Saturday, 25 May 2013

Hot Stuff! Warming Up

So, I've been asked a couple of times to write some more posts about injury prevention. So, what better way to prevent injuries than a proper warm up, which I know many climbers often omit from their climbing routine. 

The professionals do it, why don't we?!

A warm up is brilliant, both to prepare your body, muscles and joints physically for the effort you are about to exert, but also for your brain to be mentally prepared too, to help it remember to “do that climbing thing again!” (rehearsal effect).

Unfortunately, there is no prescribed warm up, everyone has their own routine and way of doing things. It's about finding your “groove” and the best way you warm up. Because of this, however, there is little scientific evidence for warm up routines, due to their variety.

Passive Warming

Passive warming up (an external source warming you, e.g. a warm shower, dryer, sun etc) have some short term benefits on an active warm up (you warming yourself), especially if the active warm up is too intense or lacks recovery time, however, an active warm up definitely has better intermediate and long term performance benefits. Passive warming is useful though to maintain temperature. (Bishop 2003)

I will therefore talk about the principles of warming up, and what you should achieve from it.

Rest between exercises is important, and should usually be kept to a minimum. Alternating exercises that focus on different body parts (i.e. an arm exercise followed by a leg exercise) will help to stimulate blood flow and increase body temperature.

The benefits of warming up are:

  • increasing blood flow to muscles
  • increasing oxygen delivery
  • decreasing vascular resistance
  • increased release of oxygen from myoglobin
  • enhanced cell metabolism
  • reduced muscular viscosity meaning smoother muscle contraction and efficiancy
  • increased sensitivity to nerve receptors
  • increased speed of nerve impulses
  • decreased stiffness of connective tissues
  • increase synovial fluid (which acts as joint "shock absorbers")
  • increased relaxation and concentration
  • all leading to..........decreased likelihood of injuries!
(See blog post on "physiological effect of hot and cold for more info)
(Brukner & Khan 2012)

First part of a warm up should be raising your heart rate.

You can do this in any way you wish: running, cycling, skipping etc. Start slow, and build up the intensity. The goal is to be breaking into a sweat after 5-10mins.

This could even be the walk-in to the crag (unless it's somewhere like Pen Trywn or Burbage North, which is literally roadside!), or cycling to your local wall.

Second part is flexibility. 

This is static stretching -
NOT this type of stretching!
This is NOT static/ballistic stretching which are designed to “stretch a muscle or muscle group beyond their normal range of motion”, (as a study published in the Canadian Journal of Applied Physiology (vol. 26 (3) 2001) showed that static stretching prior to activity showed force production loses of decreased Maximal Voluntary Contractions by 12% and increased muscle inactivation by 20.2% which is not what you want prior to beginning your sporting activity). More on static stretching here.

This is dynamic stretching, which “systematically loosens the participant to their current full range of motion”.

With dynamic stretching, you should first off begin with shallow movements and build up the the full range in stages. This means that, for instance, you are warming up the shoulders with some “windmills”, you don't start off and swing your arms round as fast and as far as you can, but build up with smaller circles.

Not these type of windmills!
These are the windmills I was referring to!
Build up the circles gradually until full range is achieved.

This is key for all the warm up – start slow, and build it up gradually – jump in too fast, too hot, and you'll hurt yourself and it will defeat the point of the warm up in the first place!

Don't forget to warm up those fingers and keep them moving too! Click for handy warm up exercises!

Final part of the warm up is sport specific activity. 

This is usually in the form of easy bouldering (bouldering is normally best as you don't have to bother with ropes, harnesses, belaying etc)

Then build up through the grades (i.e. if your max is 6c, don't jump straight on a 6b+, start on a 5 or 6a and work up to it).

Remember, between routes/problems etc, it is important to stay warm, or you'll have to go through the process all over again. So it may look nice and warm out there, but just a t-shirt isn't necessarily going to keep you warm between boulders at Stanage when that wind starts blowing! Remember a jumper/belay jacket to throw on between routes to maintain your core body temperature (an example of passive warming, as mentioned above)!

Now your body is prepared for your competition/project/high end route!

Sample Warm Ups

Here is the Fifa recommended warm up for footballers

Climbing specific warm ups:


Hochholzer T, Schoffl VR 2006 One Move Too Many. Lochner-Verlag, Germany

Brukner P, Khan K (eds) 2012 Clinical sports medicine 4th ed. Sydney: McGraw Hill pg 116

Bishop D 2003 Warm Up II: Performance Changes Following Active Warm Up and How to Structure the Warm Up. Sports Medicine 33(7): 483-498

Robbie Phillip's warm up, as shown on UKC