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This winter, to escape the snowy Front Range of Colorado and a houseful of crazed, cabin-fever-addled children (you can only take the monsters sledding so many times), I’ve been taking two-day trips down to the southern part of the state, to a sunny crag. For a working stiff used to quick-blast gym or home-wall sessions, usually followed by a rest day, two back-to-back days of cragging can be, well, difficult.
A couple trips ago, I cooked myself on day one at the steep cliff, getting flash-pumped early in the day. Though I rallied after that to send a few physical, overhanging 5.12s, I could feel my shoulders, biceps, and forearms tightening up and getting more and more leaden with each burn. I worried that day two would be a serious let-down, but we’d already driven the four hours from Boulder and paid for the Airbnb. We were committed.
The next morning, not surprisingly, I woke up feeling like I’d been hit by a truck. But with time to kill before the rock warmed, I figured, Why not do a little yoga? With my buddy sleeping in the other room, I didn’t want to do my usual YouTube-asana and risk waking him up. So I rolled out my mat and quietly started in, inventing my own simple 15–20 minute flow as I went, one that addressed the sore spots in my body. Much to my pleasure, it worked. Out at the crag a couple hours later, I felt loose, warm, and limber—the exact opposite of how I’d felt upon waking. I ended up having a good day, one that was almost better than day one, when I hadn’t done any pre-climbing yoga.
I’ve re-created the routine below. You might follow it loosely or to the letter—either way is fine. Your main goal is to warm up your body, iron out sore muscles, and break the adhesions of fascia we create through rock climbing and that are particularly noticeable after a big day at the cliff.
Excluding the Sun Salutations, which follow a specific breathing pattern, I held each of these poses for five to 10 deep, slow Ujjayi breaths. (In Ujjayi breathing, you inhale and exhale slowly through the nose, subtly constricting your throat so the air moving in and out sounds like breaking waves.) More experienced yogis may want to add a vinyasa between each of the standing poses, as a transition. I’ve also linked to a tutorial for each of the poses, in case you aren’t familiar with them or need a refresher. Follow the sequence in the order laid out below.
The emphasis throughout is on stretching; lengthening the muscles; shoulder-, chest-, and hip- opening; and twisting, which is great for sore climber lats, shoulders, biceps, and core. This is a basic, simple, short practice, but by activating the body it goes beyond mere stretching. And you could certainly add on to the poses if you wish, with variations or other postures—basically, you want to give your sore body what it needs to limber up and prep to climb your second day on.
|Child’s Pose: A great way to lengthen your arms, shoulders, and back, and ground your body as you ease into your practice. Stretch out long through your arms to warm up your shoulder and elbow joints.
Remain in Child’s Pose but walk your hands first to the right, off the side of your mat, then to the left. Extend long through both hands in order to get a good stretch of the engaged latissimus dorsi.
|Tabletop Position: If you’re feeling frisky, you can do Bird Dog on each side (opposite arm and leg extended, with the back flat and the core engaged). This pose anchors the body, promotes good alignment, and gets you ready to move. Keep the back flat and core sucked in throughout.
Cat-Cow Pose: Five or 10 rotations. Limbers up the spine, back, and neck muscles.
Thread-the-Needle Pose: Both sides. Great for sore shoulders and lats, and cross-body mobility (i.e., crossover moves).
Sun Salutations: 5 or so, to warm up the body up overall.
|Downward-Facing Dog: Focus on grounding the “inner triad” (the triangle formed by your thumb and index finger), sliding the shoulders down the back, pressing firmly through the feet, and anchoring in the palms. Find length through your legs as your hamstrings begin to open up—bend your knees as much as is necessary at this point, striving to keep your feet flat on the floor. Down Dog will help limber you up for those highstep moves!
|Anjaneyasana/Low Lunge: Both sides. Add in a slight backbend, arms in a W and chest outthrust, to open your shoulders and pecs, and get ready for overhead reach moves.
|Chair Pose: Wakes up the quads and warms up the body.
Twisting Chair Pose: From Chair Pose, bring your arms into prayer position at your chest, then rotate your left arm to the outside of your right knee, locking it in place, twisting, and looking up. Make sure your left knee doesn’t creep out in front of your right. Repeat on the other side. This wakes up the quads, and loosens up the core and side-stabilizing muscles.
|Warrior I Pose into Humble Warrior: Both sides. These are great poses for opening the hips and cultivating balance.
|Warrior II Pose into Extended Triangle Pose: Both sides. Again, these are great hip openers.
Recover a final time in Downward-Facing Dog. Notice the ways in which it feels different from your Down Dog at the start of your practice—you should feel more fired up to climb now!
|Sleeping Pigeon Pose (both sides). Amazing flexibility-builder, and a calming hip opener.
|Reclining Twist/Spinal Twist (both sides). Limbers up the spine and hips for twisting, bouldery moves.
|Happy Baby Pose: A final hip opener, one that’s great for helping keep your weight centered over your feet, and hips close to the rock.
Savasana: Stay as long as you want; with any luck, this might turn into a catnap while you wait for your lazy climbing partner to finally get out of bed.
Want more yoga for your aching climber body? Then check out Yoga for Climbers, taught by Heidi Wirtz, a longtime climber, guide, and yoga teacher, with 22 classes built just for climbers, from flexibility, to recovery, to alignment, to injury prevention.
Matt Samet is the editor of Climbing. He also holds an E-RYT 200 teacher-training credential, though to date his primary student has mostly been himself.