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Sport Specific > Climbing-Rock > Warmup

The Outdoor Conditioning Warm-up

If the arrival of summer has caught you a little off guard, there is one crucial thing that you can do to insure that you maintain muscle balance, prevent muscle stiffness and soreness, and get the most out of your favorite summer activities: stretch properly. While you have probably been doing some strength and endurance training during the winter and spring months, you may still be looking for optimal warm up and cool down strategies to prepare your body for outdoor adventure.

Here we share with you a short summer routine consisting of several of our favorite warm-up moves and stretches. Each move is a standing bodyweight exercise that requires no equipment except a rock or high bench, and a tree or wall, and can be done in the privacy of your own home or outdoors before beginning your activity. These suggestions will be especially valuable for new members of the Mountaineers eager to "do it right." If you typically experience some muscle soreness following completion of your favorite activities, try the following short program in its entirety and in the order suggested, right before you start your next outdoor adventure.

The purpose of any pre-activity routine is to prepare the body for more vigorous movement to follow. Warming up properly can help you decrease the likelihood of injury and muscle strain within the first few minutes of exercise. This dynamic warm up is designed to help you break a light sweat and prepare tendons, ligaments and muscles for increased range of motion. With each of the first five exercises, begin with slow movements in a small range of motion and gradually increase to full range of motion as the muscles loosen up. Do each of the five warm up exercises for about a minute. Then transition right into the static stretches; hold each 15-20 seconds, keeping them pain free, without bouncing or jarring. Go just to the point of mild tension where you can feel that something is happening, but it�s still fairly comfortable. If you are a trip leader, this warm up can provide a valuable ice-breaker activity at the parking lot or trailhead so that participants can get to know each other a little better. Your whole group will appreciate it!


1) Arm Swings -- 1 minute

The first two upper body warm up recommendations are especially important for rock or ice climbers, kayakers, sailors, gardeners, or anyone who is involved in an activity that extensively uses arms and torso. Stand with feet comfortably apart, knees slightly bent, and start with arms at shoulder level. Stretch arms straight out to the side and back behind you, contracting shoulder blades together, then bring them all the way across the torso, gradually speeding up the movements and increasing the range of motion until your muscles feel loose.

2) Shoulder Circles / Windmill Arms -- 1 minute

Place hands on shoulders and start with small rotations backwards, gradually increasing the range of motion and then reversing circles and doing the same thing forward. Do both at the same time, or alternate one at a time. For greater range of motion toward the end of the minute, swing straight arms up overhead, forward and backward, in windmill fashion, as though you were going to swim the front crawl or back stroke. (Not pictured)


3) Partial Squats -- 1 minute

This exercise will help you warm up the large muscles in your thighs and buttock, muscles used heavily in hiking, scrambling, jogging, and cycling, as well as any daily activities like sitting down and standing back up. Position your feet a little wider than shoulder width apart. Turn your toes out slightly so that your knees track directly over the middle toe of each foot. The wider your stance, the more turned out your toes will be. If you choose to use a wide stance and your toes remain facing straight forward, the torque on your knees may be a little uncomfortable or even painful; check alignment right away. Keep your back flat (not vertical, but flat from shoulders to hips) and chest upright, abs tight to support the lower back, arms in front to counter-balance. Lower your hips and torso to a comfortable spot for you then exhale as you stand upright. Try to keep your heels flat on the floor. If you have any discomfort in the knees, then simply keep this movement in your pain free zone until you can have an expert assess any imbalances or problems with your muscular structure. If you have a difficult time keeping heels down, the frog stretch will help over time.

4) Elbow-Knee Touches -- 1 minute

Stand tall with legs shoulder distance apart and arms stretched out to the side. Without bending forward at the waist, lift your leg up and bring your opposite elbow in front of the body to meet it, then alternate with the other elbow and knee. If you have difficulty doing this move without excessively bending the standing leg or leaning forward, you will greatly appreciate the hamstring and lower back stretch, the last one listed below. If you feel stiff in the back as you bend forward and rotate, the standing rotational stretch will feel especially helpful. This movement is important for anyone involved in torso twisting activities, such as kayaking, climbing, skiing, or even gardening.

5) "Butt Kicking" 1 minute

Exercise is best done when it�s fun, right? This exercise will warm up the hamstrings in the back of the upper thighs. You may not be able to actually kick your own butt, but the goal is to try to get your foot as close to the butt as possible. If you like, you can do this as a high-footed jog, or simply keep one foot on the ground at all times. Keep your torso upright so as to prevent hyperextending the back. Play around with foot position--toes pointed, toes flexed--and see how different a single move can feel by simply changing one thing.

Once you are all warmed up, move right to the static stretches.


6) Tree / Door Jamb Chest Stretch, 20 sec.

A great feel-good stretch for everyone we�ve introduced to it, including climbers, kayakers, hikers, computer programmers, or any other people who typically have forward-shoulder posture or sedentary sitting jobs.Stand by a tree or wall and extend your arm out from the torso at a right angle, with elbow bent at 90 degrees. Place your forearm or hand against a wall (or both at the same time, if using a door jamb, as shown) and lean forward. For a more comfortable position, stagger your stance as shown with one foot forward to keep your balance. Hold the stretch on each side for about 10-15 seconds, and vary the angle (i.e. height of arms) depending on what part of your upper body is tight.

7) Hip Flexor Lunge Stretch, 20 sec.

This favorite stretches hip flexors and the rest of the front of the body simultaneously. Hip flexors frequently are tight in those people who spend lots of time sitting, (whether at work or in a kayak) and over extended periods of time, they can pull your body into improper posture, resulting in lower back pain if not resolved. Hip flexors are involved in repetitive motions that involve lifting the leg forward�such as hiking, walking uphill, and step aerobics. To keep them stretched out, try the following stretch using your body weight. Stride forward with one leg, coming up on the toes of the leg behind you, and lower your torso until front leg is at a right angle, knee just at or behind shoelaces. Hold onto a tree or wall, if you need help with balance. Keep your torso erect, and slowly extend both arms overhead, reaching fingers to the sky and looking up toward hands. Press the hip forward until you feel a good stretch right at the bend in your forward hip. An option is to turn the foot out, as shown (a modification of the Warrior posture in yoga) with insole of the foot flat against the ground.

8) Frog Stretch, 20 sec.

We use this stretch to help determine whether a client may have any lower body muscle imbalances. It�s a great stretch for thighs, hips, calves, and lower back. With hands out in front of you and feet and knees turned out so they remain in alignment, squat down as low as possible keeping heels flat on the floor. (If your heels pop up, try stretching your tight calves on a stair step with ball of the foot on the step and one heel pressing down toward the floor, hold 15 seconds.) Press knees open with elbows to prepare hips and legs for climbs that involve facing into the wall with legs spread far apart. Be persistent with this and with time you should see dramatic improvement.


9) Spinal Rotation Stretch, 20 sec.

Place left foot up on high surface (car bumper, rock, chair), hips and toes squared forward. Twist your torso to the left, right hand on left knee to give you a little extra leverage. Try to reach left hand toward right hip, so that you resemble a pretzel, or, to get an added stretch in shoulders and upper back, extend the left arm straight behind you. As you exhale, gradually twist farther behind you, eyes toward your hand. Repeat to the other side. Some folks may feel a very minor pop along the vertebrae when doing this�sort of like your own chiropractic adjustment. Be gentle the first few times you try it, and as always, keep stretches pain free and comfortable.

10) Lower Back and Hamstring Stretch, 20 sec.

This is an excellent stretch for the hamstrings and lower back muscles. Stand with feet a bit wider than shoulder width, and slowly bend forward at the waist. Grasp your elbows with hands and dangle your head between your legs. Keep this comfortable, and as you hold the stretch, you�ll notice the muscles lengthening as gravity helps you drop down even further. Keep the legs straight but not locked; reach hand and torso toward opposite calf, bending toward the knee, and then repeat other side. To get out of the stretch, place hands on the thighs and round the spine, exhaling as you stand up.

With these general warm-up and stretching exercises completed, your body will be much better prepared for participation in any and all summer activities with less likelihood of muscle strain or stiffness. As you start out, take it easy for the first 10-15 minutes or so, getting the body more thoroughly warmed up in the moves specific to your chosen activity. Finally, once you are finished with your adventure, you may be ready to go for beers, sodas, or pizza--but take just a few short minutes to run through the last 5 stretching exercises. This will help you increase your range of motion while the body is still warm, and leave you more limber than when you started. It also will help prevent stiffness that often sets in following a long car ride. Believe me, your body will thank you for it.

If you are eager to learn more about conditioning, strength training, flexibility and cardiovascular training for your favorite outdoor activity, visit out seminars section to learn about upcoming local training events.

Developed by Courtenay Schurman, CSCS, for Mountaineer upcoming issue: July, 2000

copyright Body Results 2000. Pictures from Physigraphe Clipart CD ROM, courtesy of Physigraphe, Inc.


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