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Campus 201


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Campus 201

Will Anglin

If you haven’t already read Campus Training 101 go back and read that first. There are things like overall campus frequency and volume that I will not revisit here.

In this post I would like to talk more about the stretch shortening cycle, how it can apply to campus training, and then describe some exercises that take advantage of this muscular property.

So what is the stretch shortening cycle?

To best talk about what sports scientists believe occurs during the stretch shortening cycle, it is helpful to first describe some of the general structural properties of the muscle as well as the three types of muscle contractions.

Your skeletal muscle (muscles that move your skeleton) develops both internal and external tension. Internal tension is generated when the myofibrils in the muscle contract. This internal tension is then transferred into external tension via the series elastic components (SEC) of the muscle that ultimately act on the tendons and therefore the skeleton. When your myofibrils contract, they do not immediately result in joint movement. Between the initial contractions of the myofibrils and the ultimate joint movement, the SEC is stretching like a rubber band as it stiffens and develops more and more tension. Internal tension is built in the muscle until enough external tension is developed to move the joint against whatever load is present.

Great. Now we need to understand the three types of muscle contractions:

Concentric: The muscle shortens against a load. Ex. The “pull-up” part of the pull-up.

Eccentric: The muscle lengthens against a load. Ex. Lowering yourself from the top of a pull-up.

Isometric: The muscle maintains its length under load. Ex. Holding a lock-off at any point during a pull-up.

and so…

The SSC is an eccentric contraction followed immediately by a concentric contraction. The resulting concentric contraction does more work than a concentric contraction only.

The SSC is broken up into three phases. The stretch phase, the amortization phase, and the contraction phase. During the stretch phase (the eccentric contraction), it is believed that the elastic energy may be stored by the SEC and other elastic structures in the muscle. The amortization phase is the transition between the stretch phase and the contraction phase. The shorter the amortization phase is, the more elastic energy could be transferred to the subsequent contraction phase. If the Amortization phase is too long the elastic energy may be dissipated and not assist in the contraction phase. However, there is still some debate as to whether it is stored elastic energy in the muscle and/or tendon that assists in the contraction phase, the fact that the muscle is able to start contracting with a higher initial force, the possibility of the initial muscle stretch triggering a reflex that increases a muscles contractile force, or that the stretch phase alters the properties of the actual contractile structures, or a combination of all of these elements (3,4).

In climbing one of the ways we take advantage of the SSC is through the use of countermovements. A countermovement is a relatively small movement in the opposite direction of the target hold in order to build tension in the muscle for the move in the desired direction. Another way to describe it is the “wind-up” before going for a move. When a climbers sinks down before a dyno, this is a countermovement. The same thing happens in a more subtle way when a climber rears their head and shoulders backwards before initiating a powerful dead-point. On the campus board, many climbers naturally use countermovements by sinking down before launching to the next rung. These countermovements make up the stretch phase of the SSC. 

More advanced campus training exercises exploit the SSC by creating more forceful countermovements than the typical “wind-up” motion. To create these forceful countermovements, the climber will down-campus or “drop” into position before initiating a concentric contraction. There are many ways to do this which I will detail below using the campus notation method I went over in my previous post (Campus Training 101). 

Before we look at the exercises it is important to note that these are difficult exercises and depending on your individual level of strength and coordination, some of these exercises may not be appropriate for you. It is also important to understand that as your exercises get more intense, you will have to lower the overall contact volume of your campus session. 

In order for the SSC to work, the amortization phase needs to be as short as possible. If you try to drop down too far and create too forceful of a countermovement, not only do you risk injury, but you will be unable to rebound fast enough and you will lose the benefits of the SSC and the workout won’t be doing what it is supposed to do. Additionally, you’ll notice that I don’t write any of the exercises to have more than about 3-5 repetitions. If you can do more than 6-8 repetitions of any campus movement, it is probably too easy and you may need to make the exercise more difficult in order to actually train your maximum power. That being said, be conservative. Start easy and get comfortable with the movements before you push yourself.



[Recommended rung size: 1in or deeper]

From what I have seen this exercise seems widely misunderstood. Just double clutching your way UP the board may make you stronger, but based on the concepts we discussed above, it may not be the best way to use double clutching to develop maximum power.

In order to make the most use of the SSC it may be better to initiate each upward double-clutch, by starting with a downward double-clutch, and making sure to spend as little time as possible transitioning from the downward countermovement to the upward movement. In this way the climber uses a forceful eccentric contraction to “charge” the SSC. That stored elastic energy is then added to the subsequent concentric contraction (given a short enough amortization phase).

I like to use these double clutch drop-downs in two different ways. 

(In my version of campus notation “=“ means to double-clutch.)



In this exercise the climber double-clutches between the same two rungs repeatedly, beginning with a downward movement and finishing with an upward movement. It is important to make sure to spend as little time on the low rung as possible. If you need to pause, pause on the high rung. The farther the rungs are apart, the harder the exercise.



This exercise is similar to the first one, except the downward movement is shorter than the upward movement. Which is better, an equal downward and upward movement or a shorter downward movement than upward movement? Physiologically, I don’t know. Practically however, it gets to a point where it becomes annoying to get to a high enough rung to drop down REALLY far (an extreme example: 7=1). Plus, the injury risk gets higher and higher the faster you start hurtling towards the earth. In this case it seems that incorporating shorter downward movements with farther upward movements seems like the best way to go. As with the previous exercise, the farther you space out the rungs for this exercise, the harder it will be.

*Variation: Another interesting way to use double-clutch drop-downs is to drop down with two hands, then go up with only one hand, match the top rung, and repeat (ex. 3=1-5).



[Recommended rung size: 1in or deeper]


This exercise seems to create a high eccentric stimulus through a longer range of motion on the arm that stays on rung 1. I like this exercise to help train for deep lock-offs (between the shoulder and waist) as well as powerful pulls. A cool variation to this is to start off-set (I use “/“ to denote an off-set start). Then perform the same exercise, but drop past the stationary hand:

2/1-6,1,6,1,6,1,6  -or-  3/1-6,1,6,1,6,1,6

So your stationary hand stays on rung 2 while your leading hand goes back and forth between rungs 1 and 6. You can play with these off-sets and pulls to really focus on certain ranges of motion and also to apply a greater eccentric/concentric load to the high hand in the off-set. 



[Recommended rung size: 1in or shallower]

I actually hesitate to include these because the risk of injury is especially high. All of these exercises have a high injury potential because of how dynamic they are, but these are especially rough. Based on recent literature there seems to be greater friction between the pulleys and the flexor tendons in the fingers during eccentric events. This increase in friction may be from a mechanism similar to the type found in bats that allows them to lock their rear claws in flexion to sleep (cool right!?). This added friction also seems to cause pulley tears at much lower loads during eccentric events (1&2). 

Based on that information, double-clutching on small edges seems to be an activity that is especially suited to tearing your finger pulleys.

Double-clutching on small rungs is however, a great way to apply a very high finger power training stimulus, if that is what is necessary for the climber to progress. Unless you have done an extensive amount of campus training already and are climbing near the high end of the grading scale, this is probably NOT what you need. 

If you ARE a machine and you feel like your finger power is holding you back, then this is an exercise you could start experimenting with. Absolutely make sure you are NOT OVERLY FATIGUED and are properly warmed up both physically and mentally. One lapse in focus, one rung gripped at an odd angle, and your season could be over. You have been warned.

Standard double clutches are all that is really needed for this type of workout:


If this feels way too easy, try going farther, but be conservative. I would recommend only doing 2-5 sets per campus day, with only 3 drop-downs per set (finish with a final upward movement to end on the high rung). 

These exercises helped me out a lot, but know that your body is different and some of these exercises may be too hard or too easy for you. As I have said many times now, BE CONSERVATIVE. There is no rush. Take your time. In my next campus training post I will go over some of the things I have been playing with regarding weighted campus training and the combination of hang-board and campus training to create even higher training stimuli.





  1. Schöffl, K. Oppeltb, J. Jüngertc, A. Schweizerd, T. Bayere, W. Neuhubera, V. Schöffl. The influence of concentric and eccentric loading on the finger pulley system. Journal of Biomechanics. Volume 42, Issue 13, 18 September 2009, Pages 2124–2128
  2. A Schweizera, O. Franka, P.E Ochsnera, H.A.C Jacob. Friction between human finger flexor tendons and pulleys at high loads. Journal of Biomechanics. Volume 36, Issue 1, January 2003, Pages 63–71
  3. Gerrit Jan van Ingen Schenau, Maarten F. Bobbert, Arnold de Haan. Does Elastic Energy Enhance Work and Efficiency in the Stretch-Shortening Cycle? Journal of Applied Biomechanics. Volume 13, Issue 4
  4. Paavo Komi. Strength and Power in Sport. Blackwell. P.184-200.
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