The Climbing Doctor’s Warm-Up

Today on Crux Crush, Physical Therapist, Dr. Vagy, shares a video and description of his research based, climbing specific warm-up, that has pros like Jonathan Siegrist psyched. (His warm-up was previously described on DPM Climbing, with still photos of each of the stretches).

Let’s face it, nobody likes warming-up before they climb. It’s not sexy, not cool and takes a lot of time. Well, what if there was a solution where you could mirror the exact movements that you perform on the rock wall, but on the ground? Would you warm-up more often? Check out this new climbing specific warm-up that is supported by the latest research evidence and can be performed in less than 10 minutes. View the video above of professional climber Jonathan Siegrist performing the warm-up and learn to climb injury free.

Dynamic stretching proves to be the most effective type of stretching for climbing. As opposed to static stretching where one holds a single position, or ballistic stretching where one bounces in and out of a position, dynamic stretching is when you smoothly move through a full range of motion spending equal time in each phase of the stretch. An example is bending down to touch your toes while counting to three and coming back up to standing while counting to three. Dynamic stretching is the best way to increase blood flow to the muscles and tendons in the body. This method prepares the body for a specific activity and can help reduce injury rates. In comparison, static stretching has been shown to lead to decreased performance and ballistic stretching can cause micro-tearing of the muscle.

Dr. Jared Vagy applies his knowledge of physical therapy to climbing.

Dr. Jared Vagy applies his knowledge of physical therapy to climbing.

This dynamic warm-up is broken down into four stages:

Stage 1. “On The Wall” uses the entire body to generate warmth. It mirrors specific body positions that are used while climbing.

Stage 2: “Rotation” uses rotational movements to warm-up the joints. This often overlooked stage is very important in climbing because of the rotational nature of the sport.

Stage 3: “Upper Body” uses dynamic stretching to warm a primary muscle and its opposing muscle in a single motion.

Stage 4:  “Wrist and Fingers” targets the smallest muscle groups with tendon glides.

It is then suggested after this warm-up that you climb two warm-up routes in a range two number grades below your consistent climbing grade. For example if you climb 5.10, warm-up on two routes of 5.8.

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Dr. Vagy demonstrates the different stages of his warm-up that mirror actual movements made while climbing.

Stage 1 – On The Wall:

Flag and Reach: 5 repetitions each side

Start standing upright. Extend your arm and opposite leg as far as possible while balancing on the other leg.

Reverse outside flag and reach: 5 repetitions each side

Start standing upright. While bending your stance leg, extend your opposite arm into the air away from your body and extend the same side leg behind and across the body.

High step and pull: 5 repetitions each side

Flex your hip up toward your chest. Grab your knee and pull it into your chest and then release back down to the floor.

Side lunge with cross body and overhead reach: 5 repetitions each side

Start in a standing position and lunge to the side making sure to toe-out your foot at least 45 degrees in order to open your hip. While lunging, reach the same arm of the bent leg overhead and the opposite arm across the body.

Spiderman: 5 repetitions each direction

Start in a toed-out crouch position with the weight mostly in your heels. Bend forward and place your elbows on the insides of your knees. Perform circular rotations of your hips clockwise and counter clockwise while pressing your elbows outwards into your knees. 

Drop knee with same side reach: 5 repetitions each side

Start by facing forward. Lunge to the side while keeping your core engaged. Spin your back leg into the same direction by dropping your knee and reaching your arm up overhead.

Stage 2 – Rotation:

Perform the circular movements pictured below clockwise and counter-clockwise five times. Please note: Ankle and Knee circles are the same motion performed at the same time but are pictured separately.

Upper Body: 

Shoulder Circles, Elbow Circles, Wrist Circles

Lower body

Ankle circles, Knee circles, Hip circles 

Check out The Climbing Doctor's website for more recommendations to prevent climbing injury

Check out The Climbing Doctor’s website for more recommendations and tools to prevent climbing injury.

Stage 3 – Upper Body:

Sun Salute: 5 repetitions

Start with your hands in a prayer pose at your chest. Push your palms together and raise your arms up over your head. Reverse you palms to the sky and pull your elbows down towards your hips.

Cross Body Reach: 5 repetitions each side

Swing your arm across your body and press with your opposite hand into your chest. Hold for three seconds. Swing the arm back out away from your body. Hold for three seconds.

Shoulder Blade Taps: 5 repetitions

Reach both hands overhead with your elbows bent and tap your shoulder blades. Hold for three seconds. Straighten your elbows into the air and reverse the position by reaching your arms behind you. Hold for three seconds.

Stage 4 – Wrist and Fingers:

Wrist Tendon Glides: 10 repetitions

Start with your wrist flexed forward and your elbow bent. Straighten your elbow and simultaneously extend your wrist backwards.

Finger Tendon Glides: 10 repetitions with three second hold

A. Start with a straight hand. B. Slowly crimp your fingers into a hook fist, making sure that your knuckles stay aligned with your wrist. C. Roll your fingers down into a full fist. D. Transition into a flat fist. Focus on your ability to maximally close each position.

Thanks Dr. Vagy for sharing an evidence based and realistic warm-up! Climb on! ~Cate

Dr. Jared Vagy, known as “The Climbing Doctor” is a climber, professor at USC, and doctor of physical therapy. He is a national authority on climbing related injuries.  To learn how to prevent climbing injuries check out his book “The Ultimate Climber – Prevent Injury and Peak Performance”To learn more about the climbing warm-up and to view photos of each of the stretches, read Dr. Vagy’s article on DPM Climbing.


Aguilar AJ, DiStefano LJ, Brown CN, Herman DC, Guskiewicz KM, Padua D. A dynamic warm-up model increases quadriceps strength and hamstring flexibility. J Strength Cond Res. 2012 Apr;26(4):1130-41.

McMillian DJ, Moore JH, Hatler BS, Taylor DC. Dynamic vs. static-stretching warm up: the effect on power and agility performance. J Strength Cond Res. 2006 Aug;20(3):492-9.

Sim AY, Dawson BT, Guelfi KJ, Wallman KE, Young WB. Effects of static stretching in warm-up on repeated sprint performance. J Strength Cond Res. 2009 Oct;23(7):2155-62.

Turki O, Chaouachi A, Behm DG, Chtara H, Chtara M, Bishop D, Chamari K, Amri M. The effect of warm-ups incorporating different volumes of dynamic stretching on 10- and 20-m sprint performance in highly trained male athletes. J Strength Cond Res. 2012 Jan;26(1):63-72.

Gelen E. Acute effects of different warm-up methods on sprint, slalom dribbling, and penalty kick performance in soccer players. J Strength Cond Res. 2010 Apr;24(4): 950-6.

Winchester JB, Nelson AG, Landin D, Young MA, Schexnayder IC. Static stretching impairs sprint performance in collegiate track and field athletes. J Strength Cond Res. 2008 Jan;22(1):13-9.

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Neil Gresham. Improve your climbing with Neil Gresham maser class part 1. Film. 2005.

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4 thoughts on “The Climbing Doctor’s Warm-Up

  1. Jess says:

    For the past year and a half I have committed to warming up before climbing. I do 10-30 min light cardio followed by basically the stage 2 and 4 exercises. I have have noticed a huge difference! I almost never strain/pull any muscles and I only need 1 warm up climb before I’m sending hard! I can’t wait to try everything recommended here!

  2. Katherine says:

    This is so helpful! Thank you. One question- are elbow circles different from shoulder or wrist circles?

  3. Paul Maddock says:

    I love these, I’m totally down with the idea of stretching before hand, I just need to face doing it in the gym with a bunch of people standing around me.

    • Paul Maddock says:

      Follow up to my own comment. I successfully did these stretches in the gym last night and no one batted an eyelid. Was able to warm up off the wall and get right to climbing.

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