In this article, we’re going to break down some of the most common and popular mental and physical benefits of rock climbing. We’ve come up with what we think are the top 13 mental and physical benefits associated with rock climbing. This is by no means an exhaustive list, though, and the ways that rock climbing and other forms of physical activity are being incorporated into mental health treatment plans is constantly growing and evolving.
If you think that rock climbing might be a good way to help maintain your mental or physical health, this is a great starting resource, but make sure you find experts who can help you manage your mental and physical health in a safe and responsible way. If you already enjoy rock climbing, maybe this article will make you start thinking about how rock climbing benefits your life and how to improve this benefit with more practice and time.
Is Rock Climbing a Good Workout?
Rock climbing is known to be a great physical workout, but as rock climbing and bouldering have been growing in popularity in recent years, so has their uses in relation to mental health. Many people have reported increases in their mental health associated with more climbing and physical workouts. It may seem a little dubious to have a physical workout being used in a mindfulness and therapeutic setting, but it’s been growing in popularity.
It’s hard to argue when someone tells you that getting your body from the ground to the top of a climb is hard work physically, so it makes sense that climbing is a good workout. It works your arms, legs, and core. Climbing integrates all your muscle groups since it is a full-body workout. It can even be done aerobically if you’re after that sort of workout.
Rock climbing is also a great mental workout. In an online dominated world, it’s important to find challenges to keep your brain working all the time, and rock climbing can do just that. The problem-solving aspect of rock climbing can be a great way to keep your brain alert and to continue to develop your own problem-solving skills.
Both indoor and outdoor rock climbing have skyrocketed in popularity in recent years with award-winning films featuring professional climbers and many celebrities turning to climbing gyms as a fun form of exercise. Some of this rapid growth of the climbing industry can be attributed to the fact that rock climbing is such a good workout for both your physical body and your mind. It’s ability to keep you in shape, keep your mind always thinking, and help you manage your daily stresses makes rock climbing a great choice for an all-around workout.
Outdoor and wilderness-based therapy has already been established as an amazingly beneficial field. Mixing the known benefits of therapy with the known benefits of being outdoors has led to the creation of the field of wilderness therapy. Utilizing rock climbing to help with therapy and mental health is a natural extension of wilderness therapy and is often used in a similar way.
What are the Known Mental Health Benefits of Climbing?
In recent years, climbing has started to be used to help treat anxiety and depression. There’s a growing number of groups and organizations that are integrating mindfulness and therapy with roped climbing or bouldering. There’s also been a number of studies that have attempted to quantify just how much rock climbing can help your mental health.
Here are a few of the main ways that rock climbing can help your mental health:
1. Rock climbing can build a sense of trust and community. Many therapy and climbing groups utilize the sense of trust created through roped climbing to help increase a sense of community. Having a strong sense of community is often associated with a more positive support system and thus, more positive mental health.
2. Climbing builds new problem-solving pathways. Through the act of working together or alone and projecting a new boulder problem or climbing route, you are creating new pathways in your brain. The problem-solving aspect of climbing pushes your mental connections while the physical movements push your body.
The fact that climbing can be done by anyone, with any body type, really helps with this. There are climbs that anyone can do, meaning that anyone can feel the sense of success associated with the process of problem-solving through climbing
3. Climbing can be used almost like meditation. While some people find running or biking to be great ways to clear their minds, others find these types of activities to be nothing more than a physical activity with a slippery slope into the depths of their minds. These people often find that climbing helps them focus on the moment much more.
The problem-solving aspect of rock climbing, coupled with the physical effort required to keep you on the climbing wall, makes it a great way to force someone with a wandering mind to stay present at the moment. Many climbers have found this to be very meditative and report similar benefits to meditation.
If you have tried meditation and found it hard to clear your mind, don’t worry, you are not alone at all. Many people struggle to clear their mind or let their thoughts drift by while meditating, but some people find an activity like rock climbing that you have to have complete focus on to be a great way to help mitigate this challenge. If this sounds like you, then maybe rock climbing could become your version of meditation.
4. Since rock climbing is a physical activity, it benefits the mind in the same way that any physical activity will. Studies of college students have found that students who are more physically active tend to have better mental health. Although this doesn’t directly apply to climbing, rock climbing is a physical activity that can help the body cope with change and stress.
5. Although indoor climbing and bouldering have both been found to have a great amount of mental and physical benefits, outdoor rock climbing and bouldering have the added benefits of being in the great outdoors. Getting outdoors has some pretty great mental benefits itself, and those benefits are just increased when combined with the benefits of climbing.
Many organizations dedicate large amounts of time and effort to getting at-risk youth out into nature. This connects them with themselves and the world around them. As society moves more and more indoors, we see more people putting emphasis on the amazing benefits of spending time outdoors.
Popularized by Richard Louv’s book, Last Child in the Woods, the idea that our society is suffering from what he calls “nature deficit disorder” is often discussed in conjunction with wilderness or outdoor based therapy. Having the ability to practice therapy or meditation in an outdoor setting is often found to have benefits deriving from both the practice and the location. Practicing outdoor rock climbing based therapy or meditation is a great way to integrate many beneficial aspects of these practices.
What are the Physical Health Benefits of Climbing?
Here are some of the highlights of the physical health benefits of rock climbing. These are only a few of the many benefits, so this list is by no means fully exhaustive, but simply aims to highlight some of the major muscle groups and aspects of fitness that may help you in your daily life.
1. Climbing is a great way to work on your balance. Although many people think of climbing as mostly an arm workout or a leg workout, it really is an amazing full-body workout. Since climbing is such a full-body workout, it works all the smaller muscles and tendons that keep your larger muscles stable, even as they begin to get more tired. This is what improves your balance.
2. Climbing is also a great ab and core workout. Like we said before, climbing is about way more than your arms and legs. If you don’t have a good core, staying on the rock is going to be really hard, no matter how strong your arms and legs are. Having a strong core is important to many things in life, so climbing is a great way to improve your general core strength and overall health.
3. Since rock climbing does utilize your arms quite a bit, climbing is a great hand and wrist workout. Strengthening your hands and wrists can help minimize day-to-day injuries to these smaller muscles. Who knows, you may find that having stronger grip strength helps you in other ways that you never even anticipated.
4. Climbing is also a great way to improve your flexibility. Having more flexibility is an amazing way to mitigate the risk of injury. If your muscles are stretchy, they are much more likely to stretch than they are to rip, meaning that you are less likely to injure yourself.
Flexibility is also a great way to help your body stay active as you get older. As the body ages, muscles tend to tense up, but maintaining a good level of flexibility can help mitigate this. Keeping all your muscles in good working condition as you age, is a great way to age gracefully, something that many people strive for.
5. Rock climbing can help stabilize your ankles. Ankles are some of the most commonly injured parts of our bodies, and it makes sense, we use them every day and often forget about how important they are to everything we do. As we said earlier, rock climbing can help you develop the smaller muscles and tendons around joints that will increase your balance and stability. This is especially important when it comes to joints like your ankles.
It’s super easy to twist an ankle, so it makes sense that strengthening your ankle can help minimize your risk of this common injury. Rock climbing relies a lot on your ankle strength and stability, both of which will help you minimize the chance of twisting your ankle.
What are Other Benefits to Rock Climbing as a Form of Therapy?
One of the best benefits of rock climbing is its ability to make you focus on the moment. It is widely recognized as a great way to calm your mind and to help you focus on the moment and not get caught up in worries and stresses. This isn’t the only amazing benefit of rock climbing, though.
We’ve discussed many of the mental and physical benefits of rock climbing, but some of the most powerful benefits of rock climbing come from the human-to-human interactions and not the act of rock climbing itself. Here are some of the top human-to-human benefits that can come as a result of rock climbing.
1. Rock climbing can help to improve your self-motivation through the continued positive reinforcement from others. A good climbing community or group will cheer you on through all of the hardships and challenges you may face on the wall. This cheering may be helpful in the moment, but the more we hear something about ourselves, the more likely we are to actually believe it.
For example, if you climb frequently and often hear people say things such as “you got it” or “I believe in you”, you may be more likely to begin to believe these things in other parts of your life. It might start out as an encouraging thing someone yells while you’re pulling through a hard move on a new climb, but it can easily turn into something that you say to yourself.
This is why rock climbing is being used as part of a new therapy practice for treating depression. Many studies have found that pairing indoor bouldering with traditional therapy sessions is able to help treat mild to moderate depression quite well.
2. As we mentioned before, climbing builds trust. This building of trust is not to be overstated, though, as trust is needed for a successful therapeutic relationship. If you are unable to trust those who support you, you may find yourself feeling alone on an island, but if you are able to trust them, then you will have a better understanding of the support available to you, should you need it.
3. Climbing can help you learn to trust yourself. While this may seem like a simple thing, the act of trusting yourself can help so much in life. Many of the barriers we all face every day and in rock climbing are not really the physical barriers, but the mental barriers that are telling us that we can’t do it. We all doubt ourselves so much, but it’s amazing what can be done with a little bit of trust.
Through rock climbing, you can learn how much you can accomplish if you trust yourself. It can be as simple as trusting your feet to hold you when you stand up to reach for the next hold or trusting your hands to catch you when you dyno up to the next hold, but it can help you learn to trust yourself more in everyday life as well.
Wrapping Things Up: 13 Benefits of Climbing on Mental and Physical Health
Overall, rock climbing can help both your mental and physical health. Using rock climbing as both a form of exercise and as a form of meditation can be immensely helpful in managing your stress in our modern and overwhelming world. More and more people are turning to rock climbing and other forms of focus oriented physical activity to help them manage their anxiety and even their depression.
If you think rock climbing could help your mental health, go ahead and give it a try. If you want help trying this or you would like to integrate rock climbing into an existing meditative or therapeutic practice in your life, make sure to find an expert to help. Many gyms, counseling centers, and even schools are offering rock climbing therapy. Working with an expert can give you the best help, so don’t be afraid to reach out and find someone.
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