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How to Warm Up for Outdoor Rock Climbing

Warming up for outdoor climbing is essential to prolonging the season. While many folks make a half-hearted attempt, nailing a routine will keep you safe

With temperatures rising across the country, climbers have left their favourite training facilities to take aim at their upcoming projects. While many will spend their seasons beating their bodies on stone until winter, learning to climb unscathed will prolong your season. One great way to reduce injury is to warm up, indoors and out.

This mantra has long rung from the lungs of the local crag-dad or climbing coach, but the meaning is often lost. To begin, warming up outside is hard. In the gym, a person has all they could possibly need for a better bouldering session. Hangboards allow for a slow, progressive finger load, and simultaneously allows your upper body space to adapt to heavier strain.

Furthermore, lower-body workouts come easier to the indoor climber because there is space and flat ground. Although everyone’s warm up is different, today we will discuss principles for safely warming up outside.

How to Warm Up

In order to warm up for outside, you will first need an indoor warm up routine. The first and only rule of warming up is to do the same thing every time.

Consistency gives our bodies feedback we can interpret for our session. Knowing when you feel tired, when your fingers feel achy, or when your legs feel stiff provides context for the session. For example, it can tell you how long your body will operate at its peak that day.

If it takes a long time for your body to feel flowy, that may mean that the peak of your bouldering session will only a short time. As we become injured when we continue high-intensity exercises while fatigued, knowing which days we should take it easy will helps prevent injury.

Fatigue creates bad form and forces the body to compensate for the fatigue-induced weakness of our tired areas. Knowing when to back off prevents injury. Learning when to back off in your opening routine gives the climber tactical space to make their projecting attempts count.

As for the warm up itself, you should find a routine that targets your key muscle groups individually and as a system. A conscientious climber will also consider the resources they have at their disposal for outdoors and how they might translate their indoor warm up to outside.

Areas to Warm

  • Fingers and forearms
  • Wrists
  • Biceps/ elbows
  • Shoulders
  • Pectorals
  • Knees
  • Hamstrings

While this sounds like a lot, a hangboard can at least partially warm up the first five items. We will not prescribe a hangboard warm up routine because different climbers require different exercises. With that said, the basic concept remains the same: progressively load your fingers over the course of 10 to 20 minutes. For a list of hangboard routines, click here.

Hangboarding will warm up your wrists, biceps, shoulders, lats and chest, but will fail to fully warm the upper body as a system. Completing small-duration, five-to-10 second two-arm lock offs may warm these areas a little more.

Some will prefer to use a band for their warm up. Warming up is like strength training for climbing. In climbing, the goal of strength training is not to complete the exercise, but to become stronger to climb better on the wall.

If a person trains front levers, for example, they do not need to hold a lever for their attempts to have value. Warming up is similar. How you warm up is up to you so long as your body is warm by the end of the exercises.

In some ways, the legs are harder to warm up than the arms. Dynamic and static stretches, squats and pistol squats will reduce your risk of injury. When warming up your upper or lower body, you should feel a light burn. Warming for near-peak ability will require a small amount of fatigue.

Finally, once you feel warm throughout your body, begin progressively harder climbs until you peak. Cool down following that peak.

Outside

Warming up for outside should reflect the above exactly. First, buy a portable hangboard. This irreplaceable tool will form the base of every session. Metolius has a wonderful little board for around $40 USD, and $54 CAD.

Then warm up as you would indoors. Do not skimp. It is easy to just get started with the crag’s climbing, but there is no point to getting injured your first day out of the season. Instead, breathe, stretch, lock off and hang. You’ll have better attempts. As such, you will save strength and skin because of climbing things more quickly. This means you could end up climbing more.

If you are unable to climb progressively easier boulders because your party has moved directly to your project, try hanging the moves in isolation before taking attempts from the bottom.