When owner Will Russ opened Santa Barbara Rock Gym last August, he wanted to provide a outlet for a community filled with climbing enthusiasts.

Since it opened its doors, Santa Barbara Rock Gym has been signing up new members from all walks of life, including many with little to no previous climbing experience.

What those novice climbers have found is an exciting sport that not only challenges their body but their mind as well. Rock climbing’s fitness advantages are many, as it efficiently targets the whole body, builds functional muscle, increases strength, and improves flexibility and agility. It is a total body workout in the truest sense of the term, as your arms, legs, back, chest and core muscles are all working to propel your body up that wall.

The mental component of rock climbing may be a little more surprising, but compared to most traditional exercise programs, rock climbing requires a tremendous amount of focus.

“When you think about it, most other exercise is spent trying to get out of your head as you run on a treadmill or elliptical machine, but climbing requires your entire focus, which makes it a more interesting way to stay in shape and easier to stick with long term,” Russ said.

The concentration and patience needed as a climber makes strategic decisions about their route can improve mental awareness. That increased mental awareness can lead to lower blood pressure, better sleep, an improved immune system, and help develop skills related to decision-making and problem-solving. Overall, rock climbing provides a new and engaging way to meet your individual fitness goal while being a part of a fun and supportive community.

Santa Barbara Rock Gym opened in August as Santa Barbara’s first and only indoor rock climbing gym. It offers more than 8,500 square feet of climbing space, and has a certified staff of 17 employees. It offers courses for beginners and experienced climbers of all ages, nightly specials, camp programs for kids and teens, birthday parties, group events and climbing teams. The gym is located at 322 State St., and is open everyday from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.

— Mike McElhaney is a publicist representing Santa Barbara Rock Gym.