Students rock climb for alternative exercise

By Kayla Overbey

Friday, March 16, 2012

The steady rhythm of feet hitting treadmills and sounds of physical exertion fill the air. People walk around, red-faced and tired. But in the basement of the David A. Ambler Student Recreation Fitness Center at the University of Kansas, student Kevin Dinh sits on the ground, positions his feet onto the wall and climbs.

Kevin Dinh is a rock climber. He completes the 45-foot-tall roped course in less than ten minutes. During those minutes, he burned roughly 100 calories.

According to average, a 200-pound man can burn over 1,000 calories during an hour spent ascending a rock wall. The intense workout is what initially attracted Dinh to the sport.

“I think the real reason I climb is because I know I need to work out, and rock climbing offers so many different ways to work out,” Dinh says. “And it’s not the same thing every day.”

Dinh is one of many students who have turned to the alternative sport of rock climbing to increase muscle development in atypical parts of the body.

Climbing benefits

While spending 30 minutes on an elliptical or treadmill is sufficient for a routine workout, it can be boring. Varying exercise improves stamina, strength, flexibility, and coordination. Dinh says he hasn’t noticed significant change himself, but his friends and family disagree.

“A lot of people freak out because of how huge my forearms are,” Dinh said. “I don’t see the difference, but everyone keeps telling me I’ve changed. So I’m assuming I’ve changed.”

Rock Climbing Club President Ryan Surface says that although the changes are subtle, muscle development does occur in unexpected areas of the body.

“Generally, your biceps can be sore, your forearms can definitely be sore. Those are usually the first thing to fail [when climbing],” Surface said.

Surface also described how different routes target different muscle groups.

“Climbing definitely works your core, especially on overhanging routes. There are some routes that are kind of like corners, like a dihedral. Oftentimes those are really leg, foot intensive,” Surface said. “It can definitely be a full-body workout.”

Climbing styles

Surface said that three of the most popular styles of climbing are sport climbing, bouldering, and traditional climbing. Sport and traditional climbing are vertical climbs and use safety equipment.  These types of climbing are most popular in North America, Surface said.

Bouldering, on the other hand, requires no gear except for a mattress-like pad below the climber. Bouldering is limited to sequences of no longer then 15 or 20 feet, and requires more muscle concentration than the other two styles.

“Bouldering, to me, really seems like getting down there and doing the most difficult moves you can do. It’s kind of acrobatic, gymnastic kind of stuff,” Surface said.

Because climbing is so physically demanding, the International Olympic Committee is considering lead climbing (similar to traditional climbing), bouldering, and speed climbing for inclusion in the 2020 Olympic summer games. KU student Daniel Siegel understands why.

“There are definitely forms of rock climbing that are legitimate [for competition]. Bouldering is a good example,” Siegel said. “It’s just as much of a mental game, just like chess, as it is physical.”

New climbers

While watching climbers scale KU’s 45-foot rock wall can be intimidating, those new to the sport shouldn’t be shy.

There are five routes on the main wall, each a different skill level. The easiest route is on the far right, and students familiar with climbing are available to belay. There are countless student-created routes on the bouldering walls.

The KU recreation center’s Outdoor Pursuits room rents out free climbing shoes and harnesses to students without equipment. Those who do own equipment are welcome to bring it.

The climbing gym is publicly open to students Monday through Thursday from 4:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. and Sundays from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. From 8:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, the wall is exclusive to the KU Rock Climbing Club.

Dinh says he’ll continue rock climbing to introduce variation into his workout and simply because he enjoys it.

“I always have fun rock climbing, that’s why I do it so often,” Dinh said. “There’s always an ending feeling where you feel good.”


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