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Gumby Games

By Nancy Prichard - August 2nd, 2000

Flexibility is key to climbing. High steps, wide stems, and impossible reaches can make tough moves easier, allowing you to float through sequences while seemingly defy the pull of gravity. Most every climber has reached for the perfect handhold, only to discover it eludes his grasp by a hair's breath. While you may not have the flexibility of Baryshnikov, a few minutes of stretching a day can help make you a better climber. Not only will awkward moves get easier but you'll lessen your chance for injury as well.

A few tips before you begin:

  1. Always warm up before stretching. Jump on a StairMaster¨ for a few minutes, or jog in place.
  2. Start slow. Do light stretches for the first five minutes. Cold muscles are more likely to tear than those that have had a chance to warm up. Stretches should be slow, precise and deliberate. A stretch that takes 30 seconds to execute is far superior to a three-second quickie. It is better to stretch for five minutes and do three or four good stretches than to try to turn your session into an aerobic workout.
  3. Don't overstretch. Stretch a muscle until it becomes slightly uncomfortable, hold it for 10 or 15 seconds, and slowly release.
  4. Body position is very important. Keep your back straight. If possible, stretch in front of a mirror so you can keep an eye on your form. Concentrate on keeping a straight back, firm belly and tucked-in hips.
  5. Stretch smoothly. Don't bounce, but rather exert a steady effort. This is also good practice for control in climbing.
  6. Experiment. As far as I know, there are no stretching police who can limit what you do in the privacy of your own home (although the gym might be a different story!). If a part of your body feels tight or stiff, experiment to find a way to stretch those muscles. But watch out for injured muscles. Light stretching may help them from getting even tighter, but don't push a muscle that's already been abused.
Climbing Specific Stretches

Groin Stretch
This one looks ridiculous, but can prevent painful injury and helps you maintain a close-to-the-rock body position.

  1. Lay flat on the ground. Gently splay your knees outward. Your pelvis will automatically rise up off the floor, although you'll keep thighs, knees, calves, and the insteps of your feet as close to the ground as possible. Toes should be pointed out, away from your body.
  2. Keeping your back straight, slowly push your pelvis toward the floor. When you are as flat as you can get, hold the position for 30 seconds.
  3. For a bigger stretch, use your arms to push your upper body off the floor, keeping your lower body flat on the ground and your knees splayed to the outside. Gently push your pelvis back toward the floor.
Forearm Stretch
This stretch helps keep forearms flexible, and can also help to reduce a pump mid-climb.
  1. Get on hands and knees.
  2. Rotate palms and forearms so that thumbs are facing out. Slowly lean forward, gently cocking your hand back at the wrist until you feel your inner forearm stretch.
  3. You can also do this stretch standing or climbing. Stretch one arm at a time. Place fingers on hip, palm down. Push your arm down, stretching your wrist, hand and forearm. If you are pumped, this can help increase circulation. It also serves the purpose of getting your arm below your heart, which allows blood back into your fingers!
Neck Roll
This stretch seems self-evident and silly until you've belayed for hours. The "belay position" of cocking your head back to look up at a climber is hard on your vertebrae and can lead to serious neck and back problems. Physical therapists recommend that climbers do this stretch frequently to prevent long-term "belay position" trauma.
  1. Stand in a relaxed position with your back straight, and feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Tilt head forward until your chin touches your chest.
  3. Roll your head to your left shoulder, exaggerating the weight of your head. Do this slowly, feeling the pull in your neck and right shoulder.
  4. Stop stretch when chin reaches left shoulder.
  5. Slowly return head to starting position, with chin on chest.
  6. Repeat movement to right shoulder.
  7. Return to starting position. Repeat 10 times.
Shoulders
This stretch should be part of your pre-climb checklist.
  1. Raise your right arm above your head, allowing your hand to drop down behind your neck.
  2. Grasp your right elbow (which should be positioned just above your head) with your left hand.
  3. Gently, but firmly, pull your wrist down toward your left shoulder. Hold for 10-15 seconds.
  4. Repeat with your left arm above your head.
  5. You can also do the same exercise, grasping your wrist, rather than your elbow, with your opposing hand.
  6. This stretch can also be done with your arms in front of your body, and parallel to the ground.

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