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The Next-Generation Climbing Gym

Climbing gyms are evolving from dimly lit warehouses stacked with plywood to full-service fitness centers with the look and feel of outdoor crags.

Recently I sat down with Kevin Pickren, general manager of CRG Watertown, to get his take on how the best new gyms have transformed the ambiance of indoor climbing. “Traditional gyms,” he ventured, “tended to be exclusively about climbing, whereas we’re developing a well-rounded fitness center with a focus on climbing. There will always be cliques of climbers who hang out together, but they dominated the older gyms, as they don’t ours.” Indeed, CRG offers a rich menu of yoga, spinning, and Pilates classes, all of them free with membership. “It’s great that kids love our place,” added Pickren, “and yes, we regularly host birthday parties for them. But we’re not trying to be a kids’ gym. We’re trying to push gyms toward a broader audience. We aim at working professionals who are fitness conscious. We get a lot of people who come here for the yoga and end up climbing.”

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To be sure, there’a hardcore side to CRG Watertown. Competitions have attracted such superstars as Daniel Woods and Sasha DiGiulian. Under the tutelage of climbing coach Shane Messer, an elite group of teenagers trains to compete from local to national and even international levels. On my most recent visit, I watched Adrian, a shy boy from central Mexico who had come to Watertown to work with Messer, “on-sight” a V7 boulder problem (a very stiff proposition even for experts) with utter nonchalance. At age 17, Adrian is already the eight-time national champion in his age group in Mexico.

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