About the Gym
Looking for Fun, Fitness & Sport? Then Go Vertical!
by Kathleen Walker
Take a guy from Norwalk CT, an accountant who runs, rows and climbs. Add a guy from Washington DC, an electrical engineer and a salesman who skates, plays handball and has been a hiker and climber for over 20 years. Distill the vision: make a living, contribute something to society, have fun and provide fun. This deceptively simple recipe and 18 months of hard work gave Stamford and the surrounding communities from New York City up to New Haven, CT a much-needed shot in the arm, known as Go Vertical that opened in 1994. Six years later in February 2000, Go Vertical opened its second climbing gym in center city Philadelphia, 1/4 mile from the Ben Franklin Bridge.
Micheal Rorick and Howard Kanner parlayed their business, sports and fitness backgrounds, interest and acumen into an indoor climbing gym par excellence to create a business that combines, as Rorick says "what I have to do with what I want to do". This climbing gym serves every need from health and fitness, entertainment to social interaction, feeding creativity to improving necessary life skills.
Let's take a quick look at what climbing is: an activity in which you move up a wall, natural or manmade, similar to climbing the stairs and scrambling up a steep hill but with finesse and precision. Add in the skills you used on the monkey bars and the slide of your childhood playground and voila you're climbing. Climbing is not difficult to learn, but there are a few tricks. To ensure safety, folks climb in pairs, to spot each other bouldering or to use a rope and harness to belay. Belaying is the art of attaching two climbers to each other and the wall. One person climbs and the other secures the rope so that when the climber falls and/or is through with a climb they will be safely lowered to the ground. This safety procedure requires lessons. Learning a few of the tricks requires lessons. In sport climbing it is necessary to take a lesson, primarily because someone's life may depend on your skill. Besides, you'll pay better attention, learn more and accept criticism, and compliments, if you're paying money. Lessons run about two hours and cover the basics.
The basics include discussion and demonstration of types of climbing and how to move on the wall initially. There are two types of climbing - bouldering and roped climbing. Bouldering refers to short, challenging climbs without protection or climbing aids, although "an active spotter is very important in the gym and outside" said Bobbi Bensman, world-ranked climber at a recent clinic. "Bouldering helps the climber warm up, build on technique and practice moves." The reach of a bouldering climber will be about ten to twelve feet. Roped climbing is for higher and harder climbs and requires a belay partner. Much of the lesson will be belaying skills. You'll learn to belay someone. You'll learn to trust your belayer and let yourself be lowered to the ground. Lessons will give you pointers on how to execute moves unique to wall climbing such as a sidepull or pinch. You will be told more times than you want to hear to "trust your feet". It takes practice, trust me on that one. You may even discover a little about physics - standing far away from the wall when belaying a person considerably heavier than you will get you a short trip right smack into the wall when your partner pops off (anchoring to the floor will help).
Beginning climbers should focus on quality not quantity. Lessons are key because now is the time when habits are made and you begin to build a catalog of moves. Some hints gleaned from lessons include: Put your weight on your feet and thrust to make your moves. Think about stepping up on the back of a pickup truck or a large rock when hiking - without your weight over your feet you'd just push yourself backwards. When you played on the slide you climbed up the ladder part, latched on with your hands and stepped up with your feet, latched up higher with your hands and stepped up again. Climbing up the slide part you grabbed the sides of the slide (in climbing called a sidepull), planted your sneakers full on for good traction and shimmied right up. If you recall, your rump was thrust away from the slide - that's what puts your weight on your feet and enables you to "Smear". Use your skeleton to hold your weight not your muscles: Torso rotation or foot work will give you the reach you need. You didn't stay tight into the bars when you were on the monkeybars, you twisted to reach. Climbing is about 50/50 muscle and technique. Practice good technique and the strength will come. This makes it doable for just about anybody.
Now that you know what climbing is about, here's what a gym is about. The bulk of the rock gym is a large open space with high ceilings. The walls seem to be liberally studded with the leftovers from an elementary school clay project with a cobweb of rope dripping down from the ceiling. The cobweb is a series of ropes anchored to the top of each climb ready for belaying. The blobs are really holds used for scaling the walls. Each hold is generally tagged with a colored ribbon in order to mark a route. Follow the same color to stay on the route. Each color is graded near the route usually from a 5.0 - 5.14 The five means a climber is using hands, feet and should be roped. Zero to 14 is a range from easy to extremely tough. Go Vertical has over 14,000 square feet of climbing walls, top roped, lead and bouldering in the Philadelphia gym making it the largest climbing gym on the East Coast. That creates an immediacy of "equipment" so that you don't have to wait to work out. Climbing is uniquely performed to provide a full body workout. For strength training, power moves on overhanging walls will work all the major muscle groups: back, chest, abdominals, arms, legs, glutes. It will also work the smaller muscles that are hard to target with traditional workouts: forearms, hands, fingers, hips and shins, and even neck. This is an anaerobic workout that is possible for anyone, even if they have been sedentary. It will hone the physique of an athletic participant and challenge the strongest of gym rats. Other intrinsic benefits are improved flexibility and balance. Howard Kanner refers to the gym as a place to practice "the vertical dance". Just as dancing improves balance and coordination so too does climbing, with the added advantage of a third dimension. The staff is always on hand to suggest a move or series designed to work a particular body part, like biceps or a particular skill such as flexibility.
For an aerobic workout, Go Vertical gives you all the advantages of a Nordic Trak or a Versa Climber and then some. To get an aerobic workout (though you'll probably be breathing pretty heavily on your first few straight climbs) all you need to do is laps. Choose a wall angle and level of climbing that is easy for one climb and simply do it over and over again with speed but with precision. You can increase the intensity by climbing up and down, rather than being lowered between the up portions. Raising your heart rate, expanding your lungs and resisting gravity in this way provides an incomparable aerobic workout.
An added factor in a climbing workout is the demands on your mental creativity. By following or choosing a route or path in the gym, you will be strengthening your mind, both halves of the brain, by using logic, spatial awareness and problem solving skills, ingenuity and imagination, all under physical exertion. This has residual impact in other areas of life that are nothing but beneficial.
While there is no argument that climbing provides all these benefits, let's not overlook a major component, the one that sets Go Vertical apart from all other health clubs, both climbing and non: dedication to FUN. Go Vertical promotes an atmosphere of camaraderie; it takes just a short while before you know everybody that climbs when you do - the staff call you by name whenever you come in. Kids are included in the fun - they have kids' belay so youngsters can come in and climb without having to learn skills beyond their ability for consistent safety. Parents can schedule parties for kids - grade school kids and teenagers alike have called their birthday party at Go Vertical "the best they ever had". Special programs are available for large groups such as class trips or scouting get togethers. While all of this is major league fun, it is also good for kids, giving them not only workout to enjoy, but a sense of accomplishment and increased self-confidence. Fear of falling is one of two natural fears (the other is loud noises); overcoming this is a boon for a kid of any age.
Another "party" opportunity is for businesses, clubs, junior leagues and professional organizations. While a convivial atmosphere prevails, sales teams and project groups can take advantage of the team building skills offered by Go Vertical's group climbing. Go Vertical is open all day to accommodate such classes during regular business hours.
Social opportunities abound at Go Vertical. Because climbing is such a complete workout, many athletes from other sports use it to cross-train and avoid overuse injuries. It's a great place to meet like-minded, fitness-oriented folks. Because the workout is an all-around strengthener and toner, Go Vertical appeals to women of all ages as a place to workout without intimidation, and to meet other women with similar goals. Go Vertical appeals to men trying to develop flexibility and coordination and use their strength in more natural ways. Climbing is one of the few sports where men and women participate on a more equal level. This makes it great to climb with members of the same sex, because they climb in a similar manner, and with the opposite sex because you can try new techniques that you might not have thought of. The tenor of the place is so friendly that if you stop in by yourself, you won't have to climb alone for long if you don't want to. Where else can you go for an evening out, have fun, feel great when you get home and not reek of smoke? The "last time to climb" call is more dreaded that the bar-hopper's "last call for alcohol".
Go Vertical may seem like a specialty gym, which it is, but a fad? We asked the question "Fad or Here to Stay?" of athletes, gym owners, cross-trainers and athletes. Here's their response: "There is a clear interest and permanent need for these gyms, especially here in the Northeast where you just cannot climb outside in the winter" says Crux Northeast's Will Tacy. Jeff Jackson, guide and instructor of "How to Crank like a Monkey Without Losing Your Day Job" clinics describes climbing as "a complete physical workout like a good racquetball game with [the requirement and development] of almost gymnastic moves and at the same time has the mental component of solving the moves and sequencing like a big chess game". This is the kind of workout that has timeless appeal to those on the fast track or full-time parents who need the most out of their gym workout hours. Life Design gym owner/personal trainer Tad Dun agrees "...that climbing has all the elements of a complete program: resistance, flexibility and a mental aspect as well". "Longevity will come from those gyms which offer classes, competitions, events and adventure programs. The local health clubs that toss up a wall to attract a member or three will not last. The lack of experienced and dedicated staff as well as the resultant risk of liability will catch up with them" predicts William Sullivan, climber and guide for Connecticut Mountain Recreation. Robin Hann, martial arts instructor in Fairfield County: "I'm afraid I'll lose students completely to Go Vertical", she laughs. "It's a great complementary workout for martial artists, perhaps the best cross training possible over any other sport. It's real training that masquerades as fun and one of the few sports where women are competitive with men." "In the 1980's there were three maybe four indoor gyms nationwide, now there are 160 with at least three times that on the drawing board" says Ralph Erenzo of ExtraVertical and 59th Street Gym in Manhattan. "It's great!" says new climber Juliana, "I no longer need my traditional gym membership." Sheryl, another gym regular is even more enthusiastic "It's a place to go with my friends, have fun, listen to music while still be able to hear myself think. I know I'll meet interesting people who don't have drinking and smoking as their number one priority."
This is a health club. From a fitness perspective, there is no better opportunity than Go Vertical with its full body workout, showers and separate locker rooms for men and women.
This is a community place. For a gathering of friends, there is no better place than Go Vertical with its friendly, knowledgeable staff, lessons, member clinics and great climbs.
This is an avenue for personal growth. To build confidence for your kids, your scout troop or your company there's no better venue than Go Vertical.
This is entertainment. Used as an element of summer vacation, an alternative to a movie or a nightclub, Go Vertical is all-American fun.
This is a playground. Flashback to the days of slides and monkeybars. While you're busy having fun, you'll be challenging your mind in new ways and sparking creativity. While getting a great workout you'll be improving your strength and flexibility. While building a physique (if you don't already have one) to be smug about, you'll be building great memories with old friends and building new friendships. Dark out, bad weather, uninspired workouts? No worries - come to Go Vertical.