This is a guest feature from my long-time friends, Chris Rice & Andrew Durniat. Chris is an avid rock climber and Andrew has been doing more and more of it in recent years, with big plans for the future. With Chris and Andrew being so knowledgeable both in the areas of climbing and grip work, I asked them to put together a feature on Campus Board Training, and they knocked the ball out of the park. Thank you SO MUCH, Chris & Andrew, for your contribution to my site. This information is going to help a LOT of people! –Jedd–
Campus Board Training for Climbers
First a warning, climbers do NOT train like Grip Sport people do – not even a little bit. Both sports are VERY SPECIALIZED, meaning the preparation the athletes do match up to what they encounter in their sport, and there is not much overlap to speak of at all.
Second, climbers are lightweights in comparison to the vast majority of lifters. A 200# climber is huge for example, oh sure lots of 200# guys climb but I can’t think of one of the top people who are that big. Many of the things climbers can do in their training is because of their size (or lack of it).
Third – and maybe most important is that the use of a Campus Board generally comes along well into the training career for climbers when they have a solid base of tendon and specific strength development targeting these exact muscle groups. This is where you advance TO in your climbing training – not where you should start.
There is no one path to becoming a good climber but the newest programs do have some common themes. First you should learn how not to die and how not to let your partner die – the ropes and gear used does serve a purpose besides looking cool – learn to use it all safely.
Then comes the technique work – or learning the various movement patterns that allow you to climb efficiently with the use of the legs and entire body, not by just hauling yourself up by doing pull ups until you can’t anymore.
Learning to climb by climbing a lot is no doubt the best way to become a better climber up through the moderate levels of difficulty – and some extremely good climbers have not done much else over the years.
Climbing is competitive like everything else so people began actually “training” to climb better. In the beginning they did lots of pull ups (regular and fingertip), pushups, sit ups and all the normal exercises – the use of “finger curls” etc – which are all great at the beginner to intermediate levels.
As difficulty levels went higher and higher – something else became necessary. A lot of mistakes were made with some high risk movements done – traditional weight training was a failure for the most part – the Bacher Ladder destroyed lots of elbows etc.
I’ll skip all that and go into what might be called the “common” programing today. This assumes you have been climbing for a while and have developed some skill and basic level of strength in your hands.
Common Training & Programming for Rock Climbing
First – Develop increased mitochondria and capillarity in the working muscles with long continuous easy to moderate sessions on a climbing wall or real rock. For years I used very high reps wrist curls in an attempt to do this – it is a poor substitute but can help if you do not have access to anything to climb locally.
Think about Zone 1 LSD type Aerobic work done for your overall conditioning as similar but done for the forearms and hands in this case. This is the base level building block that I think most lifters neglect to their detriment in most of the training they do. They never “set the stage” so to speak.
Next comes strength: some (relatively small amount of) climbing specific overall body and core work done in a way that no weight gain is allowed – and legs are often allowed to shrink by some serious climbers – bodyweight is the enemy here.
The Hang Board / Contact Board
Then specific climbing strength is developed, generally, by training on a “Hang Board.” This item has various sized edges, pockets, and pinches that you can hang from with anywhere from 4 fingers down to 1 finger of each hand. Workouts generally consist of multiple timed sets with timed rests and then done on different sizes of holds in a workout. People often “deload” or subtract bodyweight with a pulley system in order to be able to do certain smaller holds or fewer fingers – or add weight to achieve their target times, reps, and sets on a larger sized or shaped hold.
How to Train for Climbing Strength with the Hang Board
Several companies make Hang Boards – some are better than others but most work just fine. Look for smooth curves on the edges and a sort of semi smooth texture. My recommendation is that no one “campus” without having spent some serious time working the Hang Board first. Campus rungs are sometimes used as Hang Boards but they are not ideal for this purpose.
After this comes Power and “contact strength.” Here we finally come to Campus Boards. Campusing is done dynamically, with fast pulls to long reaches and catches, pull, catch, and drop to a catch (various distances etc) and numerous other drills and skills.
Get your Contact Board / Hang Board on Amazon
Something climbers need is the ability to recruit motor units very quickly. If you think about pulling up quickly or even jumping up and grabbing a very small handhold, you will need to go from zero strength to 100% recruitment instantly – not something that comes naturally to most people.
Campus Boarding is basically plyometrics for your climbing muscles. It is very hard on the elbows and finger pulleys – the general recommendation is to not Campus until you have a couple years of climbing behind you, have reached the point of very good climbing technique skills, and are relatively speaking an advanced climber, climbing at moderately higher level climbs.
Non climbers beware even if you are quite strong in a regular gym setting – stay with the larger rungs for longer than you feel is necessary before dropping down to the medium or especially small rungs and certainly don’t go to using 2 or 1 finger until you are certain you are ready. Campussing injuries are usually not very pretty.
Next is Power Endurance or taking the abilities from the Campus Board to longer durations with real on-the-rock or climbing-wall sessions. In a way this might be compared to “peaking” in lifting terms – this stage cannot generally be maintained for long.
Something to remember is that strength and endurance are local as it pertains to climbing. The ability to squat, DL, Bench Press, run, bike etc is not only unnecessary but probably detrimental to better climbing. Many people have tried to become very good climbers in the traditional weight room (including me) and it simply cannot be done as well.
I have been deeply involved in the sport of Grip for a decade now and have decided that nothing we do here really helps climbing very much – EXCEPT for injury proofing by allowing us to work for a more balanced strength across our joints. I wanted it to help, and I still want it to help as I enjoy it – it just doesn’t and uses time that could be better spent training in ways targeted more directly towards the goal. At the early stages, the strength and fitness from the weight room can be valuable if one can stay light, but as you advance, you need other things much more.
What is a Campus Board
The Campus Board
A campus board is a very basic piece of equipment, consisting of a slightly overhanging (generally around 15 degrees) wooden board with wooden rungs (holds) evenly spaced upwards. There are generally 3 approximate sizes of rungs – ¾” – 1” – and 1 ¼”. The idea of this apparatus is that you campus (climb) up the wooden rungs without using your feet, therefore all the stress is going into your arms and fingers. Obviously campus boarding is no use if you neglect climbing which involves your feet as well, but is a good supplement to normal climbing. It is possible to campus using your feet on small holds in the beginning also. If you are a larger person or not as advanced, THIS IS AN EXCELLENT IDEA.
It wasn’t long before the idea of the campus board caught on amongst the world’s elite. The campus board is a common piece of equipment seen in climbing gyms all around the world. They are used by large numbers of climbers of all abilities to help improve climbing specific strength in the fingers and arms and break into the next grade.
Some exercises are easier than others and work slightly different grips, and types of strength. However it is worth noting that a campus board is a very physical piece of equipment and there is a higher than average risk of injury when using one. I wouldn’t recommend the use of a campus board to anyone who isn’t a good strong climber and has not been climbing for a couple years and is at a slightly above average climbing level.
Campus Board Rung Sizes and Spacing
An ideal campus board will have a few different sized rungs, spaced at around 8.66” (Called Moon spacing after Ben Moon) apart with up to 9 numbered rungs going upwards. It is also very common to install “half” (Metolius Spacing) spaced rungs. It is important that you use the correct sized rungs when campus boarding. Obviously campussing on huge jugs won’t increase finger strength but while using smaller rungs will be more beneficial, it will increase the risk of injury greatly.
Campus Board Rungs Available on Amazon
Clearly some common sense is required when selecting which rungs to use, if you are new to campus boarding then I recommend that you use bigger rungs and gradually decrease the size. You should be able to perform 5 or so pull ups on the rung you wish to campus on, if you can’t then they are too small. Always err on the side of caution – you can always change the next training session if you are healthy – not so much if you are injured by too much too soon.
Campus Board Grips
When campus boarding there are three main types of grips you can use, although I recommend staying open handed or half crimped.
Open Hand Grip
Open Handed Grip: Open Handed Grip is an important grip to train since it is generally trained less when bouldering/ climbing indoors but is important to be strong in this position. It is also possible to experiment using only a select few fingers, as if you were climbing in pockets. But beware this is a very intense exercise, and for all but the few mortals using all 3 fingers open handed will be best.
Half Crimp Grip: Half Crimp Grip is often preferred when campus boarding since it will help improve both crimped and open handed strength. Most people’s anatomy will automatically put you in a half crimp if you use your pinky and do a 4 finger grip on the rung.
Full Crimp Grip: With Full Crimp Grip, the fingers are bent, knuckles up, and fingertips coming down on the rung. I do not recommend campussing in a full crimped position.
Campus Board Exercises
Always warm up before using the campus board, best is easy climbing around for a while. For most climbers it is best to campus board when you are totally fresh. Aim for quality over quantity and a session should last no more than 1 hour and probably much less.
Each rung will be numbered. You should campus between these rungs with alternative hands. For example if I were to say do 1-4-7 leading with the left hand, you should start matching on rung one. Then campus up to rung 4 (approximately a 35” reach) with the left hand, then pull straight through to rung 7 with the right hand without matching. This is advanced stuff.
Touches: With Touches, be aware since they require lowering back down onto the arms (plyometrics); therefore they carry a higher risk of injury. Touches work explosive upwards movements as well as deep locking off strength and contact strength.
Campus Board Training Part 1 – Entry Level Campus Board Training & Conditioning
For Touches, 1-3-1 or 1-4-1 should be more than sufficient for most climbers. Be sure to use both arms equally. To concentrate more on deep lock off strength you should not drop back to rung one, instead go 1-4-3-4 etc. This should be repeated for each arm
Laddering: Laddering is the most simple and obvious exercise done on the campus board and can be done on any of the preferred grips as mentioned above.
The idea of laddering is that you move up the board in a symmetrical fashion moving with the opposite hand for each movement.
You can experiment with several different rung combinations, such as 1 -2 -3 -4 or 1-3-5-7-9 or 1-4-7 and so on.
With laddering it is important to use several different sequences to get you to the top. To make this more difficult you can use fewer hand movements to make it to the top, two current benchmarks are 1-4-7 or if your unbelievably strong 1-5-9.
Campus Board Training Part 2 – Intermediate Training Methods
Doubles: Doubles should increase hand eye co-ordination and timing. As well as improving explosive power and contact strength.
Doubles involve moving between rungs with both hands at the same time, causing a moment of flight before catching the next rung. Again there are many different sequences to be tried, but generally people will use 1-3-2-4-3-5-4-6-5-7-6-8-7-9 and so on, basically going up 2 rungs and down one.
Power endurance training: A campus board’s best training asset is possibly its ability to allow top end power endurance training. However training power endurance on the campus board is very physical and I only recommend this type of training to people who are experienced with campus board use and also have a good level of strength. You should be pretty advanced before starting these.
Campus Board Training Part 3: Advanced Training Methods
Basically it involves going up and down the campus board for a period of time, usually between 40 – 60 seconds. It is done in sets, usually about 6 or so sets with 2 minutes rest between. It is important that you don’t go to failure in your early sets and that you only begin to fail in sets 5 or 6.
It’s a good idea to have a big clear area behind you with a nice pad of some kind on the floor – sooner or later you might fall on your butt.
Campus Board Training Plan
Normally, just 1 or 2 campus board sessions per week is all that is necessary, as well as at least 2 climbing/ bouldering sessions after an initial break in period.
The above is for a serious rock climber with experience. A non-climber but grip sport athlete really needs to be very careful if you decide to try campussing. To be honest I would not recommend it for grip sport training. There is little benefit to be gained that cannot be found in a far safer and more controllable manner with the use of a Hang Board for the development desired for Grip Sport competition.
Once again, big thanks to Chris and Andrew for working together to bring this project to completion. Awesome guys! –Jedd–
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