One of the most important factors in pushing your grade in climbing is getting into a warm-up routine. This routine can be so useful for developing mobility and strength, enabling your body to unlock its potential during training, but the most important thing is that you find a routine which you can stick to. I have included a number of steps which I have used in warm-ups in the past, but the key thing to remember is that different exercises work for different people. The three essential stages are a pulse-raiser, dynamic stretching of some kind and easy climbing. However, you must be able to be flexible with your routine, adapting it for different places and time-frames.
The purpose of a pulse raiser is to get the blood flowing through your muscles so that oxygen can reach even your extremities and you can make full use of your muscles. You can have a lot of fun at this stage, playing games if you are training in a group. One main reason why lots of people miss this stage out is because they can’t be bothered and feel sluggish when they arrive at the wall. For this reason, it’s good to keep the exercises varied. My normal routine is as follows: 20xstar-jumps, 10xburpies (with press-ups), 20xstar-jumps, 20xmountain climbers, 20xcross-mountain climbers, 20xstar-jumps, 20xmountain climbers, 20xcross-mountain climbers, 20xstar-jumps. If you are short on time, it might be worth trying to run or cycle to the wall, but bear in mind that you must be out of breath.
The word ‘stretching’ has, for most, connotations of sitting in contorted positions for extended periods of time, with the purpose of improving flexibility. This is static stretching, something I do at the end of every training session but avoid completely at the start. If performed properly, this type of stretching can be beneficial at the start, but I find that it increases my risk of injury and makes me weaker as my muscles have been elongated just before I need them to be contracting. Dynamic stretching is a way of loosening all the joints to improve mobility. You should go through the whole body, from the toes to the neck, gently moving each part (e.g. rolling back the shoulders, circling the ankles).
This part of the warm-up is not essential and can be skipped if you are short on time. However, performing some of these exercises several times a week can improve strength and movement in the long term. Shoulder shrugs are a favourite of many climbers. These involve hanging of a bar or a pair of jugs and performing the first stage of a pull-up. By this, I mean alternating between pulling the shoulder blades down so that the neck is raised and allowing the shoulders to relax so the ears sink into the arms. The elbows do not bend at all. This warms-up the shoulders and develops the strength for the first stage of a pull-up. It can also be performed on one arm once you have developed the strength on two. A lot of other mobility exercises can be performed with a theraband. These are easy to purchase and come in many different strengths so you might want several. They are great for working the antagonist muscles and ease your body into strength training, providing a little tension.
Self-massage can be done before or after training (or both) or even on rest days and is a great way to reduce muscle soreness. By massaging out knots in the muscle fibres, you can increase their mobility and can ‘access’ more of your own strength. In other words, if your muscles are knotted, you can’t use their full potential. There are specific tools for self-massage, such as foam-rollers, but you can also use objects such as tennis, lacrosse and golf balls. I would recommend mixing and matching, depending on which muscle group you are massaging.