On a mission to serve and grow Chicago's vibrant climbing community.

FA Member Spotlight: Jun Yu Tan

This month, we’re shining the spotlight on FA Member Jun Yu Tan! We caught up with him to find out more about Jun’s Kickstarter campaign and why he loves climbing at FA. Follow Jun on Instagram at @ceramicsclimbingcatastrophe, and say hi to him next time you seen him around FA!

How did you get into climbing?

Two years ago, a friend working in Chicago for the summer brought me climbing. After that, I was instantly hooked on the sport. I looked up climbing gyms in Chicago, bought a pair of climbing shoes and signed up for a membership at First Ascent!

What do you love about climbing?

I love being on the wall, challenging myself and having fun laughing and falling with the climbing community here. I would hang out on the wall all day if my arms allowed. If I have time, a good session would be four to six hours. I don’t have to be climbing the hardest routes, I’m just glad to be on the wall!

Bouldering or sport climbing? Make sure to tell us why.

Bouldering. The fear of falling in sport climbing makes me a nervous wreck on the wall, which ruins the mental fun since every move I only think about not falling. Once it happens, the fall itself isn’t all that scary, but I am a lot more confident working on boulder problems. However, I love the endurance challenge on ropes and wish I did it more often, despite my fears.

What is your favorite place to climb outdoors? What other outdoor activities do you participate in?

Honestly, I have never climbed outdoors and haven’t actively sought out outdoor trips. I would definitely love to go someday, but right now there are other priorities.

Do you have any particular climbing projects or fitness goals for this year?

Overall, I’d like to get stronger on the wall and keep pushing myself. In terms of grades, my goals are to get to V7 on boulders and 5.12a in sport climbing. Additionally, with the amount of physical activity I do at work, preventing back injury and maintaining flexibility is important for me.

What keeps you busy when you’re not climbing?

I started my own pottery studio, C3 Ceramics! It was funded with the help of a lot of people at First Ascent on Kickstarter, with a campaign to produce “pinch mugs” for climbers. I am only a few days away from production. It’s been a whirl-wind the past three months working on the campaign, getting it funded and getting the studio up and running. My full-time job on the weekends also keeps me busy. There’s always something for me to do.

What do you love about Chicago?

I love the relaxed pace of the city and the quiet spots by the lake. There’s always somewhere to sit and have a nice conversation, even in the loop.

What is your favorite Chicago spot for food, music, art or culture?

I’m always looking for good Japanese ramen and sushi, so probably Ramen Takeya and Cocoro are my favorite haunts. For music, there are so many cool bars and venues it’s hard to pick, but I love small concerts and after shows compared to the large festivals like Lollapalooza or Riot Fest.

What is something about you most people don’t know?

I watch a lot of Anime and Korean Dramas in my free time, which hasn’t been much of late. However, over the past 10 years, I’ve seen hundreds of shows, so if anyone would like recommendations just ask!

Anything else you want to say to the FA Community? 

I am grateful for the support I received for my Kickstarter campaign and how friendly everyone in the community is. Climbing with everyone is always a blast, so thank you very much! I’d also like to give a shout-out to my awesome climbing buddy Tricia Chee who is leaving the city at the end of the week. I’m wishing her all the best in her future endeavors.

Want to be featured in an FA Member Spotlight? Know someone who should be featured? Email as at to nominate yourself or someone else!

First Ascent Uptown is expanding!

We are excited to announce that First Ascent Uptown is expanding!

If you’ve been wondering about the brown paper covered windows at 4718 N Broadway, wonder no more: First Ascent Uptown will take over half of the first floor space, which will become the new home of our fitness and training area.The expansion will also allow us to offer indoor bike parking with room for 30 bikes. The current fitness area upstairs will be transformed into social and coworking space. 

Our Uptown location opened in December 2015, just 4 months after our first location, First Ascent Avondale. First Ascent Uptown is an adaptive reuse of the historic landmark building where Broadway meets Racine in Uptown across from the Riviera Theater.The flatiron-style building opened in 1915 as Sheridan Trust & Savings Bank and has changed hands many times over the years. Prior to First Ascent Uptown, Borders Books inhabited the entire building before shutting its doors in a 2011 company-wide bankruptcy.

When First Ascent Uptown moved into the building in 2015, the project stirred curiosity and excitement from the Uptown neighborhood – curiosity because indoor climbing and bouldering were relatively unheard of in the city, and excitement because of the new energy First Ascent would bring to this iconic corner in Uptown. After 3 years in business, First Ascent has seen tremendous growth in indoor climbing and bouldering, fueling First Ascent’s expansion into the first floor space. With First Ascent’s expansion as well as the recent opening of the Huntington Bank in the corner space, the building is one big step closer to being fully occupied again. 

FA co-founder and CFO Joe Zentmyer had this to say about the expansion: “We are very excited for this project! The additional space will allow us to more than double both the fitness area and the social space at FA Uptown, and it will enable us to offer coworking space and indoor bike parking, two things our members have been requesting since we opened.”

And FA co-founder and Business Development Director Jon Shepard added: “As First Ascent grows, we strive to continue investing into our gyms and communities. FA Uptown is not only the neighborhood bouldering gym but also one of Uptown’s key fitness destinations. This expansion will make the fitness area at First Ascent Uptown the largest and most well-equipped of any of our locations. We’re excited to keep investing into FA Uptown, both for the neighborhood and for the fitness and wellbeing of our members.”

We aim to have the new space open by November 1, 2018. In the meantime, please pardon our dust as we bring you new spaces to explore and new amenities to enjoy!

To stay up to date on the FA Uptown expansion project, follow First Ascent Uptown on Facebook.

FA Staff Spotlight: Pilar Amado

This month, we’re shining the spotlight on FA staff member Pilar Amado. Pilar is the fearless leader of our Women Crush Wednesday sessions at FA Avondale, where women boulderers of all ability levels unite to crush some boulders and share some laughs. She is also heavily involved with Sending in Color, and has been a long time member of the FA community, so we’re excited to share her story! Make sure to give her Instagram a follow at @pily.amado and say hi next time you see her at the gym. 

How did you get into climbing?

I first learned about climbing through my older brother who started when I was around 12 years old. It caught my attention, but at the time I was a dedicated dancer and thought climbing was a little too dangerous. When I turned 16, however, I convinced my father to bring me to the climbing gym in my hometown of Medellin, Colombia so I could give climbing a go. Since he was already familiar with the gym because of my brother, my dad was easily convinced and after my first visit, I was hooked! I’ve been climbing ever since, with some short and long breaks due to injuries and accessibility.

What do you love about climbing?

I love that it has changed over the years. Initially, I loved to take outdoor climbing trips and tackle the physical and mental challenges of the sport. At 16, I had the privilege to travel to different parts of Colombia I hadn’t seen before with older, more experienced climbers, which taught me a lot about the sport.

Lately, I have fallen in love with the climbing community itself. I have made some of the most meaningful relationships in my life and it has become a large part of my lifestyle.

I still love the physical and mental challenge, but at this point in my life,I’m trying to see climbing as a mental break instead of challenging myself too much. Right now, I don’t have a lot of free time to dedicate to it. However, I’m looking forward to training hard and getting stronger again SOON!

Bouldering or sport climbing? Make sure to tell us why!

Right now, and the past four years, BOULDERING! When I first started climbing I was bouldering and sport climbing hand in hand. All of my outdoor trips consisted of sport climbing and bouldering was done only indoors for training, since there are not that many outdoor bouldering areas in Colombia. Currently, I only boulder. I love how social bouldering is and how easy it is to have short, productive bouldering sessions.In sport climbing, you’d need at least two hours, and since I haven’t done it in a long time, my head game is awful.

What is your favorite place to climb outdoors? What other outdoor activities do you participate in?

For bouldering, I’d say LRC in Chattanooga and Rocktown in Georgia. They offer a great variety of styles and the approach is fairly easy. I try to bike as much as I can too, but I don’t do it as much as I used to.

Do you have any particular climbing projects or fitness goals for this year?

Not specifically. I want to start projecting V7s and V8s in the gym and I’d like to send my first outdoor V6. Overall, I want to start a more structured training program to get stronger!

What keeps you busy when you’re not climbing?

Work and freelance projects take up most of my time. I also try to put some time towards growing Sending in Color, an initiative to keep diversity growing in the Chicago climbing scene.

What do you love about Chicago?

Summer time. The city comes to life during the summer months with all the different music festivals.

What is your favorite Chicago spot for food, music, art or culture?

For food, it varies, but I’m always down for good tacoa or Colombian empanadas!

For Music, I love music festivals like Ruidofest and Pitchfork. I’ve also attended some awesome concerts at the Old Town School of Folk Music and Subterranean. I’m also always down for a free summer concert at the Pritzker Pavillion.

For Art, my favorite museum is the MCA. I’ve been a volunteer there for the past two years and have gotten access to some cool events. I also really like some of the shows at the Chicago Cultural Center, which are always free!

What is something about you most people don’t know? 

I think a lot of people don’t know that I was born and raised in Colombia and have only been living in Chicago for the past 8 years. I’m also officially a staff member at FA, besides leading the WCW sessions at Avondale and hosting the monthly Sending in Color POC hangouts.

Anything else you want to say to the FA Community? 

Don’t be afraid to say hi to me at the gym!I usually don’t say hi because it’s really hard for me to recognize people if I’m not wearing my glasses, so I usually don’t unless I’m 100% sure that person is someone I know. Otherwise, I’ll just end up waving at a bunch of random people.


Join Pilar at the next Avondale Women Crush Wednesday session and the next Sending In Color POC Hangout!

5 Ways To Practice Climbing Injury Prevention

After climbing in the gym for a while, you’ll inevitably get bit by the outdoor bug. Maybe you’ve been venturing up to Baraboo for some quartzite bouldering, or your friends have shown you the glory of the Red River Gorge in October. In any case, everyone at some point realizes how much harder and more technical real stone is than polyurethane holds. Many climbers at this point decide to begin to train, rather than simply climb casually whenever they hit the gym. It’s how to break through plateaus, after all – but with this switch in approach comes the potential for injury.

Climbing has traditionally not had a ramping up period during which new climbers learn how to train, the way more popular team sport athletes do. Commonly, climbers feel they want to get “stronger,’ so they begin to attack the hangboard or bouldering wall without the long-term strategy needed to prevent the most common climbing issues: overuse injuries, which are found in up to 44% of regular indoor rock climbers, according to a 2001 British study.

Overuse injuries, according to the Mayo Clinic, are caused by repetitive trauma due to either overtraining (e.g. working that V5 repeatedly, all session) or bad technique, which overloads specific muscles with forces they’re not equipped to handle. Think about power outages: when an electrical system is working, the wattage spreads out over the entire system, not overburdening any one node in the system. But when one node fails, its burden overloads the next, which overloads the next, and so on, until no one link in that chain can contain the force, resulting in the system shutting down.

In climbers, that “power outage” results in overuse injuries, specifically in the hands, elbows, and shoulders. In the case of tendon injuries, such as tennis elbow or an A2 pulley strain, the recovery time is much greater compared to muscle strains, because these components of the musculoskeletal system receive less blood flow than muscles do. You probably know someone who’s experienced at least one of these:

  • Pulley strains: the most common climbing injury, often the result of overdoing a closed hand crimp after not letting your hands recover from frequent climbing. Tendons and pulleys don’t strengthen the way muscles do; climbers can quickly become strong enough to inflict damage on their own hands when performing closed crimps without proper technique and recovery.
  • Tennis elbow: this is a form of tendinitis, or inflammation, caused by overusing your forearm extensor muscles, which must fire to stabilize your forearm while gripping the holds using your flexor muscles. While climbing, the tendons connecting your extensors to the elbow can develop small tears and inflammation, leading to irritation that can make continued climbing difficult, and even impossible, without rest and treatment
  • Shoulder impingement: This is an injury to a shoulder muscle, the supraspinatus, which stabilizes the shoulder joint. When it’s subjected to forces like swinging or too much repetitive trauma from hard climbing, it weakens and destabilizes the shoulder joint, pinching the tendon while the arm passes through a specific range of motion. This condition represents about 80% of shoulder injuries in climbing.

The frustrating truth about overuse injuries is that in mild cases, they can slip under the radar, until they flare up and become lasting issues, requiring professional treatment in order to recover, especially with severe pulley strains and shoulder impingements. The best way to stay out of that 44%, then, is to prevent these conditions in the first place.

In any sport, preventing injury is a long game: athletes need to think ahead about the stresses the body will face throughout a season or training plan, and plan accordingly – including sleep, diet, and mental health. These will differ based on your goals and your body. However, every climber can incorporate routine practices into their training sessions that, despite being a bit boring at times, will build a musculoskeletal foundation that can help to buffer against injury, and give you a springboard to recovery if you are struggling with these issues (with the help of a physical therapist or sports doctor).

Here are 5 basic practices climbers can incorporate into their routines:

1. Warm Up

The single most common cause of most overuse injuries is simply ramping up strenuous climbing too much too soon. While this applies over multiple sessions as well as over any individual session, starting each session with regular and proactive warmups will crank up your heart rate, pumping more blood to your climbing muscles and tendons.The most highly effective and dual-purpose method of warming up is to practice dynamic stretches, which boost blood flow while also activating and lightly stretching muscles you’ll use during your workout. Try starting your sessions with the following:

1. Light cycling will begin to raise your heart rate slowly and get the blood flowing. Do this for 5-7 minutes.

2. Walking lunges activate your hips and force you to use your core, both contributing to better climbing once you’ve warmed up. Do two sets of ten on each leg, and take it slow and controlled to lessen stress on your knees.

3. Windmills will stretch your shoulder joint while beginning to send blood through the joint and into your arms. Do two sets of ten on each arm. These should be done quite slowly and with control.


2. Practice Form Intentionally

Once you’ve gotten your blood flowing, don’t jump right into climbing hard. Now’s the time to get your session going the right way – with easy climbing focused on proper form. Because so many injuries are caused by improperly loading different muscles and tendons due to bad technique, this phase is critical – it builds muscle memory that will kick in when you’re pumped and stressed on a challenging project. For example, notice how in the below photo, the climber has a loose core, which directs the dangling weight of his body off his hands alone. Over time, this kind of climbing will cause problems potentially in the shoulders and hands as he begins to try harder and harder to send problems.

Now, notice how he’s brought his hips into alignment using his core: this allows him to transfer some forces off his hands and support his body using more of his legs, while also controlling dynamic forces that his arms would need to compensate for, at some risk of injury.

3. Do More Than Just Climb

Climbing will use muscles in very specific directions and planes of motion. Repetitive use of these motions can create muscle imbalances, which magnify wear and tear on your tendons. In most of your training plans, make sure to include other activities that use different muscle groups than pure climbing or hangboarding. Yoga’s a great start – FA offers classes every day. Trail running is another great example – it offers lateral motion moving side to side and up and down over obstacles, and tends to go at a slower, less stressful pace than road running. These lateral motions build “side to side” strength and stability, which will support “up and down” climbing strength to help prevent injury. The critical point is to choose activities that offer complementary, not identical, motions to rock climbing, and to build that into your weekly routines.

4. Rest

Training is only part of the equation in injury prevention. It’s fairly common in climbing to show some pride around how many days “on” you’ve climbed, but this reflects some misunderstanding of how strength is built (although it can be hard to take a day off when you’re on a trip!). Days “on” are destructive on the body, particularly on your tendons – which can’t be trained rapidly the way muscles can be. Days off are when the strength and tendon resilience builds throughout your whole body after training. Rest is at least as important as gym time – take it slow, and don’t push through abnormal pain.

5. Get Expert Input

Once you’ve gotten those preventative habits down (or even if you need help with them), it’s now time to get onto a training plan. You may be tempted to start hangboarding with friends or download a pre-made training plan online, but having the right training plan for you is an essential part of preventing injury and ultimately achieving your goals. You can find great resources to craft your own training plan – online resources from Climbing Magazine to TrainingBeta’s podcast, or a well-known climbing training book like How To Climb 5.12 by Eric Horst or The Rock Climber’s Training Manual by Michael & Mark Anderson. But the best option is always to work with a professional trainer locally. We encourage you to check out First Ascent’s 90-minute Redpoint Assessment, where a Redpoint coach will assess your climbing ability over a wide range of metrics and provide you with a personalized training plan that not only makes you a stronger and more skilled climber, but also a healthier one for the long term. Check the Redpoint Training page on our website or email for more information.

By Chris Rooney, an FA member and freelance writer specializing in rock climbing, fitness, and the outdoors.


FA Member Spotlight: Seth Bradley (co-founder of Nude Dude Food)

This month, we’re shining the spotlight on Seth Bradley, co-founder of Nude Dude Food, a popular Chicago-based private dining company that focuses on local and seasonal ingredientsWe caught up with him at FA Avondale to talk about how climbing ties into his passion for healthy cooking. Follow Seth on Instagram @nudedudefood, and say hi to him next time you seen him around FA!

How did you get started cooking?

I was an incredibly picky eater as a kid. In high school I was the kid asking his mom to make him Pop-Tarts and scrambled eggs (as if I couldn’t make them myself). When I got to college, my palette started changing and I became more open minded and interested in food. Once I started cooking, I couldn’t stop. I became obsessed with food, ingredients and flavors, so I absorbed as much information as I could from cookbooks and the Food Network. Over time I found myself spending more and more time in the kitchen cooking for my roommates and friends, often times 5-6 hours a night, and realized it was time for a career switch.

What inspired the Nude Dude Food concept?

My business partner – my best friend from high school and roommate for the past 8 years – and I wanted to not only promote the idea of eating well with sustainable and honest food, but provide a more intimate, fun and personalized private dining experience.  We customize a five to six course menu for each client in their home, which allows us to become part of the party. We cook, serve, entertain and clean, which surprises most people! It’s a fun, personal way to share a food experience and we leave feeling like friends with each of our clients!

What projects are coming up for Nude Dude Food?

Besides all of our private dinners and events in and around Chicago, we’ve been traveling quite a bit.We were recently in California and Texas and next week we’re back in Los Angeles for a TV appearance and a pop-up dinner in Venice Beach. We’re also involved in a corporate team building event this March where we’ll stay in cabins in the Appalachian Mountains and cook rustic brunches and dinners for our clients, which is awesome!

What’s your favorite quick healthy meal/snack?

I love a quick snack of soft scrambled eggs doused in hot sauce. It’s a great protein boost before or after a workout. We also love to roast or pan fry vegetables. Take almost any vegetable, season it well with salt, pepper and extra virgin olive oil, then roast it in the oven or pan fry it until it’s caramelized. It’s an easy and flavorful way to enjoy your vegetables!

How did you start climbing?

I only climbed occasionally until joining First Ascent, then I became obsessed with it. Once it became part of my daily workout regimen, I couldn’t stop. I love the way climbing takes you away from everything; it requires all of your attention while on the wall, which makes it difficult to think about anything else. It’s also an incredibly challenging sport not only physically, but mentally. My whole family lives in the Denver and Morrison Colorado area, so I’ve been doing some outdoor and trad climbing around there when I can. It’s an amazing experience that’s so different from gym climbing.

How is fitness important to your work? 

Considering our brand name, Nude Dude Food, and the fact that most of our clients want us to cook in our “uniform”, shirtless with an apron, fitness is a very big part of our lifestyle, brand and daily routine.It also keeps me sane! I feel more energized mentally and physically after I exercise. 

Any climbing goals for this year?

I just want to improve overall, especially my technique. I’m not naturally flexible, so I’ve been trying to do more yoga and stretching. I’d also love to climb more outdoors and perhaps take a trip with friends I’ve met at the gym.

What was your profession before moving into culinary?

For over ten years I was a professional musician and toured all over the Midwest where I played around 150 shows a year. I’ve always loved to perform and sing, even as a kid I would write songs on a tiny Casio keyboard and make my family watch me perform. I was in choir, drama and glee club throughout high school and college. Being in front of people always felt natural, exciting and inspiring. My passion for performance transferred perfectly into the food business. Cooking and providing a unique experience is a performance itself, so it was a natural progression.

Photos & Interview by Luke Streich. Follow him on Instagram @milo_t_dog.