Get out of your comfort zone and try something new. We had the best time climbing, and boy does it give you DOMS!
Ever thought of your fitness routine as being a bit like your love life? No, me neither but it makes a good analogy so go with me. We all have activities and routines we like to stick to, tried and trusted sessions that work. But sometimes it’s good to shake it up, make life interesting and try something new. Something a bit adventurous, something that scares you a little, makes you shriek, laugh, challenges you. Who cares if you never do it again, at least you tried, plus you get some impressive pictures to show off on instagram (the instagram bit only applies to fitness).
My new year’s resolution for 2014 was to do more cool shit. A couple of weeks ago I went along to try out indoor climbing and bouldering (climbing without ropes) at Westway in London. This shit was definitely cool.
A large, not-for-profit, sports centre, Westway is home to a number of fitness facilities (you can do freerunning there!) including one of the largest climbing walls in the UK. With 350 different climbing routes ranging from easy to bloody, chuffing impossible, it’s the perfect place to go whatever your climbing ability – and mine was none existent.
I went along for a beginner’s taster session (£15 for one hour) with three other fitness bloggers, Tess of fitBits, Becca of From Snickers to Marathon and Danni from Hungry Healthy Happy. As beginner climbers, of course, the Twitter conversation the night before was along the lines of ‘oh shit, what are you wearing?’ Turns out comfort and the ability to move freely are key, leggings and a t-shirt will do you fine.
As a beginner you don’t need to buy any specialist equipment, you can hire it all at most climbing centres. This includes special climbing shoes, tiny cramped things that allow you to grip better, a harness to attach your rope to and, of course, the ropes themselves. If you’re going along for a taster or beginner session, don’t worry the instructor will sort you out and show you how to put it all on.
Climbing is done in pairs (although if you book a beginner or taster session you can partner with another newbie), one climbing, the other holding the rope so if they fall, they don’t plummet to the ground! As time was limited our instructor, Laura, tied the knots in the rope for us – probably wise – and instructed us how to ‘belay’ the rope, move it so it stays tight. And then the first person went up the wall using the strategically placed holds to place hands and feet. I was paired with Tess who, despite being scared of heights, plumped to go first. She did brilliantly, conquering her fear and going ever higher, cue huge endorphin rush when she came down. Go Tess!
Scaling a sheer wall takes a bit of getting used to but once you begin to trust in the ropes and harness and the fact that you’re not going to fall, things get easier and you start to concentrate more on the mental problem of where to put your feet/hands next rather than the fact you’re way above the ground. We tackled a six metre wall, which I loved and then a nine metre – I didn’t think I was scared of heights but I certainly got a rush going up there! Some of the trickier walls include overhangs and go up to 14.5 metres, maybe next time.
Bouldering, which we also tried, is performed without ropes on a lower wall over bouncy mats so you can tackle trickier problems without the height (some of the routes, which are colour coded and range in difficulty, are harder to work out than a game of chess). After we had tackled the easier routes our bouldering instructor, Ray, got us to try a few that seemed to involve body contortion, doing the splits and hanging upside down. It’s not just shinnying up high stuff this climbing lark you know but I’ll tell you what, it is bloody brilliant fun. We’re signing up for a beginners course next month, if you fancy joining let us know.
The benefits of climbing
Your cardio system, strength, flexibility and mind all get a work out in climbing, we asked Rob Russell, Climbing instructor and Performance Squad Coordinator at Westway, to highlight some of the benefits, share his tips for overcoming fears and recommend the best way to give it a go.
The benefits of climbing are felt instantly, especially physically. Beginners usually fall into the ‘grab and pull’ style of moving up a wall, working the forearms, upper arms, shoulders and back. As you get more in tune with climbing and learn more efficient techniques, the strong, larger muscles in the legs come into play taking the weight off the arms. The core gets a good work out too, keeping you strong and balanced as you climb.
I consider climbing a form of ‘active meditation’ a great way to switch off. It’s often said that climbing requires 100% attention, forcing you to think about nothing other than moving a foot or reaching for the next hold. Climbing walls are also very social environments that allow you to relax and forget about the stresses of work. On a busy night, with loud music and lots of people, the wall even has the feeling of a club (although that may say something about the type of clubs I’ve been to).
Over the last few years climbing walls have become a popular first date venue! They allow people to do something and chat with less pressure, plus any uncomfortable silence can be filled with a bit of climbing.
Don’t be put off by the ‘extreme sport’ label. If you’ve never done it before or, like me, don’t always feel that comfortable with heights (I know it’s hard to believe, but it’s true) then, yes, your anxiety levels will increase causing you to grip and pull way harder than if you were doing a gym session. But when you conquer a route it gives you an enormous sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. That sense of achievement is addictive and inspires you to continue. Some of the determination and perseverance I have seen as an instructor and coach has been unbelievable.
The best way to start is to book on a beginner’s course, which comprises lots of learning, lots of practice and lots of climbing. This will give you the skills to become a proficient and competent registered climber and help you get used to the equipment and overcome any fear. Alternatively, if you’re not sure whether or not climbing is going to be your cup of tea then a taster session will allow you to simply ‘have a go’ without worrying about fully committing. If you would like a slightly more focused session then a private lesson offers more personal attention in order to get over confidence or technical issues.
Don’t worry if you don’t have a partner. It’s very common to pass your registration test by yourself and be left with no partner, which makes further climbing difficult. This is where our Club Night comes in which allows people to be paired up with someone suitable in order for their climbing ‘relationship’ to begin.
To find out more about climbing at Westway visit westwaysportscentre.org.uk
To find a climbing wall in your area visit spogo.co.uk
A huge database of activities and venues, spogo was created as part of the digital legacy of the Olympic games, to inspire more people to get active more often. spogo enables users to find a range of sports and physical activities in their local area raising awareness of fun days out which involve physical activities and sports.