By Christopher Pregony, BS, CSCS

I always encourage my clients to engage in physical activities other than the gym. Living in Florida, rock climbing may not be the first alternative exercise people think of. However, Gainesville does offer a few options in the form of indoor rock climbing facilities. Climbing and its cousin bouldering are phenomenal workouts. They challenge the body, as well as the mind because you have to carefully select your next move up the wall.

Climbing vs. bouldering

According to Chris Stango, rock wall manager at Sun Country Sports Center, in sport climbing a climber  typically scales a wall between 24–35 feet high, but walls in larger gyms can be as high as 100 feet. If you were to fall while sport climbing, a belayer (the person who stays on the ground, keeping slack out of the line as the climber goes vertical) would stop you before you came crashing to the ground. Bouldering, on the other hand, is a shorter climb (usually a max of 20 feet) without a line. Instead, a large mat is often placed below where you are climbing to soften your fall. “Bouldering is short and powerful, and sport climbing is long and requires more endurance,” said Stango.

What to expect

Most first-time climbers are required to go through a short tutorial on how to use the equipment, as well as basic techniques. Sport climbing often requires climbers to have someone belay them, which is a feature of lead climbing in general. This is to make sure that when the climber falls or reaches the top they can safely descend to the ground. The rules are a little more lax when then comes to bouldering. The climber is not very high off the ground, and if they do fall it is on a nice cushy mat.

Which muscles does it work?

Most people think that our grip strength, which is crucial with climbing, comes from our hands, when in reality it derives from our forearms. Climbing also works on your biceps, back, legs and abdominals. It requires a great deal of flexibility in your lower body when it comes to getting your feet exactly where they need to be on the rocks. Isometric muscle contractions are also crucial in climbing; these contractions take place when the muscle is under stress but is not changing length. Wall sits and planks are other examples of isometric exercises. This type of exercise challenges the body and leaves most first timers sore in places they did not know they had without adding too much stress to the joints! While a climber is working their way up or along a wall, they have to hold their bodies position before they make their next move. Learning to relax during this time is key to saving energy while climbing.

Why rock climbing?

Local Mike Palmer got into climbing while in the boy scouts and became more serious while he was a student at the University of Florida. He would even center his class schedule around climbing. “Climbing has been a driving force in my life,” he said. The sport has taken him to Colorado, California, South Africa and South Korea.

Where to go

Sun Country Sports Center, located off Newberry road in Jonesville, offers both sport climbing and bouldering at their 37.5-foot rock wall. Lake Wauberg in Micanopy, which is open to anyone with a University of Florida Gator1 Card and their guests, also offers both climbing activities. If you are OK with a bit of a drive, you may also want to check out The Edge Rock Gym in Jacksonville or Aiguille Rock Climbing Center in Longwood.

Our favorite rock climbing spots across the country

  1. Joshua Tree National Park, California
  2. Pisgah National Forest, North Carolina
  3. Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, Nevada

*Climbing is making its Olympic debut in Tokyo 2020!