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Maximizing the Benefits of a Horizontal Climbing Wall

Over the years, indoor rock climbing has seen increased inclusion in physical education programs across the country. Horizontal climbing walls, also known as Traverse Walls®, are a popular choice in elementary and middle schools since their 8- or 10-foot heights make them easier to manage than roped vertical climbing walls. Climbers are challenged to make their way across the climbing wall from one side to the other, rather than to the top. Climbers are never more than a few feet from the safety mats and no ropes or harnesses are needed.

There are many benefits gained from rock climbing which positively affect the whole child. While climbing, children develop strength, coordination and balance. On a cognitive level, climbers are problem-solving, making decisions, and goal setting. From a social-emotional standpoint, climbers are taking positive risks and developing patience, perseverance, courage and self-control. Additionally, rock climbing is a nontraditional sport that often attracts students previously uninterested in physical activity.

Once climbers have mastered the basic climbing technique and can make their way across the climbing wall, it’s important to regularly introduce new activities, challenges, and experiences. This keeps the climbing wall fresh and exciting and helps engage climbers over time to maximize the benefits of the climbing wall. Here are five quick ideas to refresh your climbing wall:

Rotate Your Hand Holds.

The handholds on your climbing wall are versatile and designed to be used from all sides. Some positions are easier than others to grasp. Using the allen wrench that came with your climbing wall, one by one, loosen some handholds and rotate them 45 to 180 degrees. Once you choose a new position, tighten the holds. This will create an entirely new climbing experience and takes a lot less time than removing holds and setting all new climbing routes.

How Low Can You Go?

Climbers tend to want to climb as high as possible, even on a Traverse Wall®. Encourage your climbers to climb low, as low as they can go, while remaining on the wall. This will challenge them in new ways, even if the activity is a familiar one.

Add Accessories.

Placing accessories on your climbing wall brings new challenges and sparks enthusiasm for climbing. Adding an obstacle course with hoops and rods or the Ultimate Challenge Course with its Ninja-style holds, are not only fun, but help climbers develop balance, strength and coordination.

Change Sides or Start in the Middle.

Sometimes start activities from the left side, with climbers climbing to the right. Other times start activities from the right side, with climbers moving to the left. This challenges participants to lead with different sides of the body. You can also start activities in the middle of your climbing wall and have climbers move to each end.

Reflect and Share.

At the end of a climbing session, save a few minutes to discuss the experience. Ask one question and allow a few minutes for climbers to reflect, share and discuss. Here are some possible questions:

  • What was your favorite part about climbing today?
  • What was the hardest part about the climbing activity?
  • Describe a feeling you had on the climbing wall today. How did it help or hinder your climbing?
  • If you had a chance to do the activity again, what would you do differently?
  • What part did teamwork play in climbing today?

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