You walk into the climbing gym and make a beeline for the bouldering wall.
You’ve chalked up your hands, laced your rock climbing shoes, and are pumped to flash your project.
But you forget a vital part of the process…
The climbing warm-up!
By spending a mere 10–15 minutes loosening your joints and getting the blood flowing, you cut down the chances of muscle tears or strains immensely.
Rock climbing is a physically intensive sport, calling on all muscle groups for flexibility and strength.
Give them their due respect and stretch it out before your rock climbing session.
You’ll find it’s easier to smear and coordinate your body on the route once you’ve properly activated your muscles.
How to Properly Warm Up for Climbing
Follow this sequence of moves in order for a quick, full-spectrum climbing warm-up that will advance your flexibility and have your muscles ready to smash some routes.
1. Start with heart-pumping cardio
Walk around the gym to vet out new routes, jog in place, or do a few reps of jumping jacks.
This introduction to your workout tells your body it’s time to wake up and get active.
Burpees, jumping rope, biking, or jogging are four excellent ways to kickstart your rock gym session.
2. Loosen up muscles and joints
As climbers, it’s best to focus on dynamic flow rather than static movement.
Dynamic stretching is centered around smooth, intentional movement in a flow process.
Every part of your stretch receives the same amount of time and depth to the positions, creating an overall balance.
Static stretching focuses on holding poses for around 30 seconds, which actually decreases muscular output.
A dynamic flow mimics the way our body works and performs on the climbing wall.
3. Traverse or easy climb
Take a few minutes to climb routes one or two grades below your level.
Pay attention to your body’s movements, flexibility range, and pain points.
If, at any time during your traversing, you feel tightness in your muscles, stop and stretch the area before attempting harder routes.
4. Cool down
Although many climbers skip this step, it’s crucial for your body.
It allows your muscles to relax and detox after a vigorous session.
7 Dynamic Rock Climbing Warm-Up Exercises
Incorporate these movements in your warm-up reps for maximum wall-crushing mojo.
Note: During any of these stretches you feel a shock of pain or discomfort, immediately stop the stretch. Some of the positions take time to work up to, and you should never push your body past its natural flexibility threshold.
Arm tissue, shoulder ligaments, full forearm stretch
Start small with finger flicks and then move to small wrist circles, then elbow circles, and finish up with shoulder circles.
Don’t rush this process.
Start in one direction for 15 seconds, completely controlling your arms’ forward/backward trajectory.
Take it wide and narrow to activate the unique muscle groups.
Don’t forget to repeat with backward windmills as well.
2. Hip Rotations
Glutes, hips, abdominals
With feet hip-width apart, stand on your right leg, holding the left leg at the knee.
Bring your left leg up to the left side at a 90-degree angle.
Stretch by pushing the knee outwards until you feel a stretch in your groin and glute area.
Repeat this stretch on both sides five times.
Download the Yoga Hip Sequence for Rock Climbers
3. Head Rolls
Neck, spine, and shoulders
Slowly rotate your head to the front, sides, and back in a fluid, slow motion.
Do not jerk or make fast movements.
Deepen this stretch by placing your left hand on your shoulder and your right hand on the top of your head and lightly pulling apart.
You should feel this effect in your shoulder and neck region.
Circle left and circle right for an equivalent range of motion.
Glutes, core, hamstrings, quads
Lunges are essential to any climbing warm-up, as it’s the most common form on the climbing wall.
Maintain straight form with your back perpendicular to the ground.
Drop your left knee towards the floor, without touching it.
Your bent knee should be a few inches from the ground.
When you stand up, smoothly transition with the alternate leg in a lunge position.
Perform a cycle of around 10 reps for each leg.
5. Leg Swings
Hip rotation/range of movement
Hold a wall for balance and keep a straight spine position.
Swing your leg to the front and back in a controlled motion.
Do this on both sides to open up your hips.
6. Side Twists (without Weight)
Full core activation
Lie on your back on a yoga mat or a hard floor area.
In a simultaneous motion, lift your upper body and lower body off the mat.
Your glutes should be the only part of your body still on the floor.
Just like Russian twists, but without weight, keep your feet stretched and lifted in front of you as you twist at lower back to each side.
This exercise prepares your abdominal muscles for those tricky smears and upper wall twists when routes get rocky.
7. Forearm Stretching, aka Tendon Gliding
Forearms, wrists, hands, fingers
This might be an exercise you’ve never heard of but trust that you will love including it in your next rock climbing warm-up. This is more of a stretch or massage than an actual exercise.
Before You Climb
Even if you’ve only carved out an hour for your climbing time, always warm up first.
It’s too often that climbers pump their muscles to the point where they need to take a break from climbing.
Listen to your body and what feels good.
Make sure to breathe deeply and fully.
Feel free to combine these rock climbing warm-ups with other popular exercises such as: squats, knee-ups, wall hangs, or planks.
However, don’t jump into any high weight-bearing exercises until you’ve warmed up your body and stretched your joints.
For expert climbing tips, tricks, and updates, sign up for our free weekly newsletter below!
McKenzi Taylor founded Rock Climbing Women in 2013 after moving to a new city as a new climber seeking more climbing partners (and new friends!). Since her first taste of climbing in Spearfish Canyon, SD, McKenzi has been at the rock face seeking and sharing the thrill of climbing. She credits the support of a consistent climbing partner and community as the motivation to continue developing her skill, whether it’s trad, sport climbing or bouldering. A full-time business owner and mother, McKenzi’s on a mission to get her kids outside and learning to adventure alongside her.