Must Try Workout: Rock Climbing

Published on May 30, 2012

Updated on February 13, 2018

Looking for a great new workout this summer? Rock climbing can help you lose weight, tone muscle and improve cardiovascular health. Communications Associate Cheryssa Jensen talks with enthusiast Anya Lagasse about some rock climbing basics.

Photo by Dan McEwan

Q: To someone who is not familiar with rock climbing, what is it?
A: Rock climbing is climbing rock walls for fun and exercise. You can do it inside, in a gym with textured walls and hard rubber and plastic “holds” bolted to the wall, or outside with your own rope and anchors. Indoor gyms usually have a color-coded system showing you which hand/foot holds to use for a certain difficulty level. Climbing requires two people, both wearing harnesses with waist and leg loops. Ropes are set up to hang from anchors at the top of the wall and one person ties their harness into the end of the rope while the person at the bottom, the “belayer”, loops the rope through a belay device and into a loop on their own harness, then takes up the slack as the climber goes up the wall. That way if the climber falls (or takes a rest) they don’t move very far. When the climber reaches the top, the belayer lowers them back down. Most climbing gyms also have shorter walls set up for “bouldering”, which involves climbing up about 15 feet then jumping off onto thick mats. Rock climbing can also be done outside, in which case you must have your own ropes and anchors, and the knowledge to set them up properly.

Q: How and when did you first start climbing?
A: I started climbing a little over a year ago when I lived close to Sportrock , a climbing gym in Alexandria, Va. I joined the gym and went almost every day. If I had a partner, I would climb, if not, I would boulder or go to yoga classes held at the climbing gym. When I moved into D.C. I thought I would stop going so regularly, but I was hopelessly addicted and instead just converted several of my friends into climbers. Now we go 2-3 times a week!

Q: What is your favorite part of rock climbing?
A: I originally thought I would be afraid of heights, but I don’t even notice it because I’m so distracted by the puzzle in front of me. Climbing a difficult route is physically and mentally challenging and it takes up all my attention. The rope is there to catch me if I fall, so I don’t think about the distance to the ground. I love the challenge. Because the routes are ranked, you can always move up to something harder. It gives me small, achievable goals to work toward every week.

Q: What muscles does it work and what are the health benefits?
A: Climbing really works your whole body. Since women tend not to have the kind of arm strength as men, we learn to climb using our legs as much as our arms. But for anyone, regardless of body type, the balancing works the core as well.

Photo by Dan McEwan

Q: What is the difference between indoor and outdoor climbing?
A: The biggest difference between indoor and outdoor climbing is that you have to set the ropes yourself for outdoor. This requires knowing how to set up an anchor, having a good rope and knowing the terrain. However, there are many rock climbing guides for climbing outdoors that will tell you where the good routes are and where to set up your anchors to climb them.

Q: How difficult is rock climbing?
A: Rock climbing is not hard to learn at all. There are easy routes, which are almost like climbing a ladder, and the difficulty level just increases from there. You can always find a challenging route, no matter what your skill level is.

Q: How can someone get started?
A: It’s really easy to get started! You don’t even need to have a partner; you can just go to the gym and sign up for an introduction class. They will give you a harness and some rental shoes and show you how to climb and belay. If you know someone that climbs, just go with them one time. They can belay you and you can decide if it’s worth taking the intro class.

Q: What advice do you have for a first time climber?
A: Don’t be afraid to try it! I love it because it is not only a workout, but also a social experience.  You get to meet up with a friend, climb completely different things, but still be there together enjoying yourself AND getting your exercise. It’s great!

Editor’s Note: Anya Lagasse is an avid rock climber who has converted many of her friends into climbers as well. She frequents Sportrock in Alexandria 2-3 times a week.

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