Incorporating children into the fitness atmosphere at a club may encourage families to begin thinking of exercise as an activity that they can do together. Club owners may find that climbing walls, whether 3 feet high or 30 feet high, can be a great way to tie youth fitness to their club.
Garnet Moore, CEO of Brewer’s Ledge, a Randolph, MA-based climbing wall manufacturer and supplier, says a climbing wall is a great way to introduce kids to fitness without making it seem like a chore.
“Climbing is a real fitness activity, much like a skateboard game or a jungle gym,” Moore says. “Kids just naturally want to do it. It’s mentally stimulating. You have to think about balance and body position.”
John White, founder of TruFit, Albuquerque, NM, a manufacturer of rock climbing equipment, says kids are typically drawn to climbing walls because of the challenge they present.
“When you look at kids who climb, they’re just having fun,” White says. “The kids associate the challenge and reward system early on and get excited. They see that they can do something they couldn’t do a week ago.”
Robyn Raboutou, the program director of Boulder, CO-based ABC Kids, an athletic facility for youth, says climbing both attracts and benefits children.
“Kids are stimulated when doing an activity like this,” Raboutou says. “There’s development of the gross motor skills, so they’re building important muscles in their hands and stimulating mental activity.”
White says the key is to attract kids to a fitness activity that they can grow with, and if they start early, they will reap more benefits and become lifetime club members.
“I’m hoping we’ll be able to create a movement toward lifetime sports,” White says. “Climbing is mainstream, yet it’s still considered an extreme sport. I think kids will pick up on that. They’re working out harder than their parents in the group class. A lot of where we can take group fitness relies on children and how they respond to it, so incorporating them into these fitness trends is important.”
Because climbing walls are labeled as an “extreme sport,” some people may consider them unsafe for children, but climbing wall manufacturers spend a lot of time ensuring the safety of these products by installing specific safeguards, Moore says. The walls are subject to highstandard testing that rates its hardware, construction and design. Many climbing walls are built at different levels so that a child or an unfit adult can work his or her way up to a more challenging wall.
Club operators who assure members of the climbing walls’ safety for their children can earn some additional revenue through their use, too. ABC Kids hosts climbing wall parties that run $25 per child with a minimum of seven children, which equals at least $175 per party. The party includes an hour and 15 minutes of playtime on the walls with planned activities supervised by instructors.
If the addition of a climbing wall is not in a club’s budget, an alternative such as a slack line may serve the same purpose. Slack lines, which White describes as similar to a tightrope but lower to the ground, offer similar fitness benefits and can often be a gateway into climbing walls.
Raboutou says the main priority at ABC Kids is safety. With children as young as 2 years old participating in climbing activities, ABC Kids takes several precautions, such as considering the dimension of the wall to the size of the child, to ensure that the equipment is up to safety standards.
Adding a climbing wall to a facility may offer easy headway into youth fitness. White and Moore agree that prioritizing youth fitness is important.
“We just want everyone to be climbers,” White says. “When you go to a climbing wall, there’s a community that you become a part of. By using a climbing wall, you’re teaching yourself how to develop lifelong fitness habits, and that’s even more valuable than going to the gym or getting on the P90X.”