Ways to Improve Your Sport Climbing/Bouldering (1): The Warm-Up (EASY)

Warm up before trying a hard project.

By changing or manipulating one simple aspect of your climbing routine, you could potentially experience the following benefits:

  • Improved muscle power;
  • Quicker reaction times and movements;
  • Longer staying power throughout your climbing day/workout;
  • A reduction in lactic acid buildup;
  • Enhanced mind-muscle connectivity; and
  • Decreased risk of muscle/tendon tears and other injuries.

What climber wouldn’t want to experience these effects?

Given these advantages, it’s amazing to observe how many sport climbers and boulderers still shirk on the warm-up or do away with it entirely, despite the definite and well-understood physiological benefits of warming up before attempting to perform athletically at one’s peak.

What Happens During a Warm-Up

As explained in ACTION Personal Trainer Certification: 2nd Edition (Volume 2), performing a proper warm-up prior to harder exercise/training or an athletic competition provides the participant with numerous proven benefits.

Warming up gradually increases your heart rate and respiration, instead of causing a potentially dangerous spike in heart rate as your lungs and heart strive to provide your muscles with the oxygen that active muscles require. Gradually increasing your heart rate enables your heart to keep pace with your body’s increased demands due to physical activity — making for more efficient delivery of oxygen to your working muscles and an increased ability of the muscles to utilize that oxygen. As your warm-up progresses, your blood vessels dilate, allowing blood to pass more quickly through them, which enhances delivery of oxygen and nutrients. This increase in blood flow enables your body to more efficiently remove metabolic by-products of exercise, such as lactic acid, which can cause premature fatigue if it accumulates too quickly (as all climbers know!).

Your core temperature gradually rises as you warm up, with your muscle temperature rising to an average of 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit above normal. This increase in temperature makes your body less viscous and more fluid, allowing for quicker movements in your muscles, joints and tendons. Less viscosity (think “gumminess” or “gooeyness”) makes for quicker neural transmissions, too — so your brain’s messages to your muscles travel faster, resulting in faster responses to external stimuli than you would have without warming up. Your muscles become more elastic. You also prime your mind for what’s to come by climbing easier routes or rehearsing harder moves one at a time as a part of your warm-up. And last but not least, by warming up, you decrease your potential risk of injury significantly, partially due to an increase in your mental awareness of your body’s status, along with the aforementioned physiological benefits.

Improve Your Climbing Performance By Warming Up Right

If you’re one of those climbers or boulderers who believes that warming up “just doesn’t work for you,” or that you perform best by not warming up at all — or you just can’t seem to have the discipline to stick to your warm-up plans despite your best intentions — you might want to reconsider this strategy. It’s hard to argue against the value of warming up when there’s so much scientific evidence backing its benefits. However, this doesn’t mean that your best buddy’s warm up is right for you. In fact, this is one of the biggest pitfalls climbers experience in creating an effective warm up; they try to use someone else’s warm-up protocol, it doesn’t work, and they decide that warming up is a bogus concept altogether.

If this sounds familiar, instead of giving up on developing your own warm-up routine entirely or thinking that somehow, miraculously, you of all people in the world have been blessed with a body that doesn’t respond to warming up or that needs no warm up for peak performance, take into account all of the benefits listed above and perhaps then, you’ll reconsider your relationship with warming up. The key is for you to develop a warm-up routine that works for you and your body — however long and whatever components that may entail.

Be careful not to get sucked into the all-too-common game of “I’m such an awesome climber that I can warm up on xx grade,” which can often lead to a total destruction of an entire day of climbing — or longer — should that “warm-up route” turn out to be way too difficult to actually be a warm-up. Keep in mind that the grade you warm up on at your home crag or on your better styles might very well push your limits to your maximum or beyond if you’re climbing at a new, unfamiliar climbing area or at an area that exploits your weaknesses. Your warm-up isn’t about crushing or climbing hard; it’s about preparing your body to do that in the future. In other words, it’s more than okay to say “take” on your warm-up to avoid sabotaging the rest of your climbing day.

This multipart series of blogs and articles starts here, in case you have to catch up – you’ll also find a full table of contents, complete with links, in that entry. My designation of each area as “easy,” “medium” or “hard” is purely subjective. I’ve arrived at the designations from my personal experience garnered from 20+ years of climbing along with observations I’ve made as a climbing coach/certified personal trainer. You may find some of the areas harder or easier to change. You also might not agree with me or my take on things. That’s fine – feel free to take it or leave it as you wish! Also, remember that the information I provide here is purely offered as advice and that no exercises or training program should be undertaken without receiving medical clearance from a healthcare professional.

One other caveat: As will be true for all of the entries and articles in this series, if you’ve already mastered or maxed out the topic at hand to the best of your ability level, you’ll reap far fewer benefits or none at all from my suggestions – good for you that you figured it out, but sorry I couldn’t help you out more. Happy climbing and training!

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