A MERE glimpse of Irish actor Jamie Dornan’s ripped chest in the trailer for his Valentine’s Day movie, 50 Shades Of Grey sent YouTube viewers into meltdown and notched up an eye-watering 100 million hits within a week.
There’s no mystery to how this 32-year-old former Calvin Klein model developed his muscle-bound physique to play the character of businessman Christian Grey — indoor rock-climbing.
Kristen Stewart and Jennifer Aniston have also reportedly hit the climbing walls to prepare for movie roles, but, although it may once have been the preserve of thrill-seekers and celebrities on a fitness quest, rock-climbing has gone mainstream with indoor climbing walls now available everywhere from Dublin to Cork, Limerick, Galway and Kerry for the growing number of fans.
“It’s a very demanding sport in terms of calorie consumption and it’s extremely physical,” says Damien O’Sullivan, talent development officer with Mountaineering Ireland, who has been climbing for 14 years and ranks the sport “up there with very high intensity aerobics.”
“It’s a very toning sport. Climbers generally have very good muscle definition and good balance,” he says.
What about rock-climbing as a main exercise regime for someone who wants to develop a set of really fab abs?
“Basically,” he quips, “you get fab everything from climbing.
“You get a whole body exercise and fabulous definition because it uses everything from your toes to your fingertips.
“To climb well you have to engage all the muscles,” he says, adding that the sport demands not just balance, mobility and agility, but also an ability to problem solve — and cope with fear.
It’s not just mentally demanding, it’s also a marvellous way of de-stressing, because, says O’Sullivan, “it fully engages you.”
“It’s a form of vertical meditation. I wasn’t surprised to learn that Jamie Dornan used it!”
Veteran climber and Irish team climbing coach Terry O’Connor agrees.
Because climbers must really focus in on particular movements one at a time – one foot, one hand, then the other foot and the other hand, rock-climbing has an almost yoga-like, meditative quality he says.
“It requires calmness in your head because it focuses your mind, so there’s a big relaxation element to it.
“I work as a climbing instructor in a climbing gym in Inchicore called the Gravity Climbing Centre, and we have a lot of people coming in very stressed after the day’s work.
“They spend an hour and a half on the walls and they go home much more relaxed.”
It’s also a very sociable sport, he says. “People are very helpful and there is a lot of interaction.”
It’s an excellent form of training, says fitness and outdoor instructor Ronan O’ Connor of Ardmore Adventures.
“It’s very good for your core. You’re working legs, arms, chest and back, you’re using all the muscle groups and it’s very good for flexibility and balance.”
Plus he adds, you’re using your own body weight to train instead of barbells or kettle bells etc. “This means you’re not putting undue stress on joints and muscles.”
Basically, explains O’Sullivan, 34, climbing is about muscle recruitment – toning muscles you already have.
Because it’s such a high-intensity sport, its burns fat fast.
So, depending on the type of body you have, where you’re starting from physically, and the amount of effort you put unto it, a new climber should begin to see signs of all-over toning, weight loss and body-change within about eight to 12 weeks.The good news is that you don’t have to man up in the gym first – and you don’t have to spend ages learning how to climb either.
An instructor will take you through an induction to show you the basics, and you simply take it from there, explains O’Sullivan.
“We set a course, a route or a problem and it’s up to you to climb and to use your strength.
It’s really very straightforward, says Terry O’Connor, 55, who has been climbing for some 34 years.
“People will say climbing is quite a hard sport, but it’s actually something you can get good at very quickly,” he says.
“It works every muscle from head to toe, and because of this it’s a better workout than you’d probably get in the gym.”
“We take people who have never climbed before, and spend an hour giving them some very basic and simple techniques which get them used to the movement involved and after that they’re ready to go.
Age is no barrier — and nor is gender, apparently:
“I know people who started climbing at six and some who were 76 when they started. I know people who started climbing at 40 and 50,” says O’Sullivan, adding that some of the top climbers in the world are women – Lynn Hill from the USA and Belfast’s Lucy Mitchell are among the elite group of the world’s top climbers.
Ronan O’Connor agrees that to start climbing you need no previous experience.
“95% of the people who come to me to do rock climbing have never done it before.
“Strength is not necessarily the big thing — you must learn to use your legs rather than your arms.”
However, for best results, if you want to strengthen and tone your core, he suggests combining your climbing regime with squats, sit-ups and other exercises such as Pilates, which help train the muscles you use in climbing.
Diet is absolutely central he believes — you must eat healthily and in moderation, and if that requires a lifestyle change, so be it.
“Exchange the bottle of Coke for a bottle of water,” says the 35-year-old Corkman, adding that dedicated climbing two or three days a week, combined with a healthy diet, can really start to ring the changes in around eight weeks.
“But you have to be honest with yourself— and you must be realistic about your goals.”
So, how to begin?
Simple says O’Sullivan:
Step One — find a climbing wall.
Step Two — start climbing
Step Three — keep climbing!
All you need is some ordinary sports clothes, a pair of runners and a bag of powdered chalk to absorb sweat from your palms and improve your grip.
If you want to go rope climbing — as opposed to ‘bouldering’ — which works at lower levels and so does not require the climber to wear a safety harness, you will get a climbing harness, although commercial outlets will generally rent them to you.
Don’t be afraid to give it a go, says O’Sullivan:
“It is the sort of sport that if you would like it you will get totally hooked!”
Paudie Flynn always loved the outdoor lifestyle – as a child he was a committed scout member, and later in life enjoyed cycling, walking and running.
But a visit to Wales with his son Dion (now 20) in 2006 not only brought a whole new meaning to Paudie’s definition of outdoor sports – but a complete career change: “We ended up doing some wall-climbing outdoors on a huge sea-cliff just 20 minutes’ drive from Holyhead. We loved it. It was very exciting,” recalls the 40-year-old.
“At times you were sitting on a little ledge the size of a cushion. You had to use different muscles, different parts of the body and it was more exciting than walking or running.”
After the Dungarvan, Co Waterford, father-of-one was made redundant from Waterford Crystal, he decided to change career — and , that Welsh rock-climbing adventure was the catalyst which nudged him in a completely different direction.
In October 2010 Paudie, began a training course as an outdoor activities instructor.
“One of the modules on the course was to qualify you to be a rock climbing instructor. It was that experience in Wales that started it off because it was different from running and cycling. There’s an adventure element to it.”
He loves the mental challenge involved: “You have to plot your route and there is the element of the unknown because you don’t know what it is going to be like until you start climbing.”
Based in Dungarvan, where he also acts as a kayaking instructor, Paudie provides expert wall-climbing training, and is working with members of a rock climbing club in Rathcormac.
His body has benefited too: “It’s changed my body for the better. I’m much more flexible and agile, and I’ve found that my shoulders, arm sand legs are much more toned up. If I was climbing harder and more regularly my core would tighten up too, but because of the recent bad weather I have been doing a lot of kayaking, which is a better suited to the rain!”
“Anybody who wants to try something different and get a taste of adventure, will find that rock-climbing is the sport that will do it for you!”
For further information on rock climbing contact Paudie Flynn 087-3461675