Climbing Walls

Indoor gym a rockin' place to build fitness

Sarah Hart
Sarah Hart climbs an indoor bouldering wall. Photo: Jamie Finlayson

Have you ever considered rock climbing as a complement to your fitness program? Whether you aspire to become a master of the real rock, or simply use rock climbing as a cross-training activity, the climbing gym might just be the best place to start.

I learned to climb in a musty old grain elevator in Newmarket, Ont., kitted out with plastic holds drilled into plywood with 45 degree overhangs. At 5 p.m. most days, we’d gather at the smelly grain elevator, order a couple pizzas, and devour them while watching climbing videos; Rampage, Masters of Stone IV, and Hard Grit, to name a few. For the next four hours we’d throw ourselves at one made up problem after another, always trying to best each other by getting the send. I loved climbing in the gym.

Fast forward and, though I follow a slightly stricter diet today and don’t waste precious training time watching videos, I still love the climbing gym. It’s no longer the reason I climb, it’s the means to achieve my goals on real rock, either near my home in Squamish, B.C., or across the world in the high mountains of Patagonia, Argentina or on the pristine limestone of Catalunya, Spain.

Todays’ modern climbing gym is anything but old or musty. Most are expansive spaces full of well-dressed people, good music and positive energy. Many climbing gyms also offer weight training and yoga facilities; activities that complement rock climbing and enable a one-stop-shop approach for fitness.

Rock climbing used to be a sport on the fringes, but with the announcement that climbing would be included in the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, it’s safe to say it’s a sport that offers physical benefits for both dedicated rock climber and fitness-seeker.

Here are my top four reasons the local climbing gym might become your new favourite haunt:

  1. The climbing gym is by far the safest place to learn the ropes. Most climbing gyms offer accessible introductory courses on belaying technique, climbing safety and climbing technique, among other things. Most climbing gyms rent all the required gear to get you started including, harness, climbing shoes and chalk bag.
  2. Climbing makes great cross-training. Lifting your own body weight, as you do when you’re climbing, uses slow-twitch muscle fibres that develop long lean muscles.
  3. Primarily, I use the climbing gym to boulder, climbing without a roper and never going higher than is safe to fall without a rope. Most climbing gyms also offer route climbing, where you are linked to a safety rope. Walls upwards of 15 metres high give you a real workout and simulate what climbing at the cliffs outside might be like.
  4. The climbing gym is a great place to make friends. When I moved from Newmarket to Vancouver, I didn’t know anyone, but a couple of trips to the climbing gym and I’d found my tribe. I’m still climbing with some of them 10 years later.

Where to climb in Calgary:

Where to climb in Vancouver:

Where to climb in the GTA: