The Olympics in Rio de Janeiro have just started and although the first medals have yet to be won, climbing teams from around the world are already celebrating their own win, as the International Olympic Committee has officially announced rock climbing as an Olympic sport.
To celebrate this, we reached out to Jennifer Wood, who is on the GB Climbing Team to discuss how climbing benefits you physically and mentally.
What are the primary muscles that get a workout during a climb?
Climbing is really a whole body workout. Your legs push and your arms pull you up the wall. Body tension is also really important so the core muscles get a good workout too. You can tailor your session to work out more specific muscles. The steeper the climb, the harder the arms and core have to work, but the vertical and slab climbs make the legs and the glutes work harder.
As with all exercise, there are psychological benefits, but what are the main psychological benefits when it comes to climbing?
Psychologically climbing has many of the benefits of other sports; it increases confidence, and a hard workout releases the hormone serotonin which makes you feel good. But climbing has the benefit that it can be done in both groups or alone. If you thrive off some healthy competition, climbing is a great sport for doing as a group to push each other. For those that create their own motivation, it's very easy to measure your own progress at the wall with the climbs going up in difficulty level.
Do you think it can be associated with problem-solving?
Some people describe climbing as 'chess on a wall' because it makes the climb a lot easier if you can 'read' how you're going to climb it from the floor. It comes quickly with practice, but learning the intricacies, such as knowing the shape of the holds, takes a little longer. It's always important to think about where your feet will go and not just your hands. If you can master 'route-reading', the climbing will get much easier.
In terms of a physical workout, how would you compare an hour of climbing to an hour gym (cardio and weight lifting) session?
Climbing is a great workout, but the best thing about it is it doesn't feel like you're working out because you're thinking about getting up the climb and not how much your arms are burning. With a gym session, it's very easy to only think about the weight you are lifting and how much it hurts. Pushing yourself to the limit does give you a thrill but it's hard work keeping going. Climbing, however, is much more distracting. The climbs themselves vary a lot so you're always faced by a new problem, and each climb you get to the top of is an achievement. You'll still be sore the next day though.
How long are your training sessions and what is included in your regime?
I normally have five, three hour sessions a week at the climbing wall. I will warm up for around half an hour, starting with theraband exercises for the shoulders then working my way up gradually harder climbs. I try and do half an hour of dyno practice, which is jumping from hold to hold, they feature a lot in competitions now. I usually then just have a climb and don't really think about training but just have fun and work hard. If I need some extra endurance I'll do laps of a circuit board at the end.
I also do about five extra one hour sessions in the week. Including weighted pull-ups, press-ups, core, and fingerboard sessions, which involve hanging off a very small edge usually with a bit of added weight.
I find climbing a very sociable sport. During competitions, does that social element still exist like it would when training, or is the social environment different?
Competitions are surprisingly sociable. Most of my climbing friends are my biggest rivals. It's a very nice sport because even though we're up against each other, the climbers will still discuss how they think the climb should be tackled and we all cheer each other on.
What is your next climbing challenge?
I have three big competitions coming up. A lead climbing world cup at the end of August in Italy, then the British lead championships at the end of September, I'm also thinking of taking part in the British speed champs on the same day, though this would be more for fun as speed is not my discipline. Then a couple of weeks after I'm competing for Britain in the World University Games in all three disciplines; boulder, lead and speed. With climbing having just been added to the Olympic programme for 2020, being selected for that is now long term goal.
Here at Tophat HQ we hope to see Jennifer selected as part the GB Climbing Team for the 2020 Olympic games. You can follow her on Twitter (@woody4563).