The 3 Best Stretches for Rock Climbing
Improve your rock climbing and minimize injuries with 3 of the best rock climbing stretches.
by Brad Walker | First Published May 12, 2010 | Updated April 17, 2019
Walter Smith changed the perception of rock climbing from hobby to sport when he climbed Napes Needle in the 1880’s. In the 1930’s, Emilia Comici was credited for new equipment such as belays and tag line as well as big wall climbing. Nowadays, there are many styles such as; ice climbing, indoor climbing, free rock climbing, etc.
Muscles used in Rock Climbing
Although it may seem that a climber requires more upper body than lower body strength, with good technique most of the power should come from the lower body, with the upper body providing the ability to balance and stay close to the wall. Here’s a list of the muscles or muscle groups most used in rock climbing:
- Forearm muscles: brachioradialis, pronator teres, flexor carpi, palmaris longus, flexor carpi ulnaris and flexor carpi radialis. Grip strength is very important in rock climbing and comes from the forearm muscles working as a unit.
- Leg muscles: the real strength in climbing comes from the legs, particularly the quadriceps muscle. Other important muscles are the hamstrings, gluteals and calf muscles.
- Shoulder muscles: deltoids and rotator cuff.
- Torso muscles: pectoralis major (smaller role), latissimus dorsi and rhomboids.
Most Common Rock Climbing Injuries
Both chronic (overuse) and acute (traumatic) injuries are common in rock climbing, with most acute injuries due to falls. Common injuries in rock climbing include:
- Climber’s finger (a strain or tear of the tendons and ligaments that mobilize the finger joints);
- Carpal tunnel syndrome;
- Lateral epicondylitis (tennis elbow);
- Shoulder impingement;
- Shoulder labral tears;
- Rotator cuff tears;
- Knee meniscus tears;
- Iliotibial band syndrome; and
- Ankle sprain and fracture (mostly due to a fall).
Injury Prevention Strategies
Here are some areas to specifically focus on when preparing for rock climbing of any kind. This preparation allows climbers to move quickly through an extreme range of motion or hold a position without tiring too quickly, which is very important for preventing injuries:
- Warm-up properly, including stretching, prior to climbing.
- Allow an adequate cool-down and recovery period after climbing, or between climbs.
- A good strength training program that focuses on both strength endurance (the ability to hold certain positions for a long time), and strength power (especially important for the lower extremity but it should be developed in the upper body as well).
- Good flexibility training will reduce injuries from tight and inflexible muscles, and also help the climber to perform key skills like edging, stemming and manteling.
- Avoid climbing when tired or afraid. Practice mental skills.
- Use protective equipment like helmets, and maintain all other equipment like harnesses, ropes, carabiners, bolts, nuts and camming devices.
The 3 Best Rock Climbing Stretches
Rock climbing stretches are one of the most under-utilized techniques for improving athletic performance, preventing sports injury and properly rehabilitating sprain and strain injury. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that something as simple as stretching won’t be effective.
Below are 3 of the best stretches for rock climbing; obviously there are a lot more, but these are a great place to start. Please make special note of the instructions with each stretch, and if you currently have any chronic or recurring muscle or joint pain please take extra care when performing the stretches below, or consult with your physician or physical therapist before performing any of the following stretches.
Instructions: Slowly move into the stretch position until you feel a tension of about 7 out of 10. If you feel pain or discomfort you’ve pushed the stretch too far; back out of the stretch immediately. Hold the stretch position for 20 to 30 seconds while relaxing and breathing deeply. Come out of the stretch carefully and perform the stretch on the opposite side if necessary. Repeat 2 or 3 times.
Want more Rock Climbing Stretches?
While the recommendations on this page are a good starting point, you'll get a lot more benefit when you add the right stretches to your training program. With the Ultimate Guide to Stretching & Flexibility (Handbook, DVD & CD-ROM) you'll...
You'll get 135 clear photographs and 44 video demonstrations of unique stretches for every major muscle groups in your body. Plus, the DVD includes 3 customized sets of stretches (8 minutes each) for the Upper Body; the Lower Body; and the Neck, Back & Core. And the Handbook will show you, step-by-step, how to perform each stretch correctly and safely. Plus, you'll also learn the 7 critical rules for safe stretching; the benefits of flexibility; and how to stretch properly.
If you want to improve your flexibility so you can to train harder, race faster, recover quicker and move better, check out the Ultimate Guide to Stretching & Flexibility for yourself.
Research and References
- Walker, B. (2011). The Anatomy of Stretching, 2nd Edition (ISBN: 978-1583943717)
- Wikipedia contributors. (2019, April 14). Rock Climbing, In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.
- Pierpoint, L. Klein, M. Comstock, R. (2017). Epidemiology of Rock Climbing Injuries Treated in United States Emergency Departments, 2006–2015. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 51(4), 374-375.
- Woollings, K. McKay, C. Kang, J. Meeuwisse, W. Emery, C. (2015). Incidence, mechanism and risk factors for injury in youth rock climbers. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 49(1), 44-50.
- Draper, N. Brent, S. Hodgson, C. Blackwell, G. (2009). Flexibility assessment and the role of flexibility as a determinant of performance in rock climbing. International Journal of Performance Analysis in Sport, 9(1), 67-89.
- Kokkonen, J. Nelson, A. Eldredge, C. Winchester, J. (2007) Chronic Static Stretching Improves Exercise Performance. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 39(10), 1825-1831.
- Shellock, F, Prentice, W. (1985) Warming-up and stretching for improved physical performance and prevention of sports-related injuries. Sports Medicine, 2(4):267-78.
- Fradkin, A. Zazryn, T. Smoliga, J. (2010) Effects of warming-up on physical performance: a systematic review with meta-analysis. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 24(1):140-8.
About the Author: Brad Walker is often referred to as the "Stretch Coach" and has even been called the Stretching Guru. Magazines such as Runners World, Bicycling, Triathlete, Swimming & Fitness, and Triathlon Sports have all featured his work. Amazon (author page) has listed his books on five Best-Seller lists. Google cites over 100,000 references to him and his work on the internet. And satisfied customers from 122 countries have sent 1,000's of verified customer reviews. If you want to know about stretching, flexibility or sports injury management, Brad Walker is the go-to-guy.
Disclaimer: The health and fitness information presented on this website is intended as an educational resource and is not intended as a substitute for proper medical advice. Please consult your physician or physical therapist before performing any of the exercises described on this website, particularly if you are pregnant, elderly or have any chronic or recurring muscle or joint pain.