Climbing to Swim

Over the last eight months I’ve circled back to one of my earliest passions, rock climbing. My dad taught me to rock climb when I was in first grade, and I loved every moment of it. Rock climbing as a hobby for me fluctuated over the years, and as I took up other sports more earnestly, it faded to a fond memory. Flashback eight months, after my big triathlon for the season, I started to feel a little burnt out and was itching for another crosstraining option. I hit up the brand-new, local rock climbing gym with a friend, and instantly felt at home. After that first session, I ripped the skin open on my hands, my forearms ached so much I could barely sleep, and my back was pleasantly sore. However, my legs were still fresh. Bingo. I had stumbled upon the perfect complementary sport for running/biking.

Besides being a welcome reprieve for your legs, climbing also has the added benefit of mental stimulation. Doing long bouts of cardio for triathlons can get mundane. There’s only so many times you can mentally calculate your pace/distance before you start to get confused. Climbing is as much mental as it is physical. The mental challenge of climbing really forces you to find other ways of looking at problems. In triathlons, I tend to just push and push until I fall over. Let’s just say I’m not the most strategic racer.

After a few months of recreational climbing (once a week mainly), I hopped in the pool for a training swim. It was out of triathlon season, and honestly I was just taking a break. My swim fitness would be severely lacking, or so I thought. I swam that training session faster than I was swimming in the peak of my triathlon training. I was honestly shocked. A couple more months passed, and I hopped in the pool again this week. (I have a hard time getting myself to the pool.) This time I was sure my swim fitness would be down. Nope! Same level of fitness, same level of perceived effort. Climbing is surprisingly the perfect complementary training for swimming.

Climbing can…

Stop back strength from decreasing in the off-season

Force you to take a different perspective to a problem

Highlight technique versus just powering through

Keep your legs fresh for more running/cycling

Supply an entertaining, challenging cross-training session

Plus, look how jacked my back has gotten from climbing! (I’m the blonde…on the right)


If you need a brief break from the mundane training cycle or just a good cross-training workout, check out your local climbing gym. For me, it sure beats hoping in the cold pool at 6am!

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