November 16, 2009 / 11:06 AM / 9 years ago

Rock walls: climb every fiberglass mountain

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - British climber George Mallory famously said he wanted to climb Mount Everest because it was there.

Instructor Abby Nelson scales a 10,000-square-foot wall at Chelsea Piers Sports Center in New York City in an undated photo. REUTERS/Scott McDermott/Handout

But there or not, experts agree that climbing is a great workout, so if you cannot get to a mountain, fitness centers are bringing a mountain to you.

“Indoor rock climbing is one of the best workouts you can imagine,” said climbing instructor Abby Nelson of Chelsea Piers Sports Center, which offers climbing classes in New York City. “You use legs, core, arms, hands, and it gets the adrenalin running.”

In fact, Nelson said scaling the 65-square-foot indoor rock wall at Chelsea Piers can be a more efficient workout than climbing the real thing.

“If your goal is to get as much climbing in as possible, sometimes that doesn’t happen outdoors, where you need to find your climb,” she explained. “Indoors the ropes are already set up and working out is easy. If you can climb a ladder you can climb a wall.”

Rock climbing walls have been cropping up in gyms and on playgrounds ever since Don Robinson, a British lecturer in physical education, created the first one in 1964. By 2005 at least 9 million people were estimated to be participating in the sport in the United States alone.

At Brooklyn Boulders, an 18,000-square-foot climbing gym in Brooklyn, New York, to rope or not to rope is the question.

The gym, which opened in August, offers classes in three styles of climbing: Top-roping, in which an anchor is set up at the summit; lead climbing, where a leader is attached to a second climber; and bouldering, which is rope-less.

“It’s not dangerous but exciting,” co-founder Lance Pinn said of bouldering. “The floor has padding and our mats are so soft it’s like stepping into a trampoline.”

Pinn says safety is paramount, without the harness or with it.

“We use an auto-locking device. You could faint and we’d still pull you back. Climbing is not rocket science. But it is about problem-solving,” said Pinn. “There’s only a certain sequence that will finish the dance properly.”

Fabio Comana, of the American Council on Exercise, says climbing is a very good full body workout.

“It does not work every muscle, but almost all. Definitely a lot of pushing in the lower extremities and pulling in the upper,” said Comana, an exercise physiologist who has climbed some half-dozen times.

“It’s very functional because you’re moving your own body weight,” he said. “But it requires a lot of mobility and stability, and safety is a big issue.”

It is also a big challenge to your balance.

“You’ve always got to be able to find your center of gravity. It’s a wonderful thing,” Comana added.

Nelson agrees: “Your orientation changes. You’re no longer only on your feet; you’re on your hands. You’re no longer on the ground; you’re on the wall in front of you.”

Slideshow (3 Images)

And sometimes you’re on the Brooklyn Bridge, kind of.

As a homage to the home borough, Brooklyn Boulders boasts a scalable 30-foot-high replica of one of that landmark’s towers.

“We want people to wear tee-shirts that say ‘I climbed the Brooklyn Bridge,’ “ Pinn said.

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