Crazy strong, crazy overlooked.
Very few sports engage nearly every muscle of the body and test a wide range of skills. This is why people will often debate which sport trains the best athletes. Football players train for speed and strength every day so they can hurl themselves at their opponents. Cross country runners, while not necessarily the most explosive, have incredible endurance. Baseball players have a strong sprint, quick reflexes and high levels of coordination. Swimming activates nearly every muscle of the body and builds strong cardio.
All of these sports have their benefits, but also lack in other athletic aspects. Football and baseball players don’t have great endurance. Cross country runners aren’t very flexible. Swimming teaches a lot of skills, but those skills aren’t always transferable out of the water.
What about a sport that trains all of those and then some? Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you rock climbing. Here’s a list of skills the sport tests:
- Grip strength
The most obvious skill rock climbing teaches is grip strength. Regardless of whether you’re climbing on a mountain or in a gym, there are different grips everywhere. These holds can be straight lines of varying thickness, which can put stress on a climber’s finger strength. Gyms also use grips with different shaped-holds, ranging from spheres to stars to playground holds. Different grips activate different parts of the hand, forcing even a climber’s palm to be fully engaged. These different grips can be found in competition as well, meaning professional climbers have to be trained and ready for anything that comes their way.
In order to master rock climbing, an athlete must be able to hold their own weight for long periods of time. If a climber can only train for so long, they can only do so well, meaning muscle endurance must be developed. Lactic acid can quickly build up and cause cramps, and the solution to avoiding it happening so frequently is to train until an athlete is able to sustain themselves for a longer period of time. This skill makes climbers even stronger than they already are due to their grip strength.
- Flexibility and Body Control
Lots of advanced climbs are more than just a straight climb up. There are parts of the wall that are triangular. Other parts will force athletes to be horizontal, while the gaps between some holds might be too much for an athlete’s wingspan. To accommodate this, climbers have to be very flexible. There are certain techniques and positions that a climber has to put their body in in order to save strength while continuing their climb. These techniques can involve wrapping arms and legs around each other, hooking feet into bat-like positions and even going into a full split to reach another hold. As the climbs get tougher, more of these moves are required, meaning elite climbers have to be ready to grip, hold and stretch at any given moment.
Some moves are too big for climbers to just reach across and grab. Big, dynamic moves have to be made, and the climbers have to be ready to make them. They require a lot of explosiveness, adding another skill to a climber’s repertoire.
There’s also speed climbing: a separate division of climbing where competitors race up a 15 meter wall as fast as possible. The world record? 5.208 seconds. The difficulty of speed climbing is near indescribable, but let’s put it this way: speed climbers have seconds to do everything other climbers do in minutes. They burst into action, find their different holds, and use their whole body to propel themselves to the top. The fact that they can even grab the right holds at that speed is incredible, which brings us to our final item on the list.
One of the more subtle skills, but coordination is always present in the sport of climbing. During climbs, climbers might find themselves in a position where they have to grab a hold on the first try, or they’ll risk falling and losing all the progress they’ve made. Some holds may be backwards, which forces climbers to make a reverse grab. Other times, a climber may have to contort their body, almost like a game of Twister. In order to succeed in any of these situations, climbers have to know exactly where to grab a hold and how to grab them. Even if they’ve mastered all their other skills, coordination could make or break a climb for any climber.
For a sport that builds such elite athletes, it’s crazy that it was only added to the Olympics this year. Prior to their addition to the biggest stage in sports, the climbing community was running an event of their own: the IFSC World Cup.
But even while sport climbing has its own world championships going on, the sport itself is relatively unheard of. It wasn’t even one of the most watched Olympic sports in 2021, putting the “underrated” in “underrated sport.” With the insane strength and skills the athletes present, rock climbing deserves more attention.