The Kettlebell Warm-Up for Climbers

I started using kettlebells for power and stability training during my ACL rehab. I had an excellent Physical Therapist who didn't flinch when I said my goal was to fall from 15 feet onto pads up to 30+ times a session. I've since fallen in love with them as excellent rock climbing cross-training and for shoulder stability. Here's Part 1 of my kettlebell series on warm-up!

[To give you perspective on weight and progressions in the exercises below, I'm 5'4", 118lb, and female]

kettlebell set

My own set of kettlebells that I invested in! 6 to 20kg / 13 to 44lb.


Halos

Good for shoulder mobility, thoracic mobility, core stability

How

  • Stand feet shoulder-width apart
  • Squat down to grab the kettlebell by the horns, bell-up or bell-down
  • Brace core
  • Revolve kettlebell around your head

Weight: moderate; I use 10kg/22lb. It's usually my very first warm-up exercise.

Reps/Sets

  • 1 rep = 1 rotation, 10 in each direction, either alternate or do all one direction at once
  • 1 set = 20 reps
  • 2-3 sets for warm-up

Prying Goblet Squat

Good for hip mobility, hip flexor strength, and much more. The squat is a primary, basic movement we should all be able to achieve. The prying squat warms you up and loosens you for a proper workout.

How

  • Grab kettlebell by the horns, bell-up or bell-down
  • Go into a deep squat, feet shoulder-width or a little wider, toes slightly pointed out
  • Push your knees apart with your elbows
  • Pry your hips apart by rotating side to side

Weight: I use 12kg/26lb. Too heavy and your arms will tire first, causing you to round your back and haunch over. You don't need much weight to help pry your legs apart.

Reps/Sets

  • 1 rep = ~1 min (20s straight, 20s left, 20s right)
  • 1 set = 1 reps
  • 2-3 sets for warm-up

Goblet Squat

Good for too many positives to list. It's a fundamental human movement we should all be able to do.

How

  • Grab kettlebell by horns--I prefer bell-up but many prefer bell-down
  • Squat to at least 90 degrees and back up
  • Focus on form rather than speed or weight
  • Try to do equal time down and up; don't just sink with gravity.
  • Keep core braced throughout, especially at your low point at the transition from down to up
  • It's imperative you follow good squat mechanics, or you'll be practicing poor movement; when you load poor squat mechanics with weight later, you're asking for injury
  • See more in-depth goblet squat mechanics here and here

Weight: I use 12kg/26lb for warm-up, then 16kg/34lb. After that, I squat with a barbell.

Reps/Sets

  • 1 rep = 1 squat
  • 1 set = 6-8 reps
  • 2-3 sets for warm-up
  • I usually do prying goblet squats directly into 6 goblet squats as a single set

Arm Bar

Good for shoulder stability, rotator cuff strength, opens tight pectoral muscles. It's one of my favorites for stability to engage faster-twitch muscles. It quickly identifies imbalances between your left and right sides.

How

  • More detailed instructions here
  • Lay on your back, pack your shoulder, raise kettlebell straight up
  • Bring your opposite arm directly overhead
  • Roll over on your side
  • Easiest: keep your peripheral vision on the bell out of the corner of your eye
  • Harder: look to the ground; let your body compensate when the bell goes off balance
  • Hardest: make small, controlled O's or 8's with your arm
  • For more stretching: rotate your body as far as it can go, keeping your arm at 90 degrees to the ground. Weight of the kettlebell should always be straight through your joints.

Weight: I use 10-12kg/22-26lb for warm-up. Don't go too heavy too fast. You're working on mobility and control.

Reps/Sets

  • 1 rep = 20-30sec on a single side
  • 1 set = 3 reps per side (6 total reps)
  • 2 sets for warm-up

Get Up

Good for functional movement, shoulder stability, core strength, leg strength, proprioception/balance, coordination, determining power "glitches." Like the squat, it's one of the basic human movements: get up from the ground and down to the ground. Don't underestimate it--your heartrate will bump up quickly! It's great to get your blood pumping for a warm-up.

The getup targets all your muscle groups, transitioning strength, power, and stability fluidly. You start on the ground, use core to sit up, reposition yourself, and stand up, all while under weight. If your muscles falter, especially your core and trunk, even for a fraction of a second, you'll feel the bell sway immediately. Under kettlebell weight, those glitches are magnified. Finding those moments of lost tension in bracing, and then correcting them, will help your climbing. Momentary muscle lapses and then shock loading your muscles again cause climbing injuries, especially in shoulders.

How

  • There's a lot going on with the getup in all 3 planes--for detailed how-to, see here
  • Start on ground with kettlebell raised directly overhead
  • Bend your same-side leg close to your butt
  • Put your opposite leg and arm at a 45 degree out from your body
  • Crunch-roll up onto your elbow
  • Reposition your arm underneath you
  • Bridge your hips up and swing your leg behind you. Your shoulders should be directly vertical with your arms, and your back leg and front leg at 90 degrees to each other
  • Rotate forward and lunge up
  • Reverse exactly in a controlled manner back down
  • Your shoulder should be packed at all times

Weight: I use 14-16kg/31-36lb for warm-up. When learning, start light. To really feel muscle imbalance and instability, increase weight. Work on smooth movement. Getting to 1/3 and 1/2 bodyweight with proper form is great.

Reps/Sets

  • 1 rep = 1 up and down sequence per side
  • 1 set = 3 reps per side (6 reps total)
  • 2-3 sets for warm-up

Sample Warm-Up Circuit

I prefer to do supersets for warm-up. I typically don't do all the warmups every workout, and rather concentrate on what I feel I need. Here's one example of all the warm-ups:

Superset #1: The Standing Ones

Repeat 2-3 times:

  • 20x Halo reps (10 each direction)
  • 1x Prying Goblet Squat (20sec straight, 20sec left, 20sec right)
  • Straight into 8x Goblet Squats

Superset #2: On the Ground Ones

Repeat 2-3 times:

  • 2x Armbars, (20-30sec each, 1 each side)
  • 2x Getups (1 each side)

The Caveats

Kettlebells are great and safe, but if you're unsure about your particular ability, especially if you're injured, consult The Internet, a Physical Therapist, Doctor, or someone who has more degrees in medicinal fields than I do (which is none).


More Kettlebell Series