First Ascent is launching its second 6×6 Challenge the week of October 14th, and I for one cannot be more excited for another 6×6. 

In many ways, I consider myself the least likely person to take on a fitness challenge. I discovered climbing back in college, and at the time, I was out of shape and uninterested in changing that. When I visited the local climbing gym, climbing clicked with me in a way that no sport I had tried previously ever did. I was hooked from my first visit, and it was my passion for climbing and my drive to improve that lead me to set a regular climbing routine, eat healthier, and — gasp — start running and lifting weights to build endurance and strength for sending.

Fast forward to last spring. I hadn’t been climbing regularly in a few months — my full days at First Ascent plus my two young kids at home (ages 6 and 2) were making it hard for me to get into a rhythm. I was also working through some chronic shoulder problems that were making bouldering, my favorite style of climbing, difficult for me to pursue the way I wanted to. I was tired of hibernating after a long winter. I felt like I needed to make a change. 

When I told my wife, Annika, that we were launching this thing called the 6×6 Challenge at First Ascent, she looked at me and said “We should do it!” That same part of me that resisted traditional fitness when I was younger balked. I kept thinking “No, that’s not for me — I’m a climber.” I wanted to spend the precious little time I had to exercise on the wall, not doing burpees. But I knew I needed something new, so we signed up.

Boy, am I glad I did.

What I found during the 6×6 Challenge was so much more than just a fitness routine. I found a community of people pushing themselves beyond their comfort zone every session. I found the coaching I needed to learn new movement patterns and perfect my form on kettlebell swings, deadlifts, and Turkish getups. I found the motivation and accountability I needed to stick to my routine. And, perhaps most surprisingly of all, I found that traditional fitness can be fun.

Don’t get me wrong — it was hard work. We started the 6×6 Challenge with a baseline assessment: the time it took to complete a 500m row, 40 air squats, 30 situps, 20 push ups, and 10 pull ups. Mine was one of the longest on record: a 10:23. My fellow Basecampers were all coming in around 7 or 8 minutes, but the time wasn’t even the biggest factor for me. I was completely destroyed after that first workout. I could barely walk down the stairs afterward. I knew I had my work cut out for me. 

The first few workouts felt similar, but after two weeks of regular Basecamp sessions I started to see progress and feel better and better after each workout. At the end of the 6 week challenge, we ran the baseline assessment again to measure our progress. This time, I came in at 5:57, cutting my original time nearly in half. What’s more, I felt great afterward. I felt like I could do the whole thing again right then and there. I felt empowered, like I had rediscovered a version of myself that I hadn’t seen in a while.

Basecamp crew post rainy kayak paddle. Photo courtesy of @amandanicc

We capped off the challenge with an urban adventure for all the finishers: a kayak trip with Urban Kayaks on the Chicago River. It ended up pouring rain that night, but the strong crew of Basecampers just laughed and enjoyed the Type II fun. We had already pushed so hard and overcome so much over the last 6 weeks. What’s a little bit of rain?

It’s for all these reasons that I am psyched to take on another 6×6 Challenge this fall. If you’re looking to make a change this fall and improve your base fitness level, I want to invite you to join me and the Basecamp crew for this fall’s 6×6 Challenge. You’re going to meet some great people. You’re going to feel challenged to be your best. You’re going to learn and get stronger. And best of all, you’re going to have fun — both Type II and Type I.