Why Rock Climbing Is the Best Full-Body Workout in the Game

Eight reasons to trade in your dumbbells for ropes and ‘biners

May 3, 2016 9:00 am

Humans were not intended to toil away, cattle-like, in fluorescently lit, Pine Sol-redolent gyms. But if you want to live long and well, you’re gonna have to burn off those calories somehow. Henceforth: Old Dogs, in which we tell you everything you need to know before diving headlong into a new athletic pursuit.

This week: rock climbing.

Alex McAfee, founder of L.A. leather concern Conrad Men’s, is an avid climber who has summited many a rock — including the domes of Yosemite. We recently spoke with him about the basics of what it takes to get into the sport. Spoiler: it’s not the young man’s game you might think it is.

The barrier of entry is incredibly low
You need shoes ($80-180), a chalk bag ($25) and plenty of comfy, stretchy clothes before you head to the nearest climbing gym. Once outside, you’ll need a landing pad.

It’s easy as pie to learn
You’ll only need 1-2 lessons with a trainer to learn the ropes (literally). Most of it is knowing how to find the routes up the wall, and how to descend.

It’s nearly a full muscle workout
You’ll work your back, forearms, calves, fingers and lats with nearly every movement; 30-60 minutes is an excellent daily workout that can replace most of your lifting routine.

It’s a great mental workout as well
Obstacles in climbing are called “problems;” it’s your job to “solve” them. It’s an exercise in trial-and-error and understanding your strengths and limitations. You’ll fall early and often, but you’ll learn in the process. It’s as complete an exercise as you’ll find.

Work it into your fitness routine
Alex climbs 2-4 times a week, does yoga one day to stay flexible, does cardio a couple of days and does some chest work at the gym a couple of days to stay sharp. Mixing it up — strength, high-intensity, cardio and restorative — will help you stay fine tuned.

Most climbing facilities have full gyms now
Join a place that offers weights and yoga classes in house. It’ll be your new one-stop shop.

Climbers make for an excellent community
As you age, it’s harder to make new friends, and making new friends is really good for your health. When you start out, find a climbing facility you like. Join the beginner group. Shared experience is the best way to make new friends.

On when to move things outside …
After about a month, you should have the skills you need to hit some real rocks. But check your local outdoors retailer before you go. Most have books on bouldering routes in your world. Check them out. You don’t want to make an ascent without knowing the way down.

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