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We’ve heard over and over that today’s youth are less physically active than they have been in previous years. Local parks are an important part of improving public health by combating obesity and sedentary lifestyles. But just because we have access to parks, doesn’t necessarily mean they get used. Many local playgrounds have recently been criticized for being too safe and boring – especially for kids 10 and over. Children are natural climbers – from the time they learn to walk, they climb anything and everything; chairs, stairs, fences and trees – you name it. Many communities are catching on and are now embracing a new trend to get children using the park again – artificial boulders for climbing.

What’s the difference between bouldering and roped climbing?

Bouldering – involves climbing short routes, usually no more than 4-5 metres off of the ground and doesn’t involve ropes. It usually involves a greater concentration of dynamic moves (requires explosive power) and generally relies more on upper body strength. Bouldering walls and structures tend to be lower in cost and allow for a greater number of active climbers at one time. Spotting should be employed for all bouldering activities.

Roped Climbing – Top roping and lead climbing involve longer routes, taller structures which require the use of a harness, a belay rope and a spotter (belayer). Roped climbing can be done indoors or outdoors and varies in difficulty and skill level. It will improve cardiovascular health and increase muscle tone. Because of the increase in risk and difficulty, it is important to train with a professional before attempting this type of climbing.

How can I get my children involved?

Bouldering structures are found more commonly in indoor climbing facilities although their popularity is increasing for inclusion in outdoor parks and playgrounds. These structures can vary in height, difficulty, shape and may or may not include handholds. Bouldering structures that are in parks tend to blend in with their environment which adds to the experience.

If you are a parent or teacher, getting kids involved in climbing is easier if you include games for them to play. This will keep them interested and engaged in climbing as well as help them to develop various movement skills. Rock climbing is excellent for increasing physical health as it works every part of your body, including your brain. It helps children with self-confidence, strength, discipline, teamwork, communication and includes a sense of accomplishment when they reach the top.

If there are no climbing structures in your community, look for an indoor facility – many offer day passes, group rates, or allow you to host birthday parties at a relatively low cost. When supervising any of these activities, parents and instructors should be aware of the risks and follow general safety precautions.

References from the SIRC Collection: 

1. Baláš J, Strejcová B, Malý T, Malá L, Martin A. Changes in upper body strength and body composition after 8 weeks indoor climbing in youth. Isokinetics & Exercise Science. September 2009;17(3):173-179.
2. Fend M, Muras J, Steffen J, Battista R, Elfessi A. Physiological Effects of Bouldering Activities in Upper Elementary School Students. Physical Educator. Early Winter2011 2011;68(4):199-209.
3. Humphries D. Proportions of activities in a climbing gym. British Journal Of Sports Medicine. December 2001;35(6):450. 
4. Kids Flock to Rocks. Parks & Recreation. September 2006;41(9):128. 
5. Lynnes M, Temple V. Inclusive Artificial Wall Climbing. Physical & Health Education Journal. Summer2008 2008;74(2):6-11.
6. Niegl G. Bouldering: one of the last sports defying technology? Interview with Kilian Fischhuber. Sports Technology. April 2010;2(3/4):63-65.
7. Prager K. Climbing-Wall Creative. Parks & Recreation. July 2008;43(7):46-51.

The information presented in SIRC blogs and SIRCuit articles is accurate and reliable as of the date of publication. Developments that occur after the date of publication may impact the current accuracy of the information presented in a previously published blog or article.