Warming up is as essential to climbing as a ball is to football. Without warming up our body and mind are not going to be able to achieve their full potential. We're also putting ourselves at an increased risk of injury with the potential to stop us dead in our climbing tracks for extended periods of time. However, from personal experience, I know that session time for recreational climbers is often limited and the warm up is therefore skipped in favour of an extra route or two - bad idea.
Integrating actual climbing into your warm up is perfectly acceptable and reasonable, so long as you are able to limit yourself in terms of intensity until you are "warm". A warm up is also not only a proven way to ensure your muscles and body are up to the task, we can also use it to empty, engage and train our minds. More often than not the everyday baggage we carry around on our minds impacts on our concentration and ultimately our mental performance - a definite problem in climbing. So for most of us this requires some sort of strategic approach to ensure we don't end up one grade below our maximum within 5 minutes of hitting the wall.
Thankfully there are feasible and plausible ways to ensure we make the most out of our time climbing, while also warming up and therefore minimising our potential for injury. Use my routine as a guide to developing your own one, every body is different, so everybody will have slightly different needs.
- Get your blood pumping (5 minutes)
A few (3-5) minutes of aerobic activity are all it takes for this. Whether you decide to run around the center like a mad chicken (safely of course) or sprint on the spot in a corner is entirely up to you. Personally I use a short cut of old climbing rope and skip for a few minutes. Another excellent exercise is burpees - a few repetitions of 10 should do the trick to kick your circulation into gear.
- Start "climbing" and work on your basic technique (20 - 30 minutes)
Using the biggest hand holds you can possibly find start to traverse. Ignore any particular routes for now (and make a point of it) but instead try to focus on your basics. Placing feet precisely, correctly and silently onto various sized and shaped foot holds will not only give you something to focus on, but also ensures you are less likely to overthink your hands for the time being. This shift of focus also goes some way in making sure you don't push your grades right from the start and therefore acts as a natural pace setter. While warming up getting "pumped" is an absolute no-no. Therefore each stint on the wall should not be longer than 2-3 minutes before coming off for around the same time and carrying out some mobility exercises. There are many of these exercises around and whichever you choose, ensure they allow the relevant joints, muscles and tendons to exercise their full range of motion. If you need some pointers or examples drop me a line. 5 repetitions of this cycle should suffice to get your body suitably warmed up, your head in gear and your technique sorted out (eventually).
There is some ambiguity about the effectiveness of static stretching before climbing. Personally I prefer to stretch statically whenever I feel a muscle group becoming tender, but others stretch statically way ahead of that. For best advice you should ask a trained physiotherapist as part of an assessment of your needs in terms of injury prevention and recovery.
- Ease into the grades
Regardless of what you're aiming to achieve in your session, ease into it. Just because you've spent some time warming up until now does not mean you should jump straight onto that limit grade route you've been falling off of for the past month. Think of this stage as the ultimate warmup for your mind. By easing into the grades you're likely going to flash a good number of routes before eventually falling off. Varying the types of routes at this stage will also give you a good indication of your form on the day. Both will go a long way in making sure your mind is in the right state and place when you eventually hit your limit for the day and will allow you to push yourself further. Ensure that anything you climb at this stage is climbed with an emphasis on (near) perfect technique. This ensures you don't just storm up the easier grades, but instead use them to your advantage and hone those skills that will get you past your current limit one day. Gradually increase your grades now until you feel you have reached your target range for the session. Do remember to rest between climbs though - the harder the grade the longer the rest between climbs. As a guide I try to force myself to rest for 1-2 minutes between climbs on the lower grades, 3-4 minutes in my mid-range and 5-8 minutes at my upper limit. The aim of this is to fight the "pumped" feeling for longer, help with muscle recovery and allow an excellent excuse to take some time to think about the route, replay the sequences and ultimately improve the ascend.
Overall this extended warmup routine should take somewhere in the region of 30-45 minutes. Although arguably you'll be climbing after about 5, so what's stopping you from investing some time into your preparation, recovery and ultimately success?
In one of my next posts I will be outlining why we should all start using cool down routines and how us recreational climbers can easily incorporate them into our normal climbing.