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Climbing injury prevention: how to train before a climbing trip

Climbing physiotherapist Cristiano Costa's tips for staying injury free on a climbing trip, and advice on what to do when the worst happens.


Cristiano Costa


March 18, 2021

My name is Cristiano Costa, I have been climbing since the age of 11, I wasn’t really into any other activity until that point. Around my hometown, sport-climbing was really just starting to develop.

This was around 1989 when a new generation of climbers, myself included, started to free previously aided climbs and bolting new lines as well as discovering and developing new crags, I feel really fortunate to have had the chance to experience such a period, something that in Europe happened a couple of decades earlier.

For the past 15 years, I’ve been treating climbers as a physiotherapist, a professional that I wanted to practice since the age of 15, following a solo climbing fall I sustained multiple fractures of my left leg requiring 1 year of rehabilitation with a physiotherapist to return to climbing.  I’m based in London running clinics at different climbing walls, enjoy the read.

Climbing physiotherapist Cristiano Costa sport climbing in the peak District

Cristiano's knowledge is almost legendary: after all, he helped people like Alex Honnold and Nathan Phillips to perform at their top levels, both in the mountains and on the competition wall © Gabriel Saccol

Since 2005 when I first started treating climbers, I have worked with a high number of clients getting injured just before leaving for climbing trips. The last couple of weeks prior to a departure is a crucial time in terms of your performance during the trip as well as a vulnerable time as you risk an unwanted and badly timed injury (not that there’s ever going to be a good time to have one). In many cases, I have been able to help patients to overcome their injuries, in certain cases, I have been able to help climbers also during their trips either in person and or via video calls. 

The aim of a climbing trip is usually to be able to perform to the highest possible level we can (red-pointing a hard grade, onsighting some routes, and/or attempting multiple climbs), as well as having fun in good company exploring a new place or returning to an old project. Prior to a trip, it is common to put a lot of effort into training to improve our performance. As fun as all of this can be, this additional training can become a source of stress, especially when on top of other variables such as raised expectations and pressure in other areas eg work, family, finances.

Sport climbing training

If your goal is to perform during that climbing holiday you can get a couple of times every year, it's easy to feel the pressure and make some mistakes during your training regime. © Massimo Cappuccio

It is of paramount importance to consider a taper period prior to a climbing trip, if you work with a coach and/or a physiotherapist already either 1:1 or online that is a good starting point to discuss: consider length of the trip, number of climbing and resting days, easy vs harder climbs, on-sight vs RP and/or volume, all these factors will allow you to have a better plan even before you start your journey. There is a very good paper written by Duncan MacDougall from McMaster University on tapering strategies that you can adapt to your needs.

There’s little evidence on the effectiveness of warming up, nevertheless I would refer to “A Systematic review of the upper body warm up on performance and injury” where it concludes that high-load dynamic warm-ups enhance power and strength performance whereas a static stretching warm up has no effect on power outcome. Dynamic vs Static-stretching warm up: “The effect of power and agility performance” by Danny J.  also suggests dynamic stretches might offer performance benefits not found with statics or no warmup.

Once you’re out there it doesn’t mean you are on your own, seek help and support if needed, besides obvious traumatic injuries caused by a bad fall/landing, for less serious injuries,  your trip does not necessarily has to be over as you might need to adjust the load, avoid aggravating moves and /or movements within a certain range of motion, taping may help however there is not much evidence in this sense - refer to the Schweizer study on the effectiveness of taping the A2 from 2000 in relation to finger injuries also please consider the fact that not all finger injuries are a pulley injury.

Deep Water Solo in Sicily

Even though you goal is a high-end personal performance, sometimes it's helpful to remember why you've traveled so far from home © Ilaria Occhipinti

The risk of developing an injury is multifactorial: stress, load, frequency, hydration, diet, rest are a not comprehensive list of the factors that can and will play role. Keep up with the latest evidence on injuries and training, consider doing other activities on your rest days or in the case of an unfortunate injury.

I would stress the following, warm up and down well, listen to your body and make sure to choose quality over quantity; there are times when less is more and when rest is best. Also consider taking on your trip a portable finger board and some resistance bands to have as tools for a thorough warm up and down, I personally see my warm-up as a ritual to get my body and mind ready to perform as well as I can, to reduce the risk of injury and get as much enjoyment as possible during my climbing days. Before you set off don’t ignore the signs your body is giving you. A good book can also help.

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Mapo Tapo thanks so much Cristiano for his commitment towards The Climbing Travel Guide. Being one of the very first supporters, he helped us to gain confidence during the first steps of the initiative.

If you want to know more about Cristiano, his expertise and his career, you can follow him on his Instagram profile


If you need his professional knowledge, feel free to reach out at