Tree-Climbing 101 (Part 1: Why?)

I sit in a treetop writing. A brisk wind undulates the lofty aerie that is my desk. The leaves in which I am enveloped are themselves enveloped in the rich coppery glow of the sun sighing itself to rest. My body feels the life in the tree.

Why do I do this?

The response is multi-faceted. It is a return to a childhood in which the forest was a friend, a place of both solitude and companionship. It is a respite from the travails of life and it’s conflicting emotional vagaries. It is an elemental form of exercise, physical and mental, an abode of prayer and reflection. It is a green gymnasium.

Have you ever felt stressed? Who hasn’t? It is liberating to experience how 10 lunch-time minutes spent in a tree can dissipate the grinding stress of daily life. The climbing of trees has a venerable and poetic history as can be experienced in this evocative essay by Scottish-American naturalist John Muir.

As children, my brother and I habitually climbed trees. There was the stalwart white pine in the front yard which we scaled by means of a 3/4″ twisted nylon rope slung from a branch 15′ above the ground. A small grove of slender chokecherry trees clustered closely together was a practice ground for aspiring little Tarzans who would leap from tree to tree, delighting in the fear and freedom. The smooth-skinned beech trees, so similar to the sycamore in which I now sit, laddered us aloft, letting us peer at the sky so young and blue.

What we did not know in those innocent days is that our arboreal adventures were preparing us for life.

We developed strength, balance, spatial awareness, fearlessness, and mobility all without realizing it. We were just having fun!

To have fun- isn’t that what everybody wants in life? As adults, we rarely deign to use the word “fun”. We say that we want to “enjoy life”. We declare that a given activity will be “a good time”.

But to have fun- to exult in the joy of being alive- sadly, we deem beneath us.

The purpose of this article is to rekindle the fun in fitness. Tree-climbing is a fantastic way to bring the two together. How, though, will the act of climbing trees make you fitter?

It requires and cultivates the following attributes:

  1. Upper body pulling strengthwhy climb 006
  2. Grip strengthwhy climb 007
  3. Active flexibility and mobilitywhy climb 010
  4. Leg strengthwhy climb 012
  5. Balancewhy climb 015

Furthermore, a healthy tree is a living, growing playground and fitness center. Part 2 of this series will discuss specific aerial exercises for which a tree is perfect!

In summary, arboreal-based fitness (tree-climbing) is a great idea for at least the 3 following reasons:

  1. It allows for a vigorously relaxing return to childhood and the lower-stress environment of nature.
  2. The process of climbing trees inherently cultivates multiple facets of physical fitness.
  3. A tree can become a multi-station workout machine.

Thus, do not delay, the wild green yonder beckons! Climb a tree today!

The second article in this series will analyze how to begin the process of taking your workout aloft. Questions to be answered include: How do I find/select an appropriate tree? What climbing techniques will keep me safe? How can I begin to incorporate aerial exercise? What exercises can be done in a tree?

“Leaf” a comment below!




  1. Pingback: Tree-Climbing 101: (Part 2: Branch out and Workout!) | Strongility

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