It was a few years ago that I started to get this uncomfortable pain in the inside of my right elbow. I’d been climbing inside and out for a couple of years and I was really getting into it. I’d recently come back super excited from my first trip to the Red (a trip that totally kicked my ass and taught me a lot of lessons, but that’s a different story) and had bought myself a hangboard which I’d been using regularly. But this pain in my elbow was getting worse week by week, I couldn’t work out why and it was started to put a real dent in my ability to climb and practice for long.
A few years, a lot of research, and a few physio sessions later I now know what my mistake was. In my excitement to use my pretty new hangboard or work on my new project I was skipping the warm-up and diving straight in, putting way too much strain on my developing muscles and giving me a nasty case of “tendinosis of the medial elbow tendons” or what you or me might call “Climber’s Elbow”.
A proper warmup should have a few different elements to it, there’s a good article here you can see, but I think pullups are probably the single most important thing you should make sure to include. Check out this video by our guy Chris Wilson (ig @outsidepizzas) at The Crag Nashville, in it he talks about warming up with the Porta-Hang before you start hard training. The Porta-Hang has great options for easy pull-ups to get the blood flowing before moving the harder slopers and crimps. While you’re at it it’s also worth taking a look at this article on climbing.com which gets into lots of great detail about the best possible form to use, so you can practice without running the risk of hurting yourself.
What I should have been doing before jumping into hard training was making sure my body was warmed before I started. It’s easy to forget just how much pressure we put on our fingers and hands when we’re on the tiny crimps and slopers (especially if you’re adding weight) so it’s smart to make sure you’re nice and warm before you start.
As well as being great for warm-ups I think climbers under value pull-ups as a training tool. What are we doing when climbing up the wall if not lots of different kinds of pull-ups? They’re really effective as an aspect of training, especially if you use the holds at a variety of distances apart, although this article by Dr Jim Bell says you shouldn’t extend your arms past 45°. One of my favorite exercises was a tip from a friend - the Two Minute Single Pull-up. Do just one pull-up with a one slow upwards movement taking one minute to get from the bottom to the top, followed by a super slow release, taking another minute to get back down. As hard as I tried, I could never manage it with good form.
Warming up doesn’t come naturally to me, it’s something I have to force myself and I don’t always succeed. But whenever I’m unsure about how much of my 60 minute session I should spend doing it I try to remember a great quote I once heard, which goes something like “anyone can get strong, it’s getting strong without hurting yourself that’s hard”.