Most physical activity benefits from some sort of warming up and stretching program that is sport-specific. Rock climbing stretches are chosen specifically for getting you ready to climb! Due to the flexibility demands of climbing, we argue it’s especially important for our sport!
In this article, we’ll look at the different types of stretching for climbing, some good warmup drills, and some stretching for times when you’re not on the wall!
Dynamic vs. Static Stretching
There are two major forms of stretching. Dynamic and Static. Dynamic stretches are light movements of the limbs through a full range of movement. These are sport-specific movements, for example, lunges for tennis, or windmilling your arms to loosen up for climbing! Dynamic stretches target your nervous system to ‘wake it up and get you ready for practice.
Static stretches are generally held in one position for a period of time. These can be done before or after activity, but studies have shown that after is generally safer and more effective. Static stretches activate your body’s inherent strength and power through the use of elasticity from your muscles. This allows them to elongate, get stronger, and get more mobile.
Part of my daily routine is doing some climbing-specific stretches before I go to bed each night while reading or watching TV. Before climbing, I have three dynamic movements that I like to do to get warmed up, blood pumping, and prepare my body for climbing!
Warming Up For Climbing
Warming up for climbing might not be popular, some climbers may even give you a hard time for doing it. Forget them!
The fact is there is a wide range of muscles used in climbing, and most of them don’t enjoy being put to the test cold.
Warming up appropriately will allow you to start the climbing session off right. You won’t need a few routes to get in the zone or start to feel good. You’ll already be there. See what your friends say then!
1. Downward Facing Dog
This is a full-body, active position that is common in Yoga practices. It’s perfect for climbing because it hits everything!
Your hands, wrists, and shoulders will all start to get some blood flowing to them. Try shifting your weight into each hand individually, then trying to push your head through your shoulders to your knees.
For your lower body, we like to “walk” our feet back and forth. To do this we don’t actually move our feet, but one at a time try to press your heel into the floor. This stretches the hamstring, lower back, and calf muscles as well as starts to wake up the small joints and ligaments in the foot!
Hold this position for 1-2 minutes.
This stretch hits so many areas of the body that are used in climbing we can think of a better one to start our warmup with. Especially for slab climbing, this is a must-do stretch because of how much you’ll be using your calves!
2. Spiderman Lunge with Rotation
Spiderman was a great climber, so it makes sense to do a stretch named after him, right?!?!
This stretch really works to open up our hips and quads with the leg extended forward. At the same time, we are warming up the core and spine by rotating to the ceiling with the hand that is over our front leg.
Shifting your weight around slightly will slowly but surely open up your front hip, glute, and quad. This gets them ready for the stresses that climbing puts on these muscle groups.
3. Arm Circles
Shoulders are the number one most injured body part for climbers. I make a point to stretch my shoulders at least once a day. It doesn’t even matter which type of climbing you like to do, shoulders will be involved!
This stretches and warms up the pec muscles and rotator cuffs in the shoulder joint. This keeps them from over-stretching and provides some soft tissue work if they ever do become irritated.
You can start in a seated or standing position with your arms out to the sides. slowly start rotating your arms in small, quick circles in one direction, I generally start with forward. Slowly increase the size of the circles, which will naturally slow down the speed. When you are finished you’ll be doing nice slow, large arm circles.
Spend about 30s to one minute rotating forward, then switch and move your arms in a backward motion and repeat.
With this warmup complete your muscles will be warm and firing, ready to get your best climbing session in!
Rock Climbing Stretches to Improve Mobility
Being limber and able to stretch just another inch might be the difference between finishing a route and falling on the same problem repeatedly. While there are hundreds of stretches and mobility exercises you can do, these five are staples of our stretching program.
I will spend anywhere from one minute to 5 minutes doing these stretches at night while relaxing. Instead of sitting on your couch watching TV, do one of these stretches while you watch!
Try to carve out about 15-30 minutes to stretch. Your body will thank you and you’ll start to see improved flexibility and mobility on the wall!
1. Lats Chair Stretch
Place both hands, palms down, on a table or a chair with your arms fully extended and your knees firmly on the ground. Push your head and chest to the floor, maintaining straight arms the entire time.
This stretch will help your pecs, shoulders, and lats and really helps with your overhead mobility!
You can up the difficulty of the stretch by putting your elbows on the bench or chair instead of your hands like shown in the image.
2. Pec Stretch
Lie face down on the floor and extend your right arm to the side with your palm down. Take your left leg behind your right leg, rolling your torso to stretch that leg as far as possible to the right.
Depending on where you are tightest, you will feel this through the pec, bicep, and often in the lower back.
3. Forearm Stretch
On your hands and knees place your palms flat against the ground, shoulder-width apart, with straight arms. Gently lean forward over your hands putting weight into your forearms and wrists. Spend about 5 seconds before releasing the tension and sitting back.
Repeat this process four or five times. Then move your fingers to where they point to the sides and lean into each hand, alternating between the two. Repeat 4-5 times per hand.
Finally, point your fingers back towards your body and gently sit back. Repeat this movement three or four times.
Getting your hands, forearms, and wrists ready for climbing is vital, and we don’t know a better stretch for it!
4. Pigeon Pose
One of the single best glute and hip stretches we can think of, this is great for desk-bound people, athletes, and climbers alike. As someone with a desk job, I probably do this stretch more than any of the others!
Start from your hands and knees and bring your right leg under you while extending your left leg back. Lean forward over your bent leg and rest on your forearms. You should feel this in your right hip, glute, and possibly your lower back.
Sit in this position for up to 5 minutes per side!
5. Frog Stretch
Our last stretch targets the hips and groin, super important muscles used for climbing and ones that are tight for many people.
From our basic hands and knees position, we start this stretch by widening out your knees. Fall onto your forearms and rest most of your weight there. Slowly push your pelvis to the floor to engage your hips and groin.
You can increase the tension in this stretch by pushing your butt to your feet, widening your legs, or putting less weight into your forearms.
While there are plenty of other stretches you can do to help improve your flexibility, these are a great starting point.
For those looking to really take their mobility to the next level check out Kelly Starrett’s “Becoming a Supple Leopard”. Buying this book was the single best thing I’ve ever done for my climbing!
The Final Pitch
This article discusses the benefits of warming up properly and the importance of rock climbing stretches. Both of these things can improve your climbing performance and keep you injury-free.
The goal is to improve our climbing and be healthy enough to do it, and rock climbing stretches and mobility can help!
Our writer/editor and youngest team member, Nick is in school for journalism with a minor in climbing. Just kidding. There is no minor for climbing. We wish though!
Nick has the benefit of being fairly new to the world of climbing, and thus is able to look at our content and make sure we explain things in a way both experts and people who have never put foot on a wall will understand!