When it comes to training one of the most intimidating tools we can think of is the campus board. We know that this big, imposing board covered in vexing little rungs is an effective training tool, but it can be hard to even know how to begin to use it. So to help us get past our fears, we turn to none other than the fiercely dedicated training machine, Galina Parfenov (and if you haven’t seen this lady in action, check out her training videos to see what we mean).
Recently we climbed in Catalunya, Spain. Read out pros and cons here!
In today’s article, she breaks down the different types of campus board exercises and shows you how to do each one, whether you are just starting out, or already have a campus-board routine and want to freshen it up! Here’s Galina:
Over the years I have gone back and forth between various training techniques and devices—everything from fingerboards, rock rings, systems boards, and even plain old pull-up bars—until finally settling on just one: the campus board. Which, like the lever, screw, pulley, and wedge, is a simple machine, at least where climbing is concerned. Ten rungs. That’s all it takes (just ask their inventor, Wolfgang Güllich, who used the campus board to train for the first ascent of Action Directe, the world’s first 9a!)
Breaking Down A Checklist Before Heading To The Campus Board
That being said, a person who has been climbing for less than two years should not be using a campus board. They shouldn’t really be training, other than maybe a few pull-ups here and there. The first 18-24 months or so should be dedicated solely to climbing and training by climbing, until your tendons can handle the additional pressure of campusing. This also applies to youth.
Here’s a checklist to help you decide if campus rungs are right for you:
- I have been climbing for at least 18 months.
- I am at least 16 years old.
- I have not recently had reoccurring pain in my fingers, elbows, or shoulders.
- I have plateaued.
- I want to get STRONG!
Check them all? Then refer to the list of campus board exercises below! I’ve provided modifications for beginners and advanced. If you aren’t sure which you are, start with the beginner exercises and move to advanced if you need more of a challenge.
I learned to campus by campusing. And watching loads of YouTube videos. Consequently, I close-crimped every rung until someone politely tapped me on the shoulder and explained that I was destroying my tendons. First rule of campus rungs: OPEN HAND. As a guideline, pay attention to your index finger, which should be relatively straight. And try to use four fingers, since that is more relevant to climbing than just three fingers. To start, try this: perform a dozen or so 5-10 second deadhangs with 5-10 second rests in between, progressing from the large rungs, to medium, to small.
Finger pull-ups (Advanced)
Imagine the following scenario: you are on a perfect, 40-degree overhang. The crux move involves throwing from a decent rail to a thin right-hand crimp. You brace yourself and go for broke. Your fingers hit the crimp precisely; however, you are unable to close your hand enough to make the subsequent move. Sound familiar? Finger pull-ups may be your answer. The idea is to go from an open-hand grip to a closed crimp while keeping your elbows straight, but not hyper-extended. To prime your fingers, start by keeping your feet on a small ledge before progressing to the full bodyweight version. A pulley can also be utilized.
Up-down Movement (Beginners)
For the first two years of doing campus rungs, I would warm up with up-down repetitions. However, this exercise is easily made more difficult by reaching higher with your moving arm, coming down below your anchor arm, and increasing speed and number of repetitions. For a power endurance workout, start matched on a rung, explode off one arm and tap the highest rung you can reach, then come back down to the rung you started on and go immediately with the other side. Repeat until failure. Do many sets and with little rest (30-120 seconds).
There are two types of bumps: up-down and max effort. The clip below depicts an up-down bump, where you bump up to the highest rung you can stick then bump back down to the starting rung. Conversely, a max effort bump involves bumping up until you fall. As with up-down movement, the difficulty can be increased by reaching higher with your moving arm, skipping rungs when bumping down, and coming down below your anchor arm.
Ladders are proof that campus rungs aren’t just a boulderer’s tool. The most basic ladder, shown below, entails starting matched on a rung, campusing to the top rung without skipping or matching rungs, matching the top rung, then down-campusing in a similar manner. Exclude the down-campus until you are comfortable campusing to the top. For a power endurance workout perform 5-10 reps (1-2 ladders each rep) with 2-3 minute rests in between.
Ladder traverses (Advanced)
Essentially, ladders on steroids. Up, down, traverse, up, down, traverse, up, down…you get the idea. Sustained, great for endurance, and incredibly tolling.
Putting it All Together: A Mini-Guide to Sequences
Sequences are perhaps the most efficient and easy-to-regulate campus rung exercise. A sequence refers to a certain way of moving up the rungs, by skipping predetermined numbers of rungs. Though sequences emphasize lock-offs, they are equally effective for working power and deadpoints. Before each attempt, in order to give maximum efforts and maximize gains, make sure you are at least 90% recovered!
Now before you move on, let me explain what the numbers mean. Take for example 0-2-0. The first number, 0, denotes the number of rungs in between your two hands at the starting position. In this case, 0 means you start on two consecutive rungs. The second number, 2, refers to the number of rungs you are skipping with the lower hand, counted from the rung you have your anchor hand on (the lower hand ALWAYS moves first). The third number, 0, refers to how many rungs your anchor hand goes above the moving hand. Anytime you see the letter M, you are starting or ending matched on a rung.
Confused? This should make more sense after watching the clips below.
Can’t do 0-2-0 right away? Try 0-1-0, 1-1-0, 1-1-1, M-2-M, and 0-2-M! There are countless possibilities. Still not enough flexibility? Install a rung in between two rungs to help you make that next step. Too easy? Add a down-campus. Wear a weight vest. When you get to harder sequences that involve 2-1, 2-2, and 2-3 movements, you may find yourself pushing (“manteling”) with the anchor hand. Perfectly fine!
So, after reading this, you’ve decided you are super-psyched on campusing and want to make your own campus board? Purchase campus rungs here. Standard spacing is 22 cm on a 15 degree overhang.
If you are just starting a campusing program, a little goes a long way. I’d recommend one short session (<30 minutes) per week, at least for the first couple of months, and then after that you can up it to two sessions.
Thanks for all the tips Galina! Now we’re ready to tackle that board! If you want to learn more about Galina and her training methods, check out her blog Climberina and if you have questions about training, she has been generous enough to offer our readers consultation if you contact her through Facebook.
Photo Credit: Hunter Pedane Photography and all GIF’s courtesy of Galina Parfenov