Full disclosure, I could have easily made this list “My 20 Favorite Stretches,” or possibly even 30. I love to stretch. The problem I frequently run into with stretching is making the time for it. My goal in this article is to give a manageable number of stretches that address key muscle groups we use in rock climbing and can be done in a reasonable amount of time.
Who should stretch?
Whether you are a sport climber, trad climber, or boulderer, anyone who wants to prevent injuries and improve flexibility as well as range of motion in their climbing should consider stretching as an important part of their approach to climbing.
When should you stretch?
There are two kinds of stretching you can mix into your climbing routine.
Dynamic stretching is the first and involves the movements you do to warm up before an exercise. This kind of stretching frequently mimics the movements you will do during your target activity. You may do multiple repetitions of these movements and/or hold them for a few seconds.
The focus of this article, however, is on the second kind of stretching called static stretching.
Ideally, static stretching should be done after your workout while your muscles are still warm.
If you’re squeezing in your workout between all the other things life has thrown at you today and are feeling pretty good about just getting the workout part accomplished, I’m not here to add stress to your life.
Another option that frequently works for me and also helps me wind down for the day is to set aside some time before bed to stretch. I put on some chill music, dim the lights, and roll out my yoga mat. Just know that if you come into stretching with cold muscles you’ll want to get a slower start. Find the limits of your stretch and then maybe back off of that a little until your second repetition. The most important thing is to listen to your body.
How long should you hold a stretch?
Each of the stretches we talk about in this article should be held for at least 30 seconds with 2-3 repetitions.
Front of shoulder stretch
Lie face down on the ground, turning your face to the left. Extend your right arm with your palm down so that it is perpendicular from your body, bringing your outstretched wrist to a position just above the line of your shoulders. Draw your shoulder into its socket and then, pushing your left hand into the floor, gently begin to roll over your right shoulder just until you begin to feel a stretch. As the trunk of your body rolls to the right, your left leg can cross over your right and stabilize you. Repeat for your left shoulder.
Posterior rotator cuff stretch
Lie on your side with your knees bent. Bring the arm that is in contact with the floor to shoulder height. Roll forward slightly onto your shoulder and then rotate your forearm towards your knees, keeping a 90° angle in your elbow, and applying a gentle downward pressure with your top hand. Repeat for the second side.
While kneeling and sitting back on your feet, hold your right arm at a 90° angle. Cross your left arm under your right arm at the elbows. If possible, catch a hold of your right palm with your left fingers. In this position, raise your elbows a little higher and move your hands slightly away from your face until you feel a stretch between your shoulder blades. Repeat with arms crossed right under left.
BONUS STRETCH OPPORTUNITY: as you get into your kneeling position, curl your toes under so that the toe pads are on the floor and you feel the stretch in your feet!
Kneel on the floor in front of a chair and extend your arms, placing your palms onto the seat of the chair. With straight arms and your palms shoulder width apart, lean your chest toward the floor and allow your head to hang between your arms. This is a great stretch to do if you frequently find yourself hunched over a desk too.
Forearms and Hands
Come to all fours on the floor and rotate your palms outward until your fingertips are facing you. Sink back on your knees toward your heels until you feel an opening stretch in your wrists. Release, and roll your wrists around.
BONUS STRETCH OPPORTUNITY: as you sink back into your knees, curl your toes under again to stretch the bottom of your feet.
Continuing to kneel, make a fist with your right hand and place it on the floor with the back of your hand in contact with the floor and your balled fingertips facing you. Wrap your right hand with your left and apply gentle downward pressure as you rise off of your knees until you feel the stretch in the part of your wrist that meets the back of your hand. Repeat with your left side.
While you are still in this kneeling position, place your palms flat on the floor again and then just lift your palms while rising off of your knees and leaving your fingers still in contact with the floor until you feel the stretch. Release after 30 seconds and then place your palms back on the floor. Draw your hands alongside your knees, still with palms facing down and again rise off of your knees until you feel the stretch in your wrists and the base knuckles of your hands. Your hands will thank you.
Hip flexor stretch
From your kneeling position, rise to one knee on the floor, maintaining your chest in a vertical position. Place your hands on your hips and use your thumbs to gently tilt your pelvis so it feels like your tailbone is tucking under and your belly button is moving toward your spine. This sounds so simple but it is so effective.
Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor, placed hip width apart. Bring your right ankle to your left knee so that your legs create a figure 4. While keeping your right ankle flexed, reach through your legs to grasp the back of your thigh or front of your shin with both hands. Rock side to side a little until you find the really juicy stretch here!
Seated wide legged forward bend
Bring yourself to a seated position on the floor and take your feet wide out to either side of you. Keep your pelvis tilting down toward the ground and maintain a straight back as you lower your upper body towards the floor (placing a folded yoga mat or rolled up towel under your sit bones can be helpful here). Come to rest on your straight arms, elbows, or stack your hands for a place to rest your forehead.
BONUS STRETCH OPPORTUNITY: while you’re here bring your left leg in, placing the sole of your foot on your inner thigh. Rotate your body to align over your right leg and again hinge forward. Switch legs and repeat. This series is not only great for a hamstring muscle stretch but also feels delicious in my lower back and into my rib cage!
I know stretching often falls low on the agenda for most of us but I hope this 30 minute series of stretches inspires you to make stretching a priority and a permanent part of your approach to climbing. Set an intention to stretch as many times a week as you climb. You just might find that your body feels better not just on the wall but all the time!
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Jenny Nichols got her climbing start in Flagstaff, AZ in 2007. Today she lives in Seattle, WA where she works as a K-12 teacher. While she also dabbles in mountain biking, hiking, and kayaking, her passion is to combine climbing and international travel. To date she has climbed in thirteen different countries. She’s currently also learning how to woman a sailboat.