Warming Up for Gnar

I want to open with a bit on how to warmup properly, because that’s one of the bits I’ve seen folks struggling with the most. We all begin with little to no climbing fitness, and so we don’t warm up properly because everything is hard. That’s understandable, and that’s okay, because in the beginning, we aren’t stressing our physical limits. However, there comes a time when you’ve learned how to move and you wish to push yourself harder, so you push your limits… And they push back. Injuries, time off, backslides, lack of progression and loss of strength are inevitable when you push your body too hard without an adequate warmup.

Now, the biggest obstacle to warming up properly is this: Climbing is HARD! Also, bouldering is just the hard part, so it’s no wonder that the boulder pit is where people become injured the most often. Given this, perhaps it makes sense to avoid warming up in the boulder pit?

It’s called a warm up for a reason. Your body is literally supposed to become warmer. I’m talking about a rise in core temperature, and increased heart-rate. If you haven’t begun to sweat just the slightest bit, you’re probably not warm. What gets your heart rate higher? Cardio. It’s worth noting that the individual movements in cardiovascular exercise are very, very easy. Because of this, I always try to warm up on the easiest climbs I can find. I’ve recently redpointed my first 5.13a, but if I get the opportunity I’ll warm up on 5.6’s and V0’s and work my way up from there.


I’d bet Danno was feeling pretty warm after that run!

The easy terrain helps warm up properly, because I can move faster on easier moves, and this gets the heart rate up without abusing climbing muscles too much before training. After all, we want to begin training fresh, not pumped. My favorite warmup, if I can find it, is a 5.7-5.8 hand-crack. Once you have the moves dialed in, you can move fast and get the blood flowing to all the right places without taxing the forearms!

It’s worth considering that you have two things to get warmed up: Your mind and your body. They are equally important for the process of climbing, so I’ll perform a two-phase warmup.

At first I’ll begin on very easy terrain where I won’t get pumped, and climb very slowly and very deliberately. The idea is to practice feeling peaceful and calm up on the wall so that your mind will have that instinct ready as soon as you begin trying hard moves. After moving slowly on the route and getting back in-tune with my body (as you would with the first downward-dog of a yoga session) I will become fairly familiar with the holds and the moves on the route, and can begin to climb it quicker. Now I’m ready for the physical part of the warmup. The idea is to move as fast as you can WITHOUT losing control. This gets your heart rate up, raises the core temperature, and gets you in the habit of making fast and efficient movement when necessary. After a few laps on the same easy climb, I’m primed for climbing!

Cardio isn't a bad option for warming up, but even then you should make sure to do a little extra for the fingers
Cardio isn’t a bad option for warming up, but even then you should make sure to do a little extra for the fingers

Remember that your body will respond differently at the beginning of every session, and some days require you to work up through some additional climbs rising in difficulty. Generally, as you get stronger it will take longer to warm up properly. Make sure to listen to your body. If you’re too sore to train hard, you’ll feel it during the warmup, and be able to make a decision to rest an extra day. This isn’t such a terrible thing, since a good warmup can actually speed recovery if you don’t push it too far.

Warming up alone:
I get it, folks don’t always have a climbing partner, and sometimes we all have the desire to climb alone and not be bothered by anyone. So how do you warm up without a partner? Here’s a couple suggestions:

  1. Auto-Belay. The easiest method is to warm up as outlined above, but on the auto-belay instead of with a partner. You might lack quality routes, or height of climbing but typically auto-belays hold the easiest routes in the gym, and that’s what we’re looking for. Easy-mode.
  2. You can perform the same warmup sideways instead of vertical, moving slow at first to find your preferred path for the traverse, and then speeding the tempo as you feel ready. This can be difficult when the gym is full of people, but then you have a third option…
  3. Boulder Problems: find the absolute easiest most not-hard-at-all problems you can, and climb them slowly for your first lap, and then try to climb them all in succession as fast as you can. Make sure to rest for a minute if you begin getting pumped, because you want to feel stronger after the warmup than when you started. If you get excessively pumped on your first couple problems you will limit your abilities through the rest of your session

Coming Up Next:
Fingers Strength for Gnar

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