We all grow out of playing make believe and making mud pies but climbing trees is something we should take into our adulthood! Let’s take a leaf out of Tarzan’s book here and get our bodies doing a full workout branch by branch. I have both researched professional tree climbing and clambered to the top of my very own garden tree before writing this article, so without further ado, here are our Top 10 Benefits of Tree Climbing (from personal experience)!
1. It’s good for your mind
As I reached the first branch and looked down I felt a mixture of excitement and calmness that can only be described as a very contemplative and ‘Zen-like’ experience. I took a little breather and realised that I had been concentrating so much on my foot placement and grip that I had fully channelled my mind into the task in hand and nothing else. After doing some digging I found research done by Dr. John Gathright, the founder of Tree Climbing Japan, (yep, there are actually organisations dedicated to this) proves that climbing trees instead of man-made structures is clinically proven to benefit mental health! My mind’s made up; tree climbing is now going to be a part of my weekly workout routine!
2. It gets you outdoors
Being outdoors and amongst nature is beneficial for so many reasons but a fun fact I recently learnt from researchers at Tokyo’s Nippon Medical School found that people who spent six hours in the woods over the course of two days had an increase in virus and tumour-fighting white blood cells and this boost lasted a minimum of seven days afterwards. So even if you don’t fancy climbing a tree just yet, take a walk among them to give yourself an immunity boost!
3. Increased hand-to-eye coordination and development
Every step you take when going upwards rather than forwards is a very important decision. Your eyes have to be in sync with your hands and feet continuously. At first it is something you are consciously very focused on, but eventually you will naturally develop this skill and it won’t feel like you are making a tough choice with each move you make onwards and upwards. Well, at least Tarzan makes it look easy enough!
Lifting my foot up to a branch and setting it in place, I suddenly felt that amazing stretched out pull on my legs, then reaching with my arms to hoist myself up, I felt the same elongated lengthening of my ribs, arms and stomach. The wonderful thing about trees are each one is completely different and they are not grown with you in mind so this means some bigger gaps between branches and extra-long lunges from you are needed at times. Think about how a gorilla climbs…time to get bendy on the branches!
5. Balance and core
It can be risky business up in the sticks so balance is essential. Don’t worry though, it seemed to me that because I had to consciously have balance at all times, my body was forced into maintaining it. My stomach muscles ached afterwards and I was really surprised at just how much of a full-body workout tree climbing can be. Core blimey indeed! (pun semi-intended.)
6. Upper body strength
Lifting yourself up from one branch to the next uses your shoulder, back and arm muscles, fingers, wrists, forearms, joints, tendons and sinews! It’s very similar to rock climbing in the sense that you are relying on your own bodily and anatomical design and strength and manoeuvring your own body with every position you put yourself in. Lift yourself up and reach the top!
7. Lower body strength
As I was making slow transitional movements from different parts of the tree I noticed how much my legs worked. Some adjustments meant I was relying on one leg at a time, going from a crouched down position, to a full extension – but then when I’m faced with one-legged squats, I fear them! Trees (as beneficial to us as they are) are fairly unforgiving of our ignorance which just helps you prove to yourself how much courage you have and what you’re actually capable of!
8. Fingers and grip
Hand strength has gotten more exposure over the years, (“Over The Top” anyone?) what with arm wrestlers, tennis champs, bodybuilders needing excellent grip of the bar, rock climbers needing to hang on by their fingertips and yogis applying their full body weight on their hands, fingers and wrists, it’s definitely talked about more often. Tree climbing trains these parts of our bodies too, just be careful not to get a splinter -use gloves if needed when you’re starting out!
Coconuts are still massively en vogue of course, and here in this fun video our friend Kap from Polynesia, shows how you can have yours and drink it too!
9. Foot placement
As you get better with your balance and hand-to-eye coordination, your bodily strength and foot placement will improve in turn. You’ll naturally begin to make placements that will maximise the workout and allow the focus to remain on your quads, glutes and hamstrings equally, even though you have your head in the bush!
10. Problem solving skills and overcoming procrastination
Each tree is a unique climb and although you’re constantly being forced to make decisions, there will be endless ways to reach the the tippy top. Beginners like myself will work out their route as they climb but over time you will become as wise as the willow and be able to visualise and prep your route from the roots up. This means you can even decide on multiple paths to ascend and variously challenge yourself!
Admittedly, my garden tree was no grand oak, but it gave me a good grip of what it’s all about. I’m going to look for professional tree climbing groups and see just how high I can take this! Tag us in and Tweet us @keepfitkingdom with pictures of trees you are about to climb and let us know how the ascent went!