Austin Archer - Pine Creek, Sun Kissed 5.12c, photo credit Rick Ziegler

The Rock Climbing Warm Up

Maybe not the most exciting part of climbing, but one of the most important for keeping you on the rock and off the couch.  We’re all excited to get to our projects.  When warming up, many of us are hoping to hit that sweet spot between performing enough easier climbs to get us ready for more challenging routes/problems but not overdoing it on the warm up and blowing our chance to give a serious effort to the goals of the day.  Thankfully, Schweitzer provided us with a solid range of routes/problems to work off of.  His study from 2001 showed that roughly 100-120 moves, or 3-4 routes/8-12 boulder problems, were required for the finger flexor tendon pulley system to show an increased amount of pliability.  This means that the tendons are better able to tolerate the loads that are being placed on them.1,2,3  So, the recommendation is 3-4 easy routes or 8-12 easy boulder problems before attempting climbing near your upper limit. Warm up routines and their relation to injury prevention have yet to be researched specifically in the climbing community (hint, hint for any doctoral students out there looking for a thesis topic), however, the evidence  from sport-specific warm ups and warm ups with the three components listed below shows a correlation between warm ups and decreased injury rates for various sports such as soccer, basketball, football, as well as with military recruits.4,5,6  Furthermore, a basic aerobic warm up, such as light jogging for as little as five minutes, hiking to the climbing area or jumping rope in the gym, has been shown to increase flexibility and prepare the body for the upcoming activity.7,8

The Business:  3 parts to the warm up

  1. A mellow aerobic activity – light jogging or cycling for 20-30 minutes or the approach to the climbing area (although, even as little as 5 minutes has been shown to increase flexibility and prepare the body for the upcoming activity)7,8
  2. Stretching – dynamic stretching (stretching through motion), as opposed to static stretching (holding a stretch for prolonged periods), is best used during the warm up. Static stretching has gotten a bad rap as far as injury prevention and treatment, which I’ll discuss in a later post, but there’s some evidence that it decreases performance when used immediately prior to competition.9,10,11,12  There is however some evidence that dynamic stretching can help to improve immediate performance,13,14 which is why I recommend dynamic stretching during the warm up.  Dynamic stretching can be worked into #3 below, or here are 3 examples of helpful dynamic stretches for climbers:

High Step

Wrist flexors/extensors

Latissimus Dorsi

  1. An activity specific to the sport being perform – this is your 3-4 easy routes or 8-12 easy boulder problems

Check out Beyond Tape: The Guide to Climbing Injury Prevention and Treatment (currently sold locally in Bishop stores, on my website, and soon to be on Amazon) for more information about warming up, stretching, and other climbing injury related topics.  Subscribe here to get the latest posts and like my facebook page for updates and more information.  My primary motivations for Beyond Tape and any of the posts are to:       1. Check out the most relevant and up-to-date research for each topic in order to dispel myths, sift out conflicting views, and help people to prevent or heal from injuries – letting me know about new research or opposing views is helpful and greatly appreciated       2. Contribute to the local and global communities by donating 100% of my net profits from Beyond Tape to service-based non-profit organizations, such as Rotary International, Doctor’s Without Borders, Access Fund, etc.

1 Wright DM, Royle TJ, Marshall T.  Indoor rock climbing: who gets injured?  Br J Sports Med 2001;35:181–185.
2 Hockhoelzer T, Schoeffl.  One Move Too Many…  Druckerei Sonnenschein, Ebenhausen, 2003.  p. 109.
3 Schweizer A.  Sport climbing from a medical point of view.   Swiss Med Wkly. 2012;142:w13688.
4 Fradkin AJ1, Gabbe BJ, Cameron PA.  Does warming up prevent injury in sport? The evidence from randomised controlled trials?  J Sci Med Sport. 2006 Jun;9(3):214-20.
5 Woods K, Bishop K, Jones E.  Warm-Up and Stretching in the Prevention of Muscular Injury.  Sports Med 2007; 37 (12): 1089-1099.
6 Herman K, Barton C, Malliaras P, Morrissey D.  The effectiveness of neuromuscular warm-up strategies, that require no additional equipment, for preventing lower limb injuries during sports participation: a systematic review.  BMC Med. 2012 Jul 19;10:75.
7 Samson M1, Button DC, Chaouachi A, Behm DG.  Effects of dynamic and static stretching  within general and activity specific warm-up protocols.  J Sports Sci Med. 2012 Jun 1;11(2):279-85.
8 O’Sullivan K1, Murray E, Sainsbury D.  The effect of warm-up, static stretching and dynamic stretching on hamstring flexibility in previously injured subjects.  BMC Musculoskelet Disord. 2009 Apr 16;10:37.
9 McHugh MP1, Cosgrave CH.  To stretch or not to stretch: the role of stretching in injury prevention and performance.  Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2010 Apr;20(2):169-81.
10 Winchester JB1, Nelson AG, Landin D, Young MA, Schexnayder IC.  Static stretching impairs sprint performance in collegiate track and field athletes.  J Strength Cond Res. 2008 Jan;22(1):13-9.
11 Gergley JC.  Acute effect of passive static stretching on lower-body strength in moderately trained men.  J Strength Cond Res. 2013 Apr;27(4):973-7.
12 Simic L1, Sarabon N, Markovic G.  Does pre-exercise static stretching inhibit maximal muscular performance? A meta-analytical review.  Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2013 Mar;23(2):131-48.
13 Little T1, Williams AG.  Effects of differential stretching protocols during warm-ups on high-speed motor capacities in professional soccer players.  J Strength Cond Res. 2006 Feb;20(1):203-7.
14 Myers, T.   Fascial Fitness: Training in the Neuromyofascial Web.    IDEA Fitness Journal, Volume 8, Number 4.  April 2011.