Category Archive

Coronavirus Closure Update: May 27th, 2020

Dear FAmily, 

We hope this message finds you, your family, and loved ones well! 

We have heard from so many of you who are eager to get back to First Ascent, and we love and share your enthusiasm. The First Ascent leadership team is working tirelessly on a reopening plan for the safety and health of our community.  We’ve been on countless conference calls with other climbing and fitness industry leaders, we’ve studied health expert guidance closely, and we’re watching states and businesses that have already reopened to learn how to implement best practices as they evolve.

Throughout all of these efforts, we’re reminded that climbers have a unique appreciation for risk. In climbing, as in life, we cannot completely eliminate risk. So we evaluate the risks as individuals and as a group.  We manage risks with PPE like harnesses, ropes, and bouldering pads.  We educate ourselves on proper belay technique and falling best practices so we’re prepared to manage risks as effectively as possible.  And then we make decisions about what we do and don’t do based on our own risk tolerance and the effects those choices have on those around us. 

That process – evaluating risks, learning and implementing risk management techniques, and deciding which risks are acceptable and which are not – is exactly what we must do now as a society to emerge from stay at home orders and return to our lives healthy and prepared. 

Reopening our gyms presents its own risk-reward trade offs. We’ve heard from many of you that climbing, yoga, and fitness are a cornerstone of your physical and mental health. At the same time, completely eliminating the risk of COVID-19 transmission is not possible, even with a vaccine or other medical breakthrough. So as we plan for reopening, our goal is to reduce the risk of transmission at the gyms as much as possible while empowering our members to pursue the mental, physical, and social benefits they enjoy at First Ascent gyms.

We recognize the complexity of the situation, and we know there will be differing perspectives on when and how businesses – including our gyms – should open their doors. We also understand that things will be different than we’re used to for a while, and that those differences might feel strange. And we respect that some of you might deem the risks too great to return to First Ascent anytime soon – we will continue serving you with virtual First Ascent Anywhere classes and content that keeps you active and connected from a distance.

Whether you plan to return to climbing ASAP, or you need more time to feel comfortable getting back on the wall, we want to hear from you. Over the past few weeks, we have assembled a robust reopening plan for First Ascent gyms. Our reopening plan focuses on three main areas: (1) Enhanced Sanitation & Cleaning Procedures,  (2) Scheduled Visitation & Monitoring, and (3) Space, Equipment, and Climbing Wall Usage Management.  

Many aspects of our plan affect you as an FA community member, so as we work to finalize it, we want to hear your feedback. Please click below to take a short Welcome Back survey to provide some feedback on key aspects of our reopening plan.

Take The Welcome Back Survey

We know many of you are wondering “When will you reopen?” The reopening plans from the State of Illinois and City of Chicago suggest that mid to late June may be possible, but the exact timeline is not yet clear. Rest assured that we will keep you updated as the timeline comes into clearer view.

In the meantime, any memberships on freeze will remain frozen until we reopen, at which time will we follow up with you to provide instructions for how to reactivate your membership. If you stayed active and you’d like to make a change to your membership, click here.

We are so thankful for all of the support we’ve received from our community during this challenging time. Ultimately, our commitment to our community is simple: to serve you with sanitized hands and open hearts, to do everything in our power to protect and promote your health and wellness, to communicate with you clearly so you know what you can expect and what you can do to help, and to listen to you along the way.  We can lead the way forward – together.

We look forward to getting your feedback on this survey, and most of all, we look forward to welcoming you back to First Ascent soon.


Dan, Joe, Jon, & 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.