If there is one universal truth about climbing, it may be this: climbers suck at warming up.
How many times have you gone to the gym or gotten to the crag and immediately jumped on a crimpy V4 boulder problem or pumpy overhanging route because you’re “fresh?”
To avoid injury and maximize your climbing potential per session, don't let your friends (or your eager ego) pressure you into getting on the wall before your body is properly warmed up.
When your muscles are cold from sitting all day, your body is far more prone to injury if you start working out without warming up, regardless of the activity.
This sentiment is especially true for climbing, since rock climbing is a particularly intense sport that requires both fine and gross motor skills to complete every movement on the wall.
Warming up and cooling down may feel like a chore when you first start the practice. But once you incorporate this fun and dynamic warm-up series into your regular climbing sessions, you will undoubtedly begin to see improvement in your overall technique and stamina.
Avoiding flash pumps and nagging finger injuries, as well as increasing your projecting potential, make warming up before climbing a worthwhile endeavor for beginners and rock gods alike!
First Things First - Heating Up the Body
The term “warming up” is self-explanatory and describes the first principal of performing a proper climbing warm-up. Your first goal before getting on the wall is to get your body warm.
There are a number of ways you can heat up the body, but the most important thing to focus on is increasing your heart rate while warming up.
Exercises to Increase Your Heart Rate Before Climbing
1. Jumping Jacks
As simple as it sounds, jumping jacks are one of the easiest and most effective ways to get your blood pumping and increase your heart rate to prepare your body for a rigorous climbing session.
- Complete 3 sets of jumping jacks at 10 reps per set with a 30 second rest between sets (30 total jumping jacks)
2. High Knees
Similar to jumping jacks, trotting around your gym or the crag while lifting your knees high into your chest is a great way to get your body moving and stretch your hamstrings and quads at the same time.
- Perform 3 sets of high knees at 1 minute per set with a 30 second rest between sets (3 minutes total)
3. Walking / Jogging / Hiking
Regardless of where you are, whether at the crag or in your local gym, you should have no problem finding somewhere to simply move your body in a forward direction.
An approach to a crag can often suffice for your heart rate warm-up, but if you’re climbing by the roadside or in the gym, make sure to intentionally move your body before getting on the wall.
You can do this by walking around saying hey to friends or jogging up and down a staircase a few times to get your muscles working before you begin stretching.
Types of Stretching - Static vs. Dynamic
It is important to know the two different styles of stretching before diving into the nitty gritty details of how to warm-up before a climbing session. The two types are static and dynamic. Both are useful for various forms of exercise, but for our pre-climb warm-up, we want to focus on dynamic stretching.
Static stretching is holding the body in a single position for a certain amount of time (i.e. 30 seconds), such as bending down to touch your toes and holding the stretch without moving for the allotted time.
This is great for improving flexibility, but best suited to after a workout.
Dynamic stretching is a smooth movement through the full range of a stretch that focuses on spending an equal amount of time through each phase of the stretch.
A dynamic hamstring stretch would be reaching down to touch your toes while counting to three, and counting to three again while you return to a standing position. This is the sort of stretching you want to do to warm up and get your joints moving.
Top Ten Warm Ups and Dynamic Stretches
1. Knee Pull-Ups
- Aim: to stretch your abdominals, hip flexors and gluteal muscles
- While standing, pull one knee tightly into your chest until you feel the stretch, then switch and pull the other knee in.
- Repeat 5 times per knee.
2. Hip Rotations
- Aim: to increase flexibility in your hips, allowing you to pull them in closer to the wall while climbing. Also stretches glutes and abdominals.
- While standing with legs hips-width apart, balance on your left foot while lifting your right leg with your hand on your knee.
- Gently pull your right leg open, rotating your hip and extending your knee out to the right until you feel the stretch.
- Repeat motion with your left leg while balancing on your right foot.
- Repeat hip rotation 5 times per leg.
3. Deep Squats
- Aim: to lengthen and strengthen the inner quads, glutes, hamstrings, and calves while stretching the low back
- Stand with feet together.
- Step out to the right wider than hips-width and squat down as far as you can, making sure to keep your heels on the ground and your back as straight as possible.
- Stand up as soon as you reach a comfortable depth of stretch in your squat, step feet together, then step out left to squat down again.
- Repeat 5 times per side.
4. Flag & Reach
- Aim: to mimic a movement you would make on the wall (flagging) while stretching the abdominals and glutes
- Start standing up.
- Reach each opposing arm and leg (i.e. right arm, left leg) as far away from the body as possible while standing on one foot to make half an X-shape.
- Repeat movement on the other side.
- Repeat 5 times per side.
5. Reverse Outside Flag & Reach
- Aim: to mimic flagging while stretching the arms, hips, and legs
- Start standing up.
- Bend your right knee while you extend your left arm up and away from your body and step your left leg behind your right leg, touching the floor with your toes.
- Repeat motion on the other side (right arm / right leg).
- Repeat 5 times per side.
6. Shoulder Rotations & Arm Circles
- Aim: to warm up your rotator cuffs while stretching your shoulder and arm muscles to prepare for pushing and pulling motions on the wall
- Roll both shoulders forward five times, then back five times while arms dangle down by your sides.
- Next, lift both arms and rotate the arms/shoulders five times forward and five times back, making sure to keep the motion as smooth and controlled as possible.
7. Torso Twists
- Aim: to increase mobility in the spine and stretch/strengthen the abdominal wall
- Stand with your arms raised and bent in toward your chest at shoulder height. Keep your feet rooted firmly on the ground, wider than hips-width apart.
- Simply start twisting your torso gently from side to side, gaining momentum slowly. Don’t twist your body further than is comfortable each time.
- You must move fully from one side to the next to complete one twist.
- Perform 10 total torso twists.
8. Neck Rolls
- Aim: to improve mobility in your neck, especially to prepare for long belays
- Let your head completely relax while looking down, then roll your head in gentle circles, five times in each direction.
9. Forearm Extensor Stretch
- Aim: to extend your forearm muscles and stretch your biceps and triceps to avoid elbow injuries while climbing and decrease the possibility of a flash pump
- In a standing position, bring your arms together in front of your chest (your hands should be at your waist).
- Straighten your right arm and lay your fingers flat on the palm of your left hand.
- Pull back on the fingers of your extended (right) arm until you start to feel a gentle stretch. Hold for 10 - 20 seconds.
- Release your right arm and rotate it 180° so the fingers are facing backward on your left palm with your thumb facing out to the right.
- Pull back with your left hand until you feel the stretch in your forearm. Hold for 10 - 20 seconds.
- Repeat both front and back forearm stretches with the other hand.
- Do two sets of the stretch per arm (four total stretches per arm)
10. Easy Climbing
- Aim: to prepare your body and your mind for the act of climbing and put into practice all the warm-ups you just did!
- Pick out at least two climbing routes or boulder problems that are two or more grades below your peak climbing level (so if you’re a 5.10 climber, climb a 5.7 and 5.8, or if you climb V6, start out with a couple V3 or V4 problems).
- Focus on how you move and pay attention to where your thoughts go while you warm-up on the wall. Try to be precise with your movements and present in your thoughts while paying close attention to footwork and efficient movement across the wall.
- Warming up before climbing doesn’t have to be lame. Gather up a few friends and make a game of it, or record your progress as you start to notice the differences that warming up has on your climbing ability.
You’ll be impressed with how quickly your climbing improves after just a couple of sessions that incorporate a thorough warm-up!
And always remember to do a short cool down after finishing up on the wall to allow your muscles to relax and prevent further injury. To cool down, simply perform some of the same stretches described above in a static fashion (hold the stretch for 20-30 seconds), or you can do some gentle yoga to cool down your body and your mind.
Now that you know how to properly warm-up before climbing, get out there and start climbing like the rock warrior you are, with smoking hot muscles and the mind of a Jedi to boot!