There is a general acceptance, in principle at least, that an effective pre-climbing warm up is a good thing to do. However, this aphorism is accepted by most people in the same hazy way that they accept that drinking green tea is good or eating cheese before going to sleep might be bad. There is little understanding of why warming-up is helpful. An effective warm up does a number of things including:
- Increasing blood flow (and oxygen delivery) to muscles
- Reducing muscular viscosity (giving smoother and more efficient muscle contraction)
- Decreasing stiffness of connective tissues
- Increasing range of motion
- Encouraging synovial fluid to the joints
- Releasing adrenaline (Increases psyche!)
(Brukner & Kahn 2012)
The upshot of this is that a warm up reduces the risk of an acute injury (No evidence yet to suggest a warm-up reduces overuse injuries, but it would help them to recover! (Largiader and Oelz 1993)). A warm up has been proven to increase sports performance in 79% of cases (So that probably includes you! (Fradkin et al 2010).
So if you want to climb stronger and for longer you need to start warming up, and those 3 squat thrusts combined with that preening session on a jug-ladder is just not going to cut it.
Step 1: Cardio
The Pulse Raiser, approx. 10-15 minutes.
The aim of this stage is to raise your heart rate, ideally to the point where you are slightly breathless, but could still hold a conversation. This could be a jog/cycle/fast walk to the climbing wall or crag if it’s longer than 10 minutes and of sufficient intensity. Another possibility is to take a skipping rope or even a combination of jogging on the spot and star jumps. It doesn’t matter how you get to the desired effect, but make sure you feel good and warm before you move on to the next step.
Step 2: Range Of Movement
Dynamic stretching, approx 10 minutes
The aim of this stage is to loosen up all your joints to gain their maximum range of motion for climbing. This does not mean static stretching where you push beyond your available range with the aim of permanently increasing your flexibility. You will see a lot of people doing static stretching as a warm up, but it is not a good idea, as it both increases the risk of injury and reduces performance! (Small et al 2008, Fletcher et al 2004). The best type of pre-exercise stretch is the dynamic-stretch where the participant systematically loosens up to their normal full range of motion. Start from the top and work down, and remember, start slow and build up:
- Gentle neck movements left and right, up and down (not circles)
- Rotate your shoulders
- Rotate your arms in a circular motion
- Circular movements with your wrists
- Squeeze and open your hands and then shake them as if you’re shaking out on a route
- Circle your hips 10 times in each direction (I like to avoid eye contact in this stage)
- Bring your knees up high as if marching
- Kicks (start small, build up, be reasonable, you’re not Jackie Chan)
Step 3: Sport Specific
Hit the wall, approx 10-15 minutes
This stage is more open to interpretation and each individual must pace themselves in accordance with his/her ability. For example if your max redpoint grade in 7a(sport) or V5(bouldering), then start with a 5+/V0, then gradually increase the grade depending on how well you performed. Genuinely ask yourself whether you’re ready for each route before you get on it.
The last thing to remember is that everybody has off-days, and it is those days where, for whatever reason, you are not climbing at your best that injuries most frequently occur. If you were just very disappointed to fall off that V3, don’t then jump straight on a V5 to prove you can do it. Swallow your pride and try something easier. Better to go home disappointed than being unable to climb for the next 6 weeks! Now go climb!!
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About The Author
Sam is an extremely motivated climber with an inexhaustible passion for training. His main focus has been on bouldering in recent years, and have climbed up to 8A+ outdoors. He also works as a physiotherapist, with a particular interest in general musculoskeletal and climbing injuries, as well as the sports science behind elite level training.
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Brukner P, Khan K (eds) 2012 Clinical sports medicine 4th ed. Sydney: McGraw Hill pg 116-117
Largiader Oelz. (1993). An analysis of overstrain injuries in rock climbing.Schweizerische Zeitschrift fur Sportmedizin . 41 (3), p107-114.
Fradkin, A Zazryn, T Smoliga, J. (2010). Effects of Warming-up on Physical Performance: A Systematic Review With Meta-analysis. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research. 24 (1), p140-148.
Small, K Mc Naughton, L Matthews, M. (2008). A systematic review into the efficacy of static stretching as part of a warm-up for the prevention of exercise-related injury. Res Sports Med.. 16 (3), p213-31.
Fletcher, I Jones, B. (2004). The effect of different warm-up stretch protocols on 20 meter sprint performance in rugby union players.. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research. 18 (4), PDF