Cardio Workouts: Are Climber Classes the New Calorie-Crushing Craze?

Climber Cardio Workouts

You know you have to get in your cardio workouts. But are you bored with the treadmill? Tired of the stair machine? Sick of the running path? Annoyed at the elliptical? Butt sore from that bike? Maybe it’s time to try to the climbing machine. Touted as the hardest machine at the gym, there are now even whole exercise studios devoted to this sweaty cardio craze. Can you really climb your way to the next level of fitness?

I’ll admit that I’ve never given the climber much thought. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, it’s that tall, skinny rectangle stick that leans diagonally away from the wall at the top. It has two small, gliding platforms for your feet that and moving handles at the top for your hands. You can only move the handles and pedals in a vertical direction. There is no forward motion.

It works in the same way you might crawl along on your hands and knees. When your left arm is stretched upwards, your left leg is straight. Your right arm is lowered and flexed at the elbow and your right leg is bent at a 45 degree angle with your foot up near your hip. As you pull your left handle down, the right handle goes up. At the same time your left foot goes up and your right foot goes down. Now everything is reversed. It’s kind of how Spiderman goes up a wall.

The machine has no motor; you power it. And since it only moves vertically, there’s very little impact and no momentum to keep you going. Only your burning, agonizing muscles pushing and pulling.

I’ve never climbed a rock wall or mountain face, so I can’t say if the movement is similar to actual climbing. But I can tell you that it’s a seriously challenging workout. Of course, like any machine, how many calories you burn is all about how hard you’re willing to work. Especially with this machine, which is solely powered by you. Because you’re using your upper body in tandem with your lower body, you’re going to expend a lot of energy with every stroke of the machine. Details Magazine says the climber burns “between 10 and 20 [calories] per minute depending on intensity” and Men’s Fitness Magazine claims the caloric expenditure is even higher, “between 600–800 for a 30-minute session.” If those number mean nothing to you, studies say most people burn a little over 100 calories for every mile they run. If you run a 10 minute mile, you’re burning around 300 calories for every 30 minutes. So the climber really gives you a lot of bang for your buck.

Recently I paid a visit to Rise Nation, an exercise studio in Los Angeles devoted entirely to climbing machine classes, with my friend and senior editor of this magazine, Jill Ettinger. The studio prides itself on a club-like atmosphere, and in that sense, they definitely don’t let you down. After you file in and grab your climbing machine (which we reserved in advance online), remote control shades lower over the floor-to-celling windows to completely darken the room. As you pump your arms and legs in time to the music, the rainbow-light ceiling pulses along with the deafening pop, and you can close your eyes and completely let go. If you can manage to breathe, that is.

I felt like the experience was really similar to a spinning class, although the workout at RN only lasts a brief 30 minutes. Jill felt is was a bit more extreme, calling it “…the Burning Man of workouts. And it might be from the future, which I guess proves that it works.” Not only was it futuristic, I thought it was a fantastic cardio workout. I was huffing and puffing from right from the word go. The enormous #sweatpool under my machine sparkled with every throb of candy-colored light.

To climb safely, the friendly instructor tells you to stick your butt out behind you so that your knees are aligned over your toes to ensure knee joint safety. Although the climbing movement involves tons of muscle groups (calves, hams, quads, glutes, core, back, shoulder, bis, and tris), I really only felt seriously taxed in my quads-the front part of my thighs. Jill felt taxed in, um, other areas. She warns, “For women with breasts that you know, actually move, a word of caution: they will move, a lot. Wearing two bras barely helped me avoid a black eye.” And we both had achy knees afterwards. But perhaps as climbing rookies we didn’t stick our rears out far enough.

After class we both felt pleasantly sweaty and invigorated. RN has a beautiful patio that overlooks the Hollywood Hills where you can relax and grab a snack or the ubiquitous juice. If you’re more of a water person, make sure and fill up at the complimentary bottle filling machine. That was some damn good water. I swear they must get it straight from some sparkling Alpine steam. I’m still thinking about it…

A climber class isn’t complicated. You climb. Sometimes faster, sometimes slower. It’s dark, loud, fun, and sweaty. If you like to spin but want a little more upper body involvement, you’re probably going to love Rise Nation and their climber classes. Jill says, “Is it ridiculous? Absolutely. But who doesn’t need a little ridiculousness in their life? My bottom line is that it got me moving, and that’s never a bad thing.”

That’s always my bottom line as well. So if you’re bored of your current cardio, give a climber a chance, it’s a tough workout. If you’re in the Los Angeles area, give Rise Nation a try as well. I promise at bare minimum, you’ll have a great time.

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Image: Rise Nation