5 Tips for a Better Warmup

Emma long lane

Warming up in the Long Lane – photo by Moriteam

Experienced climbers know that a good warmup often preludes a good day of climbing, but not everyone understands what a good warmup looks like.

A proper warmup not only warms the muscles but should transform your body and mind from a resting state into one ready to deal with the challenges of the climbs you’re trying to do that day.

1. Progression

The most fundamental principle of warming up is progression. You don’t jump straight on your 5.12 project, you get on that 5.10b, then the 5.11a then the 5.11c, then your project. It’s easy to get impatient and try to rush the process but you’ll end up paying the price.

Whether you’re bouldering or route climbing, a good first warmup climb is aerobic-level climbing. This is climbing done at a low enough intensity that you can do it continuously for over 2 minutes while barely getting pumped, if at all.

At an indoor bouldering wall this is easy. Just stay on the wall for 4-10 minutes on holds big enough that you don’t get pumped. For route climbers, going up and down a route once or twice is a roped alternative.

Don’t stop there though. Warming up isn’t just about cruisy climbing, but preparing your body for the challenges ahead. That means after you do your 1st, “I could do this in my sleep” climb, you should be progressing into a 2nd  or even 3rd warmup climb closer to the difficulty of the routes you want to do that day.

During your warmup climbs, a moderate pump is fine, but avoid going into a deep pump, even if it means asking for take or jumping off the middle of a boulder problem.

2. Stretch…Dynamically

Stretching cold muscles can be counterproductive and even cause injury, but stretching after muscles are warm can increase range of motion and decrease the chance of injury during climbing.

Dynamic stretches are generally safer to do and better suited to a warmup routine as you’re working and warming the muscle at the same time you’re stretching it.

Some examples of simple dynamic stretches useful for climbing are wrist circles, shoulder rolls, and jazz hands(opening and closing the hands quickly and forcefully).

The theory and specific details of dynamic stretching are beyond the scope of this article but DPM climbing has written a nice guide to the art of stretching for climbing.

Besides stretching on the ground,  you can stretch on the wall. Moving your shoulders, hips, feet, and other body parts gently through their range of motion during your first, aerobic level climb is a sports-specific way to incorporate stretching into your warmup.

Dynamic stretching is always a good idea but can be especially useful for outdoor bouldering or climbing when you don’t get a chance to warmup properly through climbing alone.

3. Train Movement

If you’re already keen to the idea of warming up you probably have a set routine, such as ARCing on the wall for 5-10 minutes, or running laps on an easy route.

That’s a fine basic warmup but you can do better. Rather than simply staying on the wall, focus on training an aspect of movement.

Silent feet – where you focus on placing your feet precisely on the hold without extraneous noise, is a good one. Straight arms – where you keep your arms absolutely straight and use rotation from the hips to bring your body up, is an even better movement drill.

Besides drills, you can also train other aspects of climbing, such as performing committing moves, or new moves which you’re not familiar with. These things are easy to train during your warmup, where the holds are bigger, and the consequences fewer than on your project climb.

4. Fall

The goal of climbing is to not fall, and yet that very fear of falling can hold us back from success. If you’ve ever felt jittery on lead, or had trouble doing a move on lead that you could top rope easily, you understand that the mental aspect of climbing is just as important as the physical.

Taking a clean practice fall at a safe location on your warmup climb can be a great way to get the jitters out and set the stage for a smooth day of lead climbing. Ideally, your fall will be completely safe and clean, which means it should be far off the ground and away from ledges. Falling after an overhang is a good option.

Make sure to let your belayer know your plans, and consider warning them with a “watch me” before you plan to fall.  If you are a lighter climber with a heavier belayer, make sure your belayer either understands dynamic belaying, or choose a climb with an absolutely clean fall zone.

5. Project Specific

The principle of sports specificity states that the more similar your training is to the task you want to perform, the more effective it will be. If your goal is to send a steep overhanging route, don’t do your warmup only on vertical walls.

Outdoors, you don’t always have the luxury of warming up on climbs exactly emulating the climb you want to do, but if you can find climbs which have some key characteristics of your project, you’ll be much better prepared to send.


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