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TIPS FOR WARMING UP & PREVENTING INJURIES

Most people know they should warm up before climbing to prevent injuries but few really know how or the evidence to support it. Here we’ll try to give you a few tips!

Warming up before climbing can take anywhere from 20 to 40 minutes, and has 2 main purposes: to prevent injury and to maximise performance. There is no specific process for warming up, but breaking it down into stages can help tick all the boxes:

 

Stage 1: The Pulse Raiser

The obvious starting place in any warm up is the pulse raiser! This can be anything that gets your heart going: jogging, skipping, jumping, cycling etc are all easy examples. Cycling or running to the wall is a great way to warm up, as long as you don’t spend an hour cooling down while you catch up with your pals. Research suggests that an intensity of around 40-60% is the most beneficial, as anything over this can cause early fatigue. During this stage, your muscles should begin to feel warmer and looser. You can spend 5-10 minutes increasing your pulse before moving onto stage 2.

Stage 2: Climbing Specific/ Mobility

Stage 2 of the warm up process is about mobility and movement specific to climbing. The aim of this stage is to encourage blood flow to targeted muscle groups, helping to prevent soft tissue injuries when you’re pulling hard! 

The majority of bouldering injuries are in the shoulders and fingers, therefore it’s a good idea to spend more time on these areas. Your legs will likely be warmed up quite well from the pulse raiser so you can focus more on mobility and balance for lower limbs.

Dynamic stretches are more beneficial than static stretches as part of a warm up as they increase blood flow. Save your static stretches for your cool down at the end to improve flexibility!

Here is a suggested list of exercises to perform as part of your stage 2 warm up:

  • Starting with feet shoulder width apart, bend knees, lift heels, straighten knees, heels down. Repeat x 10. You can also try it in reverse. 
  • ‘Open the gate’ (hips/groin warm up) – raise left knee up in front of you and take it outwards to the side and down. Repeat with the other side, then repeat with opposite motion (closing the gate) 10x each side.
  • Keeping legs straight, flex from your hips to reach forward and down with both hands. From this position reach further down and towards the opposite foot with alternating hands. Try to move from the shoulder and rotate from the trunk. 15-20x each side.
  • From standing, lift left hand above head and complete circular motions with your hand as if cleaning a window at the highest point you can reach. You can then start to reach out to the side while maintaining the circular motions and reaching for the furthest point to your left. Repeat with the right hand. 1-2 mins each side.
  • Helicopter: Rotate both arms in propeller motions, in both directions. If you want to warm the brain up too… try one arm forwards and one backwards! 2-3 mins.
  • Reach forward with both hands, palms facing down and grasp the air with alternating hands as if digging in the sand. Quick grasping movements are a good warm up for fingers and forearms. Elevate your arms to different heights throughout with exercise. Aim for a few minutes or until you feel a warm/pumped feeling in your forearms (known as ‘flash pump’). This encourages blood flow to peripheral muscles and may help to prevent getting pumped so quickly.
  • Neck: Take left ear to left shoulder, and repeat on the right. Take chin to chest and slowly back up. 10x each direction.Keep these neck movements slow and controlled and try to avoid circular movements.

By the end of this stage you should already be feeling warmer and loosened up. Time to move on to the wall…

Progressive Wall-Specific Warm Up

During this stage, it’s a good idea to progress through each type of wall, hold, move etc. For example, start on a slab with jugs and positive footholds and then move on to a couple of juggy problems on a vertical wall. Next could be some slightly smaller, ‘mini jugs’ on a vertical wall. Next might be positive edges/slopers/pinches on a slab and then a vert, before moving on to a juggy overhang. You get the point…

Try to include all hold types and moves in a comfortable and controlled way on easy routes. It’s a good idea to plan around the type of session you want to have. If your aim is to complete a 7C boulder project with a gnarly crimpy undercut, warming up on jugs alone might not fully prepare you and you can risk injury. Similarly, If your project is a slab on small footholds, include balance, precise footwork and flexibility. You can even do some easy dyno’s to prepare you for those powerful problems! Remember to also focus on technique – if you can make this a habit it will benefit your long-term progression.

Here are some general points for your wall warm up:

  • Controlled, fluid movements
  • Aim for approximately 100 moves (50 each side).
  • Attention to technique and movements on the wall
  • Precise foot and hand placements
  • Slow, controlled down climbs
  • Stick to very comfortable grades and problems that you have climbed before (you should not be struggling to top these warm up problems)

After 10-15 minutes of gradual, progressive bouldering, you should feel fully warmed up and ready for your session. Only you will know when you’re feeling fully warmed up but following these gradual stages should help to give you some structure. Try to make it a habit at the wall, and make it fun! 

 

TOP TIP: Once you’re warm, stay warm – especially in winter! The biggest mistake many people make is getting cold when resting, which can make it hard to start again and increases the risk of injury. Look at what the experienced climbers (not necessarily the best) are doing AND wearing to stay warm – mittens are a must to stop those fingers getting chilly!  Short bursts of star jumps or running on the spot can help warm you up again, as well as shaking your arms above your head. This can also help to remove lactic acid build up.

Finally, Some Evidence:

Research in the warm up and stretching for prevention of muscular injuries supports the following points:

  • Warm up and stretching should be implemented prior to activity, ideally in the 15 minutes immediately before you start.
  • The warm up should be tailored to the individual and the nature of the activity
  • The physiological benefits include: increased blood flow to the tissues and increased speed of muscular contractions and nerve transmissions
  • The physical benefits include reduced risk of injury and increased flexibility
  • The intensity of the warm up should produce a mild sweat without fatigue

Take Home (Highball) Message…

A good warm up will help to prepare you for a good session both physically and mentally. Work through each stage and be patient in your warm up process; by taking time now you could save months of wishing you weren’t injured. If you don’t have time to do a proper warm up, you don’t have time to have a proper session, in which case you could just do a light training session. Stay warm during rest periods by grabbing some extra layers and doing some light pulse raisers before jumping back on that project. Most importantly, have fun!

Stage

Description

Time

1

Pulse Raiser

5-15 mins

2

Mobility and Movement (off the wall)

10-15 mins

3

Mobility and Movement (on the wall)

10 – 15 mins (Approx. 100 moves)

4

Climb! 

 

Written by Lewis Weatherburn, edited by Katie Warner 

 

References

    1. Warm-up and stretching in the prevention of muscular injury. Sports Med 2007; 37 (12). Woods, K, Bishop, P & Jones, E. 
  • Epidemiology of climbing injuries & injury statistics. Lecture by Volker Schoffl at the 3rd BMC Climbing injury Symposium, 2014. 

Lactic acid and forearm pump. Larson, J. 2006. Available at: http://www.8a.nu/?IncPage=http%3A//www.8a.nu/articles/ShowArticle.aspx%3FArticleId%3D2108 Accessed 27.12.14