Three Mistakes You are Making in Your Pre-Climbing Warm-up

lauren abernathy gravity vault

The massage therapist clapped her hands together and smiled wide. Her client had just handed her a lovely bit of information: that she warms up her shoulders with theraband exercises before she begins any strenuous physical activity.

Well, that client is me. I have a religious pre-climbing ritual and I follow it wherever I plan to climb. In the interest of continuing to climb injury-free for an extensive career, you may want to do the same.

With that, here are three mistakes you are probably making in your pre-climbing warmup.

Mistake #1: You do not warm up before you get on the wall

This is one that I see all the time. Someone walks into the gym, climbs three V0s and decides that this is sufficient to start working on their V5 project. Then they wonder why they aren’t very flexible and why their shoulders and elbows and fingers are tweaked. This is a bit of an exaggeration, but you get the picture.

According to a review of many studies published in the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, the following conclusion regarding warming up prior to exercise can be drawn.

 A warm-up and stretching protocol should be implemented prior to physical activity. The routine should allow the stretching protocol to occur within the 15 minutes immediately prior to the activity in order to receive the most benefit. 

Warm-Up and Stretching in the Prevention of Muscular Injury – K. Woods, P. Bishop, E. Jones

But you knew this already. You know you should warm up before you get on the wall. So don’t wait until you have your first real injury or first bad tweak.

You might think you don’t have time to warm-up.
The truth is you don’t have time NOT to.

lauren abernathy gravity vault
Me warming up to boulder using resistance bands Full cheese because I’m psyched on preventing shoulder injuries.
Photo by Teagan Maddux

Mistake #2: You’re not Stretching Dynamically

Does it feel great to lean down, touch your toes, and hang out there for a while? For some, maybe. But for all, this modality of static stretching is not ideal for warming up to climb. Static stretching is defined as holding a challenging position for 30 seconds or more.

Similarly, ballistic stretching (“bouncing” in and out of a stretching position beyond normal range of motion) is not ideal either.

Here’s is an excerpt from an article written by Dr. Jared Vagy (the climbing doctor) on the subject.

“Static stretching is a poor choice: The research shows that statically stretching a muscle before activity impairs muscle strength and leads to decreased performance. There is also evidence that shows that it can actually increase injury rate.

Ballistic stretching is a poor choice: It has been shown in numerous research studies that ballistic stretching is hazardous when used as a warm-up. The rapid nature of the movement activates a reflex in the muscle causing it to contract to protect itself from harm. This can cause micro-tearing of the muscle.”

Dynamic Climbing Warmup by Dr. Jared Vagy (aka The Climbing Doctor)

According to research, the stretching you want to be doing prior to physical activity is dynamic stretching. Vagy goes on to recommend the following:

Dynamic stretching is the best choice: Research supports that a sport specific dynamic warm-up is the best way to increase blood flow to the muscles and tendons in the body.

Dynamic stretching is defined as movements that take you “gently to the ends of your range of motion” in a controlled manor. They are usually performed in sets of 8-12 reps. ( source: mit.edu).

Summarily, dynamic stretching before you climb is the way to go.

Mistake #3: You do not take your warm-up outside

So you’ve figured out how to warm-up. You do it every time you hit the gym. Your sessions feel better and you have your routine down. Then the first time the weather breaks and you head outside, you throw the whole thing out the window. You pull onto one easy route then immediately start projecting.

flashboard rumney
Mike warming up his fingers with our flashboard before hopping on Flesh For Lulu in Rumney, NH.

Warming up is not only for your indoor training days, you need to take your off-the-wall warm-up outside as well (especially as a matter of fact). Here’s a word from Eric Horst in a section of How to Climb 5.12 regarding preparing for an onsight outdoors.

What’s the best way to warm up for a serious on-sight attempt? Some mild full-body stretching and sports massage of the fingers and forearms is a good start.

How to Climb 5.12 – Eric Horst pg. 102

This is a simple concept but it’s very easy to mess up. Personally, my off-the-wall warm-up involves resistance bands (and some stuff with my hands on the ground). I bring my theraband to the crag with me every time I go outside to climb and I use it to get warm before hopping on the wall.

Resources and Further Reading

If you’re looking to get yourself a pre-climbing warm-up here are a few resources I would highly recommend.

Dynamic Climbing Warm-Up with Dr. Jared Vagy

Logical Progression – the first book that convinced of the importance of a good warm-up and taught me how to do it.

Preventing Climbing Injury pt. 1 – Power Company Interview with Dr. Jared Vagy

Injury Free Bouldering with Neil Gresham – Rock and Ice Magazine (see point 1)

I’ll be posting my own article on how to warm up in the next month. Subscribe to my monthly newsletter to stay in the loop when it gets published!

So what about you? Do you warm-up before you get on the wall? What do you like to do to warm-up? Leave a comment or shoot me an email at lauren@senderellastory.com. As always, if you don’t already, give me a follow on Instagram or a like on Facebook to stay up to date when new posts come out.

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