Project Description

Direct Download: LINK
Date: May 14th, 2015


About Alex Barrows

I met Alex Barrows in Rodellar in 2011 when he introduced himself as the Duke of Barrows, which we believed for several hours. It would’ve been so cool if that had been true, but alas. He’s just a British PhD student at Sheffield University with a hilarious sense of humor. He’s also really strong, despite his rigorous school schedule and lack of good weather where he lives.

When I met Alex, he was trying really hard on a 14a for weeks. Then I saw him a couple years later in the Red River Gorge, where I immediately noticed he’d improved dramatically. He was onsighting 13+ and sending 14s like it was his job. Then I heard he sent Era Vella (5.14d in Spain) this spring, ’15, and I had to know how he was improving so much.

This interview is an extremely detailed account of his training plan and philosophies, with some charming British humor thrown in there.

What we talked about:

  • Exactly how and when he trained for Era Vella
  • How his training has evolved over the years, and how he learned so much about it
  • How he stays so psyched to train 6 days a week
  • What he does to avoid injuries, and whether or not he climbs through them when he has them
  • All about circuit training
  • How he finds time and money to project things in different countries, despite being a full-time student
  • How he reached his sending weight, and whether or not climbers should always be thin

Things We Mentioned

Fix Your Own Arms with ArmAid

armAid1If you haven’t heard of the ArmAid yet, definitely give it a look-see. It’s a nutcracker-type self-massage tool for your poor, overused arms, and it actually works.

We wrote a glowing review about it here.  You can learn more on their website at

Training Programs for You

Please Review Us on iTunes!

  • Link to the TrainingBeta Podcast on iTunes is HERE.
  • Please give the podcast an honest review on iTunes here to help the show reach more curious climbers around the world 😉


Intro and outro song: Yesterday by Build Buildings 


Neely Quinn: Welcome to the TrainingBeta podcast where I talk to climbers and trainers about how we can get a little better at our favorite sport, which is climbing. For me, at least. I’m your host, Neely Quinn, and we’re on episode 20 today and we’re talking to Alex Barrows who is one of my favorite friends from England.

Before we get to that interview I want to tell you that I have some good news for you. I got you a discount from one of our favorite companies in the climbing industry. It’s called the Armaid and the Armaid is a self massage tool for your arms that uses a lever function that allows you to put a ton of pressure on your poor, overtrained arms. If you go to and use the code ‘climb’ at checkout you’ll get 10% off the retail price. We use the Armaid all the time ourselves and highly recommend it.

Okay, so moving along, I talked to Alex Barrows last week, I think, and he had just sent Ara Vella which is a .14d, or 9a, in Spain. When I first met Alex it was, and we’ll talk about this a little bit in the interview but it was in Spain, in Rodellar, and he was sort of struggling up this .14a. He was working on it for weeks and then the next time I saw him it was a couple years after that in the Red and he was onsighting .13+s and doing .14s like it was his job. I was kind of like, ‘How did that happen?’

Then, all of a sudden, I heard that he just sent his first .14d and I immediately messaged him and asked him for an interview because I wanted to know how he did it. I know that he’s super serious about training. We’ve talked about it before. I got all the details from him and it was one of my most favorite interviews. He’s really funny so I hope you enjoy it.

Before we get into the interview I want to remind you that we have our own training programs. You can find those on on the ‘Training Programs’ tab. We have stuff for route climbers and boulderers and stuff to tell you how to make your own strength program. We have a nutrition guide and an injury prevention guide, so definitely check those out. Without further adieu here is Alex Barrows.


Neely Quinn: So, I’m talking to the Duke Alex Barrows and I say that because when I first met him in 2011 he convinced Paige Claassen and me that he was actually a Duke. We really believed him. I think you had us for awhile.


Alex Barrows: Yeah, I think Paige even accepted my marriage proposal on the basis that I had about five castles. But yeah, that never worked out.


Neely Quinn: No, it didn’t. You guys are not married, yet.


Alex Barrows:

[laughs] I’ll have to sort my castle out. It’s being renovated at the moment.


Neely Quinn: [laughs] As are most of them in England. We had a thing with castles. I really enjoyed hanging out with you and I was really impressed with your climbing, even though you kept – you were a different climber back then. I think I even told Paige, I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m interviewing Alex because he just did his first .14d,’ and she was like, ‘Really? Wow. He got really a lot stronger.’ [laughs]


Alex Barrows: Yeah. When you saw me it was the end of quite a long trip. I had a year off after finishing university and that was towards the end of that year so I was quite fit but definitely quite weak at that point.


Neely Quinn: Oh, okay. That’s an interesting thing to talk about, too.


Alex Barrows: I guess when I came back from that trip is when I got much more into training as well.


Neely Quinn: Oh really?


Alex Barrows: I certainly got more structured with my training after that.


Neely Quinn: Yeah, and I want to talk about that a lot. First, though, I want you to tell people who you are because it’s not like you’re a super well known climber. You’re very strong and that’s why I’m talking to you, because you do a lot of things and climb really well, but can you give us a brief introduction to yourself?


Alex Barrows: I’m doing a PhD in the physics department. We work with different materials for making photovoltaic solar cells so I do that during the day and train during the evenings and climb on the weekends and take far more holidays than I should.


Neely Quinn: Where do you live?


Alex Barrows: I live in Sheffield in the UK, which Sheffield is a pretty good place. Sheffield and North Wales are sort of the climbing capitals of the UK, I guess. We’ve not got the best rock necessarily but you’ve got a lot of people who are psyched on climbing and people who are keen on training so it’s good to have people to sort of bounce training ideas off and stuff.


Neely Quinn: Do you have a good climbing gym?


Alex Barrows: Yeah, we’ve got loads. We’ve got sort of two commercial ones that have been around for a long time. There’s a newish one but I don’t go to that so much and then the last year or so I’ve trained a lot at The School Room which is, or it used to be, sort of where Ben and Jerry trained back in the day. Ben Moon and Jerry Moffatt, that is.


Neely Quinn: Not Ben and Jerry the ice cream makers?


Alex Barrows: Yeah, no.


Neely Quinn: Sorry. I had to do it.


Alex Barrows: Definitely not Ben and Jerry the ice cream makers. This Ben and Jerry are a lot thinner than those Ben and Jerry’s would be. Ben set a new version of The School Room up recently. It’s got a sort of private members collective thing which is pretty good for training in.


Neely Quinn: Is this mostly bouldering that you’re training in the gyms?


Alex Barrows: Well, bouldering and circuits and stuff. I don’t really train with a rope on very much. Maybe have one session with a rope on before I go on a trip to remember how to climb on routes and how to clip and stuff but almost all my circuits and stuff is done on a bouldering wall.


Neely Quinn: Okay, so let’s back up. How long have you been climbing?


Alex Barrows: Since I was 17 so 11 years. I started off as a trad climber and wanting to climb snowy mountains and that sort of stuff. Then I went to the Alps and I went ice climbing and I hit myself in the face with an ice axe and knocked a tooth out and I never really went ice climbing again after that.


Neely Quinn: I mean, that’s kind of what I assume happens to everybody with an ice axe, right?


Alex Barrows: No, I think I’m just kind of special.


Neely Quinn: So you gave that up and started sport climbing?


Alex Barrows: We’ll see, after that I sort of got less keen on alpine climbing but still was, for the next few years, just basically into trad. My formative years I spent more time soloing dangerous things than I did training or anything like that.


Neely Quinn: So you have a good head naturally, obviously.


Alex Barrows: I think I used to. I went trad climbing this weekend for the first time in years as part of my sort of rest week after going on a trip. My head was not very good so it may have forgotten what to do. Certainly, at the start, all of the harder routes that I did – well, they weren’t hard basically. They got big grades in our crazy English grading scale because they were dangerous rather than because they were difficult.


Neely Quinn: So then what happened to your head? Do you think you just became a soft sport climber?


Alex Barrows: I think there’s two different types of being good mentally. There’s being good in a situation where you’re not going to fall off but you’re really screwed if you do, which I think I used to be quite good at but now have got worse at. Then, there’s being good at, say, taking a big fall on a sport route and climbing well a long way above your bolt ,which I used to be abysmal at but have now got better at. I think you just get good at what you do in that sense.


Neely Quinn: So there’s a difference in the safety factor. One is pretty safe and one is absolutely not.


Alex Barrows: Yeah. I always used to, well, at the point where I would be happy to go out and solo things on not very good rock, that were like [unclear] routes and stuff, I was really bad at climbing hard above a bolt. Although it would look in some ways like I had a good head, in other ways it was useless.


Neely Quinn: Why did you transition into mostly sport climbing and doing some bouldering?


Alex Barrows: The big thing was when I moved to Sheffield. I guess I’d reached a point with my trad climbing where I needed to get better physically to climb the harder routes that I wanted to climb so I knew I needed to sport climb and boulder more in order to do that. I moved to Sheffield and I sort of became friends with people who were more into sport climbing and bouldering so I started doing them a lot more and I ended up just getting hooked and suddenly wasn’t interested in doing easy moves that were in dangerous situations anymore. I just wanted to get better.


Neely Quinn: This weekend when you went back trad climbing did it make you miss it? Do you feel like you might go down that path again?


Alex Barrows: A little bit. Probably not at the moment too much. A lot of the reason that I stopped trad climbing pretty much completely was because if I trad climb a lot, it’s bad for my sport climbing or bouldering. I’m naturally, definitely more of an endurance climber. I need to spend my time getting strong. You have to sort of sacrifice going out and climbing trad a bit to get better at sport climbing, basically, to do the routes you want to do sport climbing. I think at the moment I’m going to stick with that path but I suspect when I’m old I’ll go back to climbing trad a bit more.


Neely Quinn: Okay, let’s fast forward. You just sent your first .14d.


Alex Barrows: Yeah. I’m pretty happy with that.


Neely Quinn: Tell me all about it and congratulations, by the way.


Alex Barrows: Cheers. It was Ara Vella, which is fairly famous because everyone does it which means it’s probably easy. I thought it was quite hard. It’s a big endurance route in Margalef in Spain. Quite a few pockets but a lot of pinching slopey pebbles and stuff as well.

It sort of breaks down. You climb up some choss and it really is complete choss, the bottom bit, do a little boulder problem through a roof, get a good rest, and then it’s maybe a sort of short resistance 8b straight into the crux, then you get quite a good rest, and then a long endurance section on the top. You kind of are bound to have to be quite strong and have the sort of top end short power endurance to get through the bottom bit but then still have enough of the longer fitness to get through the top bit.

It’s freaking awesome. It’s such a good route.


Neely Quinn: How long did it take you?


Alex Barrows: Forever. It was definitely – you see everyone putting on their scorecards like, ‘Third go. Did it in 10 minutes.’ This was definitely not, ‘Did it in 10 minutes.’ I went in October to try it and basically was there for three weeks and pretty much spent three weeks getting my ass kicked. Didn’t do super well on it but was really psyched on it so I went home, trained from October until the end of March and went back out for three weeks and did it.


Neely Quinn: Wow. So that’s not that long. It’s only six weeks.


Alex Barrows: Yeah, well I guess it felt like a long time because I basically spent the intervening five months pretty much just psyched on getting into shape to do that route.


Neely Quinn: Then when you got there was it like you spent the entire three weeks? How long did it take you?


Alex Barrows: Well it was kind of the third trip. I went for five days in February as well to kind of refine the beta then the trip I just came back from was three weeks but I did the route about two weeks into the trip. I still had a little bit of time. It didn’t get too last minute, last go stressful.


Neely Quinn: Can you tell me about your training that you did for it? How did your training change in order to – well actually, how has your training changed over the last five years?


Alex Barrows: I guess over the last 5-10 years it’s always, every year, it’s gotten a bit more structured. At first I didn’t have a clue about anything and I just sort of went to the wall. We would do stuff like go to the wall, do loads of easy routes, and then go bouldering afterwards which retrospectively is really stupid but we just didn’t know any better. It’s gradually gotten a bit more structured and I’ve read a bit more. After that I took a year off after university and went on that trip where I met you. After that I came back and started training in a bit more of a structured way.

I got a lot of advice from a friend of mine called Tom Randall, who is very into training and reading about training and experimenting. He does coaching as well so he sort of experiments on clients and finds what works well and all that sort of stuff. Tom sort of got me into a lot of the more structured training and the different approach to working different energy systems and stuff, which is sort of what I do as my default structure now. I guess it’s kind of a fairly standard periodized program but there are bits of it that are a bit different from what some other people might do.


Neely Quinn: Okay, so periodized training program focused solely on sport climbing/on route climbing? Not solely but for the purpose of you sending that.


Alex Barrows: Yeah. I’m definitely a route climber at heart so everything is kind of to get better at route climbing. But, I’m weak so most of my time is spent bouldering or doing strength training because that’s the biggest thing I need to do to get better.


Neely Quinn: Can you tell me about your training program over the last year?


Alex Barrows: Yeah well, it was sort of one block. I went on a trip at this time last year and I did a block to peak for the trip in October and then I did another block to peak for this trip.


Neely Quinn: A block? How long are your blocks?


Alex Barrows: However long it is from trip to trip, basically. I always arrange it like that. Ideally they’d be six months long or so but sometimes it’s shorter depending on how many trips I’m going on.


Neely Quinn: So, for like your six month block…


Alex Barrows: If I had a six month block I’d spend/the first couple of months would be very much strength focused and doing what I would call anaerobic capacity. The Spaniards would call that short resistance, so it’s like you do blocks of sort of long boulder problems, like 12-14 move boulders, with a decent rest in between but not a total rest. So if it takes you 45 seconds to climb you might have between 1:30 and 3 minutes as your resting time. I do quite a lot of that. I find that I get really good strength gains from that as well as a lot of dead hanging and a lot of bouldering and all that sort of stuff.


Neely Quinn: So wait – hold on one second. You do one boulder problem and then you’ll rest for a minute-ish and then you’ll do another boulder problem?


Alex Barrows: You do a long boulder, so something that takes about 45 seconds, and then you’d rest for somewhere between 1:30 and 3 minutes. I usually have a 15-move boulder that is a little bit easier then have a shorter rest, like 1:30, and that’s a bit more of the sort of endurancy end of it or I’d do just a 12-move problem and have a three minute rest. It’s pretty strength-oriented but you’re getting powered out. At the end the set you’ll feel really powered down.


Neely Quinn: Then how many of those do you do?


Alex Barrows: Usually either one block of eight or maybe two blocks of six. Something like that. It depends a bit on – I normally do two sessions a week as well but I tag it on the end of bouldering. I’d boulder for an hour and then do that.


Neely Quinn: You mean project for an hour and then do that?


Alex Barrows: Yeah. Try hard boulders or something like that.


Neely Quinn: So you’ll do eight in a row and then how long will you rest between those two blocks of them?


Alex Barrows: 20 minutes? Something like that. A decent rest.


Neely Quinn: Do you have a timer out there with you?


Alex Barrows: Yeah, yeah. I use a stopwatch and an interval timer and that sort of stuff. Everything, if it’s not strength training, it’s all run by the stopwatch.


Neely Quinn: How hard are the problems? Like, relative to how hard you boulder how hard are they?


Alex Barrows: They’d be somewhere around your flash limit, maybe a little harder than your flash limit. You can tweak it a little bit. It’s the sort of thing you have to experiment with a bit and get a feel. Basically, as long as you get really, really powered down and fail on maybe the last 25% or something of what you’re doing then it should have the desired effect.


Neely Quinn: Okay. So one day or two days a week it sounds like you’re projecting or trying hard boulders and then you’re doing maybe an hour of this.


Alex Barrows: Yeah, it depends on how many sets I’m doing but yeah, that sort of thing. Then the other days will be bouldering and dead hanging and campusing. All strength stuff in that first few months.


Neely Quinn: What kind of dead hanging are you doing?


Alex Barrows: I’ve experimented with loads of different styles, repeaters, and max hangs. I quite like assisted one-arm stuff, kind of like – have you seen the Chris Webb Parsons stuff?


Neely Quinn: Yeah.


Alex Barrows: I don’t do it with the rope like he does because that seems really dangerous but I would use a pulley and some weights.


Neely Quinn: Why does that seem dangerous?


Alex Barrows: With the rope?


Neely Quinn: Yeah.


Alex Barrows: Because what he’s talking about, at the end of it you’re sort of fluttering the hand that’s on the rope and suddenly loading the other hand as it gets tired. It just seems a little bit sketchy to me compared to having a nice assistance with a pulley.


Neely Quinn: And a pulley and weights are much more precise, like you can tell exactly how much.


Alex Barrows: Yeah, and you can write down/you know exactly what you’ve done and you know whether it’s a good session or a bad session and that sort of stuff. You can try and force improvement by dropping the weight. That kind of thing.


Neely Quinn: But you’re using his method of only using one hand at a time, generally.


Alex Barrows: Yeah, yeah. I quite like doing that. I’ve done a lot of two-handed stuff as well with repeaters but this is something that I’ve not made my mind up about, about what the best way to dead hang is.


Neely Quinn: What kind of board do you use?


Alex Barrows: At The School Room we’ve got a set-up of just rungs of different sizes, a bit like the Eva Lopez board but made out of wood, and at home I’ve got a Beastmaker.


Neely Quinn: The 2000?


Alex Barrows: Yeah, yeah.


Neely Quinn: That’s what I like, too.


Alex Barrows: The Beastmaker is definitely a pretty good board to train on. I kind of prefer training on wood. I think some walls, like the other wall to train at called The Foundry, has about four different fingerboards up next to each other and then sometimes I’ll use different grips on different fingerboards. One of the fingerboards will have a really nice three finger slopey pocket so I’ll use that one, then use the crimps from something else. I think variety is always good.


Neely Quinn: Yeah. It sounds like you change up your fingerboarding or your dead hanging routine pretty regularly. What was the last routine that you did? What were you doing?


Alex Barrows: Over the winter I was doing quite a lot of short maximum hangs on – there’s a certain grip for one of the holds on Era Vella that basically it turned out that I was very weak on compared to everyone else, so I would do a lot of maximal hangs with two hands on that grip.


Neely Quinn: And by maximal hangs you mean hanging the maximum amount of weight that you possibly could on yourself?


Alex Barrows: Yeah, or on a small hold, either one, but basically 5-10 seconds and make it harder by adding more weight on. So doing quite a lot of that and I’ve been experimenting recently with something that my housemate made up which is repeaters but instead of doing 7 second hangs and 3 second rest, it’s 5 second hang 10 second rests and you do five of those and then take a break for three or four minutes and then do it again.


Neely Quinn: 5 second hangs, 10 second rest.


Alex Barrows: Yeah, it’s much more strength oriented than a normal set of repeaters. That feels really good. Like, you feel like you’ve given yourself a really good workout but you’re still hanging really small holds so I’m definitely going to use a bit more of that in this next cycle.


Neely Quinn: Okay, so it’s more strength oriented because you’re doing less time so you can have more weight on?


Alex Barrows: Yeah, you use much worse holds, yeah.


Neely Quinn: Or more weight.


Alex Barrows: If I’m doing 7 on, 3 off for seven hangs or something, you have to use quite a good hold where if you’re doing 5 on, 10 off and you’re just doing five of those, you can use some pretty bad holds or loads of weight if you want to add weight.


Neely Quinn: So then how many times would you do that? Like, how many grips would you use and then how many sets?


Alex Barrows: Depends on whether I’m doing anything else that day. I normally tag this on the end of bouldering so maybe I’d boulder for an hour and then I’d do maybe an hour’s worth of that, do a set and rest for 45 minutes, do another set, so I’m doing that for an hour or so.


Neely Quinn: Okay. Just doing random grips.


Alex Barrows: Yeah. I’ll probably have specific ones. I’ll target the ones that are most relevant for what I’m keen on outside or the ones that don’t feel tweaky. If I’ve done loads of crimping recently, maybe I’ll do a lot of pocketing when I’m fingerboarding .


Neely Quinn: So out of curiosity, what was the hold type that you were having problems with?


Alex Barrows: It’s like a front three fingers but the sort of – you know when you have to force a half crimp? It’s like crimping but you can’t get your thumb on?


Neely Quinn: Yeah.


Alex Barrows: I call that ‘chisel.’ I don’t know if you call it that in America.


Neely Quinn: I’ve never heard that before.


Alex Barrows: Front three chisel I would call it. That sort of forced half crimp where you just feel like your fingers are dropping out and dropping out and wanting to drag instead.


Neely Quinn: Front three. So you don’t call it first team? Well, actually that’s not first team…


Alex Barrows: By front three I mean index, middle, and ring fingers. I call that front three.


Neely Quinn: Brits. Cool. So that’s your dead hanging routine. That’s what you’re doing with that. Are you lifting weights at all?


Alex Barrows: No, I was never really into the weight lifting. A lot of people seem to be really into it. I notice people seem to be really into deadlifting at the moment. I’m kind of skeptical about deadlifting but I’ve never tried it so maybe I shouldn’t be so skeptical without giving it a go.


Neely Quinn: Yeah. It’s interesting. I just had an interview with Eric Horst where we talked about deadlifting. That’s one of the things he has his prodigy kids do.


Alex Barrows: He likes the deadlifting?


Neely Quinn: Yeah, he likes it. He also said that he increased his own deadlift – and sorry if I’m getting this wrong, Eric – by 100% or something without changing his body composition almost at all, which I think is really encouraging for people who think that they’re going to put on weight.


Alex Barrows: The reason I’ve always avoided it is because I don’t want to get big legs but maybe I should give it a go. It’s interesting to hear what people like him think about it because I think it’s good to read and listen to all the podcasts to hear what everyone thinks because climbing is not something where we definitely know how to train. Even with dead hanging. No one really knows whether max hangs versus repeaters versus a different protocol of repeaters with weight or without weight or anything is really best. You’ve kind of got to see what people think and then experiment to see what you like.


Neely Quinn: I mean the deadlifting thing, what Eric was saying makes so much sense, is yeah – we work our abs but we don’t usually work our lower back which is so crucial in overhanging climbing or any kind of climbing so that’s why he thinks it’s so important. It’s so good for your core.


Alex Barrows: I mean, that makes sense. You work your lower back pretty hard if you’re climbing on a steep board with bad feet.


Neely Quinn: Yeah, that’s true. Okay, so no weights. Do you do any cardio stuff?


Alex Barrows: In the summer I tend to go for a little run on my rest days and in the winter it’s cold and horrible so I usually don’t. [laughs] Not a huge amount. I do it as active rest and something fun to do in the evening when I’m not climbing rather than as part of my training routine.


Neely Quinn: Something fun to do. You’re one of those.


Alex Barrows: Oh, I’m talking like a nice half hour jog, not a ‘go out to do a run in the mountains’ or something.


Neely Quinn: Like I said, you’re one of those. [laughs] I’m just kidding. I can deal with half an hour run but it’s still not fun.

Okay, so what else do you do for training? Do you campus?


Alex Barrows: I’ve not done that much campusing. I think I should do more because I’m really, really bad at it. I’ve not done that much campusing.


Neely Quinn: So it’s something that maybe you’re considering?


Alex Barrows: Yeah.


Neely Quinn: You’ve worked with Tom Randall a lot and you said that it’s periodized.


Alex Barrows: We did go through what I would do for the first few months of the program, sort of the strength stuff, but then I do two months where I’m still very strength focused but I do a lot of base endurance stuff like aerobic capacity. Lots of time on the wall building that up and then the last couple of months before a trip is when I do much more of the power endurance stuff.


Neely Quinn: Okay, and what do you do for power endurance?


Alex Barrows: When I was training for Era Vella I made replica circuits to train on to replicate the length and the style of the different sections, but usually I would break it up into the shorter, harder power endurance where you get really powered out. Maybe you fail 20 moves in but you can rest 20 seconds and pull back on and do a hard move. For that stuff I’d either set a hard 25-move circuit to redpoint with big rests or I would do four boulder problems back-to-back with short rests in between, like 10-20 second rests in between.

Then, there’s sort of longer power endurance where you’re boxed out of your mind and you fall off of move 80 and you can barely make a fist. I do much more of being on the wall for maybe a minute or a minute and a half and then have a very short rest, like a minute’s rest or something like that. I’d do blocks of that with the rest time being less than the climbing time for that long power endurance.


Neely Quinn: When you say ‘circuits,’ because I’ve always trained in – well, that’s not true. Sometimes I’ll train on a treadwall, but I’ve never had to make myself circuits. I’ve always had access to a route gym but more and more people are looking for a training program and they don’t have a route gym. Can you explain more of how you make the circuits on bouldering walls?


Alex Barrows: If you’re at a commercial wall in the UK most of them have circuit boards where they’ll have set their own ones. Sometimes I’ll use those. Often, if I’m making my own, I find the easiest way is to set two or three up problems and I’ll just work out a way to link them together. I find setting up problems a lot easier than setting something that’s actually going in a circle or anything like that.


Neely Quinn: So you would do two or three up problems, so you would have to down climb them in order to…


Alex Barrows: Yeah, so you might do up-down-up or something but I find that’s a lot easier to set. I mean, if you’re at a bouldering wall and it’s a commercial one where they’re resetting every few months then you can just pick. If you’ve got a good section of wall that’s at a relevant angle you can just pick three up problems that are about the right difficulty.


Neely Quinn: And drop off?


Alex Barrows: Yeah, drop off and then pull straight back on or up a set problem, down a problem, back up the same set problem and stuff like that, or steal other people’s. That’s one thing that’s good if you have people training at the same wall who do similar stuff. You can just steal their’s and add in some bigger foot holds or take out some foot holds and only use small feet if it needs to be tweaked to be a bit easier or harder.


Neely Quinn: It seems like it’s kind of a big difference if you’re actually dropping off of a boulder as opposed to using big jugs to down climb or something.


Alex Barrows: I wouldn’t really use big jugs to down climb. I would try to keep it something where I’m not having to force myself to not rest because you’re down climbing through loads of rests or anything. I think there definitely is a difference in dropping off and pulling straight back on but I don’t know how much of a difference it makes. I know there’s at least one French coach I’ve heard say that he thought that was much better than climbing sideways, like shuffling sideways kind of thing, because you’re training going upwards which is probably where you’re going to fall off on a route.


Neely Quinn: That was my other question. If you’re doing circle circuits you’re going right and…


Alex Barrows: I don’t really like circuits that go in circles if they can be avoided. That’s partly why I tend to do up-down-ups and stuff like that. I find it easier to set and I think it’s more realistic to what you’re going to be doing outside.


Neely Quinn: Cool. I think this is really helpful information for people who don’t have access to route climbing.


Alex Barrows: Yeah, I mean if you’ve got a bouldering wall and there’s set problems on it, you can just link the set problems together like that. If you actually have to make up your own, if it’s a board that just has loads of holds on it and not set problems and you have to make up your own from scratch it’s a bit harder but I think the more you do it the better you get at it.


Neely Quinn: Going back to your periodized, you do strength, then you do aerobic capacity, then you do power endurance?


Alex Barrows: Yeah, so I’ll have strength going through the whole thing. Three days a week every week, basically, I’m doing strength stuff but in the strength phase I’m doing that five days a week.


Neely Quinn: How many days a week are you training?


Alex Barrows: Five, normally.


Neely Quinn: What’s your schedule like?


Alex Barrows: Training or climbing, so I’ll usually climb weekends and Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and then maybe sometimes do double sessions the days before a rest day as well.


Neely Quinn: Okay. Are you trying to perform when you’re climbing when you’re training? Are you going out on the weekend and trying to send stuff or were you trashed?


Alex Barrows: I’d go out and try to send boulders. Mainly I’d be bouldering over the winter when I went outside but yeah, I’d try to perform. I mean, I wouldn’t worry too much about whether I would perform on the weekend, especially when I’m doing the aerobic capacity stuff. That leaves me a bit tired, definitely, so I’m not bouldering at my best but I’m definitely not totally trashed.

Over this winter I emphasized quality over quantity as well and I think that worked quite well, not being totally trashed. If you’re trashed then probably your strength training is kind of junk. Like, if you can’t pull hard it’s not doing really strength training and since strength is my weakest point I’ve focused a bit more on the quality of that training but done a bit less volume of the lower intensity stuff.


Neely Quinn: So it sounds like your sessions are around two hours each.


Alex Barrows: Yeah, normally during the week when I’m training in the evening it will be somewhere between an hour and a half and two hours, probably.


Neely Quinn: That’s pretty efficient.


Alex Barrows: Then weekends might be longer. Well, weekends will often be going to boulder outside for most of the day then go home, rest, and go to the wall and do some of the sort of higher volume endurance training in the evening or something.


Neely Quinn: Oh wow. So you’re doing two-a-days on the weekends?


Alex Barrows: Normally not on a Saturday but on a Sunday, yeah, I’ll usually do something else in the evening and then I’m totally wrecked.


Neely Quinn: Can we talk more about the aerobic capacity training?


Alex Barrows: Yeah.


Neely Quinn: So that second phase – this is for people following along because I’m writing all of this down – you have the strength and the aerobic capacity. These are, for you, it sounds about like two month phases, right?


Alex Barrows: Yeah, roughly. In the aerobic capacity one I’ll still be doing the anaerobic capacity from before as well like those sort of longer boulders with 2-3 minute rests. I’ll keep that on as well.


Neely Quinn: But only one or two times a week?


Alex Barrows: Yeah. I never do that more than twice a week in any phase but normally twice a week.


Neely Quinn: Before we get into that, between your strength phase and your aerobic capacity, how much rest do you take, if any?


Alex Barrows: I don’t really. I should probably rest more but I don’t really like resting. I get bored so I might just have a double rest day or something when I get tired.


Neely Quinn: Just two days of rest.


Alex Barrows: I don’t really plan my resting. I’m periodized in the sense that I plan when I’m training strength and when I’m training the different types of endurance and stuff but I don’t really modulate the training load in the way that some people do. You know, you might have three hard weeks and then an easy week or something. I’ve never really done that that much, just because I find that I prefer to just have an easy week or an easy few days when I feel tired and then train hard until I feel tired again, then have a double rest day or shorter sessions or something.


Neely Quinn: How much sleep do you get?


Alex Barrows: I try to get quite a lot of sleep. I try to get at least eight hours a night.


Neely Quinn: What happens when you don’t?


Alex Barrows: I get tired and I get weak. I generally try to be in bed by 11 and get a good solid eight or nine hours depending on how early I get up to do some work.


Neely Quinn: Now back to the aerobic capacity. What do you do for those training sessions?


Alex Barrows: I think, with the aerobic capacity, the different ways of structuring your training session means you target slightly different things. The constant intensity for 20 or 30 minutes is really good for the slower twitch fibers and really good for onsighting. It really replicates that onsight feeling where every hold is almost a rest and you’re just about in control but you’re not quite in control and you’re still getting pumped.

Then, say, doing 30 seconds off, 30 seconds on you can target the slightly faster twitch fibers and improve the aerobic capacity of those which may be a bit more relevant for redpointing. That’s something I’d never tried before but I tried this winter.

It’s always hard to judge whether these things have worked or not but I think, I mean, I felt quite fit on redpoints and quite fit on onsights so I think it’s good. It’s good to mix things up as well. I’ve always done/for years I’ve done this constant intensity, blocks of 20, 30, 40 minutes on the wall, a bit pumped but not too pumped or slightly harder than that. Say, 10 minutes on, 10 minutes off or something I’ve done a lot of. I think your body gets bored if it does the same thing for years and years so if you’ve never tried that before you’ll probably get good gains from it.

I know a lot of people who have never really done that stuff before who have tried it and got so much fitter. That’s something that Brits and probably Americans are bad at, that sort of fitness, normally, whereas the Spaniards and the French normally eat it for breakfast.


Neely Quinn: Yeah, I mean it takes a lot of discipline and I don’t know. You have to understand why you’re doing it.


Alex Barrows: Yeah, I think it takes a special type of person to enjoy it because it can get kind of boring. You need good music or podcasts or something to listen to while you’re doing it.


Neely Quinn: You said that 30 seconds on, 30 seconds off, I think, you said one of the more higher intensity ones helps with redpointing more. Can you explain that?


Alex Barrows: This is all theory rather than – it’s what I think happens and from talking to Tom, who is basically my guide in this sort of stuff so what I think he thinks. Because you’re doing higher intensity in your 30 seconds on, you can do it on boulder problems. A long boulder problem, 30 seconds rest, a long boulder problem, 30 seconds rest. You’re targeting the fast twitch fibers a bit more and improving the aerobic capacity of those whereas if you’re just doing the low intensity/constant intensity stuff, you’re just doing the slow twitch fibers. When you’re redpointing, chances are you’re going to be on harder moves than on a long onsight. It’s more like sprinting between rests so it’s more the fast twitch fibers that are more relevant. That’s the logic behind it.


Neely Quinn: This is great.


Alex Barrows: It’s definitely a bit nerdy.


Neely Quinn: Yeah, this is definitely one of the nerdiest conversations that I’ve had on the podcast. I love it and this is great. I’m just trying to imagine my mom listening to this and she would be so bored.


Alex Barrows: I’d be interested to know what the other people you’re interviewing, like what the Anderson brothers would think about tweaking those protocols. Targeting on redpointing or not and whether you can target the different muscle fibers and that sort of stuff. That’s the problem. I get a lot of ideas from Tom and I have to say a big thanks to him because I definitely wouldn’t be the climber that I am now without the knowledge I’ve had from him but at the same time, there are certain times where he will say things and I will be like, ‘Oh, I’m not sure I agree with that. I don’t want to train quite the same way.’

One of the good things about living in Sheffield is there’s quite a few people you can talk to and get ideas off but it’s hard. It would be really interesting to know what people like that who are really into their training thought about all of these things.


Neely Quinn: Well, I’ll ask the Anderson brothers next time I interview them.


Alex Barrows: We could do a Q&A between training nerds.


Neely Quinn: Yeah. That’s one of the things I wanted to do, too, is have training summits where we have all the nerds in one place at the same time, online, so everybody can hear them.


Alex Barrows: I think it would be really cool to see what people think about different things.


Neely Quinn: Yeah, it is. Do you credit all of this training, like do you credit your send of Ara Vella to this training?


Alex Barrows: Yeah. Well, to training in general and a lot to this training for sure. Definitely, like, I was never a talented kid. Now you have people who start climbing and they’ve climbed 8b within two years or something. It took me years and years to climb my first 8a. I was never talented climbing. Well, I guess my talent was being kind of nerdy and psyched on training and psyched on getting better and psyched to go rock climbing a lot.


Neely Quinn: That’s my next question. Why do you do this? I mean, you obviously care about this a lot and why?


Alex Barrows: That’s a dangerous question to ask. I don’t necessarily know the answer to that but I really like going rock climbing. It’s way better than pretty much everything else. I guess there’s definitely some ego involved in being good at climbing or relatively good at climbing. The feeling of getting stronger and getting fitter is nice and doing things that you never thought you’d be able to do. That’s cool when you do a route and you come down and you’re like, ‘If you’d told me three years ago that I would do that, there’s no way you’d believe it.’


Neely Quinn: That’s what I’m wondering, too, is because of this training, three years ago do you think you could have done Ara Vella?


Alex Barrows: Would I have thought I would one day do it?


Neely Quinn: I mean do you think you could have done it without what you’ve been doing for the past year or so?


Alex Barrows: Could I have done it a year ago you mean?


Neely Quinn: Sure.


Alex Barrows: No way. No chance.


Neely Quinn: Well that’s saying a lot.


Alex Barrows: I’m definitely a better climber now than I was a year ago, that’s for sure.


Neely Quinn: Do you think you’ll continue at this rate? With all the training, all the climbing?


Alex Barrows: The progress is definitely slowed. I think the closer you get to sort of your potential the slower and slower it gets.


Neely Quinn: What were your hardest sends before this?


Alex Barrows: I had done some 8c+s. I had done one in Gorge du Loup in France, one at my local crag Raven Tor, and then a couple of long boulder problem link-ups like 40-50 move link-ups that are kind of more routes than boulders. They get route grades of 8c+.


Neely Quinn: Do you think you’ll try to do a 9a+?


Alex Barrows: Hopefully one day. Not in the next year or so.


Neely Quinn: Do you have a project?


Alex Barrows: No, I’ve got stuff I want to do this summer but I’m going to stick to slightly quicker ticks and stuff for a little while I think. Done with my projecting for six months or so but when I’m done with the PhD I might try something hard again. There’s a bunch of 8c’s and 8c+s I want to try in the UK this summer so I’ll do that and try to get strong, mainly.


Neely Quinn: That’s what I wanted to know, too. I think that a lot of people will be able to relate with you because you have a pretty busy schedule outside of climbing and I’m curious as to how you make that work.


Alex Barrows: This depends on whether my supervisor is going to listen to the interview or not. [laughs] I guess I usually work kind of 9-5ish so it’s not too hectic. I think PhD in the UK is generally less work than a PhD in America. My brother did a PhD in America and he seemed to do a lot more work than I did but you can train in the evenings and I take my weekends off to climb and train. I guess it means other stuff gets sacrificed or gets ditched and it can definitely be pretty brutal with being like, ‘Well, I have work and I have training and I’ve not got time for anything else today so no I’m not going to do something else.’

The more work you do the harder it is to be good at rock climbing, that’s for sure. Like, the more paid employment you do the harder it is. The quickest gains I’ve had or the gains I’ve had from training have always been when I’m being a slacker and not doing very much work. You can sleep more, you can train at the time of day that you want to train rather than training – you know, normal people work until 5 then they go home and that’s their relaxed part of the day whereas if you’re a climber, you work until 5 and then you get to the part of the day where you have to be mentally and physically on it and performing well. It’s definitely the more time you have to put into climbing, the less time you have to put into working, the better it’s going to be for your climbing.


Neely Quinn: Do you ever have days where you’re like, ‘Screw this. I’m not climbing.’


Alex Barrows: No, I have days where I feel like, ‘Screw this,’ but I usually just go, ‘Screw this, I’m going to leave work early and go training.’ That’s the good thing about PhD is you’ve got some flexibility. On the days where you’re motivated you’ve got a lot of work done and on the other days you can maybe leave a little bit early. Yeah, I don’t really ditch training sessions because I’m not motivated. I’m pretty much always motivated to climb.


Neely Quinn: Are you on crack all the time or how do you manage this?


Alex Barrows: What? Being motivated all the time?


Neely Quinn: Yeah.


Alex Barrows: I just really like going rock climbing.


Neely Quinn: Yeah, but there’s a difference between going rock climbing and doing 30 seconds on, 30 seconds off for 20 minutes.


Alex Barrows: So I’ll say I guess I really like rock climbing and I kind of like training for rock climbing as well.


Neely Quinn: Such does a good rock climber make, I guess.


Alex Barrows: It’s one of those funny things when you think about talent for climbing. I guess you normally think about someone who’s really natural with movement or someone who’s got naturally strong fingers or something but I guess a fair amount of talent for rock climbing is just, ‘Are you always psyched for climbing?’ I mean, there’s so many people who have so much potential and could be amazing climbers but they don’t reach their potential because they drop out or they’re just psyched to climb once a week or whatever. That kind of potential doesn’t mean anything unless you’re psyched to go out and use it.


Neely Quinn: What about injury? I mean, do you ever get injured?


Alex Barrows: Oh yeah. I think I spend more time injured than not injured.


Neely Quinn: Oh, so you just climb through it?


Alex Barrows: Yeah, most injuries you can climb around or train around. I had a collateral ligament injury in one of my fingers and, I think it’s 99% better now but, that I first injured about 18 months ago. I missed the whole of last year’s sport climbing season in the UK because everything in the UK, as far as sport routes go, is really crimpy and I couldn’t crimp hard, basically, but you just have to work around it. I could dead hang open handed, I could climb on pockets, I could do a lot of boulders because you only have to find three or four holds in a row that don’t aggravate it rather than 40 or 50 holds in a row that don’t aggravate it, so I think usually you can train around it.

I have elbow injuries a lot but you can find what aggravates it and avoid doing that to all extents and I think it has to be a pretty bad injury for you to not be able to train around it in some way. Probably the exception is stuff that’s more full body like you screwed your back or your shoulder. You’re a bit more screwed. I guess most injuries have been elbows or fingers and you can usually train around them.


Neely Quinn: Do you take anti inflammatories for them or something?


Alex Barrows: When I’m injured?


Neely Quinn: Yeah.


Alex Barrows: I’ve never really/I don’t really take that much ibuprofen or anything. I’ve massaged my fingers with ibuprofen gel quite a bit in the past just because I figured I needed something to soften them up to massage them with and I might as well use ibuprofen gel instead of moisturizer.


Neely Quinn: Oh yeah. People are talking about that for sore skin.


Alex Barrows: Yeah, I’ve used that before once, actually, when I was climbing in Margalef because a lot of it is pockets so you get really bruised and battered fingers. Actually, if you just rub – if you have that sort of bruised finger and you cover your hands in ibuprofen gel like you would with moisturizer, it actually feels really, really nice.


Neely Quinn: I actually want to take a moment to tell you about an injury prevention and recovery tool that I personally love and use all the time. It’s called the Armaid. The Armaid is sort of like a nutcracker for your arms. It’s a self massage tool that actually works so you don’t have to pay for a massage therapist. It uses a lever arm to make it really easy for you to put enough pressure on your forearms, your biceps, and triceps so that you can really depump and loosen everything back up after a training session or a climbing session.

Jonathan Siegrist wrote a review for TrainingBeta on the Armaid and he said, “After over a year of use it has become clear to me that not only does it feel nice but it produces results. I used and loved the Armaid when I was recovering from a wrist-related injury this past summer. I swear the Armaid and a rice bucket are what got me healthy and climbing again quickly.”

So, J-Star clearly likes the Armaid and if you’re intrigued, which I hope you are because this thing really works, you can go over to and check out the Armaid for yourself. They’re giving you a 10% discount right now if you use the code ‘climb’ at checkout.

Okay, so that’s the Armaid and now we’ll go back to the interview.


Neely Quinn: So many people have been asking us, ‘What do you do about finger pain, like skin pain?’ How do you take care of your skin?


Alex Barrows: I think I’m pretty standard. I sand my skin when you get any slight tear or anything. I’ll sand it down to remove the edges and moisturize basically every evening.


Neely Quinn: With just regular lotion? Or what do you use?


Alex Barrows: Yeah, just sort of your standard Nevia from the chemist. Actually, before I went to Spain I started using some posher, much better moisturizer which was brilliant for stopping my hands getting dry but I think it made my skin too soft because in Spain I got two blood blisters. I ended up climbing the route with tape Super Glued to my fingers.


Neely Quinn: Oh my god.


Alex Barrows: Actually, that’s a good tip. I’d never really tried this that much before and then I got these blood blisters and thought, ‘I’m screwed. I can’t do the route. There’s no way I can climb it with tape on because the tape will slide too much.’ Actually, Super Gluing tape on works so much better than not using Super Glue.


Neely Quinn: So you actually taped it to the tip of your fingers?


Alex Barrows: No, it wasn’t on the tip. It was in the first joint, the pocket, but if you put Super Glue on the tape as you’re taping up it just sticks so much better. You can leave it on all day and it doesn’t slide, pretty much. I mean, I think if it’s on your tip you’ve got issues but if you have a split in a joint or something then Super Glue on tape works really well.


Neely Quinn: Are you one of those people who wears gloves when you wash dishes and take showers?


Alex Barrows: I used to wear gloves when I washed dishes religiously. At the moment I’ve not been doing so and I don’t think it’s damaged my hands. There was a point where I wouldn’t touch dishes without gloves on.


Neely Quinn: [laughs] Or water in general.


Alex Barrows: I’ve never gone down the road of taping gloves on in the shower or something like that. I think that’s a step too far for me.


Neely Quinn: Yeah, it’s a little extreme. The other question I have – we only have 10 minutes left or something – I wanted to know about your – I mean obviously it’s a little different in the UK than it is here, maybe it’s not, with vacation time. Americans often only have two weeks of vacation but you, this year, had eight, right?


Alex Barrows: I exploited my eight weeks to their full potential.


Neely Quinn: When I first met you you were on a year-long – was it a year?


Alex Barrows: It was actually slightly more than a year. I finished my undergraduate degree, it must have been in June or July, and I started my PhD in September the year after so I had about 15 months of just going rock climbing.


Neely Quinn: How did you fund that? If you don’t mind me asking. Is that from your duke money?


Alex Barrows: I asked the Queen for a few shillings and yeah. Well, so I had student loan left over from university, basically, so it was one of those things where I got to the end of university and I had a bank account with a bunch of money in it and I had a big debt that I owed to the government. I spent the money that should have been spent in paying off my debt on going rock climbing.


Neely Quinn: Sounds like standard climber decision.


Alex Barrows: Yeah, pretty much.


Neely Quinn: When you’re done with your PhD – hopefully you’ll finish it – then what? How will you continue to have these long, extended trips that you have?


Alex Barrows: Well this is the million dollar question at the moment. I’ll have enough money saved up – you get paid doing the PhD so I’ll have enough money saved up to go on a trip for six months or nine months or something like that. I’d really like to go to Australia and check out the Grampians and Blue Mountains, and then I’ve got to get a job that doesn’t involve working too much. I don’t have any ideas for jobs where you can work three or four days a week and have 10 week holidays all year. Hit me up.


Neely Quinn: Yeah, hit me up, too. So, in the UK, standard how much vacation do you get?


Alex Barrows: Depends a bit on who you work for but standard would be 25-30 days so five weeks plus bank holidays.


Neely Quinn: Nice.


Alex Barrows: We’re not like America. This is the thing that would really put me off moving to America, this standard American holiday. I don’t know if you know NREL. They’re near Boulder which is quite a cool place and they do a lot of work on the stuff I work on but I looked at the post-doc positions with them and it’s all like two weeks holiday a year. That would break me. I couldn’t cope with that.


Neely Quinn: I think that’s why America is broken.


Alex Barrows: You guys just work too much.


Neely Quinn: I mean, my whole life is a vacation so I’m not saying me. That’s one of the main reasons I got out of having a normal job, for sure.


Alex Barrows: It’s just no fun if you’ve got to work that much.


Neely Quinn: No, it’s not.


Alex Barrows: I want to avoid that as much as possible.


Neely Quinn: Okay, last question about diet and bodyweight. Can you tell me kind of what you eat and how that relates with your climbing performance?


Alex Barrows: Yeah, so weight definitely matters but I tend to fluctuate a bit. When I went to Spain I was the lightest I have been since I was about 16 years old, probably partly because when I was at the end of school, like 16, 17, 18 I was psyched on trying to get big and look muscle-y so I went to the gym and ate loads. I was about 12.5 stone then. I went to Spain weighing 11 stone 2. I’ll let you convert that.


Neely Quinn: I don’t even know what that means.


Alex Barrows: A stone is 14 pounds so 156 pounds.


Neely Quinn: Wow, and you’re tall. How tall are you?


Alex Barrows: 6’2”, 6’3”?


Neely Quinn: So you were very thin.


Alex Barrows: I don’t think I looked like a – well, I was going to say things that you probably shouldn’t broadcast [laughs] but I didn’t look anorexic, I don’t think, but I definitely was lighter than normal. After Christmas I was eating a lot. I generally eat a lot when I’m a long way from going on a trip. When it’s the start of winter and I’m not going on a trip until spring, I’ll eat as much as I want – well, not as much as I want but I’ll eat quite a lot and I’ll get quite heavy. I think when you’re training high volumes, often you’ll come home and you’ll be like, ‘I’m knackered. I need to eat loads.’

When I came back to Sheffield after seeing my parents at Christmas I was basically 12 stone 2 so I lost a stone between Christmas and when I went to Spain in late March.


Neely Quinn: Wow. That’s a lot.


Alex Barrows: I think it’s kind of okay to be quite light to go on a trip and then be heavier when you’re training.


Neely Quinn: How did you lose the weight?


Alex Barrows: Fairly standard. Basically, eat less junk and loads of vegetables and meat. Pretty much, if I’m dieting I’m eating a lot of vegetables and a lot of meat to try to make me feel full. I ditched a lot of pasta and bread and got very into eating sweet potatoes and parsnips and stuff for when I wanted carbs.


Neely Quinn: Sounds sort of paleo.


Alex Barrows: Well, it definitely wouldn’t count as paleo because I eat a bunch of stuff that wouldn’t count.


Neely Quinn: But that was the bulk of it?


Alex Barrows: Yeah. If I’m dieting there’s a lot of vegetables and a lot of meat involved. Definitely.


Neely Quinn: Did you find that when you were dieting your performance was worse? Or that you felt tired or anything?


Alex Barrows: I try and adjust it. I try to generally not diet too quickly. I’ve read a pound of week, somewhere, is a safe level so I try not to go/I normally aim for somewhere around a pound or a pound and a half of weight loss a week.


Neely Quinn: So you started pretty early?


Alex Barrows: Yeah, I started pretty early so I wouldn’t have to crash diet too much. One thing I did was, whilst I was dieting, I did all my fingerboarding weighted back up to the original weight to try and trick my body a bit. I would adjust all of my fingerboarding and anything that wasn’t so movement oriented, like fingerboarding, campusing, foot-on campusing, anything like that I would weigh myself back up to that starting weight before I began the dieting.


Neely Quinn: Oh my god. You are the biggest nerd.


Alex Barrows: I think that’s quite good for tricking your body a little bit, though.


Neely Quinn: I’ve never even thought about that but it’s really smart.


Alex Barrows: I’ve never done that before but I think it works quite well. I didn’t do that so much for climbing because I think I was a bit worried about screwing up movement patterns by climbing with a weight belt on. I did a little bit of bouldering with a weight belt on towards the end but not very much. It’s interesting to hear Ondra say he used a weight belt just before comps, actually, so I tried to do a similar thing and I did a little bit of bouldering with a weight belt on a few weeks before I went away but I mainly just stuck to using a weight belt for things that weren’t so movement oriented.


Neely Quinn: Yeah, that can be a dangerous thing I think for climbers who aren’t prepared for it.


Alex Barrows: I wouldn’t stick a weight belt on unless you feel like you know what you’re doing.


Neely Quinn: That goes for all of this that you’ve been talking about. You’re, obviously, an elite climber and you’ve been training for a long time.


Alex Barrows: Yeah, definitely you’ve got to realize what I do now isn’t what I did when I climbed 8a. If I went back to climbing 8a or 7a a lot of what I would do, even with the knowledge I have now, a lot of what I would do would be different. If I was to coach – I don’t really coach people but if I was coaching someone who was fairly new to climbing they definitely wouldn’t be doing the same program as what I’m doing. You’ve definitely got to tweak everything a little bit or you’ve got to have an appreciation of where you are and what your limiting factors are.

That’s the other thing. For me, I know that strength is the limiting factor so this winter I went for quality a bit more than quantity, compared to how I have done in the past. But, if you’re someone who’s coming from a bouldering background and who’s naturally good at strength you’re going to have to change that up and you’re probably going to have to trash yourself loads and do loads of volume and it’s going to hurt.


Neely Quinn: Man, you’re pretty good at this. You’ve learned a lot.


Alex Barrows: Yeah, I should probably do something climbing related instead of physics.


Neely Quinn: They’re similar, right? When do I get to see you again in the United States?


Alex Barrows: That’s a good question. When I find a rich benefactor to fund my climbing lifestyle.


Neely Quinn: When you graduate, or when you get your PhD, are you coming here?


Alex Barrows: I’d like/next spring I hope to be done and I’d like to go to Australia and then in the summer I’m not sure whether I’ll go to Europe or if I’ll try to go to America. I’d quite like to go climb in Maple despite the fact that I’ve been told it’s kind of chossy.


Neely Quinn: You would do everything in Maple in, like, two hours.


Alex Barrows: It just looks fun. I quite like upside down knee-barring and it looks like there’s shit loads of upside down stuff with knee-barring.


Neely Quinn: Yes, there is.


Alex Barrows: It just looks cool. Going to Rifle would be cool. I quite like knee bars and I’m down with gaffer taping bits of rubber to me but I think that…


Neely Quinn: I don’t know what gaffer tape is. Sorry.


Alex Barrows: What do you call it. Duct tape?


Neely Quinn: Yeah. I’m just kidding.


Alex Barrows: So I’m down with duct taping things to my legs but I think Rifle would definitely be a good education in the knee bar.


Neely Quinn: Yeah. I think so, too. I hope to see you there. I think this is all the time that we have. I could ask you lots and lots more questions. Maybe I’ll ask you back on the show if you would be willing.


Alex Barrows: Yeah yeah, for sure.


Neely Quinn: Alright, well any last words? Any last words of wisdom?


Alex Barrows: Last words of wisdom? Ah – warming up. This is something. So many people warm up so badly for their hard onsight or their hard redpoint attempt. It always infuriates me. You go to the crag and maybe you do some warm-up routes or something and you rest while you belay your friend for an hour and you get really cold. Then you’ll see people do that and be like, ‘Oh, it’s my turn to climb. I’ll put my boots on, try my project, fall off – oh, I’m flash pumped.’ Of course you’re flash pumped. You’re freaking freezing.

Having a portable fingerboard at the crag or if you’re at a crag with bouldering, doing some boulders to get recruited and get warm again before you have a go is so, so useful. Definitely thinking about – thinking is good. Thinking about things like, ‘Am I warm?’ and ‘What’s the best way to get recruited for my project?’ and stuff.


Neely Quinn: And learning if you are warm. I think it’s hard for people to even tell sometimes.


Alex Barrows: Yeah, you definitely have to get used to understanding your body.


Neely Quinn: Well that’s a good tip. I actually just put a Facebook post out saying, “Did you know that if you don’t warm-up properly you can get flash pumped?” That was great.


Alex Barrows: You just can’t do it. If you’ve had an hour’s rest and you get on a hard move it takes you a bunch of goes to recruit the muscles, or it takes me a bunch of goes to recruit the muscles up again. If I have a long rest between redpoints – you know, sometimes if you’re trying a long redpoint you might have a few hours off before you have another go. You’re going to need to warm up again in terms of getting the blood flowing a little bit but you’re going to need to pull on some small holds or dead hang some small holds or find a tree to try to do some one-arms or something to get the power up again.


Neely Quinn: I’ve actually been finding that using the bands for my shoulder exercises…


Alex Barrows: Therabands?


Neely Quinn: Yeah, Therabands. Doing my shoulder exercises before I climb helps a lot, too.


Alex Barrows: I always try and do some of those shoulder exercises as part of my warm up at the start of a session. I think that helps a lot with not screwing your elbows over and stuff like that as well.


Neely Quinn: For sure. That’s good advice. Cool. Well, thanks Duke Alex.


Alex Barrows: Thanks for having me on.


Neely Quinn: Yeah.


Alex Barrows: I hope someone finds it useful.


Neely Quinn: Oh man. I think this is great. I found it useful. It was one of my favorites so far so thank you.


Alex Barrows: Thanks very much.


Neely Quinn: Alright, I’ll talk to you soon.

Thanks so much for listening to episode 20 of the TrainingBeta podcasts. Again, I’m your host Neely Quinn and that was Alex Barrows. If you’re interested in learning more about Alex you can go to I also put in, on the page for this episode of the podcast, I linked to this huge document that Alex created describing his training program, his methods, his philosophy, and sort of a glossary of terms. If you want to check that out go to and then the ‘Podcast’ tab and you’ll find it in there.

So, next week I have Bill Ramsey. Bill is 54 years old. He just sent a .14b, which is pretty much the hardest he’s ever climbed when he was in his 20s or 30s putting up routes in the Red River Gorge and all over the place. He’s still climbing at his peak at 54 which is really awesome. He tells us all about his training and his diet and his very crazy philosophies, which are very different than a lot of other trainers. Tune in for that.

In the meantime if you need more help with your own training, that’s why TrainingBeta was created. I created TrainingBeta so that, not only could we give you information from other trainers and climbers, but we created programs for you that you can follow step-by-step, day by day. They’re super easy to follow and I made that because that’s what I need as a climber. I don’t want to sift through information – no offense to anybody – to make my own program. I just want somebody to tell me what to do so that’s what our programs are all about.

If you go to and you go to the ‘Training Programs’ tab you’ll find a route training program, a bouldering training program, and both of those are three workouts per week. It’s $14.99 a month and those were created by Kris Peters. We also have a six week power endurance program. We have an eight week endurance program. We have a nutrition program. We have an injury prevention guide and last but not least, Steve Bechtel’s strength guide so if you want to learn how to make your own strength program, that’s your guide for that.

That’s about it. If you like the podcast please go to iTunes and leave a review, an honest review, obviously, so other people can see what we’re all about. I will talk to you soon. Thanks so much for listening.



Thanks for listening!


TrainingBeta is a site dedicated to training for rock climbing. We provide resources and information about training for routes, bouldering, finger strength, mental training, nutrition for climbers, and everything in between. We offer climbing training programs, a blog, interviews on the TrainingBeta Podcast, personal training for climbing, and nutrition for climbers.

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