Healthy Living: Climbing to Stay Fit

This post was written by Exact Sciences Research Associate Austin Lynch.

The first time I stepped into a climbing gym and squeezed my feet into a pair of their sadistically small rental shoes was last November. The sound system thumped energetically as I watched lean, muscular figures gracefully ascending around me. Stunned, I watched a girl glide 30 feet up the wall with buoyancy like that of a ballerina, and I thought to myself, 'this is beauty.'

Inspired, I grabbed my bag of chalk and marched over to the nearest route. It was labeled "V0," which seemed like a good place to start. I covered my hands in chalk and clapped off the excess, choking on the ensuing cloud of powder I had just created. After a brief trip to the drinking fountain, the coughing subsided, and I returned to the wall.

Grabbing the starting holds, I arranged my feet clumsily on a couple of pebbles about the size of a lego. Once I was entirely on the wall, I took a deep breath and eyeballed the next handhold on the route. It was about two feet away. I softened my gaze, looking "through" the wall, as I had seen the other climbers do. I visualized myself moving easily over to it and pulling up to the next hold.

My chest swelled in anticipation as I felt confidence brimming within me. Before the emotion in my throat threatened to spill over, I took another breath and began my ascent. I shifted my weight to bring my center of gravity over my right foot, swung my arm out to the bright yellow hold in front of me, and fell on my butt.

Ask a climber about their first experience, and you'll probably hear a story similar to that one. Fortunately, the "flailing beginner" stage doesn't last long. After a few more tries, I finished the route, and started working on the next one. I was hooked. Three hours later, I drove home sweaty and satisfied. My hands could barely grip the steering wheel, but I knew I'd be back.


I began climbing at a gym to stay active over the winter months, but what started as a casual hobby soon turned into much more than that. Before long, my thoughts were consumed with conquering that next route, climbing one grade higher, and improving my technique.

On the days I wasn't climbing, I started hitting the weights. After an embarrassing incident involving a bench press bar and a very kind employee, I became comfortable with free weights and resistance training. Instead of spending my 30 minutes on the treadmill watching subtitles scroll across a re-run of "Maury", I was using my gym time to actually build muscle. And I was getting results! I was climbing confidently and above all, I was having a blast!

Once summer arrived, I was chomping at the bit to climb outdoors. Even more so than climbing at the gym, being outside on real rocks gave me a satisfaction that was unparalleled. I recently visited a friend of mine in rural Mexico, and while I was there, I was able to climb some of the most amazing rocks and cliffs I’ve ever seen!


Staying fit isn’t easy. It takes time out of your day, it costs money, and it’s hard to keep up the habit. But if you’re able to find a sport or hobby that forces you to stay fit, it takes on a whole different feeling. Your strength and your stamina become means to a greater end.

You aren’t puffing on a stationary bike because your doctor told you to do so. You’re training so that you can finish that 10K race next month, so that your volleyball spike is impossible to return, so that biking to work doesn’t leave you a sweaty mess, so that you’re running just as hard on the basketball court at the end of the game as you were in the beginning, and so that when your hands grasp the rough rocks at the top of that cliff, you’ll be able pull yourself up and stand on top of the world.

For more updates from the Exact Sciences team, sign up for our newsletter or follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

Topics: Healthy Living

Subscribe To The Blog