Climbing may not be an impact sport, but even bearing that in mind, the advantages of stretching the muscles and tendons that will be worked the most during a session are considerable. Many climbers swear by static stretches, some use yoga as a primary stretching and core conditioning method, while some even avoid stretching in the first place instead preferring to “warm-up” with lower-grade climbs before attempting a climb either at or above the peak of the climber’s ability.
“Static stretches” are simple stretches of specific areas of the body or muscle groups that work together to perform a specific function. Forearms and wrists are generally most important to stretch, even for novice climbers, while stretching the entire body can actually be detrimental to your performance on the wall or outdoors. Maintaining this balance is a difficult prospect, but it’s generally achieved through stretching only as much as your muscles need to become loose and relaxed (which in my experience is really only until the tendons and/or muscles begin to “tug” a bit). Stretching too far or too long can cause the muscles to begin to go into what some doctors and kinesthetics experts refer to as a kind of “trauma mode”, where the muscles tighten-up in expectation of fight-or-flight. Definitely not what you want when you’re about to try something that the modern human body wasn’t meant for.
Most climbers begin with forearm and wrist stretches, where most of the major grip- and lifting-work is concentrated during the actual ascent/climbing process.
- Begin by holding one hand out in front of you, palm facing down and place the thumb of your other hand into the middle of your down-facing palm with your other fingers laying across the top of your hand.
- Pull gently down until your wrist bends to approximately a 90-degree angle, and extend your arm straight out from your shoulder until your elbow is straight but not locked. Hold for a few seconds or until you feel your muscles become moderately tense. Bend your arm again at the elbow slowly and release your hand. Repeat the process on your other arm.
- Next, hold your palm out in a ‘halt’ signal position, lay your fingers from the other hand, across the front of the fingers on the arm you are intending to stretch cross-ways and pull back gently keeping your fingers loose at the knuckle. Extend your arm straight out from your shoulder until your elbow is straight but not locked. Hold for a few seconds or until you feel your muscles become moderately tense. Bend your arm again slowly and release your hand, repeating the process on your other arm.
- Hold your hand up and look at your palm, laying your other hand with the palm pressed against the back of your hand. Wrap your fingers around your hand just above the webbing of your thumb, lining-up the thumb of the gripping-hand behind the pinky of the arm you are stretching. Using the meat of your palm/thumb to hold the arm and wrist in position, begin extending the arm slowly until the arm is near full-extension. Do not lock your elbow, and only hold the stretch for a few seconds at most. Bend your arm again slowly at the elbow and release your hand, repeating on the other arm. This stretches one side of the forearm and loosens the wrist slightly, while the below exercise stretches the opposite side and the wrist movement in the opposite direction.
- Hold your hand out palm-down and grip the outside of the palm (near the pinky) from the top of the hand and place your thumb just behind the last knuckle of your pointer finger. Extend your arm to full extension slowly, and press out with the thumb that is forcing the stretch slowly until wrist rotation becomes tense. Bend your arm at the elbow first, then release your hand to return to a rest position. Repeat on the other arm. This completes the forearm-and-wrist stretch.
A significant number of climbers also engage in stretches that hit the mid-to-lower back and stomach (often referred to as the “core”) and leg muscles, which are pretty standard-fare from sport-to-sport. A few stretches that aren’t generally considered prior to the start of a climb:
- Neck and shoulder stretches
- I cannot stress this enough: climbing literally hits almost every part of your body, from your feet and ankles all the way up to the nerves, muscles, and tendons that connect your back and shoulders to your neck and skull. Doing neck- and shoulder-rolls are the just two simple ways to loosen up your shoulders and neck to prevent injury.
- Ankle stretches
- Ankles are probably the worst part of your body to injure, as they not only can take a long time to heal if they become damaged but they are also notoriously easy to bang-up or injure. Being mindful of the maximum range of motion on your ankles as well as the potential for slippage if your shoes are worn or if you are working with “well-loved” (not as much friction) foot-holds and hand-holds. Many a climber has rolled or broken an ankle or encountered other foot injuries at some point in their climbing career. Be aware, and do some quick ankle-movements to loosen them up a bit.
With these stretches, you can generally avoid most minor injuries caused by muscle tension (also known as “pulling a muscle”) and you can pretty quickly estimate your climbing and lifting capacity and more easily determine what routes to climb.