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How to Get the Most Out of Your Climbing Gym Session

If you’re like most climbers, you see every trip to the gym as a chance to climb the hardest thing you’ve ever done.

Maybe it’s one specific route you’re working on. Maybe you don’t even know the problem yet. Either way, the common expectation is that today’s the day. In your haste to crush, you probably rush through a quick warm-up and start on the harder stuff.

Climber lacing up shoes and preparing to climb

Before you know it, your climbing session is over. You’re totally pumped and can’t hang onto the wall anymore.

It doesn’t have to be like this. A little patience and care for your body will go a long way. Part of each session should be an evaluation of how you feel physically and what the focus of your session is going to be. The most successful athletes focus on specific ways of improving incrementally - not setting world records on every single attempt.

Read on to learn how to get the most out of your climbing gym session.

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WARM UP

This. This is really important. You can’t skip this part! Warm up your entire body. Everything is connected, and virtually any muscle can sustain injury during a climbing session.

There are many effective methods to get your body warm. Go to town on a jump rope. Crank up the dance beats and jog on the treadmill. Do a hundred jumping jacks. Whatever your prefered style, make sure you get loose and limber.

Your warm-up should always include dynamic stretching. In other words, you should be doing full range-of-motion exercises that mimic the movements found in climbing. Not only will this get your heart rate up and your blood flowing, it will also prepare your muscles and tendons for your session. Check out this video from The Climbing Doctor for a complete rundown of a climbing-specific warmup:  

You should also consider using your warm-up time to focus on a technique you’d like to develop further. An example of this would be practicing “quiet feet” technique – while warming up on jug hauls, try to completely silence your feet by being super-precise when you place them on the wall. It helps to look intently at where you want to place your foot the whole way. Over time, this will greatly enhance the efficiency of your footwork. No matter what technique you decide to focus on, always try to climb slowly and smoothly with long, rounded movements. Bend your arms as little as possible to prevent early overexertion.

It doesn’t take much to tweak a bicep or a hamstring when you’re cold. Loosening up your body before you climb will help you prevent injury and feel stronger while you’re on the wall.

CLIMB

Women in harness clapping her chalked hands together ready to start climbing

Finally. The time has come. We know, your project is silently taunting you from across the gym. But have patience. Even if your body is feeling great and you’re ready to crush, it doesn’t mean your fingers are up to the task yet. Take 10-15 minutes to climb on mildly fingery routes well below your limit to get your digits ready. Don’t strain them!

Finger tendons and ligaments need adequate circulation to maximize their potential, but they won’t get enough blood flow until they’re actually used under pressure. Finger injuries are some of the most common types of injuries in climbing, so take the finger warm-up slowly!Interval hangs are great for warming up your fingers:

  • Find a good edge or small finger jug you’re comfortable hanging from.
  • Hang from the holds in an open-handed grip (fingers extended as much as possible) for 1 second and rest 5-10 seconds. Next, hang for 5 seconds and rest 5-10 seconds. Finally, hang for 10 seconds and rest 5-10 seconds.
  • Rest 1 minute, then repeat the process with a half-crimp grip.
  • Repeat the whole cycle 2-3 times, and your fingers should be ready to pull holds straight off the wall.

Once your hands are firing at full blast, release that pent up energy on your projects. Coldly vanquish your foes and feast upon the glory that follows, as would a lioness after the hunt. Ascend the walls in triumph; unleash a guttural scream of victory from atop the ramparts, fist raised to the heavens. Until your will to continue flutters away like a leaf in the wind, climb and climb and climb.

(Oh yea...when it comes to chalk...use The Good Stuff. You owe it to yourself after all that.)

When you’ve reached the point of failure and you notice your climbing abilities dwindling rapidly, remember: this is not the end!

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WARM DOWN

Climber stretching forearms by interlacing fingers and pushing palms out.

Never bother with the old warm-down, huh? You’re not alone. This step is often forgotten, ignored, or simply unknown to many climbers.

Essentially, the purpose of a warm-down is to prevent post-climbing soreness. While climbing, lactic acid and other byproducts build up in your muscles (mostly in the forearms, of course, but also in any muscle that’s working hard). Abruptly stopping your exercise causes that stuff to remain in your muscles, preventing effective recovery. Cue pain in your forearm the next day.

At the end of your climbing session, spend 10-15 minutes doing easy aerobic exercise. This could be climbing slowly on long juggy routes or any exercise that keeps your blood flowing. This helps release the waste products from your muscles, aiding their recovery.

Use your warm-down to continue practicing the techniques you want to develop. Does your project have a tough heel-hook that you can’t seem to figure out? Find a much easier version of the move and dial it in. Remember: don’t try hard during the warm-down. Climb quietly and with precision.

ANTAGONIST MUSCLE WORKOUT

A what? Which muscles are the protagonists, then? Is one of my muscles a hero?!

Actually, in this case the term “antagonist” simply refers to the muscles that are underworked by climbing. Climbing overdevelops certain muscle groups and leaves others feeling sad and neglected. For example: maybe you’ve noticed the dude in the gym whose meaty forearms are as thick as your thigh. Well, chances are pretty high that the top of his forearms (the sinewy, cord-like extensor muscles) are highly underdeveloped in comparison.

This imbalance becomes a problem for MANY climbers in the form of various injuries, most commonly tendonitis. Simply put, tendonitis is flaring soreness or pain in a tendon. It has numerous causes, but the result is always the same for everyone – tendonitis sucks.

Avoid tendonitis and other muscular imbalance injuries by doing simple antagonist muscle workouts. We won’t pretend we’re physical therapists here, but there are a few well-known exercises that specifically help climbers:

  • Pushups: You know, the opposite of pullups...
  • Dips: Another pushing exercise! Unlike pushups, however, dips make you push your entire body weight back up. Effective!
  • Reverse wrist curls: Forearms getting too imbalanced? Grab a small dumbbell, sit down and lay the bottom of your forearm against your quad so you see the back of your hand. Curl that wrist up and down!
  • Shoulder press: Two dumbbells + you raising the roof at a dance party = shoulder press.

It’s important to note that you don’t need to go hard with these exercises. Doing 2-3 sets of 10-20 reps for each one (depending on who you are) is perfect for antag training. A little goes a long way, in this case.

CONCLUSION

That’s great! If you’re still figuring out the best way to use your time at the climbing gym, we hope this guide helped you in some way. Even if you can’t resist walking into the gym and trying to campus the V8 out the 70 degree roof right off the bat, maybe you’ll leave this article with a tiny new tidbit of knowledge you can apply in the future.

Go forth! Become the sensei of climbing gym efficiency you were born to be!

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You crave the moment where your grip does more than you thought it could. That split second is nirvana. At FrictionLabs, we help you find that feeling. We use science to engineer the best chalk anywhere. Try it to experience better performance, safer breathing, and healthier skin.

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