How to warm up for outdoor climbing

With temperatures rising across the country, climbers have left their favorite training facilities to aim for their upcoming projects. While many will spend their seasons pounding their bodies on stone until winter, learning to climb unscathed will extend your season. A great way to reduce injuries is to warm up, both inside and out.

This mantra has long echoed in the lungs of the local crag dad or rock climbing coach, but the meaning is often lost. For starters, warming up outdoors is difficult. In the gym, a person has everything they might need for a better bouldering session. Hangboards allow for slow, gradual finger loading and simultaneously allow your upper body space to accommodate heavier stresses.

Also, lower body workouts are easier for the indoor climber because there is space and flat ground. Although everyone’s warm-up is different, today we will discuss the principles for warming up safely outdoors.

How to warm up

In order to warm up for the outdoors, you will first need an indoor warm-up routine. The first and only rule of warming up is to do the same thing every time.

Consistency gives our body feedback that we can interpret for our session. Knowing when you feel tired, when your fingers hurt, or when your legs are stiff provides context for the session. For example, it can tell you how long your body will be functioning at its peak that day.

If it takes a long time for your body to feel fluid, it may mean that the peak of your bouldering session will only be short-lived. Since we injure ourselves when we continue high-intensity exercise while fatigued, knowing which days we should relax will help prevent injury.

Fatigue creates poor form and forces the body to compensate for fatigue-induced weakness in our fatigued areas. Knowing when to back up prevents injuries. Knowing when to step back in your opening routine gives the climber tactical space to make their throw attempts count.

As for the warm-up itself, you should find a routine that targets your key muscle groups individually and as a system. A conscientious climber will also consider what resources they have for the outdoors and how they might translate their indoor warm-up to the outdoors.

Areas to be heated

  • Fingers and forearms
  • Cuffs
  • Biceps / elbows
  • Shoulders
  • Pectorals
  • Knees
  • Hamstrings

Although that sounds like a lot, a hangboard can at least partially warm up the first five elements. We won’t prescribe a warm-up routine for hangboards because different climbers require different exercises. That said, the basic concept remains the same: gradually charge your fingers over a period of 10-20 minutes. For a list of hangboard routines, click here.

The hangboard will warm up your wrists, biceps, shoulders, lats, and chest, but will not fully warm up your upper body as a system. Performing short two-arm lockouts of five to 10 seconds can warm up these areas a bit more.

Some will prefer to use a group for their warm-up. Warming up is like strength training for rock climbing. In rock climbing, the goal of strength training is not to complete the exercise, but to get stronger to better climb the wall.

If a person is training front levers, for example, they don’t need to hold a lever for their attempts to have value. The warm-up is similar. How you warm up is up to you as long as your body is warm at the end of the workouts.

In some ways, the legs are harder to warm up than the arms. Dynamic and static stretches, squats and pistol squats will reduce your risk of injury. When you warm up your upper or lower body, you should feel a slight burn. Warming up for near-peak capacity will require a small amount of fatigue.

Finally, once you feel warm all over your body, start progressively harder climbs until you reach your peak. Cool down after this peak.


The outdoor warm-up should reflect exactly the above. First, buy a portable hangboard. This irreplaceable tool will form the basis of each session. Metolius has a wonderful little board for around US$40 and C$54.

Then warm up as you would indoors. Don’t skimp. It’s easy to get into rock climbing, but there’s no point in getting injured on the first day of the season. Instead, breathe, stretch, lock, and hang. You will have better attempts. Thus, you will save strength and skin by climbing faster. This means you might end up climbing more.

If you are unable to climb easier and easier rocks because your group has moved directly towards your project, try to suspend the movements in isolation before attempting attempts from below.

Virginia F. Goins