Stretch it out: Killer Stretches For Rock Climbers

As with any sport, mobility plays an important role in overall performance and recovery. Climbing is no exception. For climbers, mobility can help with ease of climbing, climbing endurance and recovery after climbing multiple routes.

If you are a Cairn subscriber and have designated rock climbing as one of your top outdoor activities, you likely received our July Climbing Collection. The collection contained some innovative climbing gear, and we thought we’d follow it up by sharing some industry-vetted tips on staying loose so you can hit up all those routes on your summer bucket list...injury free!

We sat down with Nicholas Hagen, a licensed physical therapist at Rebound Physical Therapy in Bend, Oregon, to pick his brain about useful stretches, ideal for climbers of all levels. Check out these awesome exercises, endorsed by Nick, and give them a try before or after your next climb! 😊 👍🏻

Mobility Exercises

1. One-Leg Pigeon Pose: “Due to how much most of us sit during the day, this exercise allows for improved reach during climbs and more access to glute control, while freeing up the posterior lateral hip or the back-outside part of the hip. Maintain a neutral pelvis, sternum, and shoulders as you sink the hip into the ground. Hold 2 times on each side for 10 deep stomach breaths.” - Nick

2. Bretzel Stretch: “Go through this stretch one segment at a time to mobilize your thoracic spine, glutes, hips, hip flexor, and quads. Start with the top knee bent on the ground and above hip height. Keep the top knee fixated on the ground, then grab the bottom leg ankle and twist your trunk while relaxing your head and neck. Hold 2 times on each side for 10 deep stomach breaths.” - Nick

3. Downward Dog: “The key is to perform a hip hinge motion, bending from the hips and not the spine, to elevate your butt into the air. This will mobilize your thoracic (mid back) hips, and shoulders. With your arms, think about pushing the ground away from you moving your weight backwards to elevate your hips. Shoulders should be activated and your mid-spine dropped to the ground. Hold 2 times on each side for 10 deep stomach breaths.” - Nick

4. Quadruped Thoracic Rotation: “This stretch allows you to free up your ankles, knees, mid-back, and chest. Sit on your heels to prevent your low back from getting involved in the stretch. The key is to purely rotate--there should be no side bend or shift in the stretch. Perform 2 sets of 5 repetitions on each side.” - Nick

5. Hip openers: “This is the ultimate hip stretch, combining all motions available in the hip. The hips stretch in a position where the thigh to trunk, ankle and knee angle on each leg is at a 90 degree angle. Rotate to reverse your position without allowing your back to round or collapse. Perform 2 sets of 3 laps of the motion.” - Nick

Stability Exercises

6. Wall High Step Hold: “This stretch activates your trunk and leg in a functional position. The point of emphasis is to keep a straight leg from the back of the head to the heel, and no bend in the knee or trunk. Drive your hip toward the wall at the top of the motion while attempting to load the big toe. Perform 2 sets of 8 reps on each side.” - Nick

7. Face Down W Hold: “This is an exercise to stabilize the core of the shoulders and work on trunk stability. Attempt to get into a W position with your wrists higher than your elbows. The motion should come from the shoulders -not the spine. Avoid arching of the low back where the belly should stay unloaded off the ground. Once ready, progress to a reaching motion. Perform 2 sets of holds until fatigued.” - Nick

8. Core Activation to Bicycle: “This exercise works on activation and stabilization of the core. Get into a position to challenge your core to work, and once you feel core activation, do a dynamic motion to challenge your body even more. Be sure to have the neck slightly elevated and chin tucked throughout and the tail bone elevated off the ground. The force on the knees is upward and should be maintained throughout this exercise. Perform 2 sets of 12 reps total.” - Nick

9. Spiderman Mountain Climbers: “This is a progression of a traditional mountain climber. You are doing a more end range hip motion with this stretch, while also doing a push up motion. The goal is to bring the knee outward and up to hit the same side elbow. It is important to maintain a spine alignment without a sag in your low back or rounding of your mid back. Perform 2 sets of 12 reps total.” - Nick

10. Towel Grip Row: “It is necessary for climbers to have good grip. Grip strength is determined by both forearm/finger strength and shoulder/neck strength. This exercise works on all those components. The key with the row motion is to keep your spine neutral, the chin tucked, and pull the shoulder blades down and together. Perform 2 sets of 12 reps total.” - Nick


Thanks for allowing me to share my expertise with you.

Happy (and safe) climbing! -Nick

*If you have concerns about your health and these exercises, consult a physician before practicing any of these stretches.

Get to know Nick Hagen

If you thought having two professional titles was a lot, try having five. Nick gets to sign his name as follows: Nicholas Hagen, PT, DPT, SCS, CFMT, CSCS. Now that’s a title and just a bit of training experience! 😱  🙌🏽

A licensed physical therapist since 2009, Nick is also a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (2009) and a Certified Sports Clinical Specialists (2011). He completed his undergraduate degree at the University of Colorado, Boulder in Integrated Physiology and completed his doctorate of physical therapy (DPT) at the University of California San Francisco.

After PT school, Nick finished a sports physical therapy residency in Vail, Colorado with Howard Head Sports Medicine Center. Following residency training, he was selected to participate in a traveling sports medicine fellowship. He recently finished his functional manual therapy certification (CFMT) from the Institute of Physical Art. As of Fall 2016, he is a member of the Oregon NSCA advisory board. Nick has consulted for the Orlando Magic, Denver Nuggets, US Ski Team, and several NCAA teams--to name a few.

He’s also been published in the International Journal of Physical Therapy and APTA online journal. Nick has spoken at national conferences (Combined Sections Meeting, APTA) and local conferences (NSCA state clinic, Portland State Athletic Performance Summit). He has taught courses in ACL rehabilitation, hip arthroscopy rehabilitation, and power training in athletes. Nick currently is the clinic manager and performance director at Rebound Physical Therapy in Bend, Oregon.


Where are your favorite spots to climb and which one of these stretches will you use most after a day of climbing? Share with us on our Facebook page!