Rock Climbing: Inclusive by Nature and by Design
When we learned that February is North American Inclusion Month, we got to thinking about how much we love rock climbing because it is naturally inclusive. Regardless of age and fitness level, we find that the majority of people who try climbing find some level of success. We see pre-school age children having fun trying a climbing wall for the first time. They squeal in delight when they can make it all the way across the traverse wall without having to step down or take a break. We witness high-school students cheer as their classmate reaches the top of a difficult vertical climb. And we hear over and over again from our educator customers that their climbing program pulled in children who previously were not interested in physical education class. Rock Climbing engages children who are not “stick and ball” or natural athletes, along with those who are. There’s just something really special about climbing. Is it the problem solving? Is it the thrill? Is it the never-ending chance to challenge oneself? We’re not sure, but the attractiveness of climbing doesn’t stop with children. Climbing is a lifetime sport, boasting participants—both men and women— in their 30s, 40s and even 80s.
Rock climbing can be even more inclusive, engaging people with physical disabilities, when modifications are made to indoor climbing walls. Specific changes in wall design and components can provide the extra support they need to be able to climb. Adding specialty holds, such as ledge-style foot holds, offer a larger surface area for successful foot placement and sense of security. Grab-bar style hand holds allow climbers to wrap their entire hand around the bar for added stability and sense of control. In addition, the base of a climbing wall can be angled out. This helps keep the center of gravity over the climber’s feet, helping to maintain balance and decreasing the amount of upper body strength required to climb. Ropes and special harnesses can also be used for climbers with very limited mobility. We’ve even seen children in wheel chairs use just the hand holds to pull themselves across the climbing wall, using only their arms and hands. In some way, many people with disabilities can be included in climbing activities.
The inclusivity of climbing is ideal because the activity of rock climbing offers a tremendous number of benefits. Physically, it simultaneously develops body awareness, coordination, balance, strength, flexibility and cardiovascular endurance. The activity of climbing is so captivating and fun that participants often do not even realize the full body workout they are getting until they feel their sore muscles the next day. Climbing also engages the brain. It involves significant problem solving, mental focus, decision making and motor planning. On school climbing walls, teachers can also bring in classroom learning through various activities on the climbing wall that reinforce math, language and other concepts. Imagine practicing math facts or spelling words, while climbing. In addition, many social-emotional skills are developed with climbing—courage, perseverance, teamwork and self-confidence, to name a few. Because of the many ways that climbing can positively affect people, it is often used in therapy for individuals with physical, sensory or cognitive disabilities.
Rock climbing is a fast-growing sport, with climbing walls becoming more common in schools, fitness centers and even homes. Additionally, new commercial climbing gyms are popping up every month across North America. Within all of these environments, climbers of varying ages, abilities and fitness levels are benefiting from this unique physical activity and positively impacting their bodies, minds and spirits.