Say hello to the campus board

As the Easter break weather was good for cross-country skiing (I’m guessing), but not so good for climbing, I decided to celebrate the occasion meeting some friends for a super long indoor session. Deprived of my real rock weekend, I was really psyched to climb hard. But not long after I got to the gym, my excitement gave way to frustration. Here I was again, sitting on the mats, staring at another problem I knew was easy, I knew how to climb it, and yet somehow couldn’t.

I realised that something had to change in my training routine if I wanted to keep progressing. Many options sprung to my mind but to take one step at a time I decided to start with something I’ve never done before – campus board workout. After all, what I do to get better at climbing is… climbing. And what most athletes do is training. Not only all-round conditioning, but also specific, climbing-oriented training.

Now, the campus board is somewhat controversial. There is a high risk of an injury but I think the bad reputation is mostly a result of people starting to campus before they build up enough muscle to support their joints. It takes even longer for finger tendons to toughen. It’s a trap that fit people fall into all too often – their bodies may be ready but fingers are not. Some also claim that campusing doesn’t replicate the actual climbing moves – it was first invented in 1988 by Wolfgang Güllich to help him train for a very specific route. Yet it seems that most good climbers spend some time on the board.

My further research was limited to decoding the enthusiastic campus-related messages that people sometimes post online. What the hell does ‘Did 1-4-7 for the first time ever today!’ mean? Well, it’s actually simple (the theory, not the practice). Campus rungs are numbered from the bottom. Both hands on number one, one hand to number four, second hand (without matching) to number seven. Easy.

The following day after my frustrating session I was facing the campus. I was surprised with how hard it was to stick to the tiny rungs! This, as I was kindly told by a compassionate onlooker, is called contact strength and is supposed to build up quickly (guess it’s true as it happened in case of my fingerboard). Talking about numbers, my starting point is barely being able to do 1-2-3 and down. Not too impressive!

I guess that through writing all that I mean to encourage more people – women especially – to give campus board a chance. I personally know only one recreational female climber who consistently trains on campus and, incidentally, she’s also the best recreational female climber I know. There must be something to it. Of course people are different and various factors might be at work when it comes to hitting a plateau, but I’d risk a statement that for most women it’s strength that doesn’t match their technique. So, at least for me, it’s finally time to train and get strong!


To save you some time and because I’m a little bit of a geek I searched the net and asked around about campus board tips. The most important things to remember are:

-Don’t crimp, even if it feels easier. Use open grip or half-crimp. Open grip is the safest; half grip (fingers bent at less than 90 degrees) strengthens the muscle best while still not being as strenuous for your tendons as crimping.

-Be careful not to pop off the rungs without control – you don’t want to blow tendons

-Remember to train the opposite muscle groups (I hear narrow pushups that strengthen you triceps are quite good but need to get to know more about it)

If you don’t feel ready to go up the board try starting with dead hangs the same way you would hang off a fingerboard. You can also try moving one hand to a higher rung, touching it briefly and going back down (if you feel in control). And remember there always is the kick board to help you, em, kick off with your campus training.

Really good but more advanced training tips can be found on Steph Davis’ website here (as a part of a bigger training program but I’m pretty sure it can be treated as a universal advice). Steph also demonstrates some more elbow exercises that can keep you injury free while getting strong on the campus.

If you have any remarks about starting the campus board work out or you think any of the above is wrong, please share your thoughts with me.

Happy training! 

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2 thoughts on “Say hello to the campus board

    1. most campus boards i’ve seen have a bit of a wall underneath them with tiny tiny rungs that can be used as foot holds to reduce the weight that goes on your arms. a chair could be an alternative but not standing on it, just maybe resting a leg to make it easier to start with dead hangs etc. hope that’s helpful? 🙂

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