Rock climbing presents physical and intellectual challenges where collaborative and creative problem solving, trust, cooperation, communication, and confidence are essential. Climbing is one of the few sports that’s beneficial for your mind, body and spirit (see supporting research below). This is why CliffHanger Academy has decided to make this one of our cornerstone “in the wild” experiences.
Rock climbing is known as a moving meditation and the ultimate exercise in mindfulness and being present. In daily life, the present moment is a difficult place to live, especially with all the current distractions we have in our society, that’s why we use an experience that is built around keeping you present. Rock climbing forces you to focus on each one of your hands and feet as separate entities, while at the same time, calculating your next move while depending on your own strength and breath to keep you off the ground.
Builds muscle, endurance and flexibility
Contrary to what many beginners may believe, rock climbing requires much more than upper-body strength. Traditional strength does nothing in climbing until you learn how to use it; it’s more forearm and finger strength that matters, not your ability to bench press. Your legs also matter much more than your arms and the most common technique we teach is to climb with your legs, not your arms. The success of sending a route relies heavily on a lot more physical factors, including balance, endurance, strength and flexibility. Since it’s body movement based, you’ll lift more than your own weight, which equates to real world strength, not just gym strength and since it’s a full body exercise, your entire body becomes strong and evenly toned. Although not often thought of as a common form of cardio, climbing is a great way to get your heart pumping, equivalent to the way climbing stairs or jogging does. One hour climbing can burn well around 700 calories.
Climbing is a full body exercise that is based on movement, balance, endurance, power, strength, and flexibility all coming together as one cohesive unit. Rock climbing has been shown to reduce stress by increasing levels of norepinephrine, a chemical that helps balance our brains’ response to stress. Aerobic exercise, like surfing, has also been linked to helping treat a variety of mental illnesses, including depression, anorexia, and addiction.
Increases brain function
Rock climbing engages your brain in a host of problem-solving skills. It’s like a giant game of chess, where each move needs to be methodically executed and thought through before making the next move (also a practice in mindfulness). “Your body is a flexible puzzle piece and the wall is a puzzle. You have to figure out how to fit your body into the wall, how to twist, turn, stretch, grab, hang, push to climb up the wall hold by hold. It takes spatial reasoning, body self-awareness, balance, and fine motor-control,” says Jack Gallant (Berkeley neuroscientist). Rock climbing is well known to stimulate the brain in a variety of other ways such as increasing the production of cells in hippocampus, which is responsible for memory and learning as well as boosting creativity for up to two hours afterwards.
Climbing also differentiates itself from other traditional exercises by being linked to what positive psychologists call “flow state,” which is a place where climbers enter a mindset that creates a sense of euphoria, timelessness and even blocks pain, according to Indiana University.
The greatest demonstration and almost pun worthy is that routes in bouldering (a type of climbing that is generally done unroped, at lower heights) are actually called “problems.”
“I think the mental side of climbing is often overlooked,” Alex Johnson, team climber with The North Face, tells The Huffington Post. “The movement in climbing up a route often demands body awareness and problem-solving. More often than not, the way to the top is not as direct as you might assume, and it takes laser focus…”
Rock climbing has a number of important characteristics that make it especially beneficial for the treatment of mood, namely that it helps boost self-efficacy and social interactions. “You have to be mindful and focused on the moment. It does not leave much room to let your mind wander on things that may be going on in your life — you have to focus on not falling,” says psychologist Eva-Maria Stelzer in her ground breaking research on climbing and mood enhancement. Climbing offers several routes to challenge you physically, along with a social aspect along and the feeling of an immediate accomplishment. “(Rock climbing) not only has strong mental components, but it is accessible at different levels so that people of all levels of physical health are able to participate,” she said.
Helps slow down the aging process
Exercising, such as Muay Thai, has been shown to reverse stress’s toll on our aging process at the cellular level, according to a 2010 study from the University of California.
Improves memory and creativity
Climbing/exercising outdoors helps you improve memory, boost creativity and wake your brain up with the same effect as drinking a cup of coffee and may even decrease symptoms of ADHD. Which is why CliffHanger Academy offers both indoor and outdoor “in the wild” experiences for rock climbing.
Conquer your fears
A lot of people are scared of heights. Most of us are scared of falling. When you climb, you have to push these fears out of your head. It takes focus to be 40 feet high and pulling up on two fingers and balancing on your toes. You have to use that focus to breathe through the climb and push past your fears, increasing your self-efficacy. A study in the journal Adapted Physical Activity Quarterly concluded that after six weeks of climbing, self-efficacy improved dramatically.
Teaches valuable life skills
There is something very refreshing about the mental and physical challenges associated with climbing that compliment a day job lived in the abstract. The rock is real, the goal is fixed. You need a combination of mental awareness, physical strength, dexterity, technique and a lot perseverance to succeed. Confidence increases, because success to solve the problem and climb the route it all comes down to the individual. No one is there to help you and it comes down to how well you execute the sequence of movements required to accomplish the climb.
Even though you’re alone on the wall there is a constant community in collaboration in climbing. Beta is exchanged and technique is discussed, not to mention the cheering on of those below you to push on!
In climbing, just like life, you can’t see the entire path, but through proper training and techniques, you learn to trust that when the time comes, you will be able to successfully navigate whatever the challenge is. This statement is true whether it’s on the rock or in the office; we must be prepared for adversity and confident that we can rise to the challenge.
“From a physical standpoint it’s incredible exercise, but some of the best tidings I get from climbing are what I would define as spiritual,” Cedar Wright, team climber with The North Face, writer, and filmmaker, tells The Huffington Post. “From a mental standpoint, climbing is an amazing teacher, instilling focus, balance, determination and a whole … a host of valuable life skills.”
For all of us at Cliff Hanger Academy, rock climbing is not simply getting up a piece of rock, it’s a process and lifestyle that teaches us how to consistently adapt, build self-reliance and crush everyday challenges.
Rock Climbing/Bouldering on the edge of the world in Tasmania, Australia
*All images are from CliffHanger Academy Experiences © 2005-2018 David Mykel
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