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I'm sexy and I know it: Getting strong on the campus board

September 1, 2016



I’m sure it’s probably happened to you if you’ve been climbing for any time at all. I get it a couple of times a month: Some hot person of the opposite sex walks up to me and says something like: ‘God you look sexy, you wanna teach me to climb (😘😘)?’


That has actually — never happened to me (I know, hard to believe, isn’t it).  What does happen though is some well meaning ‘friend’ on FB tags me in a stupid pseudo-climbing video of a random ninja warrior type using just his arms to jungle gym around a wall, tree, or even climbing route, usually with a few flips involved.  Very impressive, very strong . . . NOT CLIMBING. That, my friends, is gymnastics.  


Climbing with just our hands is what we call campusing.  Most commonly I see it used by guys with a bit too much testosterone and not a lot of climbing technique, still holding out hope that hotty over there is going to use the ‘God you look sexy . . . ‘ line on him🙀.


Campusing gets its name from a training tool called a campus board, first developed by Wolfgang Güllich and first used in a university climbing gym called The Campus Centre (which explains the name).   Güllich was one of the greats in the mid 1980’s and was training for a rather dynamic route that required extreme finger power called Action Directe in Germany. His use of this new apparatus, which consist of a number of wooden slats on a wall, caught the attention of the climbing world and is now a staple of hard training.


When used correctly as a training tool, the result can be tremendous gains in both power (the ability to move the body through space) and contact strength (the ability to immediately engage muscles as soon as they touch the hold).  It also trains hand/eye coordination, dead point skills and use of momentum.


However, campus training can also be very dangerous.  The trauma of dynamically placing all of ones weight on their fingers is very hard on tendons and the structures that hold these in place.  It takes the typical climber three to five years before their tendon strength is caught up with muscle strength.  As such, campus training is usually not recommend for newer climbers, and especially dynamic movements like jumps and down climbs should be avoided for a number of years.


OK already, enough of the disclaimers.  How do you use that bad boy.


Most importantly, before doing anything, make sure to have a good 30 minute warm up including some moderate to even hard crimpy type climbing before hitting the campus board.  Cold tendons and sudden forces are a recipe for disaster ( and more time to read blogs 😉 ).


Plan on using a half crimp or open hand.  Using a full crimp, where your thumb goes over the index finger, is much harder on your tendons.



Once warmed up, stand at the base of the campus board with both hands on rung #1.  Take your feet off of the ground (or if you aren’t strong enough, use the small foot rungs), and move your left hand up to rung #2.  Now without swinging wildly, try to move your right hand from rung #1 to rung #3. (if that is too far, you could match on #2 and then go up to #3). Next move your left hand from rung #2 to #4.  Keep going until you can not get any higher.  At this point it is best to drop off unless you have quite a bit of campus experience, in which case you can down climb, but again, that is much harder on your tendons. This type of training is called laddering and the one just described would be noted 1-2-3-4-5-6-7.  To step this up, we can either start skipping rungs (1-3-5 or 1-4-8) or use smaller rungs. 



Another good exercise is to keep bumping one hand up.  Start with left hand on rung #1 and move right hand to #2, then #3, then #4 was far as you can make it.  Then do the same leading with the other hand.




Touches are similar but don’t ladder.  Instead with both hands on first rung, you explosively push your body up to the point that one hand reaches a high rung.  Then either ladder back down or come all the way back down (much more traumatic, so again, be careful.  And yes, I know I sound like your mother, but hey, I care.) and repeat a number of times.



Another good combo is somewhat of a combination of the above, with one hand doing a short move and the next a longer move.  An example would be a 1-2-5, left hand from #1 to #2, then right hand from #1 to #5.  Again, on these train both left and right hands as the big move hand.

Another variation would be 1-4-5.


Finally doubles are great for training explosive power and coordination, but are also the most likely to result in injury.  The idea is to start with both hands on rung #1, and explosively pull up with both hands simultaneously letting go and jumping with both hands to next rung. 


A typical campus session should probably not last much more than 30 or 40 minutes and should be done when you are feeling strong rather than at the end of a hard day of climbing 


Do this and I guarantee you will see strength and power gains.  As for any ‘I think you’re sexy’ comments . . . well, good luck with that.


Climb hard and Follow Your Bliss,



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