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Campus 101

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Campus 101

Will Anglin

The campus board is a training apparatus that was invented in Germany in the late 1980s. It consists of a slightly overhanging wall (10-20 degrees) with rungs or other such grips spaced evenly up the board. The standard spacing of the rungs is commonly presented as 22cm in reference to the campus board used at the School Room in Sheffield, England ("Moon Spacing"). However, as was shown in a very informative post by Mark Anderson, the spacing on the original campus board was 20cm with 23.5cm between rung 1 and 2. While many people still hold the 22cm “Moon Spacing” as the standard, many campus boards are set up differently and you should be aware of this when you attempt to replicate workouts or benchmarks that were set on other boards. The workouts that I will be listing in this and subsequent posts will be based on 22cm rung spacing and Tension Climbing rungs: .75in (small), 1in (medium), and 1.25in (large) depths. My board also has “half rungs” at 11cm to allow for smaller intensity adjustments. I highly recommend the use of half rungs!

The question everyone asks,

“Who should be training on a campus board?”

As of right now there are something like 460 commercial climbing gyms open in North America. A half-assed search gave me a number around 4.5million for the number of people who participated in climbing (at least once) in the USA in 2012. Whether that number is accurate or not (probably not), the moral of the story is that the climbing population is pretty dang huge. So when I say less than 1 in 10 climbers “should” train on the campus board, I’m not being elitist or outrageous, just honest.

Campus training is difficult and requires a lot of things to go right in order to be effective and relatively safe. If you have been climbing for less than 2 years, or are 15 yrs old or younger, don’t even bother with the campus board. Your fingers aren't ready.

“…but, but, what if…”
No. Don’t.

So you’ve been climbing for 2 years. Should you campus? Probably not. There is SO much more to climbing than just being able to pull hard. It is completely feasible to reach high levels of climbing performance without EVER using a campus board. No practical amount of campus strength can make up for poor movement skills. If you do not have a strong movement skill base, piling on campus training is not the answer to gaining a real increase in performance.

I would say, and others may disagree, if you aren’t climbing V7 to V8 (5.12+ to 5.13-) consistently, campus training is probably not a very effective use of your time.


Here is a basic checklist to help you assess whether you are in a good position to consider campus training:

Campus Readiness Checklist:

HEALTHY AND MOBILE FINGERS/ WRISTS/ ELBOWS/ SHOULDERS

AGE 16 OR OLDER

CLIMBING FOR 2+ YEARS

CLIMBING V7-8 OR 5.12+/13- CONSISTENTLY

CAN EASILY PERFORM 10 PULL-UPS ON DESIRED RUNG SIZE


If you meet all of the above criteria, I would feel pretty good about you training on the campus board. If you fail to meet even one point on the checklist I would very strongly advise against campus training.

What is campus training even for anyway?

The simple answer:

POWER

The campus board helps us train power in a measurable way while using movements that are relatively specific to rock climbing.

So now that we have that stuff out of the way…

 

CAMPUS VOLUME

Okay, you have decided that you are going to start training on the campus board. How much should you campus during each session? Campus training is a plyometric exercise. Plyometric exercises use quick, powerful movements that incorporate the stretch reflex (the stretch-shortening cycle) in the muscles. While there is no specific recommendation for campus training volume, we can use experience, combined with plyometric volume recommendations for other exercises (box jumps, chest pass, etc) to draw some conclusions about the campus board.

Volume for plyometrics is given in contacts per session and the following values are presented by the NSCA in Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning (p421).

When prescribed for bilateral foot exercises the volumes are given in foot contacts. We will translate this into hand contacts. This produces volume recommendations that have been effective for me and the people I train. However, many times I will start beginning campus boarders on 50-60 contacts for at least one 4 week cycle before introducing volumes closer to 80 contacts. For the most part, when it comes to the campus board, less is more.


For what its worth, I RARELY do more than 100-120 contacts per session. I'm not a naturally powerful person. Campusing a little bit has a very noticeable effect for me, but that doesn't mean campusing MORE will have an even GREATER effect. If I campus much more than 100-120 contacts per session I have a hard time recovering and I just end up wearing myself out and then I have increasingly less productive sessions over time. For my friends that ARE insanely powerful, it takes more volume and intensity for them to see improvements. However, since they are already very powerful, power is generally not their weakness. So the amount of time and work it would take for them to increase their power would most likely be better spent on training facets of their climbing or physiology that ARE lagging behind. 


Here is an example of how I count contacts: 

Start matched (0 contact). Go to rung 2 with your leading hand (1 contact). Pull through to rung 3 (1 contact). Match rung 3 (1 contact). That is 3 total contacts.

These are the volumes I use. I like them, and for what it is worth, I also recommend them.

 

CAMPUS FREQUENCY

Campus training is a tool and should be used in conjunction with planned training and de-loading cycles. I won't be talking about how to structure that in this post, but I will address programming in more depth with another post.

How many times per week you engage in campus training depends on many things. Most notably: training experience, current goals, and overall training volume. Plyometric training (even at beginner volumes) is very intense and requires adequate recovery time (24-72hrs) between sessions to make performance gains. Depending on how much training is going on during the rest of the week, a person could train on the campus board 1-4 times per week. Though 1-2 days a week seems to be effective while balancing other types of training and overall climbing volume. 

 

CAMPUS BASICS

  • Unless noted, all campus exercises start by being matched on rung #1 and finish by matching on the last rung given in the exercise. If you are freakishly tall or your gym installed the campus board way too low, you may have to transcribe the workouts to start on a higher rung.
  • Always balance each exercise by alternating your leading hand (your leading hand is the hand that moves first). If you do an exercise 6 times, you should alternate leading hands for each repetition so that you will have done the exercise 3 times with each leading hand.
  • REST 30sec-2min between leading hands and rest 2-5min between Left/Right leading pairs. You want to feel rested every time you pull onto the board.
  • Only grip the rungs with a half-crimp or open-crimp grip (we will break this rule and many others at some point, but only for elite users).
  • Maintain proper scapular position! Use the cues “down and back” and "chest up" to maintain good posture.
  • Avoid twisting and maintain a fairly square position to the board.
  • Always campus in control.
  • Avoid down-campusing (for now).
  • Always warm-up thoroughly before using the campus board.
  • Do not campus to exhaustion.
  • Do not campus tired.

 

CAMPUS NOTATION

Before we get into the actual exercises we have to touch on campus notation. Here is a key for the basic symbols I use (and would encourage others to use because I think they make sense). There are other ones, but we will save them for later.

  •  - means “pull through”
  •  , means “bump”

Cool? 

So 1-3,4-5 means: Start matched on 1. Move leading hand to 3. Bump that hand to 4. Pull through to 5.

Makes sense right? Good.

 

BASIC CAMPUS EXERCISES

Ladders and bumps make up the backbone of a good campus training session. More complex and intense exercises exist, but this is a great place to start.

LADDERS

I am a big proponent of 3 and 4 move ladders (I count the final match as a move). Any additional moves and I start to question whether we are really working power as effectively as we could be. This sequence of ladders is great for developing pull-through power and finger power.

Medium or Small Rungs (remember that 10 pull-up test?)

1-3-x     x6

1-2-x     x6

1-x        x6

Then move to the Large Rungs

1-3-x     x6

1-2-x     x6

1-x        x6

Total number of contacts = 96

I like this exercise because it is simple, easy to remember, and effective.

**Stronger climbers can add repetitions of: [1-4-x] on the small/medium and large rungs prior to [1-3-x] in order to increase the intensity of the workout.**

  • In this workout x=the farthest rung you can catch and match, in control. Every. Time. At some point you will feel like going to that rung has gotten silly easy. At that point you may attempt to go a half/full rung farther. If you stick it and you know you will be able to repeat that performance every time, sweet, keep doing it. If not, stick to where you are at. Respect this rule and you will be allowed to break it later.
  • REST 30sec-2min between leading hands and rest 2-5min between Left/Right leading pairs. You want to feel rested every time you pull onto the board.
  • Adjust the number of repetitions to raise or lower the overall number of contacts to within the recommended volume ranges listed earlier. Be conservative.

BUMPS

Bumps are a great way to target finger power and lock-off power. The bumping hand gets the finger power workout and the lower hand gets the lock-off workout. If you can bump past the 6th rung and begin experiencing pain or discomfort in the shoulder of the lower arm, consider moving to a smaller rung size so that you are unable to bump as far. This workout is also one of the exercises that allows us to break a rule. Instead of matching the highest rung that you bump to, just stick the rung, control it, then drop. I prefer this instead of matching in order to save some strain on the shoulders. 

Here is a basic Bump work-out that can be done by itself or used to augment the ladder workout:

Large, Medium, or Small Rungs

1-2,3,4     x6

1-3,4,3,4  x6

Total Number of Contacts = 42

  • Like before, REST 30sec-2min between leading hands and rest 2-5min between Left/Right leading pairs. You want to feel rested every time you pull onto the board.
  • When adding the bumps to the ladder workout, make sure to adjust your sets in order to keep your contact volume within range.

Now, before you go off and campus there is one more thing I want to mention. Campusing is a skill and takes practice just like everything else. You can be bad at campusing even if you can do 1-5-9 or whatever it is that seems impressive. There is a very important movement component to campusing that takes conscious practice to develop. The way you wind-up and initiate each pull or bump matters. The position in which you catch the next rung matters. Just like in other forms of training for climbing, do not be satisfied to just achieve a certain metric by the skin of your teeth and call it good. Strive for perfection in every aspect of the effort. Watch some videos of some of the best powerful climbers: Jan Hojer, Alex Megos, Kilian Fischuber, Carlo Traversi, Jimmy Webb, Sean McColl, Magnus Mitdbo, Tazio Il Biondo, etc. Observe and learn! 

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