Like any sport, bouldering requires warming up. Even if you’re young and spry. And if not, it’s even more important. But consider this your warning. Failing to warm up can put you at greater risk for an injury.
Bouldering, and climbing in general, requires more than intense focus. It requires being agile and flexible. It also helps a lot if you’re in shape. Fear not if you’re not as fit as you’d like to be before tackling the bouldering area at your local climbing gym. You can always work on that simultaneously and watch your performance improve with every turn.
If you do keep fit, you might be wondering what exercises you might do to warm up for bouldering in particular. Isn’t it like warming up for any other activity?
Not exactly. You can find greater success and endurance in starting with easier exercises at the beginning of the warm-up period. After that though, progressing to faster speeds, varying the work-to-rest ratio, and carefully overloading your fingers, you’ll improve your climbing skills. A good bouldering warm-up should last 10 to 15 minutes.
Please don’t kid yourself that you can get up there without a good warm-up first. You’ll come to regret it in the form of aching, stiff muscles that will force you to take more time off for rest than you’d like. The key is incorporating exercises that boost your heart rate, stretch you out, boost your breathing, and adapt your mind to the challenges ahead.
Read on and you’ll know how to warm up for bouldering with these great exercises that encompass all facets of what you need!
Exercises to Increase Your Heart Rate Before Bouldering
Most of us live for that pounding heartbeat in our ears. That adrenaline rush we get when looking down from above or looking up to see we’ve made it to where we were striving to go. It’s important to train your heart to keep up with the full-body demands that bouldering and climbing impose on you. These exercises help increase your heart rate as you warm up, priming it for the thrills to come.
– Jumping Jacks
Jumping jacks have been a staple exercise for ages. You’ve likely been doing them since gym class in elementary school. While it might seem simple, they are incredibly effective at boosting your heart rate and moving your blood through your body. In fact, it’s one of the best ways to get your body ready for all that intense climbing ahead.
As you likely know how to perform jumping jacks, and quite possibly can do them in your sleep, there’s no need to mention technique. Unless you’ve been living under a rock (ha!), you should know how to do these.
To make the most of them, you should do 3 sets of 10, making for a total of 30.
Take 30 seconds to rest between each of those 3 sets and then hop (or rather, jump!) to it!
– High Knees
Most people are familiar with jumping jacks. They’re very routine and very efficient. High knees are also popular, but for some reason, they look rather odd. At the gym, it’s likely no one will bat an eye but if you happen to warm up outside, you’ll draw curious stares.
Ignore the jokes that you’re trying out for the changing of the guard’s ceremony and lift your knees high up to your chest as you churn your legs up and down. This pumps the blood and gives both the hamstrings and quads a great stretch at once.
You’ll want to do 3 sets of these, timing them at one minute per set.
Take a 30-second rest after each set so that you’re doing high knees for 3 minutes and resting a total of 1.5 minutes. Ideally, the faster you go the better, though there’s no reason to kill yourself trying to beat everyone else. Find your pace and go with it. Then challenge yourself to beat your own speed.
– Walking / Jogging / Hiking
One of the most simple, natural, and effective ways to warm up for bouldering is to choose the right path. Walking, jogging, and hiking are all marvelous ways that people have been using to get exercise long before there were ever any gyms on the planet.
In fact, some cultures crossed entire countries on foot so there’s that.
While we’d advise against leisurely window-shopping at the mall, walking with a bit of a purpose or moving it a bit faster at a jogging pace can surely get you ready for your bouldering or climbing experiences. Additionally, if you simply love the outdoors, hiking is another wonderful way to get in touch with nature and get your heart going.
Choose what feels comfortable for you. Always build on that, trying to challenge your body to more every few days. Another way to get things pumping is to run up and down the stairs, or simply run in place if you’ve really got nowhere else to go. In any situation, moving forward is the key to building that heart rate endurance your body needs to excel when bouldering.
– Dynamic Stretches
Don’t underestimate the power of good stretching. Like any sport, stretching eases your muscles into the activity. It sends blood flowing throughout your body and that brings oxygen from head to toe. Your body needs that more than you realize. These simple habits will make all the difference in your ability to climb better than ever before, plus they’ll help you avoid injuries.
An example of a dynamic stretch is touching your toes as you count to three and then coming up for a count of three to stand. You repeat that about 10 times and your hamstrings will be ready and warmed up. Your joints will be more fluid and ready for action.
Keep reading and you’ll find out more about stretches that will better your body for bouldering!
– Knee Pull-Ups
When bouldering or straight-up climbing, you rely on your abs, hip flexors, and glutes quite a bit. It pays to stretch these muscle groups out. The key is good technique. What you want to do is find a nice place to stand and pull up one knee at a time tight up to your chest until you feel that crucial burn from the stretch. Once you do, repeat the process with the other leg, pulling that knee up tight. You’ll want to do this 5 times per leg.
– Hip Rotations
The unfortunate thing for many people is they don’t think about their hips. Not until they pull jeans on at least. When it comes to bouldering though, you need flexibility in your hips. They can help tuck you in closer to that wall when you’re climbing.
Hip rotations are a great one for hip flexibility, plus they help stretch out your abs and glutes too. A strong core area is very helpful in this sport!
While you’re still standing from the knee pull-ups, make sure your legs are hip-width apart. Then, balance on your left foot as you simultaneously lift your right leg while your hand is on your right knee. Now, you’ll carefully pull your right leg open so that you rotate your hip. You’re doing this correctly when your knee is extended out pointing to the right side. Hold it there until you feel that stretch.
Once you get the stretch in, do it with your left leg. You should repeat this entire process for hip rotation 5 times for each leg.
– Flag & Reach
Practice flagging while giving your abs and glutes a supreme stretch. Again, you’ll stay standing. Then you’ll want to reach opposite arms and legs as far away from yourself as you can to form an almost X-shape. It might be handy to do this one in front of the gym mirrors, at least until you can get it down. Basically, if you’re using your right arm, you need to use your left leg. And if you’re using your left arm, you need to use your right leg. You’ll repeat this whole stretch 5 times per each side.
– Reverse Outside Flag and Reach
Here’s another dynamic stretch that mimics flagging, only this one is ideal for the arms, hips, and legs. It’s a bit different than the last one because it puts more focus on your limbs and getting them limber and ready for the main event of climbing.
While standing, bend your right knee. At the same time, extend your left arm up, up and away from your body. As you do this, step back with your left leg, placing it behind your right leg. Your toes should be touching the floor.
Go full circle with this motion by repeating it so you use your right arm and right leg. Repeat this whole process 5 times on each side.
– Shoulder Rotations and Arm Circles
Your rotator cuff is one of the most important areas on your body when it comes to climbing. It is no joke when you tear it. It hurts and it severely limits your range of motion. If you don’t gingerly nurse it back to health, you’ll have to get surgery that will put you out of commission even longer.
Avoid that whole mess altogether by warming up your rotator cuff on each of your shoulders and your arm muscles too. All that pushing and pulling you do requires your arms to be able to handle what you put out.
First, stand up nice and tall. Then roll both of your shoulders forward 5 times. Switch to rolling them back 5 times. Your arms during this process should dangle like a limp puppet by your sides.
After doing these rolls, lift both arms up. Rotate them in the same manner – 5 forward and 5 toward the back. Doing this nice and smooth with complete control. Do not rush the process. It may even help, especially if you’ve had a prior injury, to do one arm at a time during this step to improve focus and accuracy on this muscle group.
– Torso Twists
Another hugely important part of your body you probably take for granted is your spine. Most people do until they sustain a back injury that lands them in physical therapy for months on end. You can prevent many of these problems by focusing on increasing mobility in your spine. With torso twists, you get that plus you strengthen your abdominal wall for a fully functional core that’s ready to support you during your most intensive climbs.
Stand up and raise your arms, bending them in toward your chest at the same height as your shoulders. With feet firmly rooted to the ground, hip-width apart, start twisting gently at your torso. Move side to side, starting slowly and then gaining more momentum as you progress.
The key here is not to overextend yourself. How do you avoid that? By going slow at first! Move slowly as you twist to each side to feel that stretch. Take note of where it feels comfortable and where you feel like you can’t twist further. That’s the spot! You can slowly speed up your movement from this point on so you won’t hurt yourself. Moving fully from one side to the other equals one complete twist. Doing 10 of them total should be enough for your bouldering warm-up.
– Forearm Extensor Stretch
Another part of your body you likely don’t think about (until you accidentally hit it on a corner or some other sharp edge) is your elbow. By stretching your forearm muscles, your biceps and triceps, you can help prevent elbow injuries.
Stand up and bring your arms together right in front of your chest. Hands should be at waist level. Next, straighten your right arm and lay your fingers flat on the palm of your other hand. Now, pull the fingers back on your extended right arm. Do this slowly until you feel a gentle stretch. You’ll want to hold it for about 10 seconds though no more than 20.
After you get that stretch, let go of your right arm and give it a 180-degree rotation. The fingers on your right hand should be facing backward on your left palm and your thumb should be facing to the right. Pull back using your left hand until you feel a stretch in your forearm and again, leave it for 10 to 20 seconds.
That’s one front and back forearm stretch for one arm. Repeat this process with the other arm. You should do 2 sets of each stretch for each arm.
Breathing Exercise for More Energy: The Breath of Fire Technique
Our bodies control breathing naturally. That’s a good thing because plenty of us might forget to keep breathing at certain points in life. Like when we first start climbing and we look down and realize we’re not in Kansas anymore.
Joking aside, getting a handle on your breathing is such an important aspect of climbing. This is especially true when you start tackling high altitudes. Mastering breathing now will come in handy down the road. Even if you stick to lower heights, breathing techniques help keep your mind and body grounded.
The Breath of Fire is a popular breathing technique. It generates heat in the abdomen and all throughout the upper body though how far it goes really depends on how rapidly you breathe and how long you conduct this particular exercise.
To do it, exhale and pull your stomach in all the way as tight as you can. Then you only inhale in a passive fashion, like if your best friend took a bite of a salad or bistro sandwich with spinach on it only to be poked in the eye from the stem of the spinach leaf. That’s right, you’d laugh (your best friend might not though). And when you laugh, you inhale passively while you release your stomach and the air comes flowing in through your nose on its own.
Maybe laughing isn’t the best way to focus here, so try elongating your back so you have more upper body space to warm up with your breath. Give it a try and see if you can master the technique which does require practice. You may want to first attempt this at home when no one is watching. You can also do other breathing exercises to help you remain calm and centered. These will help you stay focused when you have big challenges to conquer while climbing.
Yoga Warm-Up Exercises for Bouldering
Yoga was once something most people assumed their hippie roommates did between eating granola and chasing down people wearing fur. Now yoga has become more mainstream and you should be glad. Yoga really is for everybody out there of all ages.
Yoga can really help you become better at bouldering and climbing too. It helps you balance your mind and body while increasing flexibility. You definitely want all of that while on the gym wall or the crag.
Keep reading and you’ll learn some comfortable yoga poses that can get you warmed up for bouldering!
Again, here we are with shoulders. You know how important they are for any type of climbing, especially something as intensive on the shoulders as bouldering can be. If you’ve had injuries before, you should take in sun salutes. These make you focus on drawing your shoulder blades downward and in toward each other. Raise your hands overhead and salute the sun. Welcome the stretch you feel and breathe calmly. It’s a very relaxing yet invigorating pose.
– Down Dog at the Wall
For this pose, you’ll want your feet to be hip-width apart while you’re close to a wall. Keep a very slight bend in your knees, then raise your arms overhead. Place your palms flat on that wall and then exhale sitting back as though you were going to sit in a chair.
Now, the key here is that you don’t want your hands to come off the wall. So don’t extend yourself too far back. Remember, the idea is to pretend a chair is there, not to actually try to sit. Keep extending until your hamstrings feel the burn and pull your shoulder blades down toward the center of your back. This stretch should be held while breathing 5 breaths minimum, longer if you can manage it. Inhale as you come up.
– Garudasana/Eagle Arms
Get ready to fly with eagle arms! You’ll start by putting your arms in T position with your palms facing downward. Now exhale and cross your right arm over your left. Bend it at the elbows and try to touch the back of your hands or wrap it around until your palms are touching. Hold this one, breathing deeply, then release as you inhale. Switch arms and do it again.
– Gomukasana Arms
The next one requires you to stand with your feet hip-width apart. Start inhaling as you bring your right arm up next to your right ear with your palm facing forward. Exhale and bend the elbow so that right palm slides down your back. Your left arm should stay there by your left leg. Bend that left elbow and bring the palm facing toward the back behind you. Try your best to unite your 2 hands though if you can’t, you can use a hand towel to help complete the stretch. Hold it, breathe, and then inhale on the release. Don’t forget to switch sides to repeat the process.
When you’re bouldering, hips are such an important part of your body for climbing. This is because you often have the knees and toes facing away from your body while the front of you is flat up against the wall. Having strong outer hips and glutes really helps you push off from your legs to get to your next hold.
Try these poses below for better, more open hips!
– Utthan Pristhasana/Lizard Pose
Create a low lunge so that whatever foot you have out front is flanked by both hands outside. Point that front foot and your knee to 45 degrees with a nice deep bend into the back hip while moving it forward. Stretch that psoas, hugging your front knee in, drawing it toward the front shoulder for the inner hip stretch. Once you get a handle on this, you can make this pose even more intense by lowering down onto your forearms, bending them at the elbows. Hold this for a few breaths and then be sure to switch sides!
– Malasana/Deep Squat
Squats are always great exercise though this form of deep squat in yoga will really do you a solid. Stand so your feet and knees are pointing outward. Bend those knees and let your hips slowly sink downward toward the floor, like a very slow elevator. Lower down as much as you can comfortably go. To further the stretch, press your elbows inside your knees to open up the inner hips. Then bring your palms together like a prayer. Do not round your spine. Instead, keep it erect and hold the position, straightening your legs up while breathing as you release.
– Kapotasona/Pigeon Prep
For this pose, bring your right knee to your right wrist and your right foot to your left wrist. Shoot your left leg straight back behind you on the floor while staying upright using the support of your hands. You can challenge yourself to fold forward as long as you feel no pain. If not, keep it there and hold it, then switch sides.
How do you know if you’re warmed up?
After all this, you should be ready and warmed up for bouldering. One great way to tell if you’re there is how your hands feel. If your fingers feel loose and your arms and shoulders feel warm and limber, you’re ready to go. We’re all different so listen to the cues in your body that tell you you’re ready to get up there. Generally, you’ll feel energized, pumped up, flexible, and charged.
Consequences of Not Warming Up Before Bouldering
When you watch your favorite sports teams, do you think the players just run out onto the field and go for it? Of course not! They spend time warming up before each game. Bouldering is a sport too, and it requires you to spend some time warming up to avoid injury.
It’s not a waste of time. What IS a waste of time is suffering an otherwise preventable injury because you didn’t warm up first. You could sprain a joint or pull a ligament in your hands or fingers. You could suffer hamstring, calf or knee injuries. You can also wind up with tendonitis of the biceps or elbows. Even worse, you can tear your rotator cuff. As mentioned earlier, that is a very difficult recovery you don’t want to put yourself through so just warm up and take care of yourself before you climb! Make sure to check out this post I wrote on how long a bouldering session should last.
Warming up for bouldering is like warming up for any other spot. Though with bouldering, it’s a full-body experience. Some parts you rely on for climbing aren’t what you normally use when doing other exercises or sports. All the stretches and exercises above take special consideration of the muscle groups we use when we’re bouldering or climbing. Follow these to ensure you don’t wind up having to sit things out while you recover from injuries and have a better climbing experience!