“‘Do as little as needed, not as much as possible.’ — Henk Kraaijenhof, coach of Merlene Joyce ‘Queen of Track’ Ottey who won 20 combined medals at the Olympic Games and World Championships,” as quoted by Timothy Ferriss in The 4-Hour Body.
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!
Want to improve your climbing ability and skills in 2013, 2014, and beyond? I bet you do! I know I do. And you know that I am always looking for ways to improve – not just for myself but also for my coaching clients along with anyone who reads this blog or any articles on the topic that I write. My motivation in sharing training information is really quite simple: I love to learn about better ways to train for climbing. I love experimenting on my own body to see what works best and what flops miserably and everything in between. And (lucky you!) I actually enjoy distilling the information out of general athletic training resources and research and trying to apply them and shape them for climbing training and performance purposes – specifically for sport climbers and boulderers.
I’ve often asked myself, “Why do I do this – try to share what I’ve learned? Why do I even care?” Frankly, I don’t have 100 percent of the answers to those questions. But I think there are a couple components that play into this: 1) I simply enjoy helping others; 2) I love improving at climbing and getting stronger, and I have enjoyed the past several years of “smarter training” the most out of all my climbing years; and 3) If I can help others get stronger and improve, shorten their time on the dreaded plateau, relieve their chronic overtraining, or correct poor training practices, that’s awesome! It goes back to #1: that I like helping others and it makes me happy to make other people happy. I love to hear about others’ climbing (and training and fitness and life) successes; it makes all my efforts to share what I learn as I go here worth it to me.
On to my focus here this year, then – I’m planning to post a series of entries and articles to help you (re)shape and (re)evaluate what you’re doing right and wrong or more efficiently/less efficiently in your climbing training and efforts at improving your climbing performance. I’m going to tackle these areas from easiest to hardest. So I’ll start out with the “easy tweaks,” or the areas of training and/or climbing that I believe are the easiest to modify and correct so that you can experience an almost immediate bounce in climbing performance. From there, I’ll move into the more medium areas, the murkier components of climbing and training that can be quick fixes for some people but take longer for others. Finally, I’ll delve into what I consider to be the most difficult areas and aspects of training for climbing – including those areas that take time and dedication and patience to produce the desired results.
What’s the timeframe for this series of articles and entries? At this point, I’m not sure – as I mentioned earlier this week, I have several other new major projects underway this year as well as all my usual “stuff;” this means that sometimes, I’ll struggle to find the time to put entries together (I’m guessing particularly when I’m traveling or at climbing events). But I’m aiming to do my best to put out at least 1-2 entries a month. This may actually be a good thing for you, though – as each entry is published, if there’s some lag time, you can think it through, contemplate whether the information applies in your particular case, and then take any and all appropriate steps to adapt your climbing and training plans as needed to work toward faster improvement. If you get slammed with material all at once, this can be overwhelming and counterproductive; taking it one step at a time has the benefit of allowing you to make it a habit and ingest the knowledge before moving on to the next area I cover.
Improve at Sport Climbing Table of Contents