Readers, I admitted recently that last year was not my most consistent stretch of training on record. I fell victim to the demands of student life, and my strength and conditioning program (as in, the formal part of my movement practice) suffered for it. Even so, 2015 wasn’t a total movement write-off. Climbing became a regular part of my weekly practice, and it’s been crazy awesome.
We started last summer on my birthday. I was really pushing for something active my friends and I could do to celebrate, and it just so happened that a cool little bouldering spot called Seven Bays had just opened up in the city. I had been bouldering a couple times before, and it was a blast. So, we gathered up our little group and went to check the place out. Two hours later, completely wiped out and blistered, we left knowing that we had stumbled onto something good. Bouldering quickly became a weekly tradition for us.
If you’ve never been, the walls of a climbing gym are littered with hand holds of different shapes and sizes organized into routes (“problems”) of various skill levels. At Seven Bays, the colour of the holds indicate the challenge level of the problem. This also makes it really easy to keep track of which holds are “in”. (It is common for gyms to use coloured tape to tag the holds in a problem, but you have to try a little harder to remember the allowed holds in your mind as you climb.) Seven Bays is a bouldering gym, which means the walls don’t go super high so you don’t need harnesses (there are heavy crash mats built into the floor that break a fall very nicely). The walls vary in that some of them are flat vertical, and others slope back at varying degrees. (The technique of climbing in one part of the gym versus another can be quite different.)
The movement experience offered in climbing is incredible. It puts a huge emphasis on pulling and grip strength, which you might expect. (Hanging and swinging are also very important.) But so much of it comes down to learning how to manipulate your weight in really precise ways. When climbing on more upright surfaces, you often need to press yourself into the wall and embrace your inner lizard to avoid slipping off the tiny footholds. Working on the backwards-tilted walls, on the other hand, requires hooking your feet in various ways to prevent you from falling away from the wall (which can peel you off pretty quickly). Climbing emphasizes many qualities that don’t often find their way into the typical person’s movement diet.
On top of that, the variety of movements you are exposed to is incredible. Each problem asks for different solutions, so you are always gripping, reaching, stretching, moving in slightly different ways. The randomness creates a built-in balance to the challenge; you may perform the same movements over and over again while working on a single problem, but as you work on many different problems in the long term things will level out. Seven Bays also changes their problem set regularly, usually switching one wall every week or so, forcing you to experience a variety of challenges. The pursuit of a problem becomes a lesson in unattachment. If you’re working on something really difficult, you learn all you can from the problem while it is there, and then have to let go of anything left unfinished if the wall changes between sessions.
Geeking out on movement aside, Seven Bays is just an awesome spot to hang out. Half of their establishment is a licensed cafe, so you can grab a beer and some grub to help recoup after a hard session. The staff are incredible, the food is great, and the music is bouncin’. As someone who wants to have a little gym of his own someday, you can bet I’m taking notes. These cats are definitely doing something very right.
So far I’ve only been doing indoor bouldering, but this summer the gang and I plan to explore some of the great outdoor bouldering spots Nova Scotia has to offer. It will be really fun to bridge that gap and get our hands on some real rock. In the meantime, climbing has really fleshed out my movement profile. It has given my friends and I something active to do together that we all really enjoy, and is consistently a high point in my week.
I highly recommend checking it out.
(Just FYI, I definitely have no financial stake in Seven Bays. I just love the place.)