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Campus training: an intro

Campus training: an intro

Posted by Candice Bagley on 17th Apr 2020

Walking around the gym, I often notice that very few people use the campus board setup. Of those people who do, I wonder if they know what it is they are doing.

With lockdown being imposed and a need for novel training options in the air, the campus board is one of the tools I’ve seen pop up in a number of people’s back yards and garages. It is great to see this development as it may be the next surge in African climbing development, and, it is also a little worrying.

Many climbers can benefit from the raw power, contact strength, and co-ordination that comes from campus board training. While this kind of training is often heralded as dangerous, it is not all doom and gloom. You’ll find it is an incredibly efficient form of training, so don’t be afraid of the campus board, just be smart about how and when you use it. 

If you’re a beginner climber, you’ll get a lot more benefit from developing strength and technique simultaneously – by doing lots of climbing – but if strength is slowing you down, the campus board is a great tool.

If you’re stuck in lockdown with nothing else to do, and you’re an adult beginner, you can begin training on the campus board with your feet on the ground, or, on a rail which gives a strength and neuromuscular coordination benefit that you won’t be able to pick up through climbing during the shutdown. An example of this is that doing a deadpoint on an overhanging 18 route is similar in movement pattern and intensity to doing feet on campus training on the biggest rungs. By only doing a bit (2 sets of 5 feet on ladders, for example), you can get the benefit of campus training without raising the chance of injury too much). If you don’t satisfy the conditions below, take a look at this cool article by a physio which gives a good idea of how to introduce yourself to campus board training if you’re a beginner.

Not everyone should be campus board training. This type of movement loads your tendons, bones and muscles severely. For this reason, it is both one to be cautious of, and a very efficient way to train if you increase the load appropriately. You should satisfy ALL the conditions below to begin feet off campus training.

You’ve been climbing for more than 2 years

If you’ve been climbing consistently for more than 2 years, your tendons and muscles will have adapted to being loaded while climbing. Before then, your tendons ARE NOT READY. Avoid feet off campus board training during these first two years of climbing. Tempting though it may be to give it a try, the injuries that can occur are not worth it.

You have been climbing consistently over the last while

If you’ve been climbing for several years but have taken a hiatus from climbing, it’s also probably not the best time to hop directly onto the campus board, off the couch. While someone who has taken a break may not need two years to get back to a position where their muscles and tendons are ready, you should exercise caution in jumping straight back into it. Ease into training and add campus training when you feel that power and contact strength are limiting you. Very often a hiatus means your endurance is the first to suffer, so build a solid climbing base before starting to train on the campus board again. Your fingers and tendons are also not conditioned after a long break, so spend some time finger boarding and climbing before you dust off the campus rungs.

You’re older than 15 years

If your growth plates are stabilised, you are A for away. There are documented medical and sport science studies that say that youth climbers who have not undergone a significant growth spurt can do long-term damage to their growth plates if they overstrain or overload the tendons in their hands and upper body.

You can climb a 26 /7b route (you’re an intermediate to elite climber)

This is Adam Ondra’s measure. It’s great because it’s a tangible grade that we can tick off the list. But what he means by this, is that you have developed sufficient technique, body awareness, finger, and contact strength to make campus training worthwhile. Before you develop the technique needed to climb at this level, you’ll find that increasing your power will inhibit this technical development. You’ll power through the moves of easier climbing without learning how to do these moves efficiently. During this fundamental stage of your climbing development, there is evidence to suggest you should focus on building your technique first and your power and contact strength can be worked on later. After this grade, you may find that power and contact strength limit you from taking it to the next level, and that is the time to introduce campus training.

Another simple measure is whether or not you can you do 10 quick pull ups on the rung you want to use. If you have both the power and speed to do 10 quick pull ups on that size of rung, then you could be ready to begin feet off campus training. 

So do you fit these criteria? If you do, take a look at the following three videos from Eric Horst and Adam Ondra for some insights into how to start campus board training.

Eric Hörst: 3 training exercises for contact grip strength

Eric Hörst: campus training power

Ondra on campus board training: efficiency