Warming up for climbing
Warming up is an essential activity for climbers as it prepares the climber by raising the body's core temperature slightly to enhance some of the physiological systems. This helps to prevent injury as well as improve performance.

Warming up for climbing

Think about driving a car on a very cold day. The car may feel slow and sluggish for the first few miles until the engine has warmed up. Only when it has warmed up will it respond properly to greater demands such as accelearating or climbing a steep hill. A warm engine is more 'protected' and will run better. This is a similar concept when considering a warm up for the body.

If you raise your temperature to a mild sweat your body will be prepared for more vigorous activities

There is still some debate within the medical and sports science communties but it is widely accepted that a warm up has two major benefits for the individual:
  • To protect your body from injury
  • To enhance sporting performance
By doing specific and general movements prior to exercise, you create heat and raise your body's core temperature. An increased core temperature helps the body perform several functions more efficiently.
By raising the temperature 1-2 degrees Celsius (such that a mild sweat is initiated) the body's cardiovascular and muscular systems will adapt in preparation for more vigorous activities.

Changes in the cardiovascular system include:

70% of your blood moves into the skeletal muscles, infusing them with fresh blood and nutrients ready to be used, compared to only 15-20% of the body's blood held in the skeletal muscles at rest.
A gradual displacement of blood places less stress on the cardiac muscle and cardiac system and also prepares the heart muscle for its increased activity.

Male musculoskeletal systemChanges in the muscular-skeletal system with increased core temperature include:
  • Increased speed of contraction and relaxation of the muscle unit
  • Increased force of contraction
  • Increased nerve conductivity
  • Increased mechanical efficiency of the system (as there is less friction, tissues are more elastic.)
  • Also, more oxygen is released and taken up by red blood cells when they are warmer.
These factors help improve your functional performance by preparing your body for the activity. Most injuries commonly occur at the beginning, or towards the end, of an activity session.

'Early' injuries are usually due to the body system not being 'ready'. i.e. the muscles are cold, less elastic and more prone to tearing. Warmer tissue is more pliable and elastic, and therefore is less prone to injury.

Those injuries that happen towards the end of a session are more often due to reasons of fatigue.

How to warm up

You can 'warm up' your body's core temperature in several ways:

Passively - such as in a sauna or bath, wearing lots of clothing, or being in a hot climate
Generally - by doing an aerobic activity, like jogging, to create internal heat
Specifically - targeting specific areas of the body such as a javelin thrower's throwing shoulder may get special attention in a warm up.

There is quite a lot of controversy and debate in sporting and sports medicine circles about what exactly constitutes a good warm up. At the moment there is mounting evidence to support stretching as a positive enhancement to performance, but little to say exactly what should be in a stretch.

Know your limitations

When warming up for a climb you need to strike a balance between all three areas of warm up. You need to consider the climb you are about to attempt and your own ability. Understand your weaknesses so that you can protect them, such as using a specific warm up for particular muscles.

When warming up for a climb you need to strike a balance between all three areas of warm up

Consider the environment you are in, so that you choose appropriate clothing to maintain proper body core temperature. If climbing in a hot and humid climate, there is little need to make yourself heat up more (although you still have to work on some specific muscles). However, staying warm in a cold environment is a much more important issue: you will have to work harder at keeping moving and warm. It will also take longer to warm up, so you need to allow more time for this at the start of your session and ensure that you stay warm enough throughout the climbing period.

Once all this has been assessed, it's usually appropriate to do a general warm up and then progress to more specific areas related to:
  • Your own ability
  • Physical needs of the body to do the climb
  • The climb intensity and duration
The warm up
  • Start with general movements, such as jogging on the spot for 2-3 minutes to raise the heart rate slightly, boost activation of the cardiac system and shunt blood around.
  • Then, incorporate general movements down the body from top to toe to get the joints loosened and also gently stretch the various muscle groups.
  • From there, target some specific muscle groups and once warmed it is appropriate to do some gentle stretching. All stretches should be non painful, of short duration (5-10 seconds) and without bouncing. Two or three stretches for each area are usually appropriate, but remember you are only trying to take the muscles to a longer length and not really stretch aggressively.
  • Finish with specific movements related to your individual needs and that of the climb.
Sample warm up rountine for climbers in average summer temperatures:
  • Jog on spot 2-3 mins.
  • Shoulder circles x10 each way
  • Wrist circles x10 each way
  • Fist clench and unclench x5
  • Side bends x5 each way
  • Hip circles x10 each way
  • Leg swings forward and back (individually) increasing swing size x10 each leg
  • Ankle circles x10 each leg
  • Jog again, do some hopping and bouncing on the spot, with high knees and butt kicks
Upper body stretches (hold for 5-10 second):
  • Neck - sidebends each way
  • Shoulders - reach hands together as high up and as far away from body
  • Side bends with arm over head
Lower body stretches (hold for 5-10 seconds):
  • Hamstrings - with foot on short block reach for toes
  • Inside thighs - stand feet wide apart and lunge to side stretching inner thigh, switch over several times
  • Quads - pull foot to backside
  • Calves - lunge stretch against a wall
Finish off by more movements in circles and swings to both limbs and stretching your fingers and thumbs.

Warm up with easy climbs
Easy climbsThe climb
  • When doing the warm up, use the time to mentally focus and prepare your body.
  • Feel your body loosen as you warm up.
  • Imagine the movements you might do when on the climb to help pattern the muscles.
  • Begin the climb slowly and progress into it.
  • On multi-pitch climbs, when you have been standing around for a while, some muscles may have seized a little.
  • Whatever the confines you are in, exercise your muscles to circulate the blood.
  • Remember, a prepared body is a happy body!


1000's of events, challenges and trips to choose from...

Find my next goal
Need any help?

If you would like any help or advice, please contact our helpdesk.

Email us Chat now