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
Rock climbing is an indoor and outdoor sport with its own rules, grading system, equipment and technique. It became an athletic practice during the Victorian era when the exploration of the natural world became a trendy pursuit.

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.

Stretches for rock climbing

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).
Rock Climbing Stretches and Flexibility Exercises

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.

Rotating wrist and forearm stretch for rock climbing
Rotating Wrist and Forearm Stretch: Place one arm straight out in front and parallel to the ground. Rotate your wrist down and outwards and then use your other hand to further rotate your hand upwards.
Adductor and groin stretch for rock climbing
Squatting Leg-out Adductor and Groin Stretch: Stand with your feet wide apart. Keep one leg straight and your toes pointing forward while bending the other leg and turning your toes out to the side. Lower your groin towards the ground and rest your hands on your bent knee or the ground.
Upper hamstring stretch for rock climbing
Standing High-leg Bent Knee Hamstring Stretch: Stand with one foot raised onto a table. Keep your leg bent and lean your chest into your bent knee.

Want more Rock Climbing Stretches?

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Research and References

Brad Walker - AKA The Stretch CoachAbout 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.

Newsflash... It’s NOT the stretch that makes the difference, it’s the way you do the stretch that counts!
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