For a number of reasons, the campus board often serves as an intimidating feature of the gym for many climbers; in many cases, because we have no idea how to start.

But if seeking to improve as a boulderer or sport climber, then the campus board can undoubtedly serve as a powerful ally in your training.

As training guru Eric Hörst asserts,

campus training is the gold standard for developing awesome upper body power and contact grip strength.

Providing “reactive and quasi-plyometric exercises,” use of the campus board helps to train recruitment and rate-of-force development (RFD) in your finger and arm flexors. Put simply, recruitment is your muscles’ ability to react for a movement, while your RFD is your explosive strength.

And despite what you might think, this simple, yet impactful training tool isn’t solely reserved for elite climbers with decades under their belt.

While you’ll often see advanced climbers training on the campus board with the feet-off approach, intermediate climbers eager to start developing the necessary skills can begin with feet-on campusing, which involes using small foot holds to lessen the impact on your fingers and arms.

Note: Eric suggests that you’ve climbed for at least two years before approaching the campus board.

Campus board training for contact grip strength

Contact grip strength relates to how fast you can recruit the motor unites and peak grip strength in your forearm muscles—essentially, your muscular reactivity.

Summary of 3 exercises for improving contact strength

1. One arm campusing with feet on wall/floor (entry-level)

  • One-armed lunging between second and first rungs with feet on wall/floor
  • 6-12 total movements with one arm
  • Rest briefly then alternate arms
  • Total of 3 sets with each arm

2. Campus laddering

  • Hand over hand ascent up board using alternating rungs for hands without feet
  • Use medium to small sized rungs
  • Aim to move as fast as possible
  • 8-12 hand movements
  • Rest 3 minutes between sets
  • Total of 3 sets to start, build up to 8-10 over months/years

3. Campus “switch-hands”

  • Move both hands simultaneously from successive rungs (starting on rungs 1 and 2, or 2 and 3)
  • Use medium to large sized rungs
  • Use open hand grip
  • Switch hands for up to 12 total switches
  • Aim to move as fast as possible (switching for 6-10 seconds)
  • Total of 2 sets to start, build up to 6 over months/years

Campus board training for arm power

While campusing on small holds with quick, shorts movements trains contact grip strength, movements on larger, better holds trains arm and pulling power.

Summary of 2 exercises for developing power

1. Laddering with rung skips

  • Use large rungs on board
  • Ladder up campus board on rungs 1-3-5-7
  • Aim to move as fast as possible (should only take a few seconds)
  • Rest 3 minutes between sets
  • Total of 3 sets to start, build up to 10 over months/years
  • More advanced rung sets include: 1-4-7, 1-5-8, and 1-5-9

2. Double dynos (advanced climbers only)

For this exercise, using smaller holds without skipping rungs focuses on finger flexor recruitment, while using larger holds with rung skips trains arm power and contact strength.

  • Double hand movements between increasingly distant holds
  • Hang from middle rungs, let go and catch lower rung, then move back up
  • Perform 6-10 total hands moves (3-5 repetitions)
  • Aim to move as fast as possible (total exercise time is less than 10 seconds)
  • Rest 3 minutes between sets
  • Total of 2-5 sets

7 Tips and takeaways for campus board training

  1. Only campus board if you’re an intermediate to advanced climber without a history of shoulder, finger, or arm injuries
  2. Warm up thoroughly and rest sufficiently after performing any of these exercises
  3. Use only open-hand or open-crimp grips on the campus board
  4. Always have a slight bend in your arms; never have straight arms or shrugged shoulders
  5. Dedicate time to perform strengthening/stabilizing exercises for your rotator cuff
  6. Focus on quality over quanity in your sets
  7. Only train on the campus board 1-2 times per week

For more information from Eric—one of the leading authorities on climbing performance, with well over 30 years of experience under his belt—consider picking up the newest edition of his book, Training for Climbing: The Definitive Guide to Improving Your Performance.

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