November 27, 2014
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Lifestyle
Ready to Rock
Climbing is a fun, whole-body workout
Kim Kalunian
WAY UP HIGH: Meagan Lannigan scales a rock wall at Rock Spot in Lincoln while her mother, Annie, belays, or holds the ropes. The pair have been climbing together for a few years, and said their love of climbing has taken them to various outdoor climbing spots around the country.

Rock climbing. It's a unique, adrenaline-pumping workout for those looking to take their workout to the next level, figuratively and literally.

And it's not something that you have to take to the great outdoors to do. There are several places across Rhode Island that offer rock climbing, but Rock Spot Climbing in Lincoln is the only dedicated rock climbing gym in the state.

From the outside, Rock Spot looks like any of the other buildings in the surrounding industrial park. But inside, it's a mock cave of sorts.

Each wall is lined with gray, faux rock and handholds for climbers to scale. Chalk swirls through the air and up to the 30-foot ceilings, where the walls reach their peak.

Kat Waterhouse, director of marketing and special events for Rock Spot Climbing, said rock climbing is a great way to spice up your normal exercise routine.

"It's a full-body workout," said Waterhouse. "You use muscles you didn't remember you had."

On top of it being a complete workout, it's also unique, challenging and fun.

"There's really no other activity in everyday life that replicates [rock climbing,]" said Waterhouse. "It's a workout that combines cardio, strength training and improving flexibility, a trio that makes rock climbing appealing to athletes in other sports looking to cross train."

Despite the guaranteed soreness after the first climb, Waterhouse said first-timers shouldn't be leery of trying the sport out.

"It's like bowling for the first time," said Waterhouse. "You don't realize you're working out because you're having fun, but the next day, your forearm is sore and tired."

When people visit Rock Spot for the first time, they have several options. First-time climbers can "auto-belay," a term for clipping into an automatic rope system that allows you to climb safely without a partner. This option is offered to climbers ages 12 and older.

"That's what a lot of people do," said Waterhouse, since "anyone can do it."

The only downside is that there are a limited number of auto-belay walls.

An option that opens up use of any of the 50 rock faces is using a staff member to hold your ropes for you. It's an option that many parents choose for children, since they have built-in supervision. A reservation is required for the staff member, and there is an additional fee.

Those ages 14 and older can also take a beginner class that covers everything from basic climb techniques to rope knots and "belaying," or using the rope to prevent a fall. The class can be scheduled in advance at any time and lasts for about 45 minutes.

For those who want a more in-depth class, there's an "Intro to Climbing" course offered at Rock Spot. In the two-hour class, an instructor expands upon the beginner class and gets into more advanced techniques. The fee for the class also includes a membership fee.

Then there's something called "bouldering," which is more advanced but still open to everyone. In bouldering, there are specific, shorter walls with heavy mats underneath to cushion any falls. Those who boulder do not use ropes, and instead climb up and over the top of the wall when they reach the highest point.

"It's a little more difficult by nature," said Waterhouse.

Finally, there's lead climbing, in which you bring the rope up with you as you scale the wall. As you go, you clip into the next carabineer, which ensures you will only fall as far as the last place you clipped in. Waterhouse said this type of climb helps train people for outdoor climbing, where it's not always possible to bring your rope gear to the top first.

"We try to make the skill transfer to outdoor climbing," said Waterhouse.

Most people who visit Rock Spot spend about two hours climbing. It's a social sport, both because you can bring a partner and because you can watch others climb and chat with new friends.

Meagan Lannigan and her mother, Annie, visit Rock Spot to climb together two to three times a week. Meagan's older sister introduced the pair to the sport, who use it as both a workout and social activity. Both women said it's a great full-body workout, and for Annie, it's also been a bit of a life-changing experience.

"I had a huge fear of heights," she said.

After turning 50, Annie vowed to conquer her fear, and has done just that at Rock Spot.

For Garret Mortensen, climbing was a way to hang out with friends. After bouldering, Mortensen returned to the ground, dusting chalk off his hands.

"It's more social than anything else," said Mortensen, who's been climbing for about three years now.

Waterhouse said there's also the opportunity to "beta," or gain knowledge from other people's climbing techniques by observing.

For those looking for a quicker workout, using the auto-belay feature can greatly speed things up. Waterhouse said when she auto-belays, she can get several good climbs into 30 minutes.

At Rock Spot, the two most popular membership options are the monthly EFT, which costs $39 (add $10 for equipment rentals) and gets you unlimited access to the walls, and the student rate for anyone under the age of 18 or with a valid college ID, which casts $99 for three months.

When it comes to gear, Rock Spot has everything you'd need from shoes to harnesses for rent, but also for purchase. Members get a 15 percent discount in their on-site store. Waterhouse said most frequent climbers end up buying their own gear, especially shoes, to help enhance their comfort and performance.

Attire for climbing should be comfortable, but not too baggy since the harness will bunch loose-fitting pants. For women, Waterhouse recommends a supporting tank top and yoga pants. For men, T-shirts and climbing or sweat pants are best. She said to shy away from loose basketball shorts or jeans.

Weeknights at Rock Spot are when most of the adult members, mostly ages 20 to 40, come to climb and socialize. Saturdays are typically filled with birthday parties, and on Sundays there's "Family Time" from 4 to 7 p.m.

For those worried about the skills required to climb, or about the height - each wall is about 32 feet tall - Waterhouse said it's a great way to improve hand-eye coordination, and to overcome a fear of heights.

She said one member spent six months climbing to conquer her fear of heights, and is now a regular.

"Climbing can be dangerous, but when the proper precautions are taken, it's a safe sport," said Waterhouse.

The entirety of Rock Spot's floor is padded with foam, making it tricky for normal walking (you sink down a few inches) but great for any falls. Waterhouse said that as long as you pay attention to the task at hand, and to any instruction given by the staff, everyone will be safe and have fun.

In addition to their Lincoln location, which has been open for about 10 years, Rock Spot also has a Boston location, and will open a Peace Dale Rock Spot with 45-foot walls.

Waterhouse said rock climbing is becoming increasingly popular.

"It's one of the fastest-growing sports in the world," she said. "It's exploding with popularity."

For more information on Rock Spot Climbing, visit www.rockspotclimbing.com or call their Lincoln location at 727-1704.


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