A Response to New York Times Article: Climbing Is For Everyone

A Response to New York Times Article: Climbing Is For Everyone

A few days ago, the New York Times released an article covering the changing landscape of rock climbing. The article, Social Climbing Has a Whole New Meaning, dips into the popularity of climbing after the success of mainstream documentaries and the acceptance of the sport into the Olympics. Although it starts off with good intentions, it takes a turn for the worse when it unnecessarily brings in quotes from unrelated sources that are both false and extremely demoralizing. 

At the end of the article, you are left believing that rock climbing is useless and we're all a bunch of loonies that like to play on plastic instead of seeking true adventure.

Before I continue on this piece, I want to point out that I am not writing this to shame or hate on the author or the quote offender. I am writing this to bring light to the idea that climbing is for everyoneI do wish that the New York Times article was written much differently, but I am okay with opinions that are other than my own – except when they are simply untrue.

In addition, I also write this piece with an identity as an avid indoor and outdoor climber of 3.5 years, and a fitness professional of 10 years. 

Kate Dwyer, the author of this article, brings in a quote halfway through her piece from "celebrity trainer" Harley Pasternak. Here's the full excerpt:

Harley Pasternak, who trains celebrities including Ariana Grande, Kim Kardashian West and Gwyneth Paltrow, isn’t a fan of rock climbing. None of his clients do it, though climbing makes a few appearances in Goop.com’s travel pages.

“It’s really not a full-body workout,” Mr. Pasternak said, though many climbers argue otherwise. “Most of the muscles that people really need to strength-train — hamstrings, glutes, lower back, rhomboids, triceps — are not really worked during rock climbing. Rock climbing is mainly lats, forearms, quads and calves, so these are not going to contribute to better posture.”

Not to mention, he said, most people aren’t strong enough to hoist themselves up a wall without getting hurt.

“Keeping in mind the average American is significantly overweight, I would talk everyone I could out of rock climbing unless you are incredibly light, agile, fit and functional,” said Mr. Pasternak, 45. “There is a very small minority of this country that should be rock climbing.”
He pointed out that the British Journal of Sports Medicine tracked a 36 percent increase in rock climbing injuries from 2006 to 2015, 12 percent of which required hospitalization. Young men were most frequently injured.

Mr. Pasternak also pointed out the absurdity of humans constructing elaborate sheltered courses to challenge themselves.
“That’s connecting with nature the same way that spinning in a room is connecting with nature,” he said. “They’re both contrived, artificial versions of the real thing without any connection to nature or the outdoors.”
Ahem. Okay. Let's break this down. 
  1. Harley Pasternak is a trainer who isn't a fan of rock climbing. None of his clients do it.

    So what exactly is his purpose in this article? Has he ever even climbed? Does he have any experience at all with the sport? What gives him the authority to comment on climbing if he has no relation to climbing? We're off to a solid start here.

  2. It is not a full-body workout. We need to be training hamstrings, glutes, lower back, rhomboids, and triceps. The muscles that climbing trains does not contribute to proper posture.

    I'm led to believe that someone who has ANY experience in climbing would never say "it is not a full-body workout". The moment you step on the wall, everything gets worked. The creative movements that you flow through undoubtedly taps into each muscle - nothing is left behind. Yes, some muscles will get more worked than others, but is that not true for every sport? What about baseball pitchers who throw on one arm their whole career? Or runners who depend on lower body mechanics, strength, and agility for speed? Should they not engage in their sport either?

    Also, can we just touch on the fact that all those muscles listed DO get worked? What would a heel hook be without your hamstrings? What would a single leg static slab stand be without your glutes? What would any move look like if you didn't have your lower back to complete the corset of your core? And how on earth could you stem and mantel without your rhomboids and triceps? 

    Come with me and climb. I'll show you a full-body workout.

  3. Most people aren't strong enough to hoist themselves up a wall without getting hurt.

    Repeat after me: Climbing is for everyone. All humans were born to climb. It may be hard the first time you do it – what sport isn't? – but know that you are strong enough. You were inherently made for this. With proper falling mechanics, a solid warm-up, and the right grade, you will not get hurt. 

  4. If you do choose to climb, make sure you are incredibly light, agile, fit, and functional. Which, by the way, is not a lot of people. 

    Let's try that again: Climbing is for everyone. You do not have to look or be a certain way to climb. Your weight does not matter. Your fitness level does not matter. Not only are these subjective adjectives, they have no place in our community. Do not wait to fit into society's checkboxes before you decide to climb, or engage in any movement, for that matter. You were made for this. Movement is movement, and it is made for everyone. 

  5. Injuries have increased over the span of 9 years.

    All sports have injuries and when a sport becomes more popular with a bigger population to poll, there will be higher probabilities of injuries. So...

  6. It is absurd that we have built "sheltered courses" to challenge ourselves. "They are contrived, artificial versions of the real thing without any connection to nature or the outdoors."

    Climbers have built "sheltered courses"? What would you call a normal gym then? Because to be honest, I don't feel like a regular gym is superior to a climbing gym, with stacks of oddly shaped heavy things and machines that run you to nowhere.

    What is absurd about developing safe spaces to practice creative movements?

    What is absurd about learning practical and applicable knowledge on ropes, knots, and reaching new (literal) heights?

    What is absurd about a strong community developed from the shared love of movement? 

    Yes, climbing gyms are "artificial versions of the real thing". But they are not without connection to nature or the outdoors. Today's modern climber is eco-conscious, with climbing gyms making strong efforts to conserve, provide composting options, and proper recycling drop-offs. Climbers care about our public lands, give homage to the indigenous, and are vocal about climate change. We thrive off adventurous approaches and trips to beautiful crags. These "contrived" climbing gyms are where we meet best friends who we couldn't imagine adventuring without, and in my case, it's where I met the love of my life who I travel the world with on climbing trips. 

    And you know what? Not all of us are lucky enough to live in a place with accessible outdoor climbing. We go to climbing gyms to train, to learn, and to build our foundations. From there, the possibilities to explore the world are endless. 

I am so proud of the life climbing has shown me and to be shut down by someone who hates on our community and sport for no good (or accurate) reason, frustrates me. 

As climbers and as athletes, we all start as beginners. To say that you must look or be a certain way before you start is like saying one must have professional experience before starting school. It's simply untrue. 

Harley: I respect who you are and what you do, but as a person of influence, please think twice before commenting on an incredibly beautiful and complex sport – especially if you are trying to make others believe they are not good enough or strong enough to be part of our community. They are perfect just the way they are.

Climbing is for everyone. 

Jackelyn Ho


  • Kathleen

    Hell yes! Thank you for writing this. I’m an overweight Asian woman and I love climbing and its community. I started climbing about 3 years ago. I’m not very strong and my skills will always be a work in progress — but I am much healthier (physically and mentally) and happier doing it than not. If I’d read this NYT piece before I’d started, I would probably have missed out on something that has really improved my quality of life.

    I’m not ignorant of the risks, I take safety very seriously, and I don’t have any illusions about becoming super skinny or jacked solely based on climbing a few times a week. But becoming a little stronger and a little more confident every climb has done A LOT for me.

  • Adam

    I’m so glad you wrote this piece. I was pretty furious about Pasternak’s quote in the Times story (and their choice to give him three paragraphs worth of air time to spew his incorrect opinions). I appreciate this thoughtful, fact based response to his claims from someone who is credentialed and well informed. Climbing is for everyone!

  • Jeff

    Replying to Christina, climbing is not just for the able-bodied. Plent of people with disabilities find joy in climbing. At an outdoor bouldering competition I attended recently were two competitors who were blind. With the help of some friends they were able to compete as well. Many gyms have adaptive climbing teams or events for people with disabilities. Climbing is indeed for everyone. I encourage you to look I to adaptive climbing if you want to learn more.

  • Jackelyn Ho

    Thank you for all the comments! I love seeing our community come together!

    @Christina: Thank you for your thoughts – I really appreciate it! There is actually a lot of support for adaptive climbing, which is climbing for those who have limited physical mobility. It’s a growing sector and there are many who are finding themselves up a wall even with limitations that seemed hindering. I mentioned my identity because I wanted people to know that being a trainer is one of my professions, which is why I felt even more frustrated that the quote was coming from a fellow trainer. Although I am humbled that you see me as “lightweight, strong, agile”, I have had and continue to have my own journey with fitness as well. I’ve taught thousands of people to move through my fitness classes and know exactly first hand what it feels like to think you are not strong, but you are. Strong is a relative term we build up in our heads and I know we all have it! I really do believe that climbing is for everyone!

    I love your advice to continue to showcase all sorts of diversity and I promise that we will hold true to that with our mission! Thank you so much for sharing.

  • Sophie

    Thanks you for writing this! This is so true, climbing IS for everyone. Reading this was inspirational.

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