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Why Rock Climbing May Be the Ultimate Full-Body Workout

From TIME - February 15, 2018

The muscles in your hips and torso strain to hold your lower half against the wall. You arch backward and extend one hand up to clasp the next holdyour thighs and calves burning with the effort of holding you steady and in balance. A moment later, when the tips of your fingers have secured their grip, theres a wholesale shift in the muscles you call on to maintain your safe purchase on the climbing wall.

Exercise is all about engaging your musclesfrom your heart to your biceps and quadsand asking those muscles to perform work. And when it comes to activating and training a diverse range of muscles, few exercises rival climbing.

Both climbing and bouldering, the name for climbing on low rock formations without a rope, involve nearly the whole bodys musculature, says Ji Bal, a faculty researcher and lecturer at Charles University in Prague, Czech Republic, who has conducted research on climbing. While running, cycling, rowing and most conventional gym workouts teach the body to perform consistent, repetitive motionseither to build strength, increase cardiorespiratory fitness or bothclimbing is a more complex movement, Bal says.

In fact, climbing is an endlessly variable series of movements. No climbing surface or route is quite like another, so the work you ask your muscles to perform during a climb changes each time you exercise. This ensures youre training a greater number of muscles. Research suggests this kind of dynamic muscle activation is much more challenging and fatiguing than simpler, repetitive movements.

While all of the pushing, pulling and lifting involved in climbing mirror aspects of resistance exercise, climbing is also an excellent cardiovascular workout, says William Sheel, a professor of kinesiology at the University of British Columbia in Canada. In a 2004 study he and his colleagues conducted on the physiology of rock climbing, we found that climbers use a significant portion of their aerobic capacity, he says. The heart rate response was higher than we predicted.

MORE: This 15-Year-Old Girl Could Be the Best Rock Climber Ever

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