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Warm Up Exercises and Stretches For Rock Climbing

Warm Up Exercises and Stretches For Rock Climbing

As with any form of sport or exercise it is incredibly important to warm up and stretch appropriately before rock climbing. Too many rock climbers make the amateur mistake of not warming up or stretching properly before climbing and this can potentially be very dangerous and very limiting on their ability to climb to their full potential.

Doing the proper stretches before, during and after climbing will help you to climb better, climb longer, reduce the risk of injury and improve the recovery time for your muscles after a climbing session.

Below we have listed a variety of warm up exercises and stretches for the different areas of the body to help you improve your climbing sessions and to decrease the risk of injury:

Before Climbing

Before you do any stretching you should warm up your body. The best way to do this is to find an easy bouldering route on a wall and climb this for about 5 minutes. You shouldn’t feel tired and you shouldn’t really be breaking a sweat because all you really need to do is increase your heart rate and get the blood pumping around your body. You definitely don’t want to feel pumped in your arms and you should come off the wall if your arms start to feel tight and try one of the warm up exercises below.

Other exercises to warm up could be:

Jogging – A quick jog will get your heart rate up sufficiently before stretching.

Press ups – Press ups are a good way to get the blood flowing in your upper body

Sit ups – Sit ups are a good way to get the blood flowing in your core area.

The best warm up is a combination of all three to get your heart rate up for about 5 minutes to the different areas of your body.

Once you are warmed up, it’s time to stretch. We have listed a number of stretches below to get your entire body ready for a climbing session.

Arms, Hands and fingers

One of the most important areas to stretch before climbing is the hands and fingers because the tendons and pulleys are more susceptible to serious injury.

Stretching your hands fingers is based on stretching the hands in different positions to stretch the different tendons in the hand, fingers and wrist as well as the muscles in the forearm.

Stretching the forearms will prevent your arms from getting pumped too quickly.

Stretch 1

The first stretch for your hand is to stretch all of you fingers at once to stretch the tendons that connect from the base of your fingers to your wrist.

One hand at a time, bend your fingers back until you feel the stretch across your palm and let your wrist bend down until you feel the stretch there too. Then lock the elbow to stretch the forearm. Hold this stretch for 30-45 seconds and repeat on the other arm/hand. Be careful not to over extend the arm as over-stretching can cause pain and injury.

Stretch 2

The next stretch is similar to the first except you are only stretching each finger individually. All you need to do is bend the finger back until you feel the stretch and hold for about 30-45 seconds. Do this for each finger and for the thumb for both hands.

Again, be careful not over stretch the fingers as you can cause serious damage. You should not feel pain with this stretch at all.

After each of these stretches it is a good idea to have a shake down to get the blood flowing back round the muscles and the joints, etc.

Upper Body and Core

As you can imagine there are a lot of stretches for the upper body to tackle all of the different muscle groups and their functions including the spine, the chest, the core and the shoulders

As there are so many muscle groups to stretch in the upper body, the easiest thing to is to stretch using a variety of yoga poses. This is also helpful for climbers as this will help with flexibility. It may be helpful to bring a mat if you are going to be doing these stretches outside at the base of a crag, etc.

The video above outlines a few different yoga positions that you can do to stretch before climbing. Hold each position for about 10-20 seconds each.

Stretch 1 – Child Position

The first position is the child position. This position will stretch the spine.

To get into the position kneel on the floor with your feet under your bum and lay flat stretching your arms out in front of you. Then tighten up your abs, press down on your bum and relax your head and neck. You should feel the stretch up your back.

Stretch 2 – Upwards facing dog position

From the child pose, bring your core forward, move your feet back standing on your tip toes and carry your weight upwards until your arms are stretched like a push up position with your palms flat.

Stretch your head and neck looking up and push your core towards the ground. This should stretch your shoulders, core, lower back and your neck. Do not hyper-extend your back, only lower your core as much as you feel comfortable with. Remember to keep breathing deliberately.

Stretch 3 – Cobra Position

From the upwards facing dog position, flatten your feet and continue stretching upwards.

You should feel the stretch more prominently through your chest and core.

You can repeat these first 3 positions if you like to get a thorough stretch for these areas of the body before moving onto the next positions. 

Stretch 4 – Spinal Stretch

Starting in the seated position with your legs extended flat out in front of you, bring your right knee towards your chest and cross the right foot over the left leg.

Then press the right elbow against the inside of the right knee and rotate your upper body to the left.

Keeping a straight back tighten your core and rotate your upper body as far as is comfortable to you. Look over your left shoulder and use your left hand to support you.

You should feel the stretch through your spine and your core. Hold this position for 10-20 seconds then repeat for the other side.

Position 5 – Chest Stretch

Similar to the spinal stretch, start in the seated position with both legs extended. Then Rotate your upper body to the left into a push up position but do not move the feet, keep them planted in the extended position.

You should feel the stretch through the left side of your chest. You can rotate your upper body more to stretch more if you feel comfortable with this.

Hold this stretch for 10-20 seconds then repeat, rotating the upper body over to the other side to stretch the other side of the chest.


Stretching the legs is important for climbing as this will help with the flexibility and stamina which will be beneficial for footwork. Also, the legs are the most powerful muscles in the body and maximizing this power is important.

This video will demonstrate all of the stretches described below.

Stretch 1 – Hamstring Stretch

For the first stretch start with your feet wide apart and lean to the left side keep your legs straight and reach as far down your leg as you can until you feel that stretch. Hold the stretch and then do the other side.

You should feel this stretch down the back of your leg from your bum down to behind your knee.

Stretch 2 – Hamstring Hurdle Stretch

From the previous position, kneel down on your right knee and stretch your left leg out in front of you, with the toes pointing upwards and keeping the hamstring tight. Again you should feel the stretch from your bum to behind your knee. Intensify this stretch by reaching down towards your toes on your left leg. Repeat this for the right leg.

Be careful not to stretch outside of your comfort zone as this can cause injury!

Stretch 3 – Flat Foot Hamstring & Ankle Stretch

From the previous position, flatten the foot and turn it forward 90degrees from your leg.

This will continue the stretch on the hamstring and will also stretch the ankle.

Repeat for the other side.

Stretch 4 – Inside Leg Stretch

From the previous position bring the extended leg and step forward, staying on your opposite knee. Then bring your upper body forward and lean as close to the ground as you can. Don’t worry if you can’t get very low as you will develop this as your flexibility improves.

Again, make sure not to over stretch as you can cause injury. Just stretch as is comfortable to you.

Repeat with the other leg forward.

Stretch 5 – Downward Facing Dog – Calf Stretch.

Downward dog is a yoga position to stretch the calves and the shoulders.

The starting position is on your hands and knees. Then raise your bum in the air whilst keeping your feet as flat to the ground as possible. Relax your head and neck and let your head drop between your arms.

You can intensify this stretch by bending one knee at a time to increase the stretch on the opposite knee. This is good for climbing as this will ensure each leg is stretched out independently.

Stretch 6 – Quadriceps Stretch

The final stretch is for your thigh or Quadricep muscle.

Standing on one leg, hold the other foot behind your bum and point your pelvic muscles forward slightly. This will stretch the front of your leg from your hip to your knee.

Be aware not to over stretch. Repeat for the other leg.


To summarize…

So make sure that you always get a good warm up and stretch before climbing.

Taking the 20 minutes out of your climbing session is definitely worth it.

Doing so will not only improve your blood circulation, flexibility and recovery time, you may well nail that route you’ve been trying!

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