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Training Beta: How to Warm Up For Route Climbing

A proper warm-up before climbing is essential, allowing you to try your hardest and avoid injury.

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This post was written by Seth Lytton, co-runner of TrainingBeta, training fanatic, and strong rock climber. Warming up is important and here’s how to do it properly:

Enter Seth…

It’s hard to make yourself properly warm up for a route climbing session. It’s just so much quicker and easier to walk up to your project, do a few jumping jacks (or not), and then start trying hard routes. Well, I can say from personal experience and from the experiences of many people I’ve trained with, that warming up is an essential part to both being able to try your hardest, and avoiding injury.

Consequences of Not Warming Up

Warming up is an essential part to being able to try your hardest and avoiding injury.Injuries from improperly warming up can span a broad spectrum, but to list a few: finger injuries (pulleys, joints, ligaments), leg injuries (hamstring injuries, calf-injuries, knee injuries), and upper body injuries (biceps tendonitis, elbow tendonitis, rotator cuff issues).

But this article isn’t about injuries: it’s about how to prevent them by warming up properly. Warming up lubricates your joints with synovial fluid and increases the elasticity of your muscles and tendons. Synovial fluid nourishes cartilage and lubricates the joint, which removes friction and ensures proper joint motion.

How To Warm Up for A Route Session

To warm up for a route session you want to start slowly. Depending on what type of routes you will be trying, it might be advisable to do more than just climbing for your warm up. For instance, if the route you’re about to try has a really difficult heel hook, or a really deep drop-knee on it, you would want to make sure that your legs are properly warmed up. I have personally witnessed two people injure their knees while drop kneeing without properly warming up. To warm up your legs you can do something like air squats, or perform a lunge matrix like the one in this post.

After you have properly warmed up your legs, you’ll want to warm up your main climbing muscles. Making sure that you start slowly, begin by just hanging on a good hold. Then choose a couple routes that are mindlessly easy and climb them slowly and deliberately without doing any dynamic or difficult movements. Take some time and just stretch out your shoulders, your arms, your neck, and your back by hanging in different positions on jugs throughout the routes.

Try to choose routes that are about the same length as your project. If you only have short routes to warm up on for a long project, do the short routes twice in a row. After you do your first warm-up, rest for a while (10-20 minutes) before your next – slightly harder – route. Ideally you will continue on in this fashion for a minimum of 3 routes.

During that time, you would not climb any route that’s within a number grade of your most difficult send. You also want to make sure that you’re choosing routes that you can do without falling. For instance, the goal as a 5.12a climber is to climb something within your ability towards the end of your warm-up session that you know you can do without falling, but that will challenge you- maybe a 5.11a. The goal is not to find the hardest 11a in the world and flail all over it!

An example progression for a 5.12- climber:
  1. Hang on a jug for 30 seconds with feet on the wall. Focus on relaxing the shoulders. Do a couple slow pull ups using feet to assist.
  2. Climb 1-2 easy-for-you 5.10s.
  3. Rest for 20 min.
  4. Climb a harder 5.10+ or 5.11a.
  5. Rest for 20-45 min.
  6. Start trying moves on your project. Or start your workout.

This is an example. Everybody is different, but it does illustrate the need to climb at least a few easier routes before trying something hard. I would also recommend going bolt to bolt on your project one time before giving it true redpoint burns. This will warm you up to the particular route, and get your head ready for the send.

How do I know if I’m warmed up?

As you listen to your body more and more, you’ll get a better idea of your optimal warm-up period. A good way to tell if you’re adequately warmed up for route climbing is if your hands feel warm and loose. Your fingers shouldn’t feel stiff or achy, and your arms and shoulders should feel warm and limber. Everybody is different, and after warming up properly you might start to notice indicators of your own.

For me the biggest sign of being warmed up is really wanting to try hard. I’m not having to force my body to try harder on a move and I don’t feel timid going for a hold for fear of tweaking something. I wish that I could give you a specific number of routes that works best for me, but all I can say is it’s never less than 3 and sometimes it’s as many as 6 in the gym before I’m able to try my hardest.

Use a modified version of the progression listed above and give yourself at least 3 routes of easy climbing before trying hard. Pay attention to how it feels as you climb. Are you getting really pumped unusually quickly? You probably didn’t warm up well enough. Do you feel stiff and a little achy? You probably didn’t warm up well enough. As you listen to your body more and more, you’ll get a better idea of your optimal warm-up period.

If you want a training program to warm up for…

Check out our Route Climbing Training Program for three workouts every week of the year, training power endurance, finger strength, core, and overall fitness & strength.

Happy climbing!

About Seth Lytton, TrainingBeta’s In-House Training Fanatic and Tech Guy

This post was written by Seth Lytton (Neely’s husband,), whose climbing accomplishments include 5.14s and V11s due to taking his own advice above. He has spent the last 13 years of his life climbing and has developed a serious interest in the nuances and research behind training.

Seth is an integral part of TrainingBeta, making things work smoothly and look pretty on the site (he has a degree in design as well as computer science).

Cover photo by Andy Mann