Feature Article - April 2009
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The Height of Adventure

Climbing Walls for Exercise & Recreation

By Richard Zowie

High, But Not Dry

If you don't have room in your regular facility to add climbing, maybe you'd like to think about combining climbing and swimming! Think it can't be done?

One manufacturer creates 1-by-1-meter fiberglass panels and handholds that are chlorine- and UV-resistant and are meant to combine climbing and aquatics. The panels can be rearranged to change the degree of difficulty and keep things entertaining.

What happens when you fall off? You have access to one of nature's greatest cushions—water. The product attaches to any pool deck at a 10-degree angle over the water that ensures climbers will fall into the water.

Among the benefits: fun, fitness and safety. (The product is approved by the Aquatic Safety Research Group.) It's also modular and durable, making it a good choice for facilities that see a lot of use.


What kinds of exercise do patrons get from climbing? The list is longer than you might think, according to Hazelrigs: strength training, anaerobic exercise, muscle toning and definition, flexibility and even exercising your mind using problem-solving skills—all in a safe, controlled environment.

When it comes to problem-solving on climbing walls, everyone can take a different approach—even to the exact same route.

"My thought process might climb a certain way, and you might do it differently," Hazelrigs explained. "That's the problem-solving behind it. And it's an adrenaline rush as you go for a hold a certain way or extend yourself out of your comfort zone. That also challenges the mind and strengthens it." Then patrons can take this confidence boost and transfer it to other areas.

You should tell patrons to be careful, though, when first starting out, said Climbing Wall Association Executive Assistant Andrea Sutherland. "When someone climbs for the first time, they tend to get a very physical workout because they are relying too heavily on their arms and tend to over-grip the holds," she explained. "As they learn the sport, however, they realize it's not about getting to the top the fastest. They learn to listen to their body and read the route and put the pieces of the puzzle together. Once they understand the mental part of climbing, they climb more gracefully and efficiently."

Sometimes climbing walls can even be used to help kids do math problems. For example, some holds might have odd numbers and others even with kids being challenged to only use the even or odd holds. Other times, multiplication comes into play.

"This is non-traditional and non-competitive, and that's what kids like about it," Hazelrigs explained. "It's not like kickball where you're the last kid picked."

Things are different at the high school level, she noted, where climbing can be a social activity encouraging peers to cheer on other climbers. Climbers receive encouragement as they are taken out of their comfort zone.