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Image Gallery: Extreme Sports Climbing is a versatile sport that doesn't necessarily have to take place outside. See pictures of extreme sports.

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Introduction to How USA Climbing Works

The thought of rock climbing may evoke images of adventure seekers battling the elements while scaling the slopes of Mount Everest. In actuality, the sport takes place both indoors and out. Rock climbing can be a chance to commune and compete with nature or a race up the climbing wall at your local gym.

If you do climb competitively, you will likely work within the USA Climbing organization, which oversees competitive climbing in the United States. USA Climbing competitions encompass three disciplines: bouldering, sport and speed climbing. The American Bouldering Series (ABS) oversees bouldering, and the Sport Climbing Series (SCS) oversees sport and speed [source: USA Climbing].

Bouldering is often done outdoors and involves athletes climbing over and around overhangs or other rock formations. Bouldering is also the simplest kind of rock climbing equipment-wise. All you will need are your climbing shoes, a crash pad and chalk bags to keep your hands dry -- bouldering does not require ropes [source: Eiselt].

Climbers do use ropes in sport and speed climbing. If you give competitive sport climbing a try, you will follow pre-marked routes up a slope or climbing wall, and whoever gets to the finish in the shortest amount of time wins. Sport climbing is often done indoors on man-made climbing walls and often calls for some complex, physically challenging moves as well as speed [source: REI].

No matter what type of climbing you try, you will learn that many of the same basic skills and methods apply. For example, from a spectator's perspective, it may look like climbers are pulling themselves up a wall or over a boulder. What they are really doing is pushing themselves up from their feet, placing the burden their legs, which are much more powerful than the arms [source: Antaya].

Joining USA Climbing can provide you with many informational resources about the sport, as well as a climbing community. For information on how to become a member, keep reading.

Climbing Tips

While you are scaling a wall or boulder, keep your center of gravity over your heels. Simply put, this means stick your rear end out at an angle. Form a triangle with your arms, legs and the climbing wall as the sides. Do not stretch your body across the wall to reach for holds that are out of your range [source: Cahall].

Joining USA Climbing

Joining USA Climbing allows you the opportunity to put your bouldering, sport or speed climbing skills to the test by participating in organized competitions. Climbing competitions are grouped into divisions by age. Generally, youth divisions cover age groups that span two years, starting at age 10 or 11. Adult divisions span about 20 years of age and are subdivided into different levels of difficulty. Adults can also compete in an open category. However, there are 15 regional distinctions within USA Climbing, and the competitive divisions may vary slightly depending on what part of the country you live in [source: USA Climbing].

If you decide to become a member of USA Climbing, you can become a member of the American Bouldering Series, the Sport Climbing Series or both. If you are interested in both, the joint membership is a slightly better deal at $70 for one year. Otherwise, an American Bouldering Series one-year membership is $30, and a Sport Climbing Series membership is $50 [source: USA Climbing].

Nonmembers must also pay a $5 fee per USA Climbing competition. So, if you're serious about climbing, a USA Climbing membership may be a good option. No matter what you decide, you must register through the USA Climbing Web site [source: USA Climbing].

The potential benefits of USA Climbing go beyond the money you save by joining the organization. To learn more about what you can get out of climbing, read on.

Climbing for a Cause

You have probably come across friends, relatives or coworkers raising money for charity by competing in athletic events. People run, walk and bike in order to get donations for a good cause. Athletes sometimes climb for charity, too. Some events are personal in scope, while others take place annually and have a lot of competitors, such as the HERA Climb4Life event, which raised more than $80,000 for ovarian cancer research in 2009 [source: Rock Climbing].

Benefits of USA Climbing

Once you begin climbing, you will quickly realize that the sport can benefit you both mentally and physically. Physically, climbing may improve your strength and flexibility. Pushing yourself to new heights can build strong leg muscles, and reaching for the next hold is a way to give your arms, legs and core a good stretch.

Climbing may help keep you mentally fit, too. You will need to think on your feet as you decide which route to take and what to grab hold of on a climbing wall, boulder or slope. Once these obstacles are overcome, you may find you have built up a confidence that you can later apply to other challenges in your life [source: Pietri].

If you find that you enjoy rock climbing, a USA Climbing membership may be a good way for you to take your interest to the next level. Nonmembers who pay the day fee to compete in a USA Climbing event can receive a ranking for that particular competition, but only members can compete on the regional, divisional or national level and be included in a nation-wide ranking. Members also receive a discount to Urban Climber magazine and special offers from USA Climbing sponsors [source: USA Climbing].

A USA Climbing membership may also provide you with opportunities to meet other enthusiasts with whom you can climb. When you climb with a group, there's often a sense of community, and scaling a boulder or reaching the top of a slope can feel like a shared accomplishment [source: New England Bouldering].

Now that you are familiar with the benefits of rock climbing, you may be ready to give it a try. Joining an organization like USA Climbing can be a great way to get started. For more information on getting involved with climbing or other sports, visit the links on the following page.

Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks ArticlesSources
  • Antaya, Dave. "Good Footwork: the Key." New England Bouldering. 2000 (Accessed 1/2/2010).http://www.newenglandbouldering.com/bschool/b101/feet.html
  • Cahall, Fitz. "Tech Tip - Technique - Heels of Steel." Climbing Magazine. 2009 (Accessed 1/2/2010).http://www.climbing.com/print/techtips/tech_tip_-_technique_-_heels_of_steel/
  • Eiselt, Julie. "Bouldering." REI. September 2009 (Accessed 1/2/2010).http://www.rei.com/expertadvice/articles/bouldering.html
  • New England Bouldering. "Jolie Matkowski: A Rising Star." 2002 (Accessed 1/2/2010).http://www.newenglandbouldering.com/interviews/jolie.html
  • Pietri, Gianpaolo. "Interview with Alpinist Adrian Ballinger." Climbing Magazine. 2009 (Accessed 1/2/2010).http://www.climbing.com/community/perspective/interview_with_alpinist_adrian_ballinger/
  • REI. "Sport Climbing Basics." (Accessed 1/2/2010).http://www.rei.com/expertadvice/articles/sport+climbing+basics.html
  • Rock Climbing. "$80,000 Raised for Ovarian Cancer Research." September 28, 2009 (Accessed 1/2/2010).http://www.rockclimbing.com/News/Press_Releases/_80_000_raised_for_Ovarian_Cancer_Research_1068.html
  • USA Climbing. "USA Climbing is for Everyone." 2007 (Accessed 1/2/2010).http://usaclimbing.net/about_main.cfm