By Abree Murch
Climbing facilities around the country are choosing to partner with outside organizations to provide group fitness classes and training programs for reasons that range from simplifying logistical concerns to supplementing a lack of resources. Early last month, the Cliffs at Long Island City announced that they had formed one such partnership with GRASP Fitness with the goal of creating a one-stop shop for climbers who want a comprehensive approach to training .
What is GRASP?
GRASP Fitness was born as a previous fitness/training company called First Ascent Fitness, which began to be phased out of the Cliffs earlier this year. Dan Boterashvili, who had been a First Ascent trainer at the Cliffs for a year and a half, co-founded GRASP in order to continue providing climbers with a science-based approach to training.
“I got bit by the climbing bug about three and a half years ago and I started to notice that there was a pretty big gap when it comes to training for this sport,” Boterashvili told CBJ. “When you look at other sports like basketball, baseball, or soccer, they all have very science-based training approaches. So when we began training climbers here, we started using the Functional Movement Screen (FMS), which is one of the industry standards as far as observing people’s quality of movement and risk of injury.”
The success of this approach helped tailor GRASP’s mission. “We decided our training focus was going to be on not only being optimal for life, but also optimal for their sport – primarily rock climbing and outdoor/action sports,” Boterashvili says.
How the partnership works
While GRASP resides entirely within the Cliffs, it still retains its status as a separate entity. Kary Williams, general manager of the Cliffs, explains, “ Our goal is to make it a seamless and comprehensive partnership.”
“The agreement we have is that GRASP will focus on all of the climbing-related training, and the Cliffs will provide the coaches for climbing technique and skill-building,” Boterashvili adds. The Cliffs already had some successful fitness programs and GRASP built off of them with additional classes like Pilates and Climber Flexibility, as well as bouldering- and lead-specific group training. The company is also developing a program where a GRASP trainer works side-by-side with the Cliffs’ climbing coaches.
GRASP also handles yoga instruction at the Cliffs. Instructors are brought on through GRASP, who makes sure they’re certified, insured, and meet with GRASP’s climber-focused philosophy, saving the Cliffs’ management time they would otherwise spend sorting through the details. Boterashvili noted that all of their instructors are climbers. “Again, we’re focused on taking that yoga knowledge and applying it specifically to climbing and the outdoors,” he said.
On for their part, GRASP isn’t focused on building business outside of the Cliffs. In fact, the only way to work with GRASP is through the programs at the Cliffs. “We know we have a great community here, and right now, we have a lot of work to do to build the company and make our programs as strong and robust as possible,” says Boterashvili.
The decision to outsource
So why not do the program in-house? Williams says it comes down to quality. “We’ve been doing this long enough that we realize we do climbing really, really well. It’s our best in class product – but when you come into the facility, the expectation is that you get a best-in-class product no matter what you’re doing.”
The goal was to bring someone on who matched the Cliffs’ level of passion for fitness and training for climbing. It helped that GRASP was already a part of the community and was well-prepared to tailor their classes to climbers’ needs.
Williams also cites the need to stand out in a crowded market, “Being in New York, there’s so much competition between all the fitness and health clubs. Anything we can do to differentiate ourselves is a good thing. Partnering with GRASP creates a one-stop shop – you can accomplish everything right here.”
Bumps in the road
The partnership is not without its challenges, most of which stem from the fact that GRASP is a young, growing company that was built from the ground up. At the outset, both entities had to take a step back and account for aspects of the partnership that weren’t in place when it was First Ascent.
“We didn’t have very strong lead-generation systems, we didn’t have a cohesive mission as a company, and when we started GRASP, we took a look at those holes and realized we needed to make sure we worked with the Cliffs to fill them,” Boterashvili explains. Free fitness consultations are now offered to every new member, who can opt-in to be contacted by GRASP on their membership contract. GRASP and the Cliffs also created a system to organize leads and clients by their interests and needs.
On GRASP’s end, hiring trainers who understand the climbing world has also proven to be tricky: “We’re looking for more trainers who have the science-based, industry background that understand movement, injury prevention, skill acquisition, and problem solving, but who are also climbers and outdoorsmen.”
A synergistic relationship
Boterashvili sees the sense of community that draws so many people to climbing as an asset to both GRASP’s training programs and its partnership with the Cliffs. “The amount of support we have is unbeatable. Everyone at GRASP is excited to work with the Cliffs’ members and employees every day. It’s such a positive place to be in and I think that will be a huge contributor to people’s training,” he says.
The arrangement also helps hone GRASP’s unique approach to what Boterashvili acknowledges is a non-traditional training market. “The conventional training world is focused on catering to the people with the purchasing power, who can afford the luxury of personal training. We do focus on one-on-one training, but one of our primary goals is to create programs and products for people who can’t afford that one-on-one approach, like youth climbers.”
One way GRASP caters to this particular demographic is by bringing the training process online. They’ve developed a mobile app that allows members to access their custom training programs without having to enroll in one-on-one training sessions. Boterashvili sees this approach as the solution to major problems for people in the sport, knowing that, unfortunately, “a lot of climbers, especially the youth, can’t necessarily afford the services of a professional trainer outright, because it’s very expensive.”
Regardless of the high-tech approach, the goal to create an all-inclusive climbing fitness experience remains consistent. As Boterashvili puts it: “A lot of people are really excited because we can tap into this amazing thing we can do as human beings, we’re all working as a team, and we can see everyone grow.”