Category Archive

Health & Wellness Update: Coronavirus Response

Last Updated: March 24th, 2020. We will publish updates here as more information becomes available.

Dear FAmily,

We are overwhelmed and deeply humbled by how you and the First Ascent community stepped up to support us and our staff.

Over 90% of First Ascent members stayed active in March.  With your support, we were able to pay our staff through March 31st.  

THANK YOU from all of us at First Ascent! You are a part of a truly powerful community. You made a real, tangible impact, and we are incredibly grateful.

Many of you have asked how you can continue to support First Ascent and our staff, and we’re reaching out to give you that opportunity. Will you keep your membership active to support First Ascent and our staff during the extended closure? 

OPT IN: Keep My Membership Active To Support First Ascent

Given the current status of COVID-19 in Illinois, all First Ascent gyms will remain closed until at least April 7th. We will re-open as soon as it is legal, safe, and responsible for us to do so. The exact date we will open our doors again remains uncertain, but we will be sure to keep you updated along the way.

When the pandemic subsides, we want First Ascent to be ready for you to climb and connect, and for our staff to work.  We are fighting to keep as many staff on payroll for as long as we can while at the same time paying significant expenses such as rent and loans.  Since the closure has extended, we have decided to furlough most of our part-time staff and some full-time staff starting April 1st. This decision was heart wrenching, but we made it knowing that it ultimately serves our staff best because most will receive more income from unemployment insurance than we can offer them during the extended closure.  The fight continues – we are still trying to keep as many staff on payroll as possible.

The First Ascent founders are foregoing 100% of our pay during the closure so we can pay more staff. 

We need your help: if you are financially able, please click below to continue your membership to support First Ascent. The more members that stay on with us, the more staff we can keep on to create live-streamed classes and content, provide member communication, and pitch in to help us prepare for re-opening. 

You can choose to:

  1. Continue your Monthly Membership and pay your April dues
  2. Upgrade to an Annual Membership with a special 10% off discount
  3. Purchase an FA Gift Card for any amount, or
  4. Purchase a Stronger Together t-shirt or tank ($25)

Yes, I’d Like To Support First Ascent

Here’s a sneak peek at the Stronger Together t-shirt design:

We would greatly appreciate anything you can contribute. As a “thank you!”, all members who maintain an active membership or upgrade to an Annual Membership during the closure get a free Stronger Together t-shirt or tank FREE, along with anyone who purchases a $50 gift card. We’re also planning a huge re-opening celebration that you’ll be invited to – more details coming soon.

Not a member? You can still help by purchasing a Gift Card for any amount or by purchasing the Stronger Together t-shirt!

We also understand that this is a time of financial uncertainty for many of you. We will freeze Monthly Memberships for free starting April 1st, and we will extend all Annual and One-month Memberships for the amount of time we are closed. Please complete the Membership Change form here so we know whether you’d like to freeze or cancel your membership.

Social distancing may have altered the way we commune, but it cannot and will not weaken this community.

We truly are stronger together, and we will get through this together. Thank you for your continued support!

Be well,

Dan, Joe, Jon, and Dave | the First Ascent founders

FA’s New Yoga Schedule Drops April 1st

Mission: Expanded

When we opened First Ascent, we had one simple mission: to serve and grow Chicago’s vibrant climbing community. My partners and I are longtime climbers, and we joined forces to create a space for climbers of all experience and ability levels to enjoy the sport they love, develop their skills, and connect with other climbers.

Version 2

At launch, we thought of yoga as a complement to climbing, something that climbers would enjoy doing occasionally to rejuvenate and restore their achy climbing muscles. Over the last year and a half, we’ve come to see yoga not as a nice addition to our climbing gym but as an essential part of what we do. We’ve excitedly watched the climbing and yoga communities learn so much from each other at First Ascent.Image-18 And we’ve gathered an incredibly talented group of yoga instructors that have taught us a thing or two about proper shoulder alignment, “flying” (see: AcroYoga), and taking time out for self care.

In fact, we’ve enjoyed being the connection point for climbers, yogis, and fitness enthusiasts so much, we had to expand our mission. Moving forward, First Ascent exists to serve and grow Chicago’s vibrant climbing, yoga, and fitness communities.

Improving Yoga at FA

And so I’m excited to announce that we’re revamping the yoga program at First Ascent. Starting April 1st, we’re launching a new, improved yoga schedule at both our Avondale and Uptown facilities. Our goals for re-launching the schedule are simple:

  1. Add and adjust yoga class times around the schedules of people in our community. We’re especially excited to launch our 7:30 am and 12:00 pm classes, as well as more classes on the weekends.
  2. Update class names and descriptions to better suit each class. For example, you’ll now see Yoga For Climbers: Power and Yoga For Climbers: Restorative on the schedule.
  3. Add 75 minute classes to serve the maturing yoga community at First Ascent. That extra 15 minutes allows instructors to teach more challenging poses that just don’t fit into an already jam-packed 60-minute class.

The Schedules

Without further adieu, below are the new yoga schedules. You can also peruse the new schedules and sign up for classes on our website: just go to First Ascent Avondale’s yoga page and/or First Ascent Uptown’s yoga page, then navigate to April 1st and beyond to see the new schedule in action.

Yoga Schedule Rollout April 2017_Avondale

Yoga Schedule Rollout April 2017_Uptown

I hope you’re as excited about these changes as we are. If you feel at all disappointed that your favorite class has been changed, I encourage you to explore the new schedule with an open mind. We have the same great instructors and new class times to meet your needs – I’ll bet you’ll find a new favorite in no time.

If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to email us at yoga@firstascentclimbing.com. Otherwise, we’ll see you in a yoga class soon!

Dan Bartz is co-founder and Director of Marketing & Adult Programming at First Ascent.

A Climber’s Guide to Yoga, Part 2: Injury Prevention

In the Climber’s Guide To Yoga series, Julia “Jules” McGuire breaks down how climbers benefit from a consistent yoga practice. Jules is both a seasoned yoga practitioner and a well travelled climber. She teaches two popular yoga classes on Saturdays (1230pm and 2pm) at the Avondale gym and can be spotted gracefully making her way up lead routes and boulder problems when class is over.

Before any climber’s feet transfer from floor to wall a list of safety checks must be met:  harnesses are double-backed, figure-eight knot is secured, belay device is locked and properly loaded, climbing area is clear, etc.FullSizeR (4) Ropes should be thoroughly inspected to rule out any frays and/or weak spots (i.e. the rope should not fold completely on itself when a section is pinched.) With climbing shoes on, chalk bag filled, and safety checks complete, the climber is totally ready to crush, right? Not quite.  

In addition to securing equipment and checking the surrounding area, it is also crucial that a climber assesses and understands their physical limits. Aside from the inherent danger of venturing into great heights, a climber’s biggest threat may lie within their own bodies. Rock climbing serves up many physical demands on the body – demands that necessitate absolute dedication and follow through. In some cases, failure to commit to the next move, clip, or top out could results in severe consequences. To best deter injury, supplementing a climbing routine with yoga could be the answer to lengthening the life of a climber’s tallest endeavors.

Yoga teachings refer to three areas of the body that are most prone to injury: the cervical spine (neck), lumber spine (lower back), and knees. Many yoga postures and exercises help stretch stiffened and overworked climbing muscles as well as strengthen and develop balance in underemphasized muscles.

A brief breakdown on some high priority “yoga for injury prevention” is as follows:

  • Cervical spine: Begin with a tall spine. Drop your chin to chest while relaxing your shoulders down away from your ears.FullSizeR (3) Keeping your chin connected to your chest, drag your chin over to your right shoulder. Hold here for several counts, then slowly move back through center and repeat to the left shoulder.
      • Tip: Belay glasses also help take a tremendous load off a belayer’s neck as they keep close watch on their partner.
  • Lumbar spine: This area serves as a major junction for muscles and nerves descending to the lower body. For optimal lumbar health, a focus on 3 areas is key: hamstrings, psoas, and sacral joint.
    • Hamstrings: Keeping a vertical spine, sit in dandasana (staff pose) with legs stretched out in front of you. Jules yogaFlex all 10 toes back towards your face, and slightly tilt your pelvis forward. If you’re still looking to go deeper into the hamstrings, fold into paschimottanasana by pulling your feet towards your face with your hands. As you fold, imagine that your spinal column is a rigid rod that cannot bend. This will help you lead with your chest as you soften your upper body on top of your thighs.
      • Tip: use a strap placed just below your toes to help flex your feet back towards your face if you cannot reach your feet with your hands.
    • Psoas: Step into a low lunge with your right knee bent directly over the right ankle.
      FullSizeR (5)Kick the top of your left foot into the floor beneath you to intensify the stretch deep within the hips. Repeat on the opposite side.
    • Sacral Joint: supported bridge pose is a great restorative posture to alleviate tightness incurred from clinging to overhangs and aggressive bouldering sessions.IMG_0023 With a yoga block on hand, lie on your back, bend your knees, and walk your feet close enough to your body that your fingertips can touch your heels.  Firm down into your heels as you lift your hips towards the sky. Place the block at the tallest height underneath the lowest part of your spine and completely relax onto the block.  
  • Knees: step into low lunge, right knee forward, then bend your left knee to lift your foot off the ground.FullSizeR (1)Grab the inside of your left foot with your left hand and gently pull your left foot directly towards your body. Repeat on the opposite side.
      • Tip: If your bent knee is sensitive, use two yoga mats or simply fold the edge of your mat over to double up the cushion.

Just as a climbers progress through the Yosemite Decimal System of 5.10s, 11s, 12s, it is imperative to balance such progression in the body with equalized muscle development and maintained (better yet, increased) flexibility. Practicing yoga will unfold a plethora of benefits to any climber’s repertoire and most importantly, help avoid injury. Check out First Ascent’s diverse lineup of yoga classes available at all locations. Classes are included in your membership or day pass. With several yoga styles to choose from, you’ll be sure to find a class that harmonizes your yogic inclinations to your climbing ambitions. Intro classes are the perfect setting for beginners, and the Yoga for Climbers class is specifically tailored to the inherent needs of a climber’s body. Be well, climb well, and stay safe both on the rock and inside your rock hard body!

Work, Project, Send, Repeat

Ryan Smith is a member of the First Ascent routesetting crew. Not only does he create moveable art for the FAmily to climb on, but he gets outside regularly to pull hard on natural rock. This is his story about finally breaking through to a new grade. Learn more about Ryan and the FA Setting Crew here.


Image: Kane Lorh

Lucky number thirteen

In mid February I achieved a major goal in my climbing career, sending my first 5.13a, ‘Resistor’ at Red River Gorge. I’ve wanted to send 13a for a while, but the actual push was achieved surprisingly quickly. Just believing that I could climb something that difficult was the biggest secret to my success.


Image: Anne Culbertson

Before the big weekend, I had never attempted a route at that grade. Trying to break into thirteens seemed like a daunting task to me. I stood there looking at the climb, asking myself, “Can I get to the top? Am I holding up the rest of my group? Will I be too tired to climb anything else today if I try it? Will I be able to get all my gear back?” I had a million excuses for not trying hard, but in the end, I remembered to trust my abilities. I knew I could get to the top. I knew I could figure out a way to get my gear back. I knew I’d be happier if I pushed myself to try something harder than anything I had done before, even if I wasn’t ultimately successful.  I had already known for a while that I could pull all the moves on a route at this grade, but I made excuses not to try. No more excuses, I told myself. Let’s do this.

Preparation is key

My preparation for this route wasn’t too different from how I prepare for any other rope climbing trips. Early on, I trained using the campus and hang boards to improve power and finger strength for more success on boulder or crux sequences. The week before my trip, I dialed the angle of the scatter board (left side of the system wall) at First Ascent Avondale to seventeen degrees and tried to climb a bit below my limit.

Ryan Smith TrainingPosted by First Ascent Avondale on Friday, March 10, 2017

I climbed on smaller and more sloping holds to a point close to failure, and then shook out on a jug to recover. I did three five-minute sets, resting five minutes between each set. This was pretty much all the endurance training I did – except forerunning routes at the gym during our setting cycle. 

My training really paid off on ‘Resistor’. The climb starts out with a pretty difficult V5/6 sequence on two shallow sloped pockets. From the pockets, I stabbed out to another sloping hold and then reached for a sloping rail with a good jug. That’s where I fell the first time: from the second clip and past the first clip. I knew I had to put that fall behind me, so I took my shoes off, refocused, and reevaluated my beta moving out to the ledge. I got back onto the route, climbed to the same move as the previous attempt, found a better foot hold and hit the sweet spot on the rail. I continued up the rail to a no-hands resting ledge.

And, the send

The route plays to my strengths, since I’m more of a boulderer and was able to get a full recovery at the ledge. Once I was back at 100%, I pulled through some more decent pockets up to a good edge, where I got a decent shake and could evaluate the upcoming moves. On the final sequence, I had to pull through a two-finger pocket and lock-off to secure the final clipping hold. When I got that final clip, a brief moment of euphoria came over me. Before I knew it, I was back on the ground and ready to begin the process all over again.


Ryan on Resistor, working on the send! Image: Billy Simek

This upcoming year, I hope to achieve a few more goals. I’m hoping to send a V10 boulder problem, and now that I’ve climbed a 5.13a, my eye is on another RRG classic: ‘Paradise Lost’ 13a/b at Purgatory. My best advice for pushing through to achieving your goals is just to get outside and be willing to try hard. No excuses.

By: Ryan Smith

Want to learn how to use the scatter board, campus board, and hang boards at First Ascent? Check out Redpoint Training, a coached climbing training program that provides you with a personalized training plan to reach your climbing goals.

Working out? Don’t Go It Alone

Fitness can be a challenge, but with a close-knit community around you, working out is more effective and enjoyable.

Connecting with people who share your goals is an easily overlooked key to achieving those goals.Chris and Annie My wife Annie is a huge example of this principle at work in my life.  Years ago, Annie and I decided that we needed to make a change. Long story short, that decision to change is what led to my career as a fitness trainer. Over my years of training, I’ve realized that having a person or group of people that motivate and inspire you is not so easy to come by, but it’s an indispensable part of your fitness plan.


When you have consistent workout buddies, you get accountability built into your routine.DSC_1739 When you know that others will notice your absence from a workout session, you may feel guilty about skipping it, providing an extra push to make it into the gym. Many of my clients exchange phone numbers as they become closer, creating a great community of accountability partners checking in when they have not seen each other in a while. This provides fantastic motivation when life gets in the way or you may have fallen off of the wagon. The social pressure of having a group of workout friends is invaluable.


Working out can be emotionally tough in the moment. You may ask, “Is this difficult for me, or is it just difficult?” Surrounding yourself with others provides a gauge with which you can answer that question. Most of the time, you will find that you are just doing a challenging activity.


Occasionally, you will find that you are not quite on par with those around you – and that is fine, because you can take that knowledge and use it as inspiration. In a short while, you will find yourself providing that same inspiration for someone new to fitness. There are also times when my clients actively encourage each other through cheering each other on or helping them with their form. As the community grows, everyone becomes a coach for each other, making the training that much better for all parties involved.


All of these are great benefits. But the best part of having consistent workout buddies is that it makes fitness fun. Working out with others creates an atmosphere that combines social interaction with healthy intent. Whether you’re sharing a laugh mid workout or cheering someone on at the end of their set, you’re doing more than just slogging away. You’re building relationships. 

Maintaining a fit lifestyle can seem monotonous, but when there are others involved it makes your effort about more than just the workout. You’re not just there because you know you should. You’re there because you want to be.

BASECAMP: Fitness In Community

I believe in the importance of community workouts so much, I built the small group training format I utilize for BASECAMP with community at its core. BASECAMP gives you the chance to make connections with others who share your desire to get fit. I have seen unprecedented success among those who connect with others in small group training sessions. One-on-one training can be monotonous, and large format fitness classes can lack intimacy. BASECAMP’s small group format is the sweet spot for getting the most from your time at the gym.

Chris Swindell is a NASM certified personal trainer and creator of the BASECAMP small group training program at First Ascent.