These walls are no barrier to fitness
DUBAI // Sporting enthusiasts are urging UAE residents to take up bouldering or wall climbing to beat obesity and get fit.
Climbers said they enjoyed sweating it out on a rock face at the multitude of indoor facilities that have opened up recently, adding that it was a welcome break from treadmills and weights.
“I weighed 85 kilograms and had 30 per cent body fat previously,” said Hamad Sajwani, 28, a seasoned Emirati rock climber.
“But now I am 70 kilos and have less than 9 per cent body fat.
“Obesity is a massive issue here. Being an Emirati, I am ashamed of it and the cause of it is bad eating habits and poor lifestyle choices.”
The commodities trader said the sport had physical, social and psychological benefits.
“Sport is not about driving a car really fast in the desert, it is about physical exertion. To me, rock climbing is a religion. I am married to it,” said Mr Sajwani.
“You get a full body workout, like swimming, there are the social benefits of meeting new people and you get a sense of achievement.
“When I go bouldering outdoors, the beautiful greenery and scenic views give me a sense of calm. Rock climbing is much more entertaining than going to the gym. I urge people to give it a few attempts. Once I started, I couldn’t let go.”
Leslie Strange, a regular at the Rock Republic Bouldering Centre in Dubai Investment Park 1, said she enjoyed the challenges of bouldering, which is a form of rock climbing performed without the use of ropes or harnesses.
“I really enjoy bouldering,” she said. “It is a fairly independent sport and you don’t need a partner. It has helped me physically and mentally because it is a very challenging sport and is more stimulating than running.”
Ms Strange said bouldering was like doing “ballet on a wall” but required problem-solving skills.
“You have to figure out how to work out the problems. I recommend rock climbing to get fit.
“It’s better than weightlifting at the gym, which can be very dull,” she said.
The Canadian added that the sport provided a lot of opportunities to socialise.
“There is not a lot of social interaction in gyms and cardio areas. But here you meet people who are like-minded,” she said.
Rock Republic staff agreed. “Bouldering has become very popular as a workout and a social activity,” said Pete Aldwinckle, general manager of Global Climbing, which owns Rock Republic.
“Bouldering focuses on the movement, fitness and the mental aspects of climbing.
“Because there are no ropes, harnesses or other equipment, the climbers can focus on technical, physical and mental challenges of solving the relatively short boulder problems.
“These problems provide a challenge to the climber to solve through working through the sequence of moves, requiring flexibility, strength, body positioning, balance and body control. It is like sudoku meets gymnastics.”
Safety concerns were raised when two people suffered serious injuries in 2011 after falling off climbing walls in Dubai, despite having safety ropes.
Jordanian Ahmad Daood, 29, broke both legs and an arm after falling eight metres at the Adventure HQ climbing wall at Times Square, while Mohamed Alavian, 24, an aviation student from Iran, suffered a fractured skull and arm in a 12-metre fall at the Dorell Sports climbing wall at the World Trade Centre.
But Mr Aldwinckle said bouldering was relatively safe and that Rock Republic’s highest wall was 4.5 metres. “We have mats below that are 40cm thick. If you jump or fall off, the mats are designed to absorb your impact.
“In the last year, the only injury was one person twisting their ankle,” he said.
Adventure HQ, which features a nine-metre climbing wall at Times Square and a bouldering facility in Abu Dhabi, said people often used their centres to unwind.
“Our walls are extremely popular,” said Gary Sweeney, the Times Square store manager.
“We have over 30 different routes that climbers can try. Children come in the day and many adults come to de-stress or for a workout.”