Climbers Guide to Correctly Warming Up

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Rock climbing is an intense and demanding activity.

It requires both fine and gross motor skills to complete every movement on the wall, challenging your body in different ways. No matter what stage of training you’re in, even on an active recovery day, a thorough warm-up is always numero uno.

Many climbers just want to get on the wall and often limiting their warm-up to simply “easy climbing”, leaving them prone to injury 😵

The warm-up is more than just jogging around the gym a few times — it’s time to get ready to train at your highest capacity, both mentally and physically.

What Makes a Good Warm-up?

A warm-up is about a 30-45 minute period of dynamic activity that prepares you for your actual workout. This finishes with a ramping up phase where you gradually increase the difficulty of your climbs.

It should start light and gradually build up to mirror your actual exercise intensity.

Your warm-up regime should cover the following factors:

  • Increasing body temperature
  • Dynamic stretching
  • Easy climbing

After these you can add the ramp-up phase where you increase the difficulty.

Increasing body temperature

raise temperature warming up

The goal here is to raise your heart rate and produce a light sweat.

Think low-intensity cardiovascular exercises, which should be performed for 5-10 minutes:

  • Jogging
  • Cycling
  • Rowing
  • Skipping

The accumulated body warmth increases your blood circulation and core temperature preparing your body for an increase in intensity.

Dynamic stretching

dynamic stretching for climbing

Here we’re looking to get the muscles firing and activate all major joints.

This consists of moving your limbs through their complete range-of-motion in a brisk but controlled manner. Controlled being key here. Most importantly the main joints that are going to be used during your session should be activated. For climbers this means pretty much all of them…

Note, this is dynamic stretching, not static which will be discussed further below.

Foam rolling is also great to add at this point. A review of 49 research studies found that foam rolling could reduce muscle soreness, improve range-of-motion and can be used with dynamic stretching as part of an active warm-up before training. All positive 👍

Think the following exercises for this dynamic part of your warm-up.

Lower body:

  • Frontal leg swings
  • Lateral leg swings
  • Hip rotations
  • Thorax twists
  • Pelvic rotations
  • Lunges

Upper body:

  • Arm circles
  • Elbow circles
  • Wrist circles

Other:

  • Jumping jacks
  • Squat thrusts

Foam rolling:

  • Lats
  • Upper back and traps

Easy Climbing and Ramping-up

warm-up climbing

Now that the blood is pumping, your heart rate elevated and your joints limber, you can finally get on the wall.

The aim is to start with climbs well under your limit but then gradually increase the difficulty closer to your max.

You can initially perform either:

  • 8 – 10 boulders
  • 4 – 5 routes

For example:

  •  A V7 boulderer should start with 6 problems V1-V3, followed by two V4-V5 and then a V6, giving a pyramid-like increase in difficulty.
  • Likewise, a 7b route climber would start with 3-4 6a/b followed by a 6c and finally a 7a, all with a good few minutes rest between routes.

Concentration should be given to full control and focus on footwork, providing a great mental warm-up as well as physical.

A Note on Stretching

static stretching

There are three different types of stretches:

  • Static stretching. This is the classic thing we think of when we think stretching. This is holding your muscles in an elongated position for a prolonged period of time.
  • Ballistic stretching. This involves moving in and out of a stretch position to repetitively elongate the muscle.
  • Dynamic stretching. This is less stretching and more actively moving a joint and muscle through it’s full range of motion, targeting certain areas.

In our warm-up we should only include dynamic stretching.

Why?

More and more research suggests that static stretching should be avoided during a warm-up due to its impact on muscle performance. It is thought to reduce maximal strength and power but equally inhibiting your reflexes and making you slower to react. The longer the hold of the stretch the more the impact on performance.

Static stretching is still great, but keep it for after your session.

Example Warm-up Routine

  • 10 minute jog
  • 20 squat thrusts
  • 20 jumping jacks
  • 10 frontal/lateral leg swings on each leg
  • 10 hip rotations each direction
  • 10 lunges each side
  • 25 arm circles, starting small and getting progressively larger
  • 25 elbow circles
  • 25 wrist circles
  • 90s lats foam rolling
  • 90s upper back and traps foam rolling
  • 3 6a routes, 2 6b, 1 6c (for a 6c+/7a climber)

Conclusion

woman ready to climb with rope

The key takeaways regarding your warm-up:

  • Aim for a minimum of 30 minutes.
  • Start by getting your heart rate up and increasing you body temperature.
  • Dynamic stretching comes next, moving all major joints and muscles through their range of motion, possibly including some foam rolling.
  • Lastly, progress to easy climbing, progressively increasing the difficulty.

Your warm-up definitely shouldn’t be missed even when doing structured training. Especially for those climbers who aren’t in their early 20’s anymore and have had multiple injuries! 

Like an effective training plan, your warm-up routine is a key part to staying injury free over the years and remaining a healthy and happy climber 🙃 

What’s your favourite warm-up routine?

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