Warming Up for Climbing 101

Perfect your warmup routine with this advice from climbing & occupational therapist Jenni Comins.

By Jenni Comins
Occupational Therapist & Hand Therapist

Summer is rolling in and warmer weather means we can feel our fingers once again and we don’t have to use only our eyes to match on those teeny tiny holds (which, by the way, is never a good idea)… but just because you’re feeling warm doesn’t mean you can skip that all-important climbing warmup!

Heatwave or icy, warmups remain crucial – but why? Simple: because warming up helps prepare your body for climbing.  
There is a lot of information out there about warming up (and thousands of professional athletes can’t all be wrong), but in summary, warming up: 

Oxygenates muscles, fuelling and preparing them for activity.  
• Raises your heart rate and blood pressure to levels that are right for physical activity.  
• Raises your body temperature, which improves muscle function and makes you more alert and responsive.  
Can improve your strength and performance and reduce muscle soreness afterwards. 
Can lessen your risk of injury

And, of course, warming up is an important part of mental preparation for climbing as well. 

I like to start with a vigorous cardio-type exercise to get the blood flowing and to wake up the major muscle groups. This can be something as simple as running on the spot, energetic dancing, using some fancy gym machine or whatever aerobic exercise blows your hair back (and raises your heart rate and temperature). When you are ready to take off a layer of clothing and your heart rate is doing a fast jog, then it is time to move on to the next step.  

Focus on each specific part of the body: feet-ankles-knees-pelvis-abdomen-chest-back-shoulder-girdle-upper arms-hands (yes, they are all connected). Whether you are a yoga noodle or a (reformed) couch potato, you can get inventive and imaginative (but not foolish) and find an exercise sequence that best suits you. But with so many movements and exercises to choose from – along with concepts like stretching vs strengthening, intensity and agonist vs antagonist – it can be confusing trying to find the perfect routine. But the basic principles are: the exercise should take the body part through its full range of motion, and intensity should start low and increase. Most importantly, it should be a sequence that you don’t hate

If you are still battling you can ask Google, look around and see what other people are doing, or go for some professional coaching (it’s well worth it).  

If you have planned a session of smileage (easy-ish climbing with a focus on quantity rather than cranking) then your body’s good to go!

If, however, you are planning to climb hard, it is worth spending a bit more time on those climbers’ Achilles’ Heels: the shoulders and hands. Give these areas a little extra TLC during your warmup, and be careful as it’s easy to make the transition from warming up to training inadvertently. Now your body is ready to go and climb hard!

Almost ready now – the last thing to prepare is your head. The warm-up is a good time to prepare mentally as climbing is mostly a head game, so it’s worth spending the time and effort to get your head in the game

Nearly there… Those climbing neural circuits still need to be woken up, so go and climb a couple of easy-for-you problems or high walls to get the revs going.

And it’s finally time to climb! 

It seems a bit long and tedious as I write this, but a good warm up is really worth it and with time and practice becomes a valuable part of the climbing experience (and should only take 10 – 25 minutes). 

Have fun and remember to cool down (which is a topic for a whole other time).

Happy sending! 

Get yourself ready to crush hard injury-free by booking an appointment with Jenni (based at CityROCK Johannesburg) at 082 449 5782 or  jennicomins@gmail.com.