Indoor Climbing

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FA Staff Spotlight: Eric Schafer

This month, we’re shining the spotlight on FA staff member Eric Schafer. Eric is a long-time member of the Chicago climbing community. He is also our Fitness Coordinator at FA, so we’re excited to share his story! Eric is working on expanding our fitness programming, including Basecamp Group Training, Personal Training, and Redpoint Climbing Training. Make sure to say hi next time you see him at the gym.

How did you get into climbing?

I could trace the desire back to trips to various National Park trips out west when I was young, but I started technical rock climbing in 2008 at Lakeview Athletic Club. Initially, I was only interested in adding the skill to my toolbox as a means of pursuing peaks that require 5th class climbing like the Grand Teton. Of course, I was hooked almost immediately and began climbing regularly 3x a week.

It’s really fortunate that I happened to wander into LVAC, a wall with an amazing community and always well-managed, despite the limited resources available. Had I walked into a facility without the passion of the CAC climbing community, I certainly wouldn’t have been as drawn to it.

What do you love about climbing?

Pretty much everything. I’ll just list a few things here:

The community: The Chicago climbing community is incredibly welcoming and tolerant of overly enthusiastic newcomers with no experience. Within a year, I had gone on a dozen trips to the Red and a couple trips to climb ice with the friends I made at LVAC and LPAC.

It takes you to wonderful places: Climbing, and the associated technical skills, open up a whole world that is otherwise inaccessible. From high-mountain peaks to the canyons of Utah, almost everything is fair game if you know what you’re doing.

Signing the log on a summit and knowing that you are the only person who has been there in a week, a month or even a year is an amazing feeling.

There are infinite examples, but look at something like Matthes Crest, totally inaccessible without 5th class climbing and one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been.

 It enables you to physically push your limits: This has always been a passion of mine and, in many ways, drives my general fitness pursuits as well. Top-rope and sport allow you to push yourself to the physical and mental limits.

Slopers: The best type of holds.

Why are you excited to be part of the FA team?

First Ascent is the heart of the Chicago climbing community. It was founded by a number of my friends and climbing buddies from the dark days before Chicago had a dedicated climbing gym.

I’ve worked in a wide range of industries over the years. From consulting to mountain guiding, the one common theme is that the most important aspect of the job is the people you work with. At FA, I work daily with people I consider friends who share the same passions.

It’s something I don’t take for granted.

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

Sport has always been my answer to this question, and probably always will be. I like being on a rope, pushing the limits of endurance and climbing beautiful lines. I’m inspired almost as much by the aesthetic and setting of a route as the movement within. I challenge someone to walk into the Midnight Surf or the Madness Cave and not feel inspired.

That said, over the years I’ve grown to appreciate bouldering, especially the social aspect of it. Unlike a sport route, where you’re largely alone on the wall, bouldering allows you to work together with a group of friends or people you just met to figure out a sequence. 

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

This is a really difficult question. Muir Valley is certainly up there. I’d probably say Ouray for ice climbing. Yosemite, both the valley and Tuolumne, is amazing. The Pacific Northwest is gorgeous and the Alaska Range is incredible.

Other outdoor activities I participate in are:

Mountaineering: Walking uphill has always been a passion. I guided on Rainier for a season and loved it.

Ice Climbing: Love it. It’s like rock climbing only you can put holds wherever you want and they’re always jugs.

Canyoneering: I don’t have much experience here, but of what I’ve done, it was super fun. I’m actually leaving for Zion in two days and hope to get a few descents in.

Skiing: Backcountry skiing is great because it takes the least enjoyable part of mountaineering, the descent, and makes it fun! Resort skiing is a blast as well.

Hiking: I suppose this can be enjoyable on its own, but this is best used as a means of accessing the things listed above.

Tennis: I haven’t played as much over the past few years with my main partner having moved to the suburbs, but I still enjoy it on occasion, despite being rusty. (I am a washed out high school athlete.)

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

Nothing specific. My goal is to continue to consistently climb three times a week to build finger tendon strength so I can climb more challenging grades without injury. I might target Super Best Friends or Cell Block Six for Fall 2019?

Fitness? Get Dan Bartz and Jon Shepard to do a conditioning workout with me! I almost had Jon one day, but he bailed right before the burpees started.

What keeps you busy when you’re not climbing?

Most of my free non-climbing time is spent lifting, doing gymnastic work and conditioning on occasion. Outside the gym, cycling (to and from the gym), watching movies, playing piano, planning climbing trips and playing video games, if we’re being honest here.

What do you love about Chicago?

Chicago is a great city. I’ve always said we should just pick it up and move it closer to the mountains. I like that everything is close together and easily accessible via bicycle.

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

In college, the dark days before I started climbing, I practiced martial arts for five years and was fortunate enough to earn a first-degree black belt in Japanese Jiu Jitsu and Tae Kwon Do.

I’m super out of practice, but I might still be able to throw a (very low) kick or dive roll.

Anything else you want to say to the FA Community?

Thank you for always being so welcoming to new climbers. The community will grow over the years and it’s difficult to not roll our eyes when someone calls “free soloing” by the term “free climbing,” but let’s never get to a point where we think we’re too cool. After all, we’re still just climbing pieces of plastic, screwed to plywood, in a city nowhere near any outdoor climbing and everyone thinks we’re crazy.

 

FA Member Spotlight: Sarah Landon

This month, we’re shining the spotlight on artist and FA Member Sarah Landon! Sarah is currently showcasing her artwork in the first ever community art installation at FA Block 37! Make sure to stop by FA Block 37 to see her beautiful work (all pieces are for sale and prints are also available), follow Sarah on Instagram @arcanum.inheritance to see more of her artwork, and say hi next time you see her around FA!

How did you get into climbing?

Ever since a friend in grad school took me to an indoor rock climbing gym, I have been addicted!

What do you love about climbing?

Climbing is mentally, physically and emotionally challenging. There is always an area of the sport that I can improve in.

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

Bouldering. I climb harder when I boulder and I get more of an adrenaline rush!

Does climbing inspire your art? If so, how?

My art is inspired by my personal experiences and what is currently challenging me. Movement, flow and tranquility are the core inspirations of my art and, in many ways, my climbing style mirrors how I paint. I’m also more creative after a good climbing session!

What do you want to share about the pieces on display at FA Block 37?

The pieces I am showcasing at FA Block 37 are paintings that either portray power and force or peace and balance. This captures a lot of what climbing means to me and I believe it’s fitting for this setting.

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

Jackson Falls in southern Illinois is my favorite place to climb. When I’m not climbing, I enjoy ultimate frisbee, especially this time of year.

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

I am currently playing in an ultimate frisbee league and my goal is to have more sprinting power and endurance by the end of the season!

What do you love about Chicago?

I love the art community and culture in Chicago. It’s expressed in various ways depending on what neighborhood you are in.

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

I love Big Star in Wicker Park. They have the best tacos and I love the energy in that neighborhood.

Anything else you want to say to the FA Community?

I couldn’t be more thankful for the opportunity to share one of my favorite creative outlets with this community. Thank you, First Ascent!

If you or someone you know would be interested in showcasing artwork at a First Ascent location, please email community@firstascentclimbing.com

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 redpoint@firstascentclimbing.com for more information.

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

Sources

theclimbingdoctor.com

drjuliansaunders.com/shoulder-impingement

Climbing Comes To The Loop

Back in 2015, we opened First Ascent Avondale with a lot of hard work, some good fortune, and the collective energy of Chicago climbers. The video below tells the story well:

Now, less than 3 years later, we are thrilled to open our fourth location right in the iconic center of Chicago: the Loop. We love all the neighborhoods that are home to First Ascent locations, but this location feels particularly special to us. The FA Founders (Jon, Joe, Dave, and I) all call Chicago our home. It’s a milestone for us to open a climbing gym in the heart of Chicago, surrounded by skyscrapers, bustling crowds, theaters, company headquarters, city offices, and the architecture that makes Chicago so unique.

Building in the Loop is not only special for us Chicagoans, it’s also a leap forward in our mission to serve and grow Chicago’s vibrant climbing community. First Ascent Block 37 will serve climbers that work or live in the city’s center, and with access to the Red and Blue Line trains in the building, the location couldn’t be better for our downtown commuting members. We also hope FA Block 37 introduces more of Chicago to the sport we love. The Loop is filled with people who spend their days strapped to their desk. First Ascent will give them access to fun, convenient exercise and a great way to meet new people and connect with old friends.

First Ascent Block 37 opens in just a few short days, and we hope you can join us for the Grand Opening Party on March 3rd! In the meantime, I’d like to show you around the facility. Pardon our dust on this virtual tour – we’re still putting the finishing touches on the space. We put everything we’ve learned from our first three locations into this design, and we can’t wait to share what we’ve built with you!

Reception

When you enter First Ascent Block 37, you’ll be greeted by our friendly staff along with this custom-designed feature wall that mimics the contour of real rock.

 

Lake Shore Drive

The first boulder you’ll encounter features a generous amount of slab, vert, and slightly overhanging terrain. We’ll teach classes and set climbs for new climbers on this wall, but we’ll also have a number of harder technical slab problems mixed in.

 

Yoga & Fitness Studios

The facility features two yoga and fitness studios, where our top-notch team of instructors will lead yoga and group fitness classes to help you supplement your climbing and explore different styles of movement.

 

 

Neighborhood Boulder

We named this boulder the “Neighborhood Boulder” because it’s diverse, like the neighborhoods in Chicago, and there’s something for everyone on it. Visit the South Side, West Side, North Side, and Lakefront for everything from delicate slab to aggressive overhangs.

Inception Boulder

“Inception”? Allow me to explain. This boulder features blocs (a French word for boulder problem) on a block-shaped boulder in Block 37. So blocs on a block in Block. If you don’t get the name, that’s okay – you can re-watch the movie Inception, or forget all about the name and enjoy the gentle angle changes that make this block so unique.

 

World Cup Boulder

This boulder first appeared at the 2012 IFSC World Bouldering Championships, and Entre-Prises rebuilt it for us here. We will do our best to set world-class boulders here that live up to its namesake.

 

The Bean Boulder

We always wondered – could we build a climb-able version of the famous Cloud Gate sculpture (aka The Bean)? Entre-Prises took on the challenge, and we can’t be more psyched with the outcome. This boulder is a nod to the geometry of the famous Millennium Park sculpture, with colors that reflect the boulders around it as the Bean reflect its surroundings. Most importantly, it will make for some epic setting possibilities.

 

Training Area

Featuring a two-lane campus board, scatter board, Moonboard with Bluetooth app connectivity, and hangboard stations, you’ll have everything you need to develop climbing-specific strength, endurance, and power, all with downtown Chicago views to enjoy between sets.

NOT PICTURED:

Fitness Area

Any long-time climber knows that you need to add key lifts and oppositional training to your regimen to sustain your climbing and overall health. And for many people, having two memberships – one to the climbing gym and one to a fitness gym – is unsustainable. So we’re dedicating 1500 sf to state-of-the-art cardio equipment, free weights, and functional training equipment to help our members maintain full body wellness. 

Locker Rooms

You’ll find about 200 code-lock lockers around FA Block 37, including a number of larger lockers in each locker room. You’ll also find showers and other amenities to help you prep for work after a morning or lunchtime climbing session, including something new for First Ascent: towel service.

Workspace

We will have 15 powered workstations overlooking Randolph St. so you can send some emails in between sends or “work from home” with other members of the FAmily.

We can’t wait for you to experience this climbing gym with us. Hop on the Blue or Red Line and meet us downtown for a session soon. Let’s climb, Chicago!

Dan Bartz is co-founder and Marketing Director for First Ascent Climbing & Fitness.

How to Conquer Your Fear of Falling

The fear of falling is common — but you can get past it with the right mental training tools and support from your climbing community. If you struggle with the fear of falling while lead climbing, join Sandy Morris for the Zen Of Falling Workshop on Wednesday January 10th at 7:00 pm at FA Avondale!

For most climbers, there is no greater feeling than attempting a new route, journeying into the unknown and proving to yourself that you have what it takes to overcome the route’s physical and mental challenges. And most of the time, we do just that. But for many climbers, the fear of falling, particularly the fear of “taking a whip” while lead climbing, is very real and extremely debilitating – sometimes holding them back from finishing a route they are physically and mentally capable of completing. The good news is, getting past this fear is absolutely achievable with a combination of strength training, mental focus, and a little help from your friends.

A recent conversation with Sandy Morris, a First Ascent Learning to Lead and Gym to Crag instructor and 18-year climbing veteran, reminded us that it is important to distinguish the fear of falling, or basophobia, from the fear of heights. The two aren’t the same, and for most climbers, acknowledging the difference is the first step to getting back on the wall after a fall or an injury.

When Sandy started climbing, she loved climbs with ample exposure. The feeling of air all around her made climbing exciting and fun. After a couple of injuries, however, Sandy had to work through her own fear of falling and make her way back to climbing through rigorous mental re-training and physical strength training. Sandy developed a thoughtful approach to overcoming her basophobia by acknowledging that the stronger she felt physically, the easier climbing became. She also recognized that basophobia was largely a ‘head game,’ one that should could control with the right mental tools. In her new workshop, The Zen of Falling, Sandy will help those with basophobia to reclaim their power on the wall.

Here is a list of things Sandy suggests for moving past the fear of falling:

  1. Head to the gym! Getting back on the wall is the first step in conquering your fear. You cannot really address your fear of falling until you start to climb regularly.
  2. Understand what you’re afraid of is falling, not heights. The part of your brain saying, “Dude, you shouldn’t be doing this,” is holding on to the feeling of past injury or the fear of the unknown. Getting up on the wall will remind you that height is not the problem.
  3. Understand that the fear of falling isn’t such a bad thing. Fear is what prevents us from taking unsafe risks. Assessing risk and making good choices is what keeps you safe, and confidence in your ability to climb without getting seriously injured allows you to keep on climbing. The key is to understand where that fear originates and not allow it undue control over your thinking once you’ve assessed risk and chosen to move forward with a climb.
  4. Start climbing in a corner. Exposure adds to the rush during a climb – and the fear factor. The more exposed you are to open air, the more intense your fear will feel. Dihedral climbs (where you’re climbing in an inside corner) will make you feel protected and confident. Once you gain confidence on dihedral climbs, you can start to try vertical face climbing, then move to overhangs and arêtes (or outside corners) – the most exposed climbing terrain.
  5. Take practice falls. The only way to build trust that your equipment and belayer are trustworthy is to trust them and take a fall. The hardest part is letting go. Once you’re sitting safely in your harness, you realize that your belayer’s got you. 
  6. Lean on your climbing community! Knowing you have a group of friends that share, or at least sympathize with, your fear of falling will help you conquer your fear. Talk about your fear with your friends before a climb and ask for their encouragement, then let them cheer you on as you get moving.
  7. Build strength. A combination of cardio and light weight lifting will help you get into top climbing shape. The stronger you feel, the more confident you’ll feel on the wall. Combine your strength training with intense stretching through yoga or a similar activity. Getting strong, flexible, and agile will give you an edge during a climb.
  8. Reprogram your brain. This is much easier said than done, but mental training is just as important as physical training when you are working to overcome basophobia. In The Rock Warrior’s Way, author and climber Arno Ilgner discusses unjustified fears in climbing and provides step-by-step guidance on how to assess risk, improve mental focus, and put fear in its place.

Through The Zen of Falling, Sandy will help students get comfortable talking about their fear of falling with other climbers so they are encouraged to get past it. “In my head, I just have to have a little talk with my brain constantly, reminding myself that my equipment is in good working order and my belayer is trustworthy,” says Sandy. Under Sandy’s tutelage, students will climb an overhanging route and practice “clean” falls. The more students fall with the right protection in place, the more they have confidence to climb at their true ability level.