Getting your body warmed up before any work out is important, and for a full body work out like climbing, it is crucial. It is important to reducing risk of injury. When your body is warmed up your reflexes move quicker, your joints are more limber, and your muscles are more elastic. This means when you take a fall, your body is more likely to react fast and move into the positions it should for a safe fall. When you are not warmed up, you could take a rigid fall that causes strong impact and injury. It is also important to warm up because it makes it easier for you to move on the rock and grab hold of what you need to.
A good warm up will get your blood flowing, trigger your energy hormones, and get your muscles and joints elastic and moving comfortably. A warm up is also a time to start getting your head into the sport. We all know or should realize there is a strong mental role in climbing. We need to be able to read sequences, problem solve, figure out beta, and understand what positioning and techniques to use, while also feeling confident and not worrying about that fall or any distractions.
There was one time I was making steady progress on a gym boulder. I had given it a few tries and felt confident I now understood what I was doing wrong. I started the problem strong and felt sure I would make it. I made my way up to my crux move and just before it, I noticed someone climbing the route right next to me, out of the corner of my eye. The other climb was a V0 that the person was struggling on, and I knew they were just a beginner climber. The move I needed to make was dynamic for my lack of reach and it happened to be out to the side towards where the other climber was. I started wondering if it was possible for me to hit the other person or fall at the same time. They might not know how to get out of my way if they needed to. It was a distraction. A small, quick distraction, but all distractions can be powerful with the mental game that is climbing. I just climbed down to save energy because I knew it wasn’t happening.
Climbers need to be able to handle distractions and react fast. The quicker we make a decision, the more energy we save and the more we can accomplish. We, therefore, need our minds as warmed up as our bodies.
Having said that, I commonly see people go right into their hardest climbs or climb one or two easier climbs and then move on. I rarely, but sometimes see people who spend a great deal of time on various other exercises like stretching, weights, rowing, yoga, etc before climbing. It seems as a whole that many climbers do not put much thought into warming up. I, myself, have had days where I tried to rush into the climbing a bit too fast. The problem is that whether you realize it or not, you are not climbing to your full potential when you are not warmed up. If you were to try to really warm up, you’d probably notice you feel stronger and have an easier time getting on your projects.
At this point, you may be wondering what a good warm up is or why climbing a few easy routes isn’t enough. The problem is that, like many other things in life, there isn’t one simple answer. The reason is because everyone’s body is unique and has unique needs. However, there are some overall ideas to help get you started.
One commonly held belief that seems to make sense is to start way before the climbing with nutrition. About an hour before climbing you want to be drinking a good amount of water to keep hydrated, and having a little bit of protein and carbohydrates for energy. Preferable ones that break down into sugar fast mixed with something that breaks into sugar more slowly to help your initial as well as long lasting fuel. This could be as simple as a candy bar or nutritional bar. You can continue to drink water throughout the work out, but probably not in the bulk you have an hour before. Having a mid climbing day snack helps too. You want to make sure it helps you feel good instead of making you feel heavy or bogged down. Don’t overdo it. A banana, apple, bar, etc will work because it is small and light.
Now for the actual warm up. It is good to do something that will get up your heart rate moving without costing you a lot of energy. A quick run, easy jog, jumping jacks, jump roping, etc are some good ideas. Again, you don’t want to expel too much energy. It is not the time to strive for your fastest minute run, but a time to just run around for a few minutes. Whatever makes your heart start pumping and might break a light sweat. Then you want to start getting your whole body moving from your head to your toes.
You can start with taking some focused breathes to get you thinking about your breathing, and because breathing helps circulate your blood flow. This is another one of those areas where you can pick your method. Some people like to do yoga and there are yoga techniques like salutations that do take you through your whole body in a quick series of stretches.
Rock and Ice has an article with some suggestions for the perfect 5 minute body warm up which starts at the sinuses and progresses down to the toes. http://www.rockandice.com/lates-news/the-perfect-5-minute-warm-up-for-climbers
I start with some neck and shoulder rolls. You can tilt your head to the left for a 10 count, then the right for a 10 count, then the left again for a count of 8, then the right for a count of 8, then the left for a count of 4, then right for a count of 4, and then left for a count of 2, right for a count of 2, and continue the count of 2 for 4 times on each side going back and forth.
You can do this same thing with tilting your head forward and back. Forward for a count of 10, back for a count of 10, etc. Then move your head to the right in a circle 2 times, then to the left in a circle 2 times.
For the shoulder rolls you start by squeezing your shoulders up for a count of 2, then releasing them down. Then squeezing them up and releasing them down. Do this about 10 times. Then start with rolling your shoulders back in a circle to the front four times, then forward circling to the back 4 times.
It is critical to warm up your wrists as well since they play a vital role in many moves and can quickly be injured. Rock and ice does a nice job with this:
“Extend the arms forward with the palms facing the floor. Note: Keep the arms extended completely throughout the sequence with the shoulders and shoulder blades down, away from the ears. Roll the hands five times to the left, five times to the right, taking care to make perfect circles and to keep the fingers completely extended. Spread the fingers and roll the hands five times to the left and five times to the right. Make claws with the fingers and roll the hands five times to the left and five times to the right. The wrists might crack and pop but continue to make perfect circles with the hands. Now raise your arms overhead and squeeze and open your fingers 10 to 20 times. Lower the arms and swing them across your chest—alternating the left arm over the right arm, the right over the left for five or 10 reps. Take a moment to shake out the pump and gently massage your forearms.” -Jeff Jackson
I usually start by extending my arms out in front of me at about waist level, and spinning my wrists in the circles while moving upward until my wrists are just above my head. I will spin to the right while moving up, then to the left while moving down, and then switch to spinning to the left while moving up and the right while moving down. Then I will extend my arms to the sides at shoulder level and spin to the right down, then to the left up, and then switch. I will move them down to about waist level and up to about shoulder level.
For the hips there are many hip openers through yoga poses that can be effective. I like to lay on my back, bring my knees up to make a 90 degree angle and move them down to the left, then up again and then down to the right. You can put your arms out for balance, or leave them at the side. This also engages the abs.
Then for the ankles you can do rolls and flex your toes towards you and then away. You can use resistance bands for this to add a little more.
Now your body should be feeling warmed up. I personally think it is still a good idea to do a few of those easy climbs. They help you get into route reading mode, practice technique, and get started climbing. Some people like to warm up on a hang board to practice all the different holds by just dead hanging for a few seconds. Either works, but you want to make sure to warm up your footwork too, so a combination could be the best. If you are outside and without a hang board, then obviously easy climbs are the best way to go. You could add in some technique by skipping holds or just throwing in something not totally necessary like a drop knee or heel hook. This is particularly useful if you are going to be working on a project that has one of those moves as a crux.
Even though the climbs are easy, think about body positioning, technique, and footwork. Skipping holds can help you get in some more advanced moves with easier holds. You can try all the way down at V0 and keep working your way up to V1, then V2, etc. If you are sport climbing 5.5, then 5.6, etc. If you are a beginner climber, try climbing up rocks that are not graded or are beyond easy. Even if it is not actually a climb, it will take some movement and give you some space to practice. You can pick things much more jug filled than even the V0s. If you are inside, you can rainbow climb or traverse.
You want to start getting your mind warmed up with your easy climb warm up. Start thinking about breathing, thinking about the climb, and planning. Redo some climbs you managed to send or flash to help you remember beta that has worked and practice harder moves for yourself.
It is important to take rests, but sometimes we might rest too long and need to warm up again. You don’t necessarily have to warm everything up again. Sometimes taking a little jog or walk between climbs can help. Think about the climbing while doing this, of course, to help keep you mentally in it. Going for a little walk or jog helps keep your body moving while letting your joints and muscles relax a bit. You might see some climbers swinging their arms or rolling their shoulders too. Make sure it is nothing too hard though because that energy is important.
Getting a good warm up will help you give it your all! Get out there and climb hard!