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The Secret to Productive Climbing Sessions (Hint: It's Warming Up)

Stop wasting your time (and skin) by skipping the warm-up.

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Heidi Wirtz Rock Climbing Yoga
Heidi Wirtz didn’t just roll out of bed and pull onto this rock. 

You know that feeling when you get to the gym, pull onto the wall, and immediately feel like garbage? You’re tired from work, regretting that free break-room muffin you snagged on your way out, and dang the warm-ups feel hard. Before you spend five minutes tugging off your downsized shoes in defeat, ask yourself: What did I do before this?

If the answer is: Sit at my desk for 8 hours chugging coffee and answering emails before walking 58 steps to my car to drive to the gym, walking 62 more steps into the gym and then immediately lacing up my shoes and pulling onto the wall only to realize I feel like garbage….well, was your body ready to climb?

Here are a few things that don’t count as a complete warm-up for climbing:

  • Drinking a coffee (or Red Bull)
  • Walking 200 steps into the gym
  • Changing into athletic clothes
  • Talking to the front desk
  • Stretching to get your favorite pre-climbing snack off the shelf
  • Listening to pump-up music in your car
  • Putting on your climbing shoes
  • Chalking up
  • (Insert other things you do that aren’t related to warming up here)

While all of the above are okay to do before climbing, you should also consider WARMING UP BEFORE GETTING ON THE CLIMBING WALL. Sorry for yelling, but that was important, and I saw that you were wearing headphones.

No matter how high you crank your car heat, your muscles are “cold” when you enter the gym. Warming up with some light cardio and/or mobility work will increase circulation to your muscles and joints, loosening them for maximum efficiency while you climb. Read: I’ll climb better (less flash pump!) and have a lower chance of injury if I warm up. What counts as “warm”? You know that feeling right before you break into a sweat? That’s when you’re starting to get warm. No need to take things much farther than that.

You can warm up on a treadmill or the rower or by jump-roping, but some of us hate cardio and would rather suffer through flash pump. Don’t do the latter. There are other ways, namely yoga.

Professional climber and author of Yoga for Climbers Heidi Wirtz advocates for doing several rounds of sun salutations and dynamic lunges before climbing to warm up your muscles while focusing on breath work to get into the climbing mindset. She finds her sessions are more productive and focused when she takes 10 minutes to prepare her body for climbing.

“I do warm up outside as well,” says Wirtz. “My outdoor routine is a bit different as none of the poses require me to get on my belly in the dirt.”

Heidi Wirtz yoga
Professional climber Heidi Wirtz (left) warming up before climbing outside. Ryan Dionne

You’ll still need to continue your warm-up on the wall, 10 minutes of sun salutations are great for preparing larger muscle groups to climb, but your fingers aren’t ready to crank on V7 crimps yet. However, you’ll now be wasting less skin and won’t feel as sleepy and uncoordinated while climbing. Warming up will also put you into a more positive mindset for your session. You’ll feel better from the start, which will increase your confidence, and lead to a more  productive session overall, where you can focus on trying hard and executing moves instead of how tired you feel.

Hold on, you’re busy you say? Warming up takes too long when you only have an hour to climb? Bull shark. Warming up is that much more important when you don’t have time to waste. Garbage climbing at the beginning of your session isn’t going to make you any better. Warming up for 10 minutes on the ground followed by 10 to 15 minutes of focused warm-up on the wall, will better prepare you for the 30-ish minutes you have left to crank down and send that pink slopey V5. Think that math doesn’t add up to an hour? We left you with 5 to 10 minutes at the end of your session to cool down and stretch. Why? Learn from Heidi: “I feel a lot more stiff and have more muscle fatigue the next day if I don’t cool down after climbing,” she told us. And it sounds like you’re busy, so ain’t nobody got time for that.

New to yoga? Want to learn the best warm-up routes and cool down stretches to focus your sessions and speed recovery? Check out Heidi Wirtz’s online Yoga for Climbers course, now on sale for $120.