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Indoor Climbing Walls: The Sport of the NinetiesRobin Mittelstaedt aa School of Recreation & Sport Science at Ohio University , Grover 229-4, Athens , OH ,45701Published online: 22 Feb 2013.
To cite this article: Robin Mittelstaedt (1997) Indoor Climbing Walls: The Sport of the Nineties, Journal of Physical Education,Recreation & Dance, 68:9, 26-29, DOI: 10.1080/07303084.1997.10605024
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/07303084.1997.10605024
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26 Vol. 68 No.9 JOPERD Nov/Dec 1997
Development of Indoor WallClimbingThe idea for indoor sport climbinggrew out of two main components ofoutdoor rock climbing. The first isthe more tame practice ofbouldering, a technique used bymountaineers to hone their skillsonlow-level rocks usually no higher than4 to 5 feet. Basic hand- and footholdsand traversing techniques can bepracticed without the aid ofa safetyrope, with little or no danger. Thesecond component is climbing wellabove the ground on rock faces andcliffs using a climbing partner, a rope,and safety devices to protect themfrom injury in the event of a fall.
During the mid-1960s, individualsin England united these two aspectsof the sport by fitting cement wallswith bolted handholds. The resulting"cliff' offered avid climbers a year-round training ground. The Frenchadded refinements by incorporatinginterchangeable handholds and bydeveloping lightweight compoundsmade of fiberglass, resin, and sand tosimulate real rock (Klugman, 1993).
Indoor sport climbing is becom-ing more popular. In Belgium, forexample, there were only two climb-ing walls in the entire country in1985 but by 1990, that number hadrisen to 50. Presently, Belgium hasthe largest number of climbing gymsper capita in the world (Gregory,1993; Klugman, 1993). Now, workingout at an indoor climbing gym isconsidered one of the most rigorousforms of exercise in France andSpain, as well asJapan, Russia, andChile.
Indoor climbing is gaining alti-tude in the United States, as well. In1990, the Campus Recreation Ser-vices Outdoor Program at IllinoisState University conducted a surveyand identified more than 25 univer-sities and agencies with artificialclimbing walls (Morford, 1991). Inaddition, virtually hundreds of siteson the World Wide Web are devotedto indoor climbing, as well as threerecently published books (figure 1).
According to Fesko (1992),climbing represents an exciting
Nov/Dec 1997 JOPERD Vol. 68 No.9
new phenomenon in the fitnessindustry and is growing rapidly.Not surprisingly, children have re-ally taken to climbing walls. AnOhio store that caters to recre-ational enthusiasts has incorpo-rated an indoor wall for shoppersto use for free. Kids climb whileparents shop and the adults canhave a turn too. The wall hasbeen popular with parents, teens,and young children. Approxi-mately eight elementary schoolsin Worthington Ohio have evenadded a climbing wall to theirgyms, successfully incorporatingclimbing into their physical edu-cation programs.
... in a veryreal sense,this new indoor sport
can also lead toimproved "mental
A Fun, Challenging Form ofFitness ExerciseIn the past, the role of fitness hasbeen downplayed in many climbingsettings. Most physical educators orinstructors of basic rock climbingcourses barely touch on the subjectof fitness. For safety reasons, instruc-tors will typically spend a majority ofthe class time covering the technicalaspects ofbelaying, knot-tying, climb-ing procedures, and commands tofollow, as well as basic hand- or foot-holds. Liability issues must also beaddressed. It is common to requireclimbers (or a parent or guardian)to sign a waiver of liability beforeparticipating (for more informationon risk management, seeMittelstaedt, 1996).
Today, people want to climb forboth fun and fitness (jacobs, 1992;Wescott, 1992). As the popularity ofindoor climbing continues to grow,instructors should incorporate fit-ness and training guidelines forclimbing students of different skill
levels. Four major fitness benefitsfrom climbing have been identified.Components of physical fitness thatare enhanced through climbing in-clude muscular strength, muscularendurance, cardiorespiratory fitness,and flexibility (Kascenska, Dewitt, &Roberts, 1992; Mittelstaedt, 1997).
When muscular strength is devel-oped, the climber is able to generatemaximal force in a single movementand is better able to make dynamic"crux" moves, such as a "mantle" orpush-up-style move onto a ledge or apull-up style move using a largebulge or outcropping.
Muscular endurance is the abilityto generate submaximal force for ex-tended periods of time. Much ofrock climbing is composed of manysmaller moves that do not requireone's maximum level of strength inanyone move. However, musclesmay become tired and fatigued anda buildup of lactic acid is common.Fitness training can greatly improveone's endurance level and the abilityto sustain the multiple movementsrequired when ascending a route.Novice wall climbers often complainofburning in the forearms, cramp-ing in the calves, and a phenomenoncalled "sewing machine leg," whereinone's leg can shake uncontrollably asa result of muscle spasms brought onby fatigue. A well-conditionedclimber will encounter less musculartrauma and will recover from an as-cent much more quickly than apoorly conditioned climber.
Cardiorespiratory fitness meansthat a climber's heart, lungs, andblood vessels are able to supply oxy-gen to the working muscles and canalso remove carbon dioxide from thesystem. Climbing can be an aerobicactivity, especially with the new com-petitions that stress speed climbing.
Flexibility refers to the range ofmotion that occurs at the site of ajoint. Student climbers should be en-couraged to develop and maintainflexibility, which can greatly reducethe likelihood of injury. The majorityof injuries to climbers occurs in thebody's small joints, especially in theelbows, hands, and fingers
(Maitland, 1992) The knee andshoulder joints are also susceptible.
Furthermore, the fingers, wrists,and elbows are subject to the high-est levels of stress, especially if theartificial wall includes crack systems.For example, placing the fingers, orwhole hand in a fissure can holdone's entire body weight becausethe finger joints or hand are literally'jammed" into the crack system.These holds produce high levels ofrotational torque on the fingers,wrists, and elbows, and joints may beswollen and stiff as a result of repeti-tive climbing using finger holds or
hand jams.To reach a maximal level of
climbing fitness, caution must be ex-ercised and a variety of climbingtechniques should be incorporated.Repetitive, high torque movementsin rock climbing can lead to overuseinjuries. A well-rounded trainingand fitness program that includesexercises to develop flexibility canprevent injuries. In addition, climb-ers should avoid overuse caused byintense training and not climb at ahigher level of difficulty than theyare ready for. Some researchershave suggested that many injuries
could be avoided by applying basicprinciples of fitness. Rock climbingis a weight-bearing activity thatplaces considerable stress on thebody's muscles and joints, and inju-ries are not uncommon for bothnovice and experienced rock climb-ers. As with many sports, injuries areoften the result of improper train-ing or inadequate fitness level.Some colleges and universities havebegun to offer courses that specifi-cally focus on fitness for climbing(Kascenska, Dewitt, & Roberts,1992; Shirer, 1990).
International Climbing Gym Directory:
Figure 1. Books and Web Sites on Indoor Climbing
Comprehensive Index to Rock Climbing Gyms in North America:
Index to Indoor Climbing Gyms in the Continental United States:
Morford, W. (1991). Climb that wall: Aprogram asset. National Intramural,Recreation and Sports Association,15(3),28-31.
Shirer, C. (1990). The why's and how'sof a climbing conditioning class.Journal of PhysicalEducation, Recre-ation & Dance, 61(7),33-37.
Walker, K. (1997). Introduction to rockclimbing. [Online]. Available WorldWide Web:
Wescott, W. (1992). Fitness benefits ofrock climbing. AmericanFitness,1O(4),28-31.
Robin Mittelstaedt is an associate profes-sor in the School of Recreation & SportScience at Ohio University, Grover229-4,Athens, OH45701.
Rock Climbing Links - Magazines, Catalogs, Indoor ClimbingGyms, Equipment Sources, Home Pages, News & Events, Professional Associations, and Morel
Information on the Indoor Climbing Wall in the New York CityParks Department Recreation Center on 59th Street
Information on the Indoor Climbing Wall in Long Beach, CAYMCA. (Wall is operated by an independent business, but is locatedin YMCA building)
Long,J. 1994. Gym climbing. Evergreen, CO: Chockstone Press.Thomas, R. 1995. Buildyaur oum climbingwaDs. Evergreen, CO: ChockstonePress.
the rocks for fun and fitness. Shape,1(12),102-106,114.
Kascenska,J., Dewitt,J., & Roberts, T.(1992). Fitnessguidelines for rock climb-ing students,Jaurnaloj'PhysicalEducation,Recreation & Dance, 63(3). 73-79.
Mugman, E. B. (1993, October). Wallclimbing scales new heights. Hemi-spheres, 49-50.
Maitland, M. (1992). Injuries associatedwith rock climbing.Jaurnalof Orthopedicand sports Physical Therapy, 16(2), 68-73.
Mittelstaedt, R. D. (1997). Getting verti-cal: Indoor climbing walls in Ohio.FutureFocus 18(1),16-18.
Mittelstaedt, R. D. (1996). Climbingwalls are on the rise: Risk manage-ment and vertical adventures. LeisureToday:Journal of PhysicalEducation,Recreation & Dance, 67(7),31-33,36.
Urquhart. S. C. 1995. Mock rock: Guide to indoor climbing. NewOrleans, LA: Paper Chase Press.
spatial awareness, and problem solv-ing skills, ingenuity and imagination,all under physical exertion. " So, in avery real sense, this new indoor sportcan also lead to improved "mentalfitness."
The New Fitness Crazeof the '90sPeople associated with indoor climb-ing are calling it "the sport of the'90s. " People of all ages are takingup the sport and thriving on the tre-mendous opportunity it provides forpersonal development in both physi-cal fitness and mental fitness. Rockclimbing is a vigorous activity. Asclimbers develop their skills andtechniques and progress towardmore difficult routes, fitness will playan increasingly important role. Manyindoor climbing enthusiasts believethat reaching and maintaining an ad-equate level of fitness is as importantas developing the more technical as-pects of the sport.
Walker (1997) explains that, "Toget an aerobic workout ... all youneed to do is laps. Choose a wallangle and level of climbing that iseasy for one climb and simply do itover and over again with speed butwith precision. You can increase theintensity by climbing up and down,rather than being lowered between[climbs]. Raising your heart rate, ex-panding your lungs and resistinggravity in this way provides an incom-parable aerobic workout. "
Scaling cliffs, cracks, roofs, andchimneys is attractive to women, chil-dren, student groups, teens,churches, at-risk youth, corporate ex-ecutives, vacationers, fitness enthusi-asts, and noncompetitive individuals.Climbing on artificial rock facescombines both physical and mentalchallenges with the fun of climbingand promises to continue to take thehuman spirit to new heights.
ReferencesFesko, C. (1992). Social climbers. Ath-
leticBusiness, 16(1),43-45.Gregory, A. (1993). Climbing walls. Sport
and Leisure, 33(6), 16-17.Jacobs, C. (1992). Upwardly mobile: On
Chat line for Discussions about Companies that Build ClimbingWalls: . .'; t : ,
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