20 May Rock Climbing Injury Prevention Warm-up
Most climbers know better than to just jump on their project cold. However, a lack of knowledge and guidance may lead novice climbers to miss out on a proper rock climbing injury prevention warm-up! A thorough warm-up increases blood flow, muscle flexibility, and body control. In this article, you’ll gain access to the best rock climbing injury prevention warm-up from the climbing doctor himself!
Why Warm-Ups Matter
A 2016 study of handball players by Andersson et al. showed that a comprehensive warm-up program can decrease injury rates by up to 28 percent. A complete warm-up includes four components, all to be performed in the following succession:
- Increase blood flow with aerobic exercise
- Improve mobility with dynamic stretching
- Target stability with muscle-activation exercises
- Begin climbing with a gradual increase in route difficulty
Below we will outline the benefits and why they apply to a rock climbing injury prevention warm-up.
Increase Blood Flow
Perform 5–10 minutes of aerobic exercise to elevate your deep-muscle temperature, which makes the muscles more adaptable and less likely to strain or tear. Anything that increases your heart rate—jumping jacks, a brief run, a spin on an exercise bike, etc.—will do. If you’re climbing outside, the approach often fits the bill. How intense should your aerobic exercise be? A simple guideline is once you start sweating, your body is warmed up. If you want to be more scientific, warm up with a target heart rate of 50 percent of your max—subtract your age from 220 and multiply by .5. For example, if you’re 30, your target heart rate would be 95 beats per minute ([220-30] x .5).
Mobility Versus Stability
Mobility is the ability to move within an available range of motion, while stability is the ability to control that movement. As climbers, we need both. For example, mobility allows you the range of motion to crimp down on a tiny hold, while stability keeps your finger joints from popping out of place while you crimp.
You can perform the mobility (dynamic warm-up) and stability (activation) with similar amounts of time spent. However, we each might need to spend more or less time on either mobility or stability depending on our individual make-up. If you have stiff muscles and limited flexibility, improve mobility by performing a longer duration of mobility stretches and a shorter duration of stability exercises. If you have loose joints and excessive flexibility, target stability by performing a longer duration of stability exercises and a shorter duration of mobility stretches. If you’re not sure, spend equal time utilizing both mobility and stability exercises to warm-up.
What is static, ballistic, and dynamic stretching?
- Static stretching is when you hold a single position to achieve a stretch. Common hold times are around 30 seconds. An example is bending down to touch your toes and holding.
- Ballistic stretching is when you bounce in and out of a position to achieve a stretch. Common hold times are less than a second. An example is bending down to touch your toes and bouncing quickly several times at the bottom of the stretch.
- Dynamic stretching is when you smoothly move through a full range of motion spending equal time in each phase of the stretch. An example is bending down to touch your toes while counting to three and coming back up to standing while counting to three.
How to improve mobility before climbing?
Which type of stretching is the most optimal method 5-10 minutes prior to climbing? What should I include in my rock climbing injury prevention warm-up?
- Static stretching is a poor choice: A static stretch of a muscle before activity can impair muscle strength and leads to decreased performance. This can actually increase injury rate.
- Ballistic stretching is a poor choice: A ballistic stretch can be hazardous when used as a warm-up. The rapid nature of the movement activates a reflex in the muscle causing it to contract to protect itself from harm. This can cause micro-tearing of the muscle.
- Dynamic stretching is the best choice: A dynamic warm-up is the best way to increase blood flow to the muscles and tendons in the body. This method prepares the body for a specific activity and can help reduce injury rates.
Is there still a time and place for static and ballistic stretching? Absolutely! They can even be performed 10 minutes prior to climbing. However, it is cautioned to perform prolonged static stretching for the wrist and fingers (5 minutes) right before you get on the wall and start climbing.
The Rock Climbing Injury Prevention Warm-up
The rock climbing injury prevention warm-up is broken down into four stages. The goal is to increase blood flow and warmth to your body while mirroring climbing-specific positions.
- Stage 1: On the Wall
- The entire body mirrors those positions that are used while climbing.
- Stage 2: Rotation
- Rotational movements to warm-up the joints.
- Stage 3: Upper Body
- Dynamic stretching to warm a primary muscle and its opposing muscle.
- Stage 4: Wrist and Fingers
- Targets the smallest muscle groups with tendon glides.
Rock Climbing Injury Prevention Warm-up Cheat Sheet
Access the FREE Rock Climbing Injury Prevention Warm-up that features full instructions and step-by-step photos teaching you how to perform the warm-up correctly!
Climbing is a sport that develops many of the muscles that hunch your body forward into a poor posture. This is why climbers begin to develop curved spines and arms that rotate in. This hunched position can lead to weakness of the postural muscles that oppose typical climbing movement. These oppositional muscles are known as antagonist muscles. The development of oppositional muscles is necessary to protect your body from injury while climbing and belaying. The key is to activate oppositional muscles prior to climbing. You can do so by maintaining sustained pressure against a light resistance band for up to one minute. This increased duration of time allows you to develop a brain-body connection and will “wake up” the muscles.
Posture [P]Rehab Program
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Start climbing by gradually increasing your route or boulder problem difficulty. In a research study, Dr. Andreas Schweizer shows it takes approximately 120 climbing moves of progressive difficulty to warm-up the pulleys. So, start with an easy grade, and climb at least three routes with 40 moves, or a dozen boulder problems, as your warm-up.
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About The Author
Dr. Jared Vagy PT, DPT, OCS, CSCS
Jared Vagy is a doctor of physical therapy who specializes in treating climbing injuries. In addition to his doctoral degree, he has completed a one-year residency in orthopedics and a one-year fellowship in movement science, totaling nine years of concentrated study. He is the author of the Amazon #1 best-seller “Climb Injury-Free,” has published numerous articles on injury prevention and lectures on the topic internationally. Dr. Vagy is on the teaching faculty at the University of Southern California, one of the top doctor of physical therapy programs in the United States. He is a board-certified orthopedic clinical specialist and a certified strength and conditioning specialist. He is passionate about climbing and enjoys working with climbers of all ability levels, ranging from novice climbers to the top professional climbers in the world. Dr. Vagy has over 17 years of climbing experience and has climbed all over the world. He is an accomplished rock climber, ice climber, and alpinist, and continues to explore the wonders of adventure that these pursuits afford. Learn more about The Climbing Doctor below!