Alex Waterhouse on training for competitions

High Sports sponsored climber Alex Waterhouse (17) is part of the GB Junior Climbing Team and trains at High Sports Plymouth. He has been climbing for 7 years. He competes all round the world in both the lead climbing and boulder teams.

Here he writes about how he trains for competitions. 

How I train is something I get asked about frequently at the wall, so I thought I would give you some insight! Training for me is highly dependent on what I’m focusing on at the time, and as an athlete in both lead and boulder, this focus can switch between the strength and power demands of bouldering and the endurance of route climbing. This winter I have been particularly focusing on power, hoping to build a base onto which I can build endurance later.

 Any training session starts with a solid warm up. For me this would be 5 minutes or so of skipping to loosen up and get blood flowing a bit, then shoulder rotations, wrist mobility exercises, elbow mobility exercises and then hip rotations, leg swings and toe touches. The key for warm-up stretches is that everything should be dynamic, as static stretching of cold muscles can lead to injury and significantly reduced performance. After thorough mobility work I move onto a number of traverses, starting off easy and focusing heavily on perfect footwork and body positioning. Once I’m feeling warm, supple and ready it’s time for the session! 

A typical session starts with an hour or so of projecting boulders, so attempting boulder problems at the very limit of my ability. Actually climbing while training is incredibly important, because as many fancy exercises as you can do and as strong as you get, if you haven’t learnt how to climb you won’t get very far! Sessions for beginner and intermediate climbers should be almost entirely climbing based, as that is where the biggest gains can be made at this level.

 After projecting boulders, I move onto some specific climbing based exercises, which could include anything from climbing boulders but cutting loose every move, to catching jumps one handed, to pull up touches on a set of holds. The important thing about these exercises is that they focus on specific weaknesses. My weaknesses at the moment are my power and my contact strength, so we are looking at some feet off bouldering moves and one arm catches to try and work those. Working weaknesses is incredibly important, as this is where the easiest gains are made. Anyone can climb to their strengths every session, but the best climbers can climb anything put in front of them, regardless of the style. 

An endurance session works quite differently, and differs slightly depending on the type of endurance to be trained. If I were working on high intensity power-endurance before a lead comp I would be looking at sets of 2 routes consecutively for up to 5 sets, or 4 sets of 4 routes, or a pyramid set of one route, then two, then three, then back down to two and and then to one.

To finish off the bulk of the session, I do a set of antagonistic exercises. This would normally consist of a set of 25+ press-ups and then a set of reverse wrist curls or wind-ups, winding a weight on a string around a tube. Strengthening the antagonists is important as it helps to balance the muscles generally built up in climbing, and helps reduce the risk of injury. 

Cooling down is essential at the end of the session, and this is the point at which static stretching is useful. If I’m feeling a bit cool after  antagonists I will skip for a few minutes to loosen up again. A start with my forearms and work up the arms and through the torso and then down the body, holding each stretch for up 30-45 seconds. 


That would round off a typical evening at the wall for me! It’s important to remember that while this training works well for me, simply repeating what I do would not be effective for most people. Adapting your training to your needs will give by far the best results, but I hope this gave you some inspiration.

If you’d like some more information on training, I suggest reading “Training for Climbing” By Eric Hörst and for warming up and cooling down Robbie Phillips has written a great article on this subject as part of a great training series for Uk Climbing.


Happy Climbing!

Alex Waterhouse