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Tips on Warming Up for Climbing

Warming up can help you have a better and more productive session

Warming Up: an often overlooked part of a climbing session. This is especially true in the younger climbing demographic, for whom the immediate repercussions of not warming up are not as great.

But we are all guilty at times of skipping this important step, whether it’s because we’re short on time or just too psyched to climb.

In What The Pros Would Tell Their Younger Selves, veteran climber, Kerry Briggs reminds us that warming up needs to become part of our climbing routine: “I wish I had someone who forced me to get in the habit of warming up well before every climbing session… I was TOLD about the importance of warming up but never really applied that knowledge to real life. And now I’m developing a solid case of climber’s elbow.”

To be sure, the culture around climbing is changing. More attention is being paid to rock climbing as an athletic pursuit, akin to gymnastics, cross-fit, and weight-lifting, which is why there is an increase in interest and information around all things training for climbing. This is great because rock climbing is indeed a physical work out, and it is well known that one should warm up before working out.

Warming up before you climb contributes to the prevention of long-term, chronic injuries as well as immediate injury. It can also help your immediate climbing performance. Below are four broad guidelines and exercise suggestions to try out at the start of your next climbing session. The pre-climbing routine need not take more than 15 minutes.

Get Moving: The goal is to improve your blood circulation and raise your body temperature – literally warming you up. Options: Do 2-4 minutes of skipping with a rope, jumping jacks, jogging on the spot and/or marching in place

Get Loose: The goal is to loosen up the joints, which for many of us are tight from sitting at a desk, through dynamic (but controlled) exercises.

Leg swings (10 per leg, try to keep hips square, swing legs front and back, side to side)
Hip circles (hands on hips, draw big Os with your hips, 5 each direction); Or use a hula hoop for fun
Ankle and wrist rotations (5 each direction)
Shoulder rolls (5x backwards and forwards)

Get (a little) Pumped: The goal is to activate (without over-tiring) relevant muscle groups.

For the arms: This “flashing light” exercise is great, especially for the forearms: Open and close your hands (making “flashing lights”) 20 times (a) with arms stretched straight above your head, (b) with arms stretched out to the sides at 90 degrees to your body (making a t shape), and (c) with arms outstretched in front of you.
For the legs: 10 squats, box steps (see video below)

Get Climbing: Yay! Start with problems or routes that are easy for you and, taking proper rests, work your way up to your projects. Some folks like to start by traversing (moving horizontally) on a spray (aka backfilled) wall. Start on big hand- and foot-holds close together, and progressively use smaller holds that are farther apart. Again, make sure to take breaks.

For intermediate to experienced climbers, you may need a plan to keep you from hopping on hard stuff too soon! Check out Steve Bechtel’s bouldering warm up routine from ClimbStrong.com.

“Using various boulder problems on as many angles and hold types as possible:
(1) Do as many easy V1/V2 problems as it takes to add up to your limit grade. For example, if you are climbing V9 for your limit problem, you might do V2, V1, V1, V2, V2, V1. These should be slow and in control. Rest and stretch for a couple of minutes, then:
(2) Do three problems in a row with little rest, which also add up to your limit grade. In our example, this might be V2, V3, V4. These should be done as quickly and explosively as possible. Rest a few minutes, then:
(3) Do two problems that add to the limit grade, so maybe V4, V5 in our example. These, you would do at your normal pace.
(4) Finish with some specific hold positions on the hangboard if necessary, depending on the nature of your work problems.”