Campus boards are dangerous! Only consider these exercises if you are an intermediate to advanced climber with no finger injuries. Warm-up thoroughly and complete at your own risk.
The campus board can act as an extremely intimidating and uninviting spot for climbers at the gym. However, campus training can greatly improve your power endurance and dynamic strength, allowing you to bring your climbing to the next level.
Invented by Wolfgang Güllich in 1988, the campus board was intended to develop extreme dynamic finger strength to climb the route Action Directe (5.14d) in Germany. It was first used at a university gym called The Campus Centre, which led to use of the term “campus.”
Check out the retro radness of him training on it way back in the day; demonstrated in this video are two common campus boarding exercises: laddering and doubles:
This is the most straightforward campus board exercise and is composed of simply ascending/descending the campus board one arm at a time in an alternating fashion. Keep your core tight to prevent swinging. In it’s most basic fashion, one can simply ascend the campus board one rung at a time, but to better improve lock-off strength consider skipping rungs for longer, more powerful movements.
This technique involves jumping between rungs with both hands, simultaneously. Although very strenuous on the fingers, doubles can greatly improve coordination and explosive strength. Be careful with these ones!
Although not presented in the video, touches are another very common campus board exercise. The method is simple:
- Hang from the bottom rung
- Reach to the highest rung you can comfortably grab (maybe this is skipping one at first and progressing to skipping two or three)
- Hold momentarily
- Return the reaching hand to the starting rung
- A variation of touches are progressive lock-offs, as demonstrated in the Mike Bowsher video further in this article.
In addition to the raw power demonstrated by Wolfgang Güllich, we’ve compiled additional campus board training videos from some of the world’s strongest climbers. Don’t get discouraged if you can’t do all (or any) of these exercises—they are crushers after all!
Sean McColl, a professional climber from Canada and president of the athletes’ commission at IFSC:
Sonnie Trotter, a professional climber from Canada; first Canadian to win a US National and to climb 5.14c and 5.14d. Note this video is from 2007. Internet video clarity has come a long way. LOL!
Mike Bowsher, Climberism and Asana ambassador, climber, videographer, and photographer, currently living in Connecticut:
To learn more, here’s a great guide to building your own board with more training and exercise tips. Have a campus board routine of your own? Please share in the comments. Or, for another great training workout see the Best Hangboard Workout … Period.