The Climber’s Coach

with Gareth Parry


Warming-Up Part 1

Expert coach Gareth Parry takes a look at ‘Warming Up’ and offers a series of steps to help you get more out of your session, perform at a higher level and reduce the risk of injury. He will endeavour to help you sift through all the coaching and training advice out there and give you some simple tools and principles to follow that will enable you to become a better, and a more clever, climber.

Gareth will be starting with a look at warming-up, a very important stage of the climbing session no matter what your level. There are basic techniques that you will use for life and learning the correct techniques as a beginner will be as applicable to F4a as they are to F8a in the future. We will then take a look at becoming fit enough to train, with general and advanced conditioning advice. This will lead us into a series of training principles with a look at training aids and finish by hopefully giving you the tools to structure and manage your own training plan. 


Thou shalt warm up. It is drummed into us all from a young age at school that warming-up is very important. I did it playing rugby until I was 20 and I did it when I studied Tae Kwon Do so why do so many people ignore the knowledge that they already have. Sadly, when it comes to introducing climbing sessions at many walls, it is usually a case of: here is a harness, this is how you tie a figure of 8 and this is how you belay… off you go and have fun. Imagine going for a horse riding lesson and just being shown how to put a saddle on. 

The Benefits

Warm up are two simple words to understand. In order to warm up we must raise the body’s temperature. This has a number of key benefits.

  • a warm up reduces the strain on the heart during vigorous exercise.
  • an increase in blood flow through the muscles aids the removal of waste products i.e. lactic acid
  • a reduction in muscle viscosity, making tissues more pliable, flexible and ready for exercise
  • increased sensitivity of nerve receptors and an increased speed of nerve impulse transmission
  • a lowered energy rate of metabolic chemical reactions, reducing the output levels of lactic acid.

These points all combine to improve our performance and reduce the risk of injury.

The Stages

Essentially I consider there to be four parts to the warm up, the ‘Passive Warm Up’ (very easy to do) the ‘General Warm-Up’ (takes some effort) ‘Dynamic Warm Up’ (more effort) and the ‘Sport Specific Warm Up’ (often neglected). At this stage I want to make it clear that warming up does NOT involve stretching. This should only be undertaken after exercise when the body is fully warmed up. Studies have shown that it will not improve your performance and may even increase the risk of injury.

The ‘Passive Warm Up’ is the only way to speed up your required warm up time. This means the body is heated up from an external source. Take two climbers travelling the same distance to the same climbing wall in winter. Climber A travels in his car and climber B rides a bike. Although climber B rides a bike (a good warm up in itself) climber A has the advantage of being able to use the car’s heater to increase his body temperature and the car to reduce heat loss without energy expenditure. Other methods available are hot showers (maybe not so good for the skin), massage and heat pads. The advantage of utilising this method is that it does not fatigue the climber. Start your session with trousers and a jumper on, if it is colder you might go for more layers. As your temperature rises you can remove layers and if you are resting you can add layers to make sure you don’t cool down too much. In warmer climates a warm up routine can be performed over a shorter period as our bodies are already more supple. This is why countries like Spain are popular retirement destinations; the warmer climate eases health problems like arthritis.

General Warm-Up

The General Warm Up is the most commonly used method in sport. Begin with simple activities such as jogging, cycling, skipping or rowing to raise your heart rate and increase blood flow. Perform for five to 10 minutes. Do not jump straight in at a high intensity to get it done faster; the point is to do it gently. Gradually increase the intensity until breathing reaches a point where it becomes awkward to hold a conversation and you are starting to sweat.

Begin with simple activities such as jogging, cycling, skipping or rowing to raise your heart rate and increase blood flow.

Dynamic Warm Up

Dynamic stretching exercises will reduce muscle stiffness, reducing injury risk and increasing range of movement. One way of looking at these exercises is to picture the range of movements to be used in a climb and mimic them without putting force through the body. Whilst performing the exercises breathe in a relaxed and controlled manner for 10-20 minutes. The easiest way to carry out dynamic exercises is to start at the fingers and work your way up the arms to the shoulders and then neck and then down the body performing joint rotations.

Here is a simple step-by-step Dynamic Warm Up. It may be possible to add more exercises e.g. for the hips we can also perform leg swings.

Fingers: Open and close 

Wrist: Rotations

Elbows: Rotations

Neck: DO NOT ROTATE THE NECK. Perform flexions and extensions. Lateral Flexion, ear to shoulder on left then right. Flexion/extension, chin to chest then raise up as far as possible. Turns, look to the left then slowly turn to look to the right.

Shoulders: Rotations (start with small circles and get larger, do both directions)

Hips: Circles and twists (over-hurdles) 

Spine: Lateral flexion 

Knees: Leg raises and flexing

Ankles: Rotations

Toes: Open and Close

Simple Exercises

Small shoulder rotations.

Large shoulder rotations.

Hip circles.

Spine lateral flexions.

Gaz’s Warm Up Tips:

Remember not to rush this part of the warm up. If you don’t have time to perform a suitable warm up then you really don’t have time to perform your climbing session. A minimum warm up time should be between 20 and 30 minutes. As your climbing level improves the intensity and duration of your warm up should also increase. Do your warm up with friends and remember to use layering to regulate your temperature.

Rich Hudson, The Personal Trainer Tip:

 “Save passive stretching for after your workout. Studies show that passive stretching before exercise doesn’t help the muscles warm up or lessen the stiffness/soreness felt the day after. It can lead to micro tears in the muscles that can lead to injury.”


In the next article we look at The Climbing Specific Warm Up, including technique drills and will also examine the importance of warming down.


The latest news, kit and special offers straight to your inbox ...