The Reverse Warm-Up (and Variations)

If you don’t look like this, your warm-up probably isn’t challenging enough.

Some people really like to warm up for a day of sport climbing. My friend Erin is a big fan of starting the day on a nice easy 5.6-5.7 before hopping on her 5.11 project.

But sometimes starting out too easy can have adverse effects. I have a tendency to get used to jugs. I wonder why they have suddenly disappeared when my second climb is two grades harder and tend to fall more and complain even more in that situation. Thus, I determined the reverse warm-up* to sometimes be a more effective method to begin my day.

The reverse warm-up is what it sounds like: starting on something harder than the route you’d like to send. Here is why (I think) it’s great:

  1. You will get shut down, or at least hangdog your way to the top desperation style, making the next climb (your project) feel easy in comparison.
  2. If number one doesn’t happen, you will surprise yourself by greatly increasing your onsight grade.
  3. At the beginning of the day, you’re fresh, so you have maximum power to combat the lack of adequate hand and foot holds. You cannot use the “I’m tired from giving X five burns” excuse for not clipping the chains.
  4. You will be forced out of your comfort zone immediately, not lulled into spending the day doing “fun” climbing below your redpoint level.
  5. You will be forced to work on technique. This is good for you.
  6. You will get better at climbing. Pushing your grade has been shown to have that effect.
  7. Add your favorite additional reason here.

A note of caution: The reverse warm-up is not an excuse to cause great harm to yourself or others. Do not choose something two number grades higher than your project. Do not skip bolts. Do not do anything you think would likely cause you or your belayer to suffer an injury requiring the attention of a medical professional. If your project is 5.11a you might consider trying out an 11c or d first, not a 5.13b X.

Another note of caution: Do not use the reverse warm-up as a way to brag about your climbing level. Do not abuse the phrase “I warm up on 13a” to make it sound like you cruise it before projecting 14b. The reverse warm-up should humble you and show you what you might one day achieve, not give you undue bragging rights.

Variations on the reverse warm-up:

  1. Climbing wet routes makes anything dry feel amazing. (Consider likelihood of death before attempting to climb dripping cliffs).
  2. Climbing in approach shoes, barefoot, or wearing thick wool socks in your warm-up shoes will have you believing your Solutions are indeed the sending “solution.”
  3. Weighing yourself down with excessive draws or your trad rack for added discomfort and weird looks from other climbers. Once you discard the extra gear, you’ll feel that many pounds lighter.

*Disclaimer: Not warming up properly (aka. traditionally) can result in injury. Use your best judgement on which climbs will be best for you from the first to last route of the day, and do not attempt moves that cause you intense, non-exhaustion pain, etc. I cannot be held responsible for any injuries resulting from the use of the reverse warm-up or otherwise.

Originally published November 9, 2014, on 

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