You come into the gym after a long workday and there’s a fresh new set. Your sister has already ticked off a couple V6s. Your friends are cheering each other on from the mats. Who has time for a warm-up? I know. I hear you. You lace up, chalk off, and get ready to send.
But I need you to stop right there. Because I’m worried about you.
As a climber (at any level), you put an incredible amount of force on your joints, tendons, ligaments, and muscles. Injuries can happen. Sprains, strains, popped tendons or tweaked backs not only hurt, but they limit your climbing for months (and sometimes years) after the injury. Don’t trade the next six months of climbing enjoyment for a few more minutes on the bouldering wall today.
You can minimize your risk of injury by properly warming up. I recommend taking the following steps to improve circulation, range of motion, and muscle awareness (I promise it’ll be fun).
Step 1: Take off your climbing shoes
Yep, take them off. Climbing is not included in warming up. In fact, touching a climbing hold is only going to make you want to climb more, and you will probably skip the warm up entirely. I like to take my warm up sessions out of the bouldering area altogether.
Step 2: Be a rock (climbing) star
Time for star jumps. Start in a standing position and squat down quickly, brushing the backs of your hands gently on the floor. Bring your hands up in front of you and above your head, the back into a star shape. Use their momentum to explode off the ground and reach for the sky. Do five of these. Bonus points if you yell, “I’M A STAR!”
Step 3: Climb a mountain
Alternate your star jumps with some mountain climbers. First, drop into a plank position. Bring your right knee into your chest with your left leg supporting your plank. Alternate knees for five reps. Try to keep your core tight and your butt down!
In addition to improving circulation, you are also activating your core. I recommend alternating these with star jumps until your heart rate is elevated, but not racing.
Step 4: Quack like a duck
Bring your hands next to your face. With your thumbs out of the way, flap your fingers rapidly like a duck quacking. Quack forward. Quack back. Quack up. Quack down. Quack like an Egyptian. Quack until you can feel it in your forearms.
Shake it out with some shoulder circles, alternative wrists flexed upwards and limp. Feel how this changes the range of motion in your shoulders.
This warm-up activates the muscles you depend on for gripping and holding without giving you the “flash pump” many climbers experience when they first get on the wall.
You put an incredible amount of force on your joints, tendons, ligaments, and muscles. Injuries can happen… Don’t trade the next six months of climbing enjoyment for a few more minutes on the bouldering wall today.
Step 5: Explode
If you have a pull-up bar handy, do one or two pull-ups. That explosive muscle activation will prime your back and shoulders for big reaches and slapping slopers. Shake it out. Do one or two more. Add in a scapular pull-up or two if you want to get fancy and build awareness of your shoulder activation.
Step 6: Dance like a climber
Spread your feet wide and drop into a lunge on one side. See if you can transfer your weight onto the balls of your feet. Stand up using only the bent leg. Repeat this lunge on the other side. Okay, so it’s not really a dance, but you get the idea. Shake it off (shake it off)!
This activity is a dynamic stretch for your hips and legs, providing increased range of motion and muscle activation for your lower body. It also reminds you to shift your weight over your legs while you are climbing!
Step 7: Rock on (and go easy!)
Shake it out with some shoulder circles, happy dances, and neck-circles. Hop on the wall and do some easy climbs. You earned it. Nice job taking care of yourself!
Harry is an Experience Guide and Instructor at Brooklyn Boulders Somerville. Harry is a certified Climbing Wall Instructor (lead) and aspiring Single Pitch Instructor under the American Mountain Guides Association. Harry is passionate about bringing down the barriers to entry in climbing. On a day off, you’ll find Harry climbing and running the trails of New England with his canine life-coach, Milo.