Jason Momoa was a rock climber “long before he was an actor,” according to his new HBO Max docuseries. The Climb (out now) stars the Aquaman actor and his friend Chris Sharma, who just happens to be one of the greatest climbers to ever live.
Like Chris Hemsworth’s Limitless, The Climb shows people putting their bodies to the test. Across eight episodes, the Momoa and Sharma host a competition among 10 amateur climbers, who are taken to stunningly gorgeous locations where they battle it out on limestone cliffs, sandstone, and granite.
Momoa shared a few teaser videos for The Climb on his Instagram Wednesday. The visuals are quite literally jaw-dropping, including Momoa scaling a cliff over the ocean only to then take a plunge into the water. But he also explains what it is that makes him such a passionate climber. And it’s about much more than getting shredded, though he’s certainly that, too.
“Climbing is the thing that’s always kept me together,” Momoa says of how it’s helped him over the years. “All the pressures, things I need to do—nothing else matters. You’re here now.”
Sharma one-ups him touting the benefits of climbing: “I’m a firm believer that the more people that are climbing,” he says in this video, “the better the world is going to be.”
Whether you’ve dipped into the niche but growing rock climbing community or not, the activity is associated with all kinds of physical and mental health benefits that sharpen your mind and your physique—two things you want to keep in shape if living longer is your goal (and it should be.)
Many of the benefits aren’t always found in other sports, according to experts. Which might be why more than 10 million Americans have gotten into climbing as of 2020. It was also added as a sport in that year’s Tokyo Olympics.
Here are some key health benefits you might be able to enjoy if you take up scaling a wall (real or fake, we won’t judge).
It’s the Ultimate Full-Body Workout
Few exercises rival rock climbing when it comes to activating a diverse range of muscles. Climbing trains “nearly the whole body’s musculature,” researcher Jiří Baláš told Time. You’re recruiting your biceps, triceps, and deltoids—as well as your glutes, calves, and abs.
As Momoa said on a 2021 You Tube video, “That’s why you climb, because it takes everything, full body.”
It Gets Your Blood Pumping as Much as Running
While it hones muscles you might not have previously realized you even had, hefting yourself up a rock face or climbing wall is just as efficient for cardiorespiratory fitness.
Climbing can raise your heart rate as high as about 150 beats per minute, according to CNN—a vigorous rate for exercising that you might expect to reach in a particularly intense SoulCycle session. Except all you need to climb is a rock, real or artificial. If it feels challenging, you’re getting a good workout. And if you notice your shirt is drenched in sweat even though the climbing gym is air-conditioned, all the better for reaching cardio goals.
It Leads to Better Flexibility and Balance
Climbing is a kind of art in the hands of someone like Sharma. You have to move and contort your body into all sorts of unusual positions, which sharpens flexibility and balance, critical to overall fitness but sometimes underrated at the gym. Excellent climbers require a bendy back just like yoga pros, according to Outside.
It Literally Makes You Smarter
Climbing is not simply about physical ability, but also your mental capacity to figure out the precise way to successfully scale a rock. You’re challenging your problem-solving skills even as you sweat it out. You memorize routes, encounter obstacles, and may have to course-correct. This all leads to enhanced memory and problem-solving. “Climbing is very cognitive in nature,” Zack DiCristino, the USA Climbing team’s physical therapist, told CNN.
It Makes You a Better Human
When Sharma says more climbers could create a “better” world, he’s tapping into the critical mental health and social benefits of climbing. First, and especially if you’re scaling a real rock, communication with a partner is important to success and possibly even survival. “The best climbing requires clear and consistent communication,” boulderer Anna Wendt wrote in The Startup, adding that the hobby has taught her about follow-up communication.
That communication naturally fosters trust and mutual support among climbers. A 2020 VA study even found that adaptive rock and rope climbing build stronger community connection and confidence. That social boost may be reason enough to join the local climbing gym, whatever your cliff-hanging skill level.