Prep Wrists and Fingers to Send
Most climbers know better than just to jump on their project cold. A thorough warm-up increases blood flow, muscle flexibility, and body control. (E.g., a 2016 study of handball players by Andersson et al. showed that a comprehensive warm-up program can decrease injury rates by up to 28 percent.) In climbing, a complete warm-up includes four components, best performed in succession: Increase blood flow, improve mobility, target stability, and begin climbing.
INCREASE BLOOD FLOW
Perform 5–10 minutes of aerobic exercise ( jumping jacks, a run, exercise bike, the approach hike, etc.) to elevate your deep-muscle temperature, which makes muscles more adaptable and less likely to strain or tear. A simple guideline is once you start sweating, your body is warmed up. If you want to be scientific, warm up with a target heart rate of 50 percent of your max—subtract your age from 220 and divide by two.
Dynamic stretching—smoothly moving through a full range of motion, spending equal time in each phase—helps improve mobility prior to climbing. Perform the wrist and finger exercises on these pages for 6 minutes, alternating in 30-second blocks between the two stretches in each section above.
The forearm and fingers contain two types of major muscle groups: Flexors on the palm side, and extensors on the back. Climbing overdevelops the flexors, which can lead to overuse injuries and weakness of the extensors, which help to stabilize the wrist and fingers. Given this imbalance, it’s important that we activate the extensors prior to climbing. To activate a muscle, you need to maintain a sustained pressure against light resistance. This encourages a brain-body connection to “wake up” the targeted muscle. (Note: You can also customize time spent on either Mobility or Stability. E.g., if you have stiff muscles and limited flexibility, do 4 minutes of mobility stretches and 2 minutes of stability exercises—or vice versa if you have loose joints and excessive flexibility.)
After you complete the first three steps of your warm-up, begin climbing gradually, with “high volume/low intensity,” and progress into “low volume/high intensity”—this lets the muscles, tendons, and nervous system adapt to the progressive demands of climbing harder. I recommend starting with two to three (high volume) easier climbs three numbers below your consistent upper grade (low intensity). For example, if you climb 5.11, warm-up on 5.8s; if you boulder V5, warm-up on V2s. This is also a great time to focus on technique. Hone your footwork, limit the tendency to overgrip, and focus on fluid body movement. Slowly begin to decrease the volume to one to two climbs of slightly higher intensity until you’re ready to hop on your project.