This 9-min Bouldering Warm-up Will Help You Crush Your Project

Warming up properly is something we all know we should do. Yet, many of us still neglect this part of a bouldering workout.

Even if we do warm up, we usually do a few minutes of light climbing and then call that enough.

We mean our bodies well, but a few minutes on the wall isn’t sufficient preparation for a full bouldering session.

Today, I’m going to share with you the reasoning behind why warming up is so crucial as well as the perfect bouldering warm-up for any level of climber.

The Perfect Bouldering Warm-up

Warming up becomes much more sensible and enjoyable when you understand the benefits it offers and the reasoning behind it. But we’ve covered enough research for now. Taking into account all that we just discussed, here is the perfect bouldering warm-up for your next climbing session:

  • 2 min of jumping jacks
  • 2-4 sets of 10 push-ups (based on your level of upper body strength)
  • 15 lunges (each leg)
  • 15 bodyweight squats
  • 30 sec arm circles (both arms – start small and make the circles progressively bigger)
  • 20 forward-backward leg swings (each leg)
  • 20 side-to-side leg swings (each leg)
  • 20 sec ankle circles (each foot)
  • 20 sec wrist circles (each hand)
  • 10 tendon glides (each hand)
  • 7-10 min on-the-wall warm-up (After strapping on your climbing shoes, start with V0/1s and easy traversing, focusing on your footwork and smooth, controlled movements; slowly increase the difficulty of the climbs until you reach 1-3 grades below your max)

And there you have it! This warm-up specifically targets all the body parts integral for bouldering and will help you climb at your best every time.

Why Warm Up?

Popular belief holds that warming up is a great way to prevent injuries and muscle soreness. However, recent research has found few (and often weak) positive correlations between warming up and these often-touted physical benefits.

In other words, warming up has been shown to have little to no effect on injury prevention.

Then why the hell do we warm up? Well, although the (minimal) research into the topic hasn’t greatly supported the usual claims regarding warming up, there are still some benefits to doing so. First off, warming up increases blood flow and oxygen release throughout your body. All that blood pumping through your muscles literally warms you up, which (experts claim) improves your muscular range of motion and helps you perform at your peak.

Also, many experts believe warming up has many psychological benefits. A pre-climb warm-up can mentally prepare you for the physical activity you are about to undertake, and offer you time to focus your mind on the forthcoming exertion. Your warm-up can be that all-important transition time in which you get “in the zone” and ready yourself to crush your project.

What Makes for a Good Warm-up?

It helps to start with the end in mind when warming up. Knowing the goals of a bouldering warm-up can help you better understand how to warm up properly. The ideal bouldering warm-up should have the following qualities:

  • Length: 10-20 minutes
  • Components (in this order):
    • Cardio
    • Dynamic stretching
    • On-the-wall warm-up
  • Intensity: enough to increase your heart rate and cause mild sweating, but not enough to leave you fatigued
  • Body parts to target (any good warm-up should target your upper and lower body, but bouldering warm-ups should give special attention to the following):
    • Joints (esp. hip, shoulders, and ankles)
    • Hands (wrists and fingers)

A Special Note about Stretching

There are three different kinds of stretching: static, ballistic, and dynamic.

Static stretching is when you stretch and hold your muscles in the extended position for a long period of time (e.g. bending down to touch your toes and holding the position for 20-30 seconds). Here are some which are great for climbers.

Ballistic stretching involves “bouncing” in and out of a certain position in order to feel the pull on your muscles.

Dynamic stretching consists of continuously moving your body parts through their entire ranges of motion in a smooth and controlled manner (e.g. arm circles or leg swings).

Overall, experts warn against ballistic stretching when warming up. The bouncing or jerking movements typical of this form of stretching can actually strain muscles if done improperly. However, more intriguingly, recent studies have also shown that static stretching has negative effects on athletic performance when used during a warm up.

That’s right, static stretching your muscles — your forearms, calves, hip flexors, etc. — can actually make you climb worse!

For this reason, any good warm-up should exclude static stretching in favor of dynamic stretching. Dynamic stretching is meant to increase the range of motion in your muscles and joints, thereby making it easier to manipulate and exert your muscles in challenging ways.

Ballistic and static stretching, no; dynamic stretching, yes.

But What If…

I’ve anticipated some rebuttals and excuses. Here are my attempts to reconcile them:

But what if I’m bouldering outdoors? The on-the-wall component of this warm-up assumes you are bouldering indoors. When bouldering outdoors, keep the off-the-wall activities the same. Then, find a “warm-up boulder” with some easy climbs and practice on those routes for 10-15 minutes to mimic the on-the-wall component. If you’re bouldering outdoors during the colder months, you will want to warm your muscles considerably in order to ensure they don’t strain from being too cold. Also, consider bringing hand and foot warmers when you boulder outside to use while resting to ensure your extremities stay warm when you’re not climbing.

But what if this warm-up is too hard/easy? If you are new to bouldering and find this warm-up to be too fatiguing, then adjust the number of push-ups and time spent on the wall to accommodate your fitness level. Remember, the goal of the warm-up is to break a mild sweat, NOT to fatigue yourself. Alternatively, if you are an advanced boulderer, increase the numbers listed here in order to adequately warm your muscles. You will especially want to increase your time spent warming up on the wall.

But what if I don’t have time to warm up? I understand, you have 60 minutes in the climbing gym, and you don’t want to spend a third of that time warming up. Although I advocate for a proper warm-up before every session, I also think a short warm-up is better than none at all. So, for you time-crunched climbers out there, here is a 5-minute off-the-wall bouldering warm-up:

  • 45 sec jumping jacks
  • 20 push-ups
  • 10 lunges (each leg)
  • 30 sec arm circles (both arms – start small and make the circles progressively bigger)
  • 10 forward-backward leg swings (each leg)
  • 10 side-to-side leg swings (each leg)
  • 10 sec ankle circles (each foot)
  • 10 sec wrist circles (each hand)
  • 10 tendon glides (each hand)

Takeaways

For the skimmers and the tl;dr-ers, here are the things you should remember about warming up:

  • Do it to increase athletic performance and mentally prepare yourself
  • Spend 10-20 minutes warming up
  • Include some cardio, dynamic stretching, and an on-the-wall component (in that order)
  • Incorporate exercises that target your joints and hands
  • Go hard enough to break a sweat, but not so hard as to fatigue yourself

I hope this post has been helpful! I tried to support every claim with scientific research, as opposed to relying solely on anecdotal evidence. If you have any questions or thoughts, let me know in the comment section below!

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