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Complete Climbing Warm Up

The warm-up. Something that every climber knows they “should” do, but will sometimes tend to skip.

To be completely honest, the research behind “warming up” and injury prevention is mostly inconclusive. The research that is out, has been out, and keeps coming out tends to have mixed results on the significance of warming up preventing injuries. A study on the FIFA 11+ program being used as a warm up for elite soccer players showed some benefits on possible injury prevention throughout the course of a season.¹ However, much of the other research comes back with inconclusive results. This could perhaps be due to the difficulty of studying the subject, or it could be due to discrepancies in warm ups and warm ups between sports.

Despite research not necessarily supporting the benefits of warming up on injury prevention, several studies have shown the benefits of warming up on improving muscle force, repetitive power based movements, and range of motion.¹²³ Specifically, warm ups consisting of exercises closely resembling the movements performed in the specific sport at hand were found to be beneficial in improving some performance parameters and may have a benefit on both your physiological and your psychological readiness.³⁴ Even more specifically, according to McCrary et. al, performing warm ups involving higher load (>20% max effort) may be more beneficial in improving upper body power and strength, whereas lower load activities tended to have “largely no effect on performance outcomes.⁴

But how does warming up improve these kinds of things?

Dynamic stretching may increase core temperature (Fletcher and Jones 2004), which can increase nerve conduction velocity, muscle compliance, and enzymatic cycling, accelerating energy production (Bishop 2003).⁵

Dynamic activities tend to increase central drive.⁵

Reduced muscle/tendon stiffness.⁶

So what does this mean for you?

Overall, although the science doesn’t necessarily support the assumption that warming up will decrease your injury risk, there is enough evidence supporting the fact that warming up may improve your performance. Furthermore, this evidence seems to support the use of more intense dynamic exercises as a way to improve performance.

So what kinds of things should you be doing to warm up?

Specific climbing warm-ups aren’t well defined, but performing movements that will stretch as well as contract muscles commonly used during climbing, seems to make sense. In addition, performing exercises targeted at increasing heart rate and core temperature is probably not a bad idea.

The aim of this blog post is to give you a comprehensive warm up plan that you can do at the gym or at the base of your outdoor project. It requires minimal equipment and acts effectively to improve blood flow, mobility, and muscle recruitment for the total body.

To make this easy to follow we split this warm up into a few different sections: Blood Pump, Hips & Lower Body, Spine, Shoulders, and Fingers In each section I will briefly point out which muscles are important to target prior to climbing.


Blood Rush: Perform some kind of exercise to get your heart rate up and blood pumping. If you’re climbing outdoors the approach will often suffice, but if you’re climbing in the gym try doing about 5-10min of some type of cardio like jogging, jump rope, rowing, etc. This may help improve core temperature, nerve conduction velocity, and cross-bridge cycling in the muscles.

Legs and Lower Body: Keeping the hips and lower body mobile and strong is so important to improve your comfort with things like high steps, drop knees, and improving your overall footwork and movement on the wall. Specifically targeting muscles like the glutes (to keep your hips close to the wall), your internal rotators (to help with drop knees), your hamstrings (to prepare for heel hooks), and your hip flexors (to help with high steps) can be beneficial within your climbing warm-up. Here’s a series of exercises to help improve mobility and activation of those muscles.

Squats x 10

Hip opener x 5 ea way

Side lunge with side opener x 5 ea way

Lunge with hip flexor stretch x 8 ea leg

Knee hug->RDL 3 way- x 3 ea way.

Try these to not only improve comfort with end-range hip flexion but also to prepare yourself for balancy moves on the wall.

Standing hip rotation (open gate/close gate)- x 10ea way

Use this to open up the hip with an added balance task

IR push through- x 10ea

Warming up that rotational hip mobility with some added glute activation on the follow-through. This sort of glute activation and rotational hip mobility is key to keeping your hips close to the wall when climbing and reducing strain on the upper body in doing so.

Nordic Hamstring Curls Holds – x 5ea. Hold each rep for 3-5s

On your knees, try to wedge your feet between a crash pad and the wall. Gently try to lower yourself, without flopping towards the ground. Hold this for 3-5sec. This exercise is great for selective hamstring activation and can be beneficial in priming for heel hooks.

Spine- Spinal mobility is key in rock climbing. In order to perform crossover moves we need a certain amount of lumbothoracic mobility. Here are a few warm up exercises you can perform to maintain multiplanar mobility in these regions.

Cat/cow x 10ea

From a quadruped position, tuck your chin and arch your back into “cat.” Then allow your back to fall and lift your head towards the sky into “cow.” This exercise gently moves the spine through the sagittal plane and can be used to improve flexion/extension comfort and mobility.

Thread the needle x 10ea

From a quadruped position lift one arm towards the sky allowing your spine to rotate while doing so. Then tuck this arm through the hole between your arm and leg. This exercise helps improve rotational mobility and can correlate to crossover moves.

Supine leg cross + shoulder rock x 5ea

This exercise targets your lumbar spine’s rotational mobility. Start from laying down on your back, bend one knee to 90deg and cross it over your body while trying to keep your upper back pressed against the floor. Gently rock your shoulder forward and backward 5 times.

Child’s pose rockers x 10ea

On all fours rock your torso backwards so that you are sitting on your feet. Try extending one leg and rocking backwards and forwards.

3 way child’s pose x 5ea

Move both arms to one side and rock backwards until you feel a gentle stretch in your lats/side.

Shoulders- The shoulders are one of the most commonly injured regions in climbers. Keeping your shoulders “healthy” by maintaining rotator cuff and scapular stabilizer strength should be a part of every climber’s routine. Here are a few exercises you can try adding to your warm-up to activate muscles like your lats, pecs, rhomboids, and rotator cuff musculature.

Clocks x 5ea

Standing up, hold a band out in front of you. Pull the band apart with one arm reaching in the 3 o’clock and one arm reaching in the 9 o’clock position. Do this in varying o’clocks.

Banded OH reach x10

In a half squat, put a small band around your fingers, pull apart and reach (with arms straight) over your head.

Diagonals x 10ea

No monies x 10-15

With hands on a band, palm facing upwards rotate your hands outwards while keeping your elbows locked to your sides.

I, Y, T’s x 10ea

Push ups x 10-15

Fingers: As the most commonly injured anatomical site on climbers, it is essential to warm up your fingers before jumping in to your project. Although I always recommend climbing lower grades and easier holds before working up to your highest grade and potentially more strenuous holds, here are a few additional exercises you can try prior to climbing.

Tendon gliding x10-15

Tendon gliding with elbow extension x 10-15

With hands facing away, wrists and fingers curled slowly extend your elbow and simultaneously extend your fingers and wrists. Try this with hands facing towards you as well.

Recruitment pulls

These exercises are by no means the only things you should do prior to jumping into your climbing project. We would also recommend that you warm up further by climbing routes below your project grade before jumping into climbs that are hard for you.

If interested, Climb Strong has a brief post on a bouldering progression theme warm up. You can find their article by clicking on this link:

To make things easy on you, we created a PDF/E-Book of the Complete Climbing Warm Up that you can take on-the-go to your gym or current outdoor projects. Click here to download it for FREE!


Dr. Drake Griggs

Peak Pursuit Performance & Rehab

We Help Active Adults In The Salt Lake Area Overcome Injury And Reach Peak Performance, Avoid Unnecessary Time Off, All Without Medications, Injections, Or Surgery.