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Hang Tough

by Nicole Wilkes

Photograph courtesy of Getty Images

Until recently, rock climbing in the United States has been practiced almost exclusively by Midwestern outdoorsmen and women. Thanks largely to an increase of indoor climbing gyms in affluent urban areas, however, urban millennials now make up a substantial portion of American climbers.

Luckily, not only is Boston home to Metrorock Gym, but the FitRec offers two styles of climbing—bouldering and top roping—seven days a week. So, if you’re looking for a new way to get your cardio and strength in while sharpening your problem-solving skills, this bandwagon is definitely worth jumping on.

In any climbing gym, one can find a section of short walls covered in multicolored plastic rocks for bouldering, an ideal way for new climbers to get started.

“The appeal of bouldering is that it only requires a pair of climbing shoes and a chalk bag,” said Tim Smith, a member of Vermont’s prevalent climbing community. “Plus, it can be done with friends or solo.”

The goal of bouldering is to solve a problem—which requires you to boulder from an area on the wall with a marked start to a finish point. You solve the problem by traveling from the start to the finish only using the rocks marked for that problem (gyms mark problems using color of the rock or tape). Every problem has a name, rating and color. In bouldering, the ratings of difficulty range from V0 to V16. For example, if you are a beginner you may approach a problem called “The Pretzel” with a rating of V2-. All the rocks in “The Pretzel” might be green, or perhaps marked by pieces of orange tape.

It is important to consider that each setter—someone who creates problems/routes—is different- what one considers a V4 another might call a V5. With that, one can easily find 3 V4’s and notice that one requires considerable upper body strength, another that requires more flexibility and another is not as physically demanding, but is more difficult to figure out.

Top roping, another style for beginners, uses a similar name-rating-color system. The ratings range from 5.0 to 5.15 and the term “problem” is replaced by “route.” It requires two people: a climber and a belayer (the belayer must be a staff member of the gym, a friend who is certified or an auto belay device). Both are tied into harnesses opposite ends of the same rope, which runs up to the top of the wall—higher than a bouldering wall—through the anchor of a pulley system. When the climber makes their way up the wall, slack builds in the rope and it is the belayer’s job to take up that slack. Since there is little slack in the rope, a fall will only cost the climber a few inches, which makes top roping an ideal style of climbing for beginners.

Both of these styles provide fantastic total-body workouts.

“People tend to think that you just need big biceps and a giant reach to power through,” notes Smith, “But it’s actually a whole body thing: fingers, calves, core, back. The best climber I know is 5’4’’ and you’d never look at her and go ‘Woah, she’s jacked.’”

In addition to torching wide array of muscle groups, climbing is great aerobic exercise.

“A one-hour climb session can burn well over 700 calories,” said Huffington Post writer Abigail Wise. “Plus, tricky maneuvers and lengthy reaches often require flexibility that wasn’t there before.”

Climbing is just as much about brains as it is brawn. In an interview with the Washington Post, President of Sportrock Lillian Chao-Quinlan compares the sport to a “moving chess game”­— one must always think two steps ahead or risk wasting critical energy trying to figure out the next move whist on the wall. Problem solving is a crucial element of the sport.

“More often than not, the way to the top is not as direct as you might assume,” said The North Face team climber Alex Jonson to The Huffington Post, “and it takes laser focus to work through which holds to grab and where exactly to place your foot before shifting your body weight.”

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