Once the refuge of hard-core rockhounds trying to hone moves for their next trip to Yosemite, climbing gyms, which first broke big in the early nineties, are seeing a resurgence in interest. In Los Angeles, upwardly mobile fanatics include Zac Efron and Tom Cruise; in New York, venues like Brooklyn Boulders are loaded with "Wall Streeters and captains of industry," according to instructor Ryan Oldendorf. Hence, upscale fitness facilities are adding climbing-related machines and equipment (think classic ropes and ladders) to their gym-floor offerings.
The reason is simple: "Few workouts are as efficient and complete," says George Coto, manager at Carabiner's in New Bedford, Massachusetts. "Climbing works you from your fingertips to your toes and emphasizes agility, balance, and coordination—it leaves nothing out."
And as you scale up, you scale down: You can burn more than 700 calories an hour while sculpting those coveted vanity muscles. "It leans you up, tones the stomach and back, and totally strengthens you—like weight training without the weights," says Peter Spinazze, manager at Rockreation in Costa Mesa, California. "Climbing will not make you bulky. But to get ripped, hit it hard three or four days a week."
Then there are the stress-relieving side effects. "The benefits of climbing are as much mental as physical," Oldendorf says. "The focus is so intense that it takes your mind completely off the latest stock-market crash."
GET A GRIP: MASTER THE TECHNIQUE
USE YOUR BIG TOES. Stay off the arch of your foot and utilize the big toe and forefoot, which is strong and designed to help you steady yourself, says Christina Rensch, marketing director of Maryland-based Earth Treks Climbing Centers.
STAY PARALLEL TO THE WALL. Keeping your hips close to the wall positions your center of gravity over your feet and takes stress off the arms, says Spinazze.
THINK LEG UP, NOT PULL-UP. Men will try to pull themselves up the wall, but even the strongest will get winded after 20 minutes, says Spinazze. Your quads are way stronger than your biceps, so focus on pushing up with your feet, not pulling up with your hands—like climbing a ladder. "Don't rush it," says Matthew Tuason, climbing pro at New York City's Reebok Sports Club. "This requires measured, methodical thinking."
HOW TO TAKE IT OUTSIDE
Before you head out, do your homework: Find destinations, directions, suggested gear, and potential climbing partners near you at mountainproject.com. Some top spots:
LOS ANGELES: Angelenos can scale Malibu's Point Dume, a cliff on the beach, or head to Malibu Creek State Park's famous Santa Monica Mountains (seen in countless films).
NEW YORK CITY: Located 90 minutes north of the city, the Shawangunk Mountains (dubbed Yosemite East) offer more than 1,000 climbing routes.
SAN FRANCISCO: Casual climbers and weekend warriors in the Bay Area can head to Mount Diablo State Park to hit up Rock City, Butt Rock (its actual name), and Sentinel Rock. The topper: The park's overlook offers a view of the Golden Gate Bridge
WASHINGTON, D.C.: Hundreds of climbing routes are close to the nation's capital, including Great Falls Park on the Virginia side, which has many easy (and plenty of hard) options.
See also our slideshow of the world's most breathtaking climbing routes.