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Climbing / School / Campus Boarding

Campus Boarding

The Campus board was first designed and built by the legendary Wolfgang Gullich in the late 80’s. He desired a training apparatus that would help him gain the required strength to make the first ascent of Action Directe 9a in Germany’s Frankenjura.

When designing the campus board, Wolfgang was looking for an apparatus that could be used to improve explosive power and contact strength in the fingers and arms. It was also important that it incorporated simple yet specific movements which were found on many of the harder climbs in the Frankenjura.

It wasn’t long before the idea of the campus board caught on amongst the world’s elite, including the likes of Ben Moon and Jerry Moffat. These climbers added campus sessions into their strict training regimes back on English soil in the early 90’s. Nowadays, the campus board is a common piece of equipment seen in climbing gyms all around the world. They are used by a vast amount of climbers of all abilities to help improve climbing specific strength in the fingers and arms and break the next grade barrier.

A campus board is a very basic piece of equipment, consisting of a slightly overhanging wooden board with wooden rungs (holds) evenly spaced upwards. The idea of this apparatus is that you campus (climb) up the wooden rungs without using you 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 can be a good supplement to normal bouldering/ climbing.

Throughout this article I intend to include several different exercises that I use whilst training on the campus board. 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 an element of 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 doesn’t fit into categories C or D in the training questionnaire, be careful. You can also download a campus training plan Here, but I recommend reading the rest of the article beforehand.

Rung sizes and spacing

An ideal campus board will have a few different sized rungs, spaced at around 22cm apart with up to 9 numbered rungs going upwards. 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 could increase the risk of injury. 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 slightly bigger rungs and gradually decrease the size. It is important however that you can perform a minimum of 5 pull ups on the rung you wish to campus on, if you can’t complete this then they are too small.

Grips

When campus boarding there are three main types of grips you can use, although I generally force myself to stay open handed or half crimped.

Open Handed this 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. For this grip it is also possible to experiment using only a select few fingers, as if you where 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 sufficient.

Half Crimp this is my preferred grip to use when campus boarding since it will help improve both crimped and open handed strength.

Full Crimp I have never found the need to campus in a full crimped position since I feel half crimped is safe and more efficent for training. However, other climbers I know do, so I have included this variation. Again, beware as it is more dangerous than using a half crimped grip.

Exercises

I won’t go into detail about being warmed up when using the campus board, its common sense, and we also have a great article on warming up (see here). It is important that you don’t campus when tired or unwell, since sloppy technique will increase the risk if injury. Also for most climbers it is best to campus board when you have rested the day before and are totally fresh. Aim for quality over quantity and a session should last no more than 1 hour.

As stated above each rung will be numbered, when explaining exercise I will state rung numbers in a particular order. You should campus between these rungs with alternative hands. For example if I state 1-4-7 leading with the left hand, you should start matching on rung one. Then campus up to rung 4 with the left hand, then pull straight through to rung 7 with the right hand without matching.

Laddering (See Video)

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 symmetric fashion moving with the opposite hand for each movement.

You can experiment with several different rung combinations, such as 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, This will help train a wider variety of movement in the arms. Generally to make this exercise more difficult you can use less hand movements to make it to the top, two current benchmarks seam to be 1-4-7 or if your unbelievably strong 1-5-9.

Touches (See Video)

Touches are one of my favourite campus exercises, but beware since they require lowering back down onto the arms; therefore they carry a higher risk of injury.

Touches work explosive upwards movements as well as deep locking off strength and contact strength. I would recommend that touches are only done in a half crimped position.

It is possible to use many different sequences when doing this exercise; however 1-3-1 or 1-4-1 should be more than sufficient for most climbers.

I recommend for one set, that you lead with alternative arms twice thus creating 4 upwards movements as in the video.

To concentrate more on deep locking of strength you should not drop back to rung one, instead go 1-4-3-4 etc as in the video here. This should be repeated each for both arms

Doubles (See Video)

I am not a fan of this exercise, infact I have never included this in my training routines. However other top climbers will beg to differ and use them frequently.

Doubles should increase, like all other campus exercise, hand eye co-ordination and timing. As well as improving explosive power and contact strength.

Doubles require moving between rungs with both hands at the same time, therefore causing a moment of free 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 (See Video)

A campus board’s best training asset is possibly its ability to allow top end power endurance training. For me training this type of endurance training is best done on the campus board. This type of training has allowed me to see significant improvements in my power endurance levels in a small time periods.

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 strong have a good level of strength. You should at least be in the advanced category in our training questionnaire to include this type of training in your plan.

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 8 sets with 2 minutes rest between. It is important that you don’t go to failure in your early sets and that your only begin to fail in sets 6-7 and 8.

Training Plan

My aim is to provide a rough layout of a successful campus board session. Obviously a training plan will vary from person to person, but if you follow the structure of this session you should be on the right track.

I would usually recommend 1 or 2 campus board sessions per week as well as at least 2 climbing/ bouldering sessions. Obviously, again this is a rough guide since I don’t know your weekly time schedules. But try this routine for one month then take a few easier days, after that go out and try your project, you will be pleasantly surprised.

This session is based on a climber who has a maximum campus level of 1-4-7, note this is a maximum level, it is not necessary to do 1-4-7 every time.

Again I am using 1-4-7 as a base level, if your ability is higher or lower you should be able to simply tweak the exercises to suit your ability.

You can read the training plan Here .