What I learned from gym climbing as a beginner

Is it funny that I prefer facing someone trying to roundhouse kick me in the head than go climbing in a gym? Yes? No? I respect climbers and am fascinated by what they do, but I have always thought it was not for me.

It was for Markus though. He has climbed before when he lived in another city working for the UN, and he suggested we should try a top-rope course in a nearby climbing gym.

Well.

Where should I begin?

We showed up for a two-day course with six other people who had previous climbing or bouldering experience. Great.

Markus brought his gear and I go on climbing shoes, carabiner, and harness borrowed from the gym. The first thing I noticed was that a big part of climbing is focused on turning you into a mountain goat – those tight shoes, wow!

But to give you the short story of my first time climbing experience, I did not turn into a mountain goat. The long story is below, narrated with the lessons I learned from gym climbing as a beginner. Bruises not included.

When it’s intimidating, it’s more important to try.

I felt like an ant standing at the foot of these climbing walls. I thought it was a big ask for my body to climb given that my pull-up strength is zero to none, my shoulder is just recovered from injury, and it is safe to say Markus opens all the jars at home.

But these walls were not made for staring, aren’t they? My thoughts suggest I cannot climb it, but I have to try for conclusive evidence so I can say with even more confidence that I cannot do it.

One hold at a time I went up and was pleasantly surprised that I can actually do it. Sure, I was only climbing grade 4 walls but I was on top of the wall!

We should not believe our thoughts just like that. They are not always real. When we put them to the test, we may discover fun things about ourselves that we would otherwise miss out on. Sometimes, we are so much more than our heads trick us to believe.

Anything can be easier when broken into simpler parts.

Perspective matters. These walls are high, at least for a person like me with zero climbing experience. There is also the fact that I do not really dream of going higher, literally and figuratively.

But that does not matter a lot if I can only focus on one hold at a time. I put my left hand here and it is easy. My right hand goes here and it is easy. Left foot steps here and it is easy. Place right foot here and it is easy.

If I think about the entirety of the wall, I would not start climbing. If in the middle I think about how high I am and how much more is left to climb, I would panic. But if I focus on what is in front of me, always just one thing at a time, then it is easier to manage and continue climbing.

My best guess is this works for whatever else we do in life.

Nothing is one-sided.

I did not think I can ever go climbing because my upper body strength is suspect, but turns out, climbing is a whole body sport. I quickly realized I can rely on my legs and hips, and that conserved my energy and protected my weaker upper body. It made climbing more technical since I cannot just muscle my way through and that made it more fun.

I suppose, in anything, there is always a way for us to apply our strengths to counter our weaknesses. It cannot be all bad when we are able to use the entirety of our toolbox. We just have to try and figure what works with what.

When you’re lost in the middle, focus on how to get out of there, not on how it feels.

Did I mention I was climbing for the first time on my period? The harness was not a joy and I did not feel great overall. On some walls, almost always around three quarters of the way, my hands would sweat profusely and my brain would entertain the fun idea of losing grip and falling.

Of course, I would feel the onset of stress but stop it at the door. I pause, take a deep breath, and check where my hands and feet are. I look at the holds around me and see what could be next.

Managing my panic up there means focusing on how to keep going and not allowing my feelings to takeover. I know the wall ends at some point. It is just a matter of finding one easy hold and I can keep going.

This mental part of climbing delighted me actually. Good awareness exercise. It is not an easy sport for me on all accounts, but it offers the right amount of challenge to bring something better out of me.

Markus is very encouraging in this way. He empowers me to come out of my comfort zone and offers perspective that always helps me grow.

I suppose the only question now is: Will I go climbing again?

No.

Only joking. Yes, it was fun.

Have you tried anything new lately?

38 thoughts on “What I learned from gym climbing as a beginner

  1. This is great! And this part “Anything can be easier when broken into simpler parts” is how I’ve lived my life for so long. I find that you can do ANYTHING you want, if you just break it up so that it really is do-able. Thanks for this great post.

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    1. Thank you and great job on managing to keep things simple. I suppose our default setting is to survive, and that is why we panic or things get overwhelming easily. But if we can only reign in our emotions and focus and break things down into manageable parts, then there is hope. Not always easy, sadly. Haha! What is an example of one thing you normally have to break apart to be doable?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Everything 😭 no, but seriously, here are a couple examples. I’m an editor, and I COULD edit someone’s book in less time, but I find it adds pressure, so I break it up over several days. Reading a book is the same. I literally divide the pages by a certain number of days and commit to reading that many so I can finish.

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        1. Makes work seem like a breeze, I could see that. With me, one simple thing is paying attention to time blocks. If I am cleaning the apartment, I know that emptying the dishwasher takes five minutes, cleaning the bathroom an hour, watering the plants 10 minutes, and so on. Same with exercise. Then everything is doable.

          Liked by 1 person

    1. That is just the thing – the mind is a powerful trickster. Despite the harness, the mental game is strong! But yes, it was a lot of fun. I appreciated it that my body did not hurt after, well except my fingers felt sanded. What a strange feeling!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I loved reading your recap of climbing. I went once with my sister to a rock climbing gym when she was super into the sport. And I 100% agree, it’s just as much a mental workout as a physical one. It went against all my survival instincts to leave the ground and hoist myself up a vertical wall lol Way to go!!

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    1. Exactly! That must have been cool, to have an experienced person literally show you the ropes. Does your sister still climb? I can’t imagine how it feels to climb outdoors – must be next level.

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      1. It was really nice to have her there, it definitely made me feel a little safer! lol
        She doesn’t climb much anymore but we don’t miss a good bouldering chance while out hiking. πŸ˜‰

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  3. Congrats for trying climbing for the first time! It can really be scary to go all the way up there but I think that it is always very rewarding because your goal is right in front of your eyes! I recently went to the gym for the first time and enjoyed it more than I thought I would!

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    1. Thanks, Michele. Have you ever tried climbing before? It was easy for everyone else since they are not new to climbing but I had fun challenging myself. My hands were sore after, as if they were sanded down!

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  4. Nothing new lately for me, though I love doing new things.
    I got a mental image of me somehow getting part way up the wall before my arms got weak and my knees stopped working!
    I’ve been thinking about kayaking this weekend but since it’s the biggest summer holiday there will surely be lots of boats/yachts to avoid in the harbor (which is already a hatd current to cross). But maybe some of those wealthy people would be at their bay homes for a change!
    I had a momentary panic attack while scuba diving in Costa Rica. I was glad I knew how to snap out of it since surfacing wpuld have taken 30 minutes!

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    1. I feel like that actually, 3/4 up and I would start freaking out. Haha. Good practice for self-management. You have done scube diving? That’s cool. Markus also dives but I have not tried it yet. Did you see lots of cool things in Costa Rica?

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      1. Yes. I took a quick into and 2 guided dives. I saw a big turtle, a shark, tons of puffer fish & trumpetfish, sea stars, and a large seahorse. Mostly, it was just cool to be down there and swimming through sea canyons.

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        1. Sounds fun! In Asia, there is plenty of diving. The ocean is fantastic. I snorkel and am just blown away by so much life underwater. I feel like the more aware we are of what is out there, the more we feel responsible for protecting them.

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          1. I fondly recall snokeling in Hawaii and learning there are neon colored fish, like on my fav tank tops. I thought they were just painted that way… didn’t realize they really existed in those colors.

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  5. This is an excellent post – a great analogy of climbing and life! Good for you for trying it. I did a climbing wall a couple times years ago (maybe 25?). I remember it was a sport for the very fit – great exercise. And I remember how I was instructed to use my legs to go up – not my arms. Our newest activity is pickleball. And I have really been enjoying that. I am older now – and have arthritis. But when I play pickleball, I am not thinking about that at all. I am just thinking about hitting the ball. It makes me feel younger, and I am hoping to keep playing. Thanks for your post!

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    1. Thank you, Betty. Climbing is really fun for me, mainly because it is hard but doable since I can just choose and climb grade 4. I looked up pickleball and it looked fun, too. I do not understand the rules but I love the combination of sports in there. How did you get into it? Great job for being present when you play. It is just about having fun after all.

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  6. What a wonderful post! Your notes about how you approached this new challenge are excellent and of course, you had Marcus there to give your support as well! Well done, Micah!πŸ’ It makes ME think about doing something completely different! Like bungee jumping? Absolutely NO! However, I’d love to try sailing! Have a lazy Sunday. πŸ˜ŽπŸ™‹β€β™‚οΈ

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    1. Thank you. I’m not sure how to explain it best, but even after climbing the walls, every time I sat for a break, I would stare at them and think these walls are high and I can’t do that, even if I just did. The mind is a crazy, interesting thing. Why does it do that? And what is stopping you from trying sailing out?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I do understand, you say to yourself: did I just do that? Wow! I get that when I write a verse and it just works! And, to answer you about sailing, the coast is about 40 miles away!🀣 Also, I’m learning Japanese ink brush painting and calligraphy and that it taking up much of my time! πŸ˜ŠπŸ™‹β€β™‚οΈ

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        1. I suppose it is just as easy to underestimate ourselves as it is to overestimate ourselves sometimes. Maybe sailing can be a project one summer? Do you have a place in mind that you want to visit? Now I am nostalgic over the many boatrides I have taken back home!

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          1. You’ll need to check a map, but somewhere on Strangford Lough would be good πŸ‘, it would be great to live there too long and πŸš£β€β™‚οΈπŸ›Άβ›΅

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