Climbing / School / Warming Up
by Rich Simpson
Love it or hate it a good warm up is essential before climbing or training. Not only will a good warm up minimize the risk of injury, it will also enable you to physically and mentally get the most from your climbing session. During my time as a climber I have seen a huge variety of warm up ideas, from a few pull-ups on a tree branch to 20 seconds jogging on the spot. Needless to say this is not sufficient and these climbers will pay the price sooner or later with poor performances or worst still injuries.
For most physical activities warming up involves several different stages, including pulse raisers, general mobility, stretching, another pulse raiser and then finally sport specific exercises. All of this could take between 15 and 30 minutes. What follows is a list of exercises that will prepare you physically and mentally for a hard climbing or training session and help you avoid injury.
Stage 1 – Pulse raiser
Before starting any serious physical activity it is essential that you increase your pulse rate, get you blood pumping more quickly and that your muscles begin to feel warm and loose. This can be achieved in many ways but the best way will be to walk/jog/cycle a bit quicker to the crag or gym making sure you get slightly out of breath. Obviously this will depend on what crag you go to as it would be no use walking a little quicker from your car to the base of Raven Tor which is a mere 10 meters away. If you have a walk in of 10 minutes or more then this will be perfect if not, then make a slight detour and admire the scenery – anything that will get you slightly out of breath and your body feeling a bit warmer. This will also help you feel more awake after a days work sitting at a desk.
Stage 2 – General mobility
Once your body feels warm and your heart pumping, I think it is really important to get the blood flowing around your whole body. For my warm up I like to make sure that all my large muscle groups feel loose and have a good circulation of blood. Stage one will have warmed up my legs and got my heart beating quicker now it’s important to warm up the main muscle groups involved in climbing.
To do this I work from the top down and usually do 20 reps of each of the following exercises.
• Move my head gently and smoothly from side to side, and then forwards and backwards.
• Rotate my shoulders forwards and backwards in a circular motion.
• Rotate my arms in helicopter motions, in both directions,
• Lift arms up and down above your head, as if you where lifting up weights.
• Do some star jumps
• Most importantly I shake my arms and hands as if I was resting on a route, therefore getting some blood down to my fingers and forearms.
You should now feel warm, awake, a lot looser and ready for stage three.
I personally don’t include stretching as part of my warm up. I prefer to include it in my warm down or as supplementary exercises on rest days to improve flexibility. There will be an article on stretching shortly.
Stage 3 – Increase in pulse
You are now ready to get out your boots and chalk bag. Even if you are planning a route session I always recommend where possible a bit of bouldering to warm up since you will not have to worry about ropes or belaying. Another advantage is that it also gives you some time to try out new things and concentrate on technique without risking an important onsite.
I have seen so many climbers warm up on things which are obviously at or near their limit, where they struggle to the top, hands slapping, feet sliding, and although it may sound impressive that so and so can warm up on such a difficult route, their impatience will not only put them at a high risk of injury but also affect the way they climb throughout the rest of the day. This is not a warm up.
To warm up on the rocks I usually climb some very easy boulder problems. I focus as much as possible on movement, using my feet, climbing smoothly and confidently, taking holds accurately and generally building up my confidence for the session. I will gradually attempt slightly harder moves, whilst always keeping technique my main goal. If this is done properly, I will feel loose, confident and very rock aware, which will stand me in good stead for an attempt on a hard route or boulder problem.
During my warm up I don’t find it essential to stretch, yet if a particular part of my body is aching and feeling more stiff than usual then I will definitely spend some time stretching it out. You know your body better than anyone else and if you feel something’s a bit stiff or sore, pay particular attention to that area whilst warming up and stretch it if necessary.
Stage 4 – Sport specific exercises
Now that you have completed some easier problems it’s time to gradually up the intensity. Obviously, if your maximum route limit were 6c you wouldn’t jump straight on a 6b+ but gradually work your way up through the grades starting on perhaps a 5+, then a 6a+ then perhaps a 6b – .
It’s important to do at least three routes/boulder problems before attempting a route which is near your limit. For bouldering it can take anything up to an hour before you start feeling properly powered up and ready to attempt your project. It’s important at this stage that you warm up specifically for the type of climbing you will be doing later in the session. If it’s long endurance sport climbs there is no use in warming up on three short boulder problems and obviously if you intend to try a short powerful route/boulder problem there would be no point doing three 30 metre warm up routes!
Also, the angle of the rock plays an important part in your warm up. If you are attempting a hard slab route, it will be important to warm up on technical slabby routes and stretch out your legs to improve flexibility in your session. If you are planning on attempting an explosive boulder problem it will be important to warm up your fast twitch fibers, by attempting similar but easier explosive boulder problems, and maybe even doing some explosive pull-ups on a tree branch/hold etc.
Basically what I have been trying to say is; in a warm up routine it’s important to first get your pulse raised and body feeling slightly warmer, then take this to your upper body to get the same feeling. Then begin very easy climbing, concentrating on technique and fluid movement on the rocks, to build a solid foundation for your climbing session and improve confidence and feeling on the rock. Last but not least, continue your warm up specifically for the type of climbing you intend to do throughout the session, for example, if you are training endurance, or climbing long routes, then you should focus on slowly getting a forearm pump and increasing blood flow to the specific muscles you will use in climbing, i.e. forearms, this will prepare you for attempts on harder climbs once warmed up. If you are attempting very technical climbs on slabs or vertical walls its important to warm up on similar angled climbs, therefore getting in balance, finding out how good the friction is, and learning to trust your feet. Also it may help to have stretched your legs muscles as part of your warm up routine, this will allow you to keep your body close to the wall and help those high steps, which are a common occurrence on slabs and vertical walls.
After all it’s only your own body and climbing that will be hindered if you rush or forget a warm up routine, you know it makes sense.