As a competitive gymnast during my early childhood and teens, I learned from a very young age the importance of routine warm-ups to prepare my mind and body for a multi-hour gymnastics session — the first hour of every practice was a routine including cardio and stretching!
Now that I am a climber, I have experienced the same importance before a climbing session.
WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF A CLIMB WARM-UP?
A good warm-up focuses and prepares your mind and body for what's ahead and increases the temperature of your muscles and tendons to bring them to their optimal working temperature. This also activates the connections between your nerves and muscles, which improves the efficiency of your body’s movement. It is important to warm up to ready your mind and body as one connected unit for the movements you are going to do in your climbing session and to be able to execute those moves as well and as safely as possible.
It is important to know — There is not one correct way or specific amount of time required to warm up your body for climbing! The only real mistake to be made is not warming up at all. When your body is not warmed up, you significantly increase your chances of injury and lower your potential for your best climbing.
WHAT TO INCLUDE IN A CLIMBING WARM-UP
Try creating a pre-workout routine to prepare for what you are about to do — whatever that may be, doing the same thing every time allows your mind to get focused for the session ahead. Freeing your mind from distractions such as work and eliminating screen time before your climbing session can really help you get the most out of your workout!
Many climbers start with light dynamic stretching and cardio pulse raising before touching the wall, and other climbers may go straight to the wall to begin their warm-up.
Dynamic Stretching & Cardio (the order is up to you!)
Consider the temperature of your environment and if you have already exercised before your climbing session. If climbing in cold conditions, it can be helpful to stretch after your muscles are warm from some light climbing.
For those who prefer to do ground stretching and some cardio exercising before getting on the wall, consider these ideas:
Focus on dynamic stretches before your climbing workout and static stretches after your climbing session.
Areas to warm up: upper body, lower body, and fingers. Getting all of these areas warm prepares your muscles for both explosive movements and high flexibility moves by activating and opening your mobility and range of motion in different areas of your body that you will use while climbing.
As you warm up, observe any feelings of soreness or tight areas that may need more attention.
Squat variations, forward and side lunges, calf raises, and leg swings
Tip: For leg swings, you can use a wall for balance while swinging your leg forward and backward and then side to side across your body
10-20 reps of the ones that work best for you
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and use your hips to draw big circles going clockwise and counterclockwise to warm up your hip flexors
Stand and rotate your ankles one at a time in circles
Make circles going both forward and backward on each arm, swing and cross your arms across your chest alternating which arm is on top each time, and roll your shoulders forward and backward in circles
Extend your arms out in a T shape with feet shoulder-width apart and try leaning and reaching from one side to the other while twisting both your palms to face up each time you reach
You can also do a few reps of push-ups or pull-ups
Slowly turn your neck side-to-side to look over your shoulders
Slowly rotate your neck in circles looking down to your chest and up to the ceiling
Make tight fists and squeeze for a few seconds then relax (can squeeze stress balls/ hand grip trainers with varying resistances)
Extend and retract your fingers like you are making a flashing light signal
Using a hangboard is another way to warm your fingers by doing a few hangs with your feet off the ground
Circle your wrists in both directions
Warm your core with plank holds, with hands on the ground while alternating lifting one arm by twisting and reaching one arm to the sky
Can also do variations of sit-ups/crunches
A cardio warm-up gets your heart rate up and increases blood flow, enabling more oxygen to reach your muscles.
1-2 minutes of jumping jacks, jogging in place, and/or butt-kickers
Resistance bands: If you have them, bands of various resistance strengths can be used for dynamic warm-up movements for your arms, shoulders, hands, and legs. You can find good YouTube videos with specific movements for climbers!
You can even stretch and warm up by practicing dynamic movements on the ground that you will do on the wall.
Some climbers with experience may go straight to the wall to dynamically stretch their muscles and warm up.
Regardless of climbing before or after dynamic stretching and cardio, a climbing warm-up on the wall should begin with very easy problems/routes.
The key is to do easy problems/routes while focusing on moving your body with control and precision. Climb in a relaxed and slow manner during your warm-up climbing, focusing on your foot and hip positions. For example, a good wall warm-up is to climb up and down an easy route 2-3 times using jug holds before progressing to harder climbs.
Finally, ask yourself how your body feels while warming up. Does it feel relaxed and ready to progress to harder climbs or projects? Take your time warming up to lower your risk of injury and maximize the potential and enjoyment of your climbing session.
Once you have a warm-up routine that works well for you and that you enjoy — make it a habit and stick to it!