, and not just in this country either. Some rock is halfway up mountains and needs a decent hike to get to, other crags sit next to waterfalls or are hidden in sunlit forests.
You’ll get a cardio workout from the hike in, you can climb all day with your friends and share your hobby with your family. Climbing opens the door to all sorts of adventures.
There are mental health benefits
Bouldering has been part of several experiments in Germany as a treatment for depression. It is listed on the NHS website too, as a good exercise for both mental and physical health. Having to concentrate on one move at a time can quieten the mind, aid concentration and force the climbers to engage in a form of mindfulness. There are several charities that offer bouldering sessions for those in need, with plenty of centres also participating.
It’s a family sport
Because there are routes for every ability, the whole family can come along en masse and have a climb together (supervision ratios do apply for those who are new to the sport). Climbing is an ageless sport as everyone is on the mats together, climbing the same routes, regardless of sex, age, or height. It’s a great way to chat with different generations and make all sorts of friends from all sorts of backgrounds.
Convinced? No? Fair enough.
We firmly believe climbing is for everyone, but we did promise you the pros and cons. As for the downsides of climbing – it can be time-consuming once you get into it, crag days are long which if you have a partner or family member who doesn’t climb can lead to strife. If you get into outdoor climbing, especially trad, the gear starts to get costly. This is why sticking to bouldering is great at the beginning as bar shoes, you really are good to go with nothing else.
Most climbers drink copious amounts of coffee so you could pick up a monster caffeine habit, and you wind up with calloused hands and grotty fingernails which isn’t an amazing look if you shake a lot of hands, although it is a good talking point.
But if you really don’t want to give it a go, or just not yet, but are looking to improve fitness, strength and flexibility then we do recommend yoga, Pilates and swimming as easy to take up sports that will hugely benefit your general health.