Exercise reaching new heights in the city

By JeffGraveline

There might not be any mountains in Illinois, but that doesn’t stop many Chicagoans from channeling their inner-Spider Man at the indoor rock walls in the area.

Rock walls such as those at Lakeshore Athletic Clubs-Illinois Center, 211 N. Stetson Ave.; Climb On, 18120 Harwood Ave., Homewood, Ill.; and The Ledge at Fitness Formula Club-Old Town, 1235 N. LaSalle St., offer the outdoor experience in an indoor environment.

Rock climbing and bouldering—traversing the wall sideways at a minimal height without a rope or harness—is hitting busy season as the weather changes and outdoor locations throughout the state become too cold to climb.

“People are coming indoors to stay out of the cold and climbing is one of those sports that you don’t necessarily do outdoors in Chicago,” said Lauren Kessler, climbing wall manager at Lakeshore Athletic Clubs-Illinois Center. “You try to make it out as much as you can to ‘local,’ as we call it, places.”

Learning to climb in the Chicagoland area is the first hurdle to making climbing a main sport and workout option.

Most climbing walls in the city offer climbing classes that can be taken, for a fee, to learn the basics of climbing and belaying, the skill of holding the rope that is connected to the harness of theperson climbing.

“The classes are not terribly expensive, so it’s an easy choice for people to make,” said Tom Petraitis, climbing wall manager at The Ledge. “When they’re deciding how they want to use their free time to climb … the classes are really effective for them.”

All the climbing walls in the city offer their own unique take on the climbing experience, with some specializing in bouldering while others focus more on the bottom to the top aspect of the climb.

Climb On offers both experiences, but has a clientele that focuses more on the bouldering aspect of the sport.

“A good majority of my memberships are just boulderers,” said Glenn Van Sipma of Climb On. “They do quite a bit of leading and top roping also, but I would say the majority are boulderers.”

While climbing with others is the main way to climb on the wall, bouldering offers climbers the option of climbing by themselves without a harness or rope, Van Sipma said.

Bouldering is a good option for people who are looking to climb and get a good workout in, but don’t have anyone to belay for them, Van Sipma continued.

On the other end of the spectrum, Lakeshore Athletic Club-Illinois Center offers climbers an approximately 100-foot-high wall with six ropes to climb with.

“We don’t have a bouldering wall per say,” Kessler said. “We just have the 100 feet vertical, so there’s plenty of climbing.”

The workout that both climbing and bouldering give the body is a totally different experience than hitting a normal gym, Van Sipma said.

Instead of building bulky body mass, the sport offers a long, lean muscle building workout. Climbing works the cardiovascular systems as well, Van Sipma added.

“Even if you do lift weights, run, ride a bike or anything like that, you’re going to workout things you probably didn’t use in a long time,” Van Sipma said. “It’s probably more like gymnastics, in that it uses everything in the body. You’re using your legs, your arms, your back, your abs, core muscles; it’s a good core workout too.”