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AcroYoga: A Fun, Healing Practice

Jenn Hipps, an FA Youth Instructor, shares ten things she loves about AcroYoga at First Ascent after finally taking the plunge despite her initial fears and doubts. Read on, then join us for an Acro class!

When I found out FA had a regular AcroYoga class, I felt every bone in my body lurch forward, ready to cartwheel in. I did gymnastics throughout my childhood and have had a crush on partner acrobatics since I was six and first saw photos in the Gymnastics DK Superguide by Joan Jackman in a bookstore. A friendly member of staff invited me to join her for AcroYoga class every week for a month. I declined each time, and eventually she stopped asking. All told, it took me a good two and a half months to work up the courage to finally go.

I was scared, not of falling on my face, but of have having a full-blown panic attack in a room full of strangers and/or in a dangerous position for myself or another person. Although 99.99% of the time, I can participate in and enjoy high fives, fist bumps, hugs and kisses with the best of them, I’m a survivor of sexual violence and sometimes experience a lot of anxiety around touch.

If I could tell my hesitant and longing self in those months ten things about AcroYoga to make her more ready to try something new, these would be those things:

1) Paula Bui, the instructor, is amazing. She is knowledgeable, nurturing, kind, and funny while simultaneously being no-nonsense. She’s a great guide for something that requires you to be so daring, deliberate, and delicate. She cultivates an intentional, fun, collaborative and safe class.

2) The structure of the class usually involves six distinct and gradual stages:

  1. Circle time/ Introduction (Names, if it’s your first class, and how you’re feeling in your body)
  2. Group yoga warm-up individually
  3. Calibration and conditioning in partners
    1. Instructors model the pose or transition you’ll be working. They demonstrate and discuss entry, exit, body placement and positioning, safety concerns and spotting.
    2. Group work taking turns as base (the person with the most contact with the ground), flyer (the person elevated off the ground) and spotter.
    3. Periodic group check-ins and troubleshooting.
    4. Lather, rinse, repeat.
  4. Therapeutics
  5. Circle time/ debrief (How was it?)

3) In AcroYoga, you work in partnership, not just pairs. AcroYoga demands that everyone involved is attuned, attentive, and responsive to one another.It’s a practice of communication, trust building, consent, and lots of valuable checking in with each other.

Not great at communicating what you want or need? The instructors are awesome models for this too!

4) You are in charge of the challenges you choose to take on. No one’s going to make you do anything you don’t want to, and you can always opt out. Opting out of one thing doesn’t mean you have to opt out of others.  No one will give you a hard time about it or demand an explanation. At all times, whether basing or flying, for everyone’s safety, the golden rule of AcroYoga is down means down.

5) You’re not the only one navigating boundaries. Whether it’s a recently sprained ankle, a past trauma, nervousness about being upside-down or coming out of a long day of work, everyone else in the room is working in the body they’re in, figuring out what feels like a good challenge that day.

6) We do a lot of connections between base and flyer with feet. In the past seven months, about 75% of the poses in the all-levels classes I have done involved the base supporting the flyer with their legs and feet instead of, or in addition to, their hands. This makes sense: our legs are super strong. About another 20% involved hand/arm/shoulder connections. Approximately 5% of the poses involved hip-to-hand or thigh-to-hand connections. Personally, I tend to have some anxiety around hip-to-hand and thigh-to-hand connections, but connections with feet feel playful and fun.

7) You get to pick your partners. Because there is always a demonstration of each pose,  you know what you’re getting into before you get into it. You might choose a partner because of your relative sizes. You might choose a partner because you haven’t worked together before, or, conversely, you might choose a partner because of the rapport you’ve built. There are a variety of things that may factor into who you choose to partner with for any given pose.

For me, I don’t feel comfortable with a strange man’s hands on my hips or thighs. If a given pose involves that connection, I choose a partner accordingly and remind myself I have permission to opt out at any given moment.

8) Your climbing will improve like magic. Ok, not quite like magic. It will improve like you are training your body awareness, your sensitivity through your hands and feet, your core strength and ability to shift your center of mass, your flexibility, your balance, and your creativity because you are. Look out, stemming routes, here you come!

9) In addition to being a little silly and super fun, AcroYoga is incredibly empowering. In AcroYoga, you’ll collaborate in a group with at least one person completely off the ground.You’ll be a little nervous but in good company, and together with your group, you’ll work through your mistakes and celebrate your successes. You’ll be well-supported and laugh a lot; you’ll make friends without trying.

You’ll also learn your own body and the ways in which it is strong. I’ve learned, for example, that properly grounded, my legs can hold up a person much larger than I am with ease! That feels pretty cool.

10) As a survivor, AcroYoga is one of the most healing experiences I’ve ever participated in. The flip-side of being able to opt out whenever is that opting in is that much sweeter. AcroYoga is an exercise and practice in consent, trust, generosity and gratitude. It’s become a sacred part of my week that lets me stretch my comfort zone and flex my heart.

If you’ve been waiting in the wings to (base and) fly in an AcroYoga class like I was, I hope these ten things help quell your fears a bit.

Feel free to reach out; I hope to catch you in a class soon! ~Jenn

All-level AcroYoga classes meet at the FA Humboldt Park location on Mondays and the FA Uptown location on Tuesdays from 8:15-9:45pm. Intermediate AcroYoga classes meet at FA Avondale on Wednesdays from 8:15-9:45pm.

#SENDSGIVING Challenge 2017

Click here if you’re looking for the 

2018 #Sendsgiving Challenge

Some links have been inadvertently sending people to this page from 2017.

Climb off those extra calories and give back with First Ascent’s


Here’s how it works:

1. Visit all 3 FA locations (Avondale, Uptown, and Humboldt Park) between November 15-30. Make sure to take some photos during each visit.

2. Donate canned or non-perishable food items at any FA location OR donate or volunteer with your favorite local charity that’s working to feed people this holiday season. Make sure to take a photo of your donation or volunteer work too.

3. Post photos on Instagram from each FA visit and your donation or volunteer experience and tag them #sendsgiving and #letsclimbchicago. That’s 4 photos total to complete the challenge. 

Fine Print: No #latergrams allowed! You must visit all FA locations between November 15-30 to qualify. Your account must be public in order for us to see your tagged photos. 

Everyone who posts at least one #SENDSGIVING photo will be entered to win either a Petzl Mambo 40m Gym Rope or a pair of Butora Climbing Shoes!

The first 25 people who complete the #SENDSGIVING challenge by posting all 4 photos will receive a free t-shirt of their choice from the latest FAnimals collection, coming soon to an FA gym near you!


The Physical Health Benefits of Rock Climbing

Health Benefits of Rock Climbing

While the time spent at First Ascent or on an outdoor climb is great for the mind and soul, you might be wondering: Are there health benefits to rock climbing? Should I do cardio or weight training in addition to climbing, or is climbing enough? We asked one of our resident trainers and the lead trainer of our BASECAMP small group training program, Chris Swindell, to share with us the questions he receives most often about fitness, health and climbing. Here’s what Chris had to say.

Is rock climbing a good enough workout on its own, or are cardio and weights important for a climber?

There is absolutely no question that climbing regularly will help you move your body in ways it will never ordinarily move.Rock Climbing WorkoutYour body, while climbing, is pushed to the very edge of your range of motion. The movement you can reach in your climbing practice would be very hard to replicate at the gym — and can be done with much less effort.

That said, making cardio and weight training a regular part of your fitness routine will only improve your climbing experience. There is no question that there is a baseline level of athleticism that you need to have to climb — but that doesn’t mean you have to be an athlete to climb well. Like anything else, the more you climb, the better you’ll climb.

Similarly, the more fit you are, the more capable you will be of undertaking longer, more challenging climbs. If you are overweight or understrengthed your climbing will improve with regular, low-level cardiovascular activity gauged by heart rate zones. Gradual, healthy weight loss will also help your climbing practice.

Your focus at the gym should be less about building strength and more about having good posture when you’re lifting. Learning how to lift properly by working out with dumbbells will help you multitask movement and weights, which closely aligns to the multitasking you have to do when you climb.

What are the benefits of switching up your workout routine, alternating gym time and climbing?

One of the cool things about climbing is that you are able to do it on your days away from the gym. Climbing provides a great way to recover after a strength training workout. If you’re sore, moving your body through a range of motion during a climb will help your muscles recover faster.

Also, there is a lot of rest time built into climbing, because you’re always climbing in a community. The time you spend helping your partners climb gives you a break – and lets you rest without sitting around or lazing on the couch – between your own movement. 

How does rock climbing help keep you healthy?

To stay healthy, you should aim to have about an hour of activity every day. Climbing is an incredible way to make fitness a regular part of your life because it’s fun! Climbing is also a great way to get fit and forget that you’re working out while you’re doing it. The social aspect of climbing helps even the most gym-averse climbers forget forget that they are working out. Improving cardiovascular health and increasing your strength and endurance levels are the happy secondary, but equally important, benefits.

Rock Climbing WorkoutIn addition to promoting heart health, muscle strength and overall flexibility, the health benefits of rock climbing include staving off chronic illness like osteoporosis and arthritis. Any activity that puts a healthy level of stress on your bones is fantastic for preventing osteoporosis. When you climb, your body has to maintain strength to balance the intensity of the climb and your own body weight. The compression you are putting on your bones while you are holding up your body weight during a climb helps to increase your bone density.

The movement involved in climbing can also prevent arthritis. Because climbing requires movement in every way and in every direction, all your joints and ligaments are engaged in low-intensity activity. The best way to keep your joints healthy is to keep moving. Rock climbing improves flexibility, which prevents stiffness and injury. If you are flexible, you will have a greater ability to climb and lower likelihood of experiencing a climbing related injury. Yoga and functional training are also great to support proper positioning and injury prevention which also have a circular, positive impact on your climbing ability.