The hangboard is one of the most effective tools available to the modern climber. Properly regimented, a consistent hangboard workout can make you feel like you have wings; helping you to fly up those projects that, for so long, evaded your every attempt.
Still, there is a caveat: when approached in the wrong way, hangboarding can lead to serious injury, setting you back weeks or even months! For this reason, it is imperative that any hangboard session – regardless of intensity – starts with a good hangboard warm-up.
The Importance Of Warming Up
In a physiological sense, warming up for any athletic activity is never a bad idea. Before any strengthening work can be done, the muscles in the body need to be oxygenated. Cardio, dynamic stretching and strength-based movement (well below your max threshold) can all be used toward this end.
Light jogging, medium-intensity yoga and even push-ups are all great ways to get the body moving. When the heart rate is elevated, fresh blood is sent to the extremities (the limbs) and the tissue receives the oxygen it needs for optimal performance.
In addition to giving the muscles a chance to “breathe,” warming up also animates the connection between the muscles and nerves. When the nervous system and the musculoskeletal system are in sync, there is greater efficiency in the way the body moves.
What Injuries Can Result From Hangboarding?
Before we get into the ins and outs of a hangboard warm-up, it is important to take a look at what can happen if you don’t warm up properly. Hangboarding is used by intermediate to advanced climbers who already have basic finger strength. In fact, you’ll find that a lot of climbing gyms will have a sign next to their hangboards to say that it shouldn’t be used by beginners.
I am at a level where I can hangboard but as someone who took a long time to learn the virtues of warming up, I can speak to the dangers of jumping straight into something like hangboarding.
The most common hangboard injury is an A2 pulley, sprain or tendon rupture. If not warmed up properly, it is easy for one of these tendons to pop (you will literally hear a pop), followed by swelling and reduced mobility.
When you are young and your body bounces back from injury, it can be easy to put lasting damage out of mind. Your hormones are still raging and nothing seems out of your grasp, so you charge headlong into the fray and give it everything you’ve got. I get it, I want to jump straight into it too, warming up is boring, right? Then, laid up from a finger flexor injury, all you can do is feel angry at your body for its betrayal. If only you had warmed up first!
How To Warm Up For Hangboarding
Having a hangboard mounted somewhere in the house is a great way to get a workout in, even without going to the gym. Still, it is easy to get caught up in the convenience of having one in the next room – and even easier to neglect your warming-up duties. All of the same warm-up tactics mentioned above can be used: jump roping, medium-intensity yoga, etc.
I know what you’re going to say, skipping isn’t a finger warm-up exercise. Yes, but the point is to get blood pumping through the whole body. In turn, that will increase flexibility in your fingers and should (hopefully) prevent injuries.
Here are some warm-up exercises I have incorporated in my hangboard sessions!
We’re not running a marathon here, just a gentle jog on the spot will do. This will help get that heart rate up and the blood flowing through the body. If you can get your hands on a skipping rope too that would be great on-the-spot cardio warm-up.
You can also do things like mountain climbers, high knees, or anything cardio-based that will elevate your heart rate.
Finger Flicks & Resistance Band
This is one of those exercises I was embarrassed to do at the gym because it looks silly, but after I saw Adam Ondra warm up, I realized no warm-up is too embarrassing, so now I just go for it.
Finger flicks are actually one of the most effective ways to warm up your fingers. It’s very simple; make a fist and flick all your fingers out simultaneously. You can also flick each finger individually using your thumb.
Another great warm-up for the fingers is to use a finger resistance band. Once you have done your finger flicks Adam Ondra style, take a resistance band and put it around your fingers. Slowly expand and retract a couple of time to get those fingers warmed up. Resistance bands also help with strengthening those fingers and wrists.
Take inspo from Adam Ondra warming up while chatting to Jerry Moffrat and Magnus Midtbø.
Stretch Arms & Fingers
It is a good idea to also stretch the muscles you will be using during a hangboard workout – namely, your arms. While warming up oxygenates the muscles, stretching improves the range of motion by increasing muscle elasticity. In other words, stretching helps to lengthen the muscles, which – in climbing – maximizes things like reach and hanging potential.
It is important to note the dangers of “cold calling” here. Trying to stretch before your body has warmed up doesn’t do much to loosen your muscles; in fact, cold stretching is counterproductive as it does not achieve the desired lengthening of the muscles.
Stretching your arms is simple. Bring your arm out straight with your palm facing outwards. Using your other hand, gently pull back your hand. You can do this with your palm facing you and you can also stretch individual fingers by pulling them backwards in isolation.
Using the largest jugs or holds on your hangboard, do a few sets of pull-ups. While we will not cover pull-up technique in this article, make sure to use proper posture – retracted shoulders, engaged core, etc.
Using those same large holds, you can warm up for the crimps and pockets by doing a set of dead hangs.
As you are hanging there on the large jugs, you can try shrugging your shoulders for sets of no more than 10. Ultimately, when you are hanging, the shoulders and scapular muscles should be doing a lot of the work. Again, that is a specific conversation for another time.
Push-ups help to activate all of the muscles you will be using in a hangboarding session with the added benefit of pushing rather than pulling. This is called oppositional training and it will become increasingly important as you develop a consistent hangboarding regimen.
If you are more of a visual person, take a look at this hangboard warm-up guide from Metolius:
Don’t Overdo It
At the gym, with all those toys around you telling you to “come and play,” it can be easy to get sucked into your warm-up. Before you know it, half the day has gone by and you’ve got a full session in on the climbing walls. This is NOT the time to use the hangboard. You want to come into a hangboarding session feeling limber, not gassed from hangdogging your way up your project.
You will benefit most from strength training on the hangboard when you are feeling fresh. If you approach a hangboarding workout after a long day at the gym, you are likely doing more harm than good.
Always Warm Up Before Hangboarding
It is exceedingly easy to get excited and throw caution to the wind. With figures like Tommy Caldwell and Alex Honnold dominating the world stage, blowing us all away with their almost mythical feats, the bar is set pretty high. The message: train obsessively until you have achieved your goals. What the Reel Rock and BigUp films neglect to emphasize is the importance of warming up. Something so simple, and yet so often forgotten.
Don’t make the same mistakes I did. Warm up, for goodness sake! It only takes 10 minutes out of your day.