Three times a week, 39-year-old Tracy Cowie climbs the walls—literally. The high-school teacher heads to a local indoor climbing center, buckles on a safety harness that’s attached to a climbing rope, passes the rope to a friend on the ground and starts scaling a 45-foot wall studded with hundreds of multicolored climbing holds.
The friend with the rope, called a “belayer,” might be Alison Koci or Yvonne Chan, both of whom Cowie met at the climbing center, or her husband, Mark. The belayer controls the rope tension, preventing a nasty plunge should the climber slip and fall. “Building the relationship with the belayer is huge,” Cowie says, because there has to be a lot of trust. That trust is built on communication as well as a lot of fun times together. “I love the camaraderie and the socializing,” she says. “People tend to go climbing at the same times every week, so you get to know them since you’re seeing them for several hours at a time. Everyone is really easygoing and helps each other out, sharing information about how to deal with the challenges of different routes.”
Cowie started indoor climbing in 2003, after Chan asked her to come to a three-hour introductory class, which covered knots, how to belay and some different climbing techniques. “I got hooked on it right away,” Cowie remembers. “It was new and totally challenging. I had always thought of rock climbing as an extreme sport, and it was amazing to realize that anyone can do it.” She now goes twice a week for several hours, and a third time for about a half hour.
The intense concentration that a climb requires is a big stress buster. “Even after a tough day at work, or if I’m worried about something, I have to let that go because I have to focus on every single move during the climb,” Cowie says. Indoor climbing is also an incredible workout, burning about 774 calories per hour for a 155-pound woman, and working muscles big and small throughout the body, right down to fingers and toes. “As you reach, balance and hold your whole body weight on the small molded climbing holds that protrude from the wall, you’re combining a lot of different aspects of fitness: strength, endurance and flexibility,” explains Colby Appleby, a climbing instructor at Cliffhanger in Coquitlam. “There is a huge variety of possible routes and ways to approach them, so you never get bored.”
Plus, it’s fun. Says Cowie: “Every time I go climbing, I get an awesome workout, and we just enjoy tons of laughs together.”
Want to climb?
Indoor climbing’s popularity is on the rise as more and more climbing facilities open across the country. People gravitate toward its ever-changing physical and mental workout, all in a handy indoor location.
Where to go: Visit indoorclimbing.com and click on “climbing gym list” to find one near you.
What to wear: Stretchy shorts or pants and a T-shirt allow you to move freely. Most introductory classes will lend you the climbing shoes, harness, belay device and chalk that you need to get started.
October 2011 issue of Best Health magazine