Designing A Transition Phase – New Post on!

Check out my new post on “Designing A Transition Phase”  over at

“In this post I introduced the concept of the Transition Phase.  This is the several-week period during each training cycle in which you shift your focus from primarily indoor training to primarily outdoor climbing (and sending!).  Chapter 10: Building a Seasonal Training Plan from the forthcoming  “The Rock Climber’s Training Manual” thoroughly describes how to build a training plan, and it provides numerous sample plans to get you started.  These plans include these transitions, but we’ll talk about some of the “how and why” in more detail here, to help you build your own plan …”  Continue Reading

Tips for Effective Campusing Part 2: Going Big!

As implied here, I’m inspired by the climbing career of the legendary Jerry Moffatt.  During his prime, Moffatt was the best climber in the world, and he dominated on redpoints, onsights, boulders and competitions.  What inspires me most though, was his commitment to hard work and his dedication to training.  He was a phenom in his early years, but that didn’t stop him from putting in long hours in training rooms, on the Bachar Ladder, and the campus board.  He was near the top when 5.12+ was the world standard, and he managed to stay on the crest of the wave as the grades exploded all the way to 5.14c over the course of two decades.

Moffatt notes in Revelations that his best effort on the Campus board was 1-5-8.  Since I first read that, 1-5-8 has been in the back of my mind.  That is something I might be able to do someday. Furthermore, although I haven’t been able to find anything definitive, I’m pretty sure Moffatt is at least a few inches taller than me.  He looks to be within an inch or so of Ben Moon who is 5’11” (I’m 5’7″). Considering the obvious height dependence (or perhaps more precisely, arm-length dependence) of Max Ladders, I feel like it would be quite an accomplishment for me, to match Moffatt’s best.

[Historical aside: Moffatt also says in Revelations he did 1-5-8 statically, which begs the question, if he could 1-5-8 statically, why didn’t he do anything harder than 1-5-8?  Surely he could have.  Examining pictures of the original Campus Board and the Schoolroom Board in Sheffield, it looks like they didn’t have half-steps, so 1-5-8.5 was off the table.  Still, if Moffatt could do 1-5 statically, surely he could do 5-9 as well.  Perhaps the original Campus Board didn’t reach that high. The below pics shows at least 9 rungs, and this video appears to show Gullich campusing up at least 9 rungs on the original board (watch from 0:40 to the end). 

Original Campus Board on the left, Schoolroom board on the right.

Original Campus Board on the left, Schoolroom board on the right.

However, it’s quite possible that either or both of these boards evolved over time. Just because they have 9 rungs in these pics, doesn’t mean they had 9 rungs when Moffatt was using them in his prime.  The 9th rung of the Schoolroom board clearly looks “tacked on”; it’s not evenly spaced, and the material doesn’t match the other rungs.  The classic film The Real Thing shows footage of Moffatt and Ben Moon campusing together (beginning at about 5:00 in this clip ).  Moon does 1-5-“9” (the 9th rung is not at the proper height for a true 1-5-9; it looks to be at about 8.5).  Moffatt does many sick campus moves in this footage, but he doesn’t match Moon’s 1-5-“9”.]

Last year I did 1-8-15 on my Metolius-spaced board, which is pretty close to 1-4.25-7.5 in Moon Spacing.  So I was somewhat close, but as soon as I switched to Moon Spacing I discovered that 1-5 is extremely difficult for me.  I could do the move, but as soon as I latched rung 5, I felt a deep ache in my low shoulder.  The pain didn’t feel threatening, just quite unpleasant, like the burn you feel in your muscles when you have a deep pump.  It was impossible to sustain this position for more than an instant, let alone try to explode upwards from this position. This is where height dependence comes in to play on big campus moves.  The distance between rung 1 and rung five is about 34.6 inches.  The distance from my finger pads (when placed on an edge in a “half crimp” position) and the middle of my armpit is 27″. So even when locking my low hand all the way down to my armpit, I still have to eek another 7.5 inches of reach out of my body to span between 1 and 5, and I’ve discovered that to do so requires significant shoulder strength.

Any excuse to post a pic with my shirt off :)  Here's me spanning from Rung 1 to Rung 5.  Note the difference in height between my two shoulders (about 3 half-increments, or 33cm/13 inches). I've found this requires a lot of strength in the low shoulder.

Any excuse to post a pic with my shirt off 🙂 Here’s me spanning from Rung 1 to Rung 5. Note the difference in height between my two shoulders (about 3 half-increments, or 33cm/13 inches). I’ve found this requires a lot of strength in the low shoulder.

I’ve tackled this weakness in two ways, and I would say each has contributed equally to my improvement.  First, several years ago I added some shoulder strength exercises to my Strength Phase.  For the 4-5 weeks preceding my Power Phase I will perform 3 sets of “Lateral-to-Front Raise” and “Shoulder Press” exercises after each hangboard workout (in addition to other exercises).  This has helped prepare my shoulders for campus exercises, and for doing big/reachy moves in general.  Furthermore, Explosive Pull-ups, Biceps Curls, and Hanging Leg Raises all strengthen muscle groups that are essential to limiting campus moves.  The pull and upper arm muscles are obviously pivotal to generating upward movement, but are also key for slowing decent, making it easier to deadpoint each move.  Not surprisingly, your abdominal muscles play a significant role, and you may notice your abs feel sore for a day or two following the first campus session of each season.  It’s tremendously helpful to prepare these muscle groups prior to beginning your Power Phase, so you have good strength to build off of when you hit the campus board. 

Second, I started trying 1-5 regularly.  About a year ago I started to introduce this move (or 1-10 on my old Metolius-spaced board) in my campus sessions (aka, “Max 1st Move”).  At first I just tried to stick the move, then drop off.  Eventually I start trying to match the high rung as my strength improved, or go to rung 5.5 or 6. 

As I was improving with 1-5, it became apparent that 1-5 is very hard to move out of, because you’re so extended the low hand can’t contribute much to the second move.   Improving your shoulder strength as described above will help a lot, but there are several other complimentary ways to improve at the second move:

1) Get ridiculously strong, such that you can do a 1-arm pull-up from a small campus rung 🙂  However, as discussed last week that kinda defeats the purpose, and there are much easier ways to do it.

2) Use momentum.  On the biggest moves, momentum becomes critical.  It’s much easier to pull up if you keep your hips moving and never stop pulling upwards.  Follow the methods described in Basic Tips, realizing their importance becomes magnified on bigger moves. 

Additionally, in the Basic Tips post I discussed aim and accuracy.  I find it’s much more difficult to accurately place my fingers at the correct depth than it is to deadpoint to the proper vertical height.  Failing to place your finger pads deep-enough on the rung can (and often does) ruin a set.  If you don’t get deep enough, you will either fail to latch the rung, or need to bounce your hand into position before proceeding, thus killing any momentum.  For this reason, I find it helps on difficult moves to aim “through the board”.  Assume you are trying to latch a rung that is a quarter-pad deeper than your rung really is.  This will often result in smacking your tips into the plywood, so don’t over-do it–try to aim for a 1/4″ or so deeper than you need.  Your tips may get slightly bruised and sensitive, so go easy at first.  With practice, you should be able to hit the correct depth on most moves without this technique, but on the most challenging sets, this can really help ensure you can keep your momentum flowing upward to the top.

3) Push with your low hand.  This is critical, and probably the biggest difference between medium and large moves.  For shorter folks in particular, once you are in the 1-5 position, your low hand will not be able to maintain a normal position for pulling for long (with your palm facing the board).  Once you’ve pulled up off Rung 5 a few inches, your low forearm will be more horizontal than vertical, and your palm will be more or less facing the ground.  Get in the habit of pushing down from this position (another reason I like the Shoulder Press is that it trains the Triceps for this motion).  Push for as long as you can maintain contact with Rung 1, before stabbing upward for the high rung (Ben Moon exemplifies this at 6:55 here.  His low hand pushes until his low elbow is nearly locked and his low arm is pointing straight down).  

This shows the action of my low hand while attempting 1-5-8 (Moon Spacing).  The left frame shows the moment of latching Rung 5.  The center frame is a point midway through the second move.  The right frame shows the right hand's last moment of contact with Rung 1. Note that my right arm is almost straight, and my hand is level with my thigh in the right frame.

This shows the action of my low hand while attempting 1-5-8 (Moon Spacing). The left frame shows the moment of latching Rung 5. The center frame is a point midway through the second move. The right frame shows the right hand’s last moment of contact with Rung 1. Note that my right arm is almost straight, and my hand is level with my thigh in the right frame.

This will help with smaller moves as well, not just 1-5-9, but it takes practice.  Dedicate a few sets each session to practicing this movement.  Do the first move of your Max Ladder, but rather than focusing on latching the second move, focus on pushing with your low hand.  Don’t even try to latch the high rung, just try to improve your ability to generate upward movement by pushing with your low hand.  Once you start to get the hang of it, then try to focus on latching the high rung.  Note that this will be easier to do on steeper boards and vice versa.  If your campus board is less than 10-degrees overhanging or so it will be difficult to push properly.

This is another aspect of campusing that translates directly to rock climbing (and something that even beginners can benefit from improving immediately).  If you watch me climb, you will notice that I’m almost always pushing down with my low hand until the last possible moment, particularly on big moves.  Many climbers ignore their low hand once the shoulder passes it.  This is a mistake, and it puts unnecessary strain on the opposing arm’s fingers and pull muscles.

Using the low hand to push on real rock.

Using the low hand to push on real rock.

There are other factors that can affect your campus training besides strength and movement:

Body Weight – As in all aspects of climbing, body weight is a significant factor.  If you’re strictly training, and not trying to perform on the campus board, there is no need to be at your fighting weight.  However, in the interest of minimizing injury risk, it’s a good idea to be within 10 lbs or so of your fighting weight.  As discussed, campusing with added weight can increase the risk of injury, and it doesn’t really matter that much to your elbows if the added weight is iron or fat 🙂

If you are trying to perform on the campus board (for whatever reason, such as to set a personal best), dropping to at, or near, your fighting weight will definitely help.  As with any weight loss, don’t overdo it, lose weight intelligently, and incorporate it into your Seasonal Training Plan to ensure you can sustain it through your performance phase.  For me, I struggle to stay at my fighting weight for more than about 4 weeks, so if I get to that weight in time for my Power Phase, I’m likely to struggle mid-way through my Performance Phase.  Most climbers are concerned with their performance on the campus board, and so would be better off timing their diet to peak later in the season.

Arousal – As with any power-oriented exercise, your mental state of arousal can play a big part.  In other types of climbing, excessive arousal can be a hindrance (like a technical route where precise footwork is required).  There is certainly a technical aspect to campusing, as discussed at length.  It’s important to work on the technique, but it’s also important to just go for it at times and see what you can do.  If you are stilling learning the technique, spend the first half of the workout going slow, working on individual aspects of your Max Ladder, and using your conscious mind to control your actions.  Then get aggro for the rest of the workout.  This is the time to get fired up and go for it.  Don’t worry about doing the movements perfectly; focus on giving each attempt your most intense effort.

Different people have their own triggers, so experiment with different methods and see what works best for you.  I like to listen to  upbeat music, usually Hip Hop or something with a strong beat.  Occasionally I’ll grit my teeth and make a “GRRR!” sound just before I start a set.  I’m not much of a screamer, but I will occasionally let out a brief ‘yelp’ as I begin the second move of a Max Ladder.  Some folks have tried external stimulants like caffeine (and who knows what else in the ’80s), but I generally avoid that kind of thing.
Record Keeping – One could argue you aren’t training if you aren’t keeping track.  I went many years without documenting my campus work, and it was a huge mistake.  I had no idea what my plan was, or any way of telling if I was getting better.  As soon as I started documenting my workouts I started making significant progress.   Use a log sheet like the one shown here to document each set of your workouts.  Make not of your personal bests, and strive to match, and then surpass them, each season.  Also, use the log to desribe your campus board’s specifications in case you ever change venues.

At my ever-advancing age, I’m constantly tempted to think I’ve peaked as an athlete, and my best years are behind me.  Three years ago, at the spry age of 33, my personal best was 1-7-13 (in Metolius Spacing,  which equates to roughly 1-3.75-6.5 in Moon Spacing).  I couldn’t do 1-5 at all, let alone pull off of it.  Three weeks ago, I put all these tips into action, and sent 1-5-8, Moon spacing (admittedly, with some slight dabs against the wall):

Perhaps 1-5-9 isn’t out of the question for me after all?

Tips for Effective Campusing Part 1: The Basics

Campusing is one of the best training activities for climbers who are looking to improve explosive power and contact strength (detailed rundown on these terms here).  However, campusing is one of the most difficult training activities to perform well. Many would-be campusers struggle during the initial stages of learning to use this tool, they become frustrated, and so they move onto to other tools never realizing any of the benefits of this type of training.  This post will provide a few tips on how to campus well, which will make sessions more enjoyable, reduce the risk of injury, and ensure that you maximize transference of this training to the rock.  …And it will help you ‘burn off your mates’ on the campus board 😉  While I’m at it, I hope to explain to any remaining skeptics some of the reasons campusing will help you improve your rock climbing.

Campusing well is composed of at least the following three elements.  As such, all of these elements can be improved through dedicated campus training, and once honed, will improve your outdoor climbing. 

Contact Strength – As discussed here, this is the ability to quickly latch small, distant holds.  This is essential for grabbing and securing a distant campus rung, but more so it is critical to executing any dynamic move on the rock.  Contact strength requires both strong fingers, and the ability to contract them quickly.  The first trait is best achieved through dedicated hangboard training, the latter is best developed on the campus board.  By attempting to execute increasingly more difficult moves (usually, latching more distant rungs) your fingers will be required to generate larger force, and to generate it more quickly (so the rung can be latched before you fall away). 

To improve your contact strength, you need to dyno.  These can be done on the rock, on a plastic bouldering wall, or on the campus board.  The campus board is ideal because the rungs are not sharp or abrasive, so you can attempt dynamic moves many times in a single session without thrashing your skin.  I prefer a campus board to plastic bouldering because the movement is much more simplified, allowing you to focus completely on producing power during the latch.  Establish a baseline of campus moves you can perform, and then incrementally increase the difficulty from your baseline as you progress.  If you can’t perform basic or matching ladders, ask a partner for a power spot until you get the hang of it.  Another option if matching ladders are too difficult, is to try a simple match: start with one hand on Rung 1 and the other on Rung 2, lift your feet off the ground, then match the low hand from Rung 1 to Rung 2. 

Putting my contact strength to the test on Breakin the Law, 5.14b, St George, Utah.  Dan Brayack Photo.

Putting my contact strength to the test in St. George, UT. Dan Brayack Photo.

Moving with Momentum – For the wickedly strong, campusing can be done statically.  However, that misses the point  (or at least, it’s beside the point).  Momentum is a critical element of difficult climbing, and if you are striving to climb near your limit, you must learn how to utilize momentum. Many of the best climbers in the world utilize momentum constantly.  That is, they use momentum even when they don’t “need” to, because when used well, it makes climbing easier, saving lock-off power for where it is truly needed. (Furthermore, campusing slowly or statically eliminates the need for good contact strength to latch rungs, drastically reducing any potential for improvement to your contact strength.)

The campus board is the best tool we have for developing and practicing the use of momentum in climbing, because momentum is almost always required on the campus board, and the holds are smooth to the touch, so they don’t punish dynamic movement like abrasive rock does.  If a campus move can be done statically, then the climber could certainly do a more difficult move.  A well-performed campus move at your limit will DEMAND the flawless use of momentum. 

The “Max Ladder” is the best campus exercise, consisting of three moves.  The first move is an explosive pull-up from the first rung, with one hand reaching high to latch a distant rung.  During the second move the low hand reaches through, without matching, to latch an even higher rung.  The third move is a match to the rung reached during the second move. During this exercise, many climbers explode off the first rung, latch the center rung, and then pause, adjust the high hand, etc, before launching into the second move.  This is a mistake. Try to make your max ladder a continuous, flowing movement.  Try to keep your hips in constant motion.  Theoretically, it would be nice if you could keep your hips moving continuously upward. In reality, there will probably be a very brief pause in upward motion once you latch the first move, however, your hips should keep moving, swaying noticeably to the side (the side that latched the center rung) to build momentum for the next move.  Think of your hips as tracing an upside-down “J” on each move, with the two moves flowing seamlessly into each other.

Your hips should trace an upside-down "J" pattern on each campus move.

Your hips should trace an upside-down “J” pattern on each campus move.

Of course, achieving momentum in campusing (and climbing) is easier said than done.  Often the first move is latched poorly, making it impossible to proceed without adjusting or bouncing on the rung.  That is why it is essential to campus accurately.

Accuracy – Of the three elements of campusing well, accuracy holds the most promise for beginners.  It may take years of training and climbing before the need for substantial contact strength becomes apparent in a novice’s outdoor climbing.  But climbers at every level can benefit from teaching their body to precisely locate holds in space.  Campusing will train you to aim precisely for every rung.  Usually in only a few sessions you can learn to deadpoint most moves, making rungs much easier to latch.  Furthermore, by deadpointing, the strain on your shoulders, elbows, and fingers is minimized, vastly reducing the risk of injury.  This is true while campusing and while climbing in general.

During a perfect deadpoint, your arm will be at its furthest (safe) extension, and you will just barely be able to reach the hold when your hips are at their apex.  This is an ideal worth striving for.  Practically, this will be difficult to perform initially, so as you are improving your deadpoint skills, focus on preventing your hips from falling away as you latch each rung.  Attempt to latch the hold when your hips are at their apex, and then bend your arm as necessary to take up any “slack” before your hips begin to fall.  This too will take practice and focus, so break up your efforts into individual moves that you can learn to perform well before moving onto more complex sets.

A pretty good deadpoint, producing just the right amount of heigt to latch the high rung.

A pretty good deadpoint, producing just the right amount of height to latch the high rung.  Focus on the trajectory of your hips, not your hand.  Ideally your hips will rise, then pause, but never descend.

From a purely mechanical perspective, there are three linear dimensions or axes to consider when aiming for a distant hold (there is also rotation about each of the three axes, but that usually isn’t a huge factor in climbing).  In simple terms, you need to aim for and hit the correct vertical position, horizontal position, and depth.  The campus rung simplifies matters by vastly reducing the need for horizontal accuracy (for advanced climbers, campusing to pockets can provide an all-encompassing challenge).

The first step in achieving accurate hand placement is to keep your eyes on the prize.  Many climbers unwittingly blink or close their eyes during dynos.  Don’t do that!  Notice how good free-throw shooters (or golfers attempting a putt) pause and stare at the basket for a moment before shooting.  During this period the subconscious is making numerous calculations in preparation for the ensuing movement.  When you step up to the board, grasp the first rung with both hands, then pause and stare up at the target hold for a moment before lifting your feet off the ground.  Keep your eyes open and fixed on the target throughout the movement. Have a partner verify that you are keeping your eyes open and locked on target (or film yourself). 

When performing two back-to-back moves, as for a Max Ladder, moving with momentum will prevent you from staring down the target rung before the second move, so take a moment to locate both rungs before your feet leave the ground.  With practice, you will keep both rungs in view as you complete the set.

Staring down the target rungs before beginning.

Staring down the target rungs before beginning.

For improving vertical and depth accuracy, practice the following exercise (which we will call “Touch and Release” to distinguish it from “Touches”, which are used to improve lock-off strength).  From a matched position on Rung 1, lunge upward, release one hand and attempt to touch a pre-determined distant rung.  Do not attempt to latch the rung. After you touch it (or try to touch it), release your low hand and drop to the ground. Repeat this exercise, attempting to improve your hand placement on the distant rung, ultimately striving to place it perfectly on the rung at the deadpoint, with no wasted movement and all four finger pads engaged on the top surface of the rung.  Once you can routinely touch the rung well, put pressure on the rung for an instant before dropping off the board.  Repeat as necessary until you are confident you could latch the rung.  Then try to latch the rung.  Consider using a power spot when first attempting this exercise, but eventually strive to do it solo.

The below video shows the whole process of a well-executed Max Ladder:

    • Staring down the rung before starting,
    • Latching each rung with speed
    • Moving with momentum,
    • Striving to deadpoint (I overshot the first move slightly, but the second move is a pretty good deadpoint).

Another important consideration for campus training is rest between sets.  This is a power exercise, meaning the Time Under Tension should be short and the rest should be(relatively) long.  I’ve experimented with rest periods of 45, 60, 90 and 120 seconds between sets.  In my experience, longer is better.  Bring a stopwatch, and rest as long as you feel you need, but at least 90 seconds.  Currently I rest for 60 seconds between warmup sets, and 120 seconds between every other set (that is, I start my stopwatch, and begin a set every even minute).  Two minutes feels like a long time, but it definitely makes a difference (compared to 90 seconds rest).  If I feel it will help, I will rest for three or four minutes occasionally.  Usually these longer rests are taken later in the workout as the sets get more difficult.

Finally, a few tips on injury prevention.  First, keep your shoulders “tight” (slightly flexed) and elbows slightly bent when latching distant rungs.  It can be very tempting to lock your elbows or relax your shoulders to get an extra bit of reach, or to over shoot a rung, and strain to latch it on the way down, forcing your elbows and shoulders to suddenly snap eccentrically into a locked position.  This is really dangerous!  The bottom line is, DON’T BE A HERO!!!  If you fail to hit a rung well, just let go, rest up, and try to do better on the next set.  Any campus move can be done with good form.  There is no need to lose control and risk catastrophic injury.

Latching a rung with elbow bent and tension in my shoulder.

Latching a rung with elbow bent and tension in my shoulder.

This goes for the fingers too.  Most campusing injuries result from folks hitting a rung poorly, then attempting to desperately latch the rung with only a few fingers in play.  If you do not land well on the rung LET GO!!!  This includes having all four finger pads (or three if using an open grip with the pinky dangling) in contact with the rung, and all aligned ergonomically (with respect to  the grip position you are trying to use).  If your fingers get tangled or contorted in some manner, just let go and live to fight another day. 

Many folks have asked about campusing with weight added.  I would not recommend it.  The forces on your shoulders, elbows and fingers are high-enough without adding weight to the equation, not to mention the risk of falling to the ground with extra weight added.  If you don’t take my word for it, listen to the words of Sonnie Trotter:

“the aches in my elbows started the morning after I strapped on the weight vest.  I campused up the wall and back down again, 5 times, on top of some other stuff.  Super bad idea, I know, but I couldn’t help it, I felt invincible.  I wasn’t.  I never will be.  Stop fooling yourself fool.  But I did it anyway and I paid the price.  The shock load one puts on their elbows coming down (without footholds and an extra 20 pounds on your body) is extremely severe.  It’s never, ever a good idea to do this…” 

It is also possible to suffer skin injuries on the campus board.  In my experience, these are usually chronic skin injuries caused by trying to perform too many sets in a single session (or too-frequent sessions).  Use smooth, large-radius rungs, and limit your sessions to a reasonable number of sets.  For me that means no more than about 15 total sets per leading hand (including warmup sets).  If you choose to campus on pockets, I strongly suggest taping your fingers to protect your skin.

Lastly, campusing demands repeated falls to the ground.  Use a good crash pad (or several), ensure the fall zone is safe, and use a spotter if possible.  Occasionally you may fall in weird positions, so clear the area in all directions around the board.  Get in the practice of landing safely, with knees bent, and practice absorbing the fall force slowly as you hit the ground.

Using my entire body to absorb the landing.

Using my entire body to absorb the landing.

My hope was to fit everything I had to say on this topic into one post, but as usually I’ve failed 🙂  Check back in a week or two for Part II, advanced tips for going BIG.

Comparing Campus Board Configurations

Last year I discussed at length the benefits of Campus Training, how to perform a Campus workout, and how to fit such workouts into your training schedule.  Next week I plan to describe how to get the most out of your campus sessions.  Campusing “well”, will reduce the risk of injury, improve your performance on the campus board so you can show up your friends :), and most importantly, ensure that your workouts translate effectively to actual rock climbing.  As a prologue to next week’s discussion, I’d like to describe some of the modifications I’ve made to the Lazy H Campus Board over the last year, and the reasons for making those changes.

First off, you may recall that last January I “topped out” on Version 3.0 of my board, so the most pressing task was to make my board taller.  The Lazy H was originally built along the contour of the sloping hillside, so it’s not “square”; the west, uphill side of the ceiling is a couple feet higher in elevation than the east, downhill side.  So this means the west edge of my campus board (right edge when facing the board) is about 4.5″ taller than the east edge (since the bottom edge of the board is horizontal).  So the easiest way to gain more height was to move my smallest rungs from the center of the board to the far right side.  This earned me an extra 1″ of height.  Next, I decided I would lower the bottom edge (and therefore the first row of rungs) approximately 2.75″ to eek out a bit more height.  The tradeoff here is a lower clearance height when walking under the board, and I have to start campus moves from a slightly lower position, which can be annoying.

These two changes only got me about one extra rung (with 4″ ‘Metolius’ spacing), which I’m hoping will not be enough.  So I decided to cut out a hole in my ceiling between two roof joists to accomodate another rung.  The distance between joists was only about 15″, so I had to trim the top rung to fit. Not the prettiest solution, but better than nothing.

My ghetto ceiling cutout and slightly shortened rung.  I haven't actually tried campusing to this rung yet.  I suspect it will punish poor accuracy.

My ghetto ceiling cutout and slightly shortened rung. I haven’t actually tried campusing to this rung yet. I suspect it will punish poor accuracy.

Additionally, over the past year or so I’ve been contemplating the two competing standards for rung spacing.  These are ‘Metolius spacing’, with small rungs placed every 4″ from top edge to top edge, and ‘Moon Spacing’, with rungs spaced every 22-cm (approximately 8.66 inches).  In my estimation, Moon spacing is far more prolific.  Metolius spacing is only used in America as far as I can tell, and even here it’s much less popular than Moon spacing.  For the last few seasons I found myself constantly “translating” my Metolius-spaced board into Moon units for the sake of comparison.  I got tired of my head hurting during all these workouts, so I decided to make the switch since I was re-building my board anyway.

Comparison of Metolius and Moon Spacing

Comparison of Metolius and Moon Spacing

The expression “1-5-9” is based on Moon spacing.  I’m highly motivated to strive for these feats and compare my campus performance to other people’s around the globe.  I think 1-5-9 may be beyond my reach, but I would be very psyched to match Jerry Moffatt’s best of 1-5-8, which I think is within the realm of possibility for me.  In many other sports (such as running, swimming, cycling, and weightlifting), training activities and performances are easily quantified and compared.  Making comparisons in climbing is very difficult, except when two climbers have climbed the same exact route (which is not very common, compared to the likelihood of two runners sprinting around two separate tracks built to the same specifications).  Just about any runner in the world can find a 400m track to train on, allowing easy comparison with any other runner in the world.  

Campus training is just about the only more-or-less-standardized activity that climbers perform*, so it provides a significant opportunity for quantification and comparison, assuming common standards are used.  It’s amazing to me that I can build a campus board to the same dimensions as Jerry Moffatt’s or Wolfgang Gullich’s** and try to match feats they performed nearly 30 years ago.  Even on the rock–which seems to be relatively unchanging–holds break, footholds become polished, and the proliferation of chalk, rubber marks and video reduce the challenge over time, making comparisons in-exact.  If you can ignore these variations, you still may have to travel accross oceans for the chance to try your hero’s test-piece, and then you will have a brief moment in time to give it your best shot.  Anyone can build a standardized campus board in their own house, and train on it year after year.

[*The Moon Board is a brilliant concept that provides the possibility for worldwide comparison, but the idea hasn’t really caught on, and so Moon Boards are few and far between.

**If you know the exact specifications of the original Campus Board in Nurnberg, please post up in a comment!]

The Moon spacing standard is probably the best choice since its the most prolific, however, as discussed here, 22-cm is way too far between rungs to facilitate steady progression.  The solution is to add half-steps, such that rungs are spaced evenly at 11-cm intervals.  This equates to about 4.33″, which is just a smidgen further than the 4″ Metolius gap.  Close enough to facilitate progression while still allowing quick worldwide comparison.  The final result was a board that goes from 1 to 8.5, with half-steps between each rung.  If I ever send 1-5-8.5, I’ll add a “rung 0.5” to the bottom of my board to work 1-5-9. 

Lazy H Campus Board Version 4.0.  Small rungs, incut side up, on the right, spaced at 11 cm.  Medium rungs, flat-side-up on the left, spaced at 22-cm.  Three small rungs, flat side up, laid over the medium rungs (at positions 1.5, 4.5 and 7.5).

Lazy H Campus Board Version 4.0. Small rungs, incut side up, on the right, spaced at 11 cm. Medium rungs, flat-side-up on the left, spaced at 22-cm. Three small rungs, flat side up, laid over the medium rungs (at positions 1.5, 4.5 and 7.5).

[Side note: Those who live in the Denver area are well-aware that a new, world-class Earth Treks climbing gym opened in nearby Golden.  For those keeping track, the Earth Treks board is 16.7 degrees overhanging with rungs spaced approximately (though somewhat inconsistently) 10.5-cm apart, according to my independent measurements.  This may not seem like a big difference (from 11-cm spacing) but it means rung #9 is 8cm lower than on a Moon-spaced board.  That’s almost a half-rung.]

Finally, Ben asked here if there was a reason I had oriented my small rungs with the “incut” side up.  Ever since then I’ve been wondering what the difference in apparent difficulty is between the two orientations.  On the surface, it would seem obvious that incut rungs would be easier to use.  However, the incut edge (of a small Metolius rung) includes a relatively massive 5/16″ edge radius, while the flat edge has a relatively small 3/16″ radius.  The effect is that while the flat side is less positive, it provides a deeper surface for pulling (9/16″ depth of flat surface compared to 1/16″ depth of essentially flat surface plus 3/8″ depth of positive surface on the incut side).  

Approximate dimensions of a small Metolius campus rung, based on my measurements.  The 'flat' side is on the left, the 'incut' side is on the right.  Of note, these rungs are supposedly 3/4" deep, but I found them to be a bit less than that.

Approximate dimensions of a small Metolius campus rung, based on my measurements. The ‘flat’ side is on the left, the ‘incut’ side is on the right. Of note, these rungs are supposedly 3/4″ deep, but I found them to be a bit less than that.

Deeper holds are easier to use because the point at which force is applied to your finger pad is nearer to your DIP/PIP joints, reducing the leverage (or “moment”) on those joints.  Theoretically one could measure the coefficient of friction of these rungs and attempt to calcuate the torque required to hang on them (statically) in each orientation , but such calculations would almost certainly need to neglect all the critical dynamic aspects of a campus move.  The most practical way I could think of to determine the apparent difference between these orientations was to mount a set of each side-by-side and try them out. 

Comparing the flat & incut edges side-by-side, you can hardly notice the "incut".  Just from appearances, the Flat-Side-Up edge looks easier to grab to me.

Comparing the flat & incut edges side-by-side, you can hardly notice the “incut”. Just from appearances, the Flat-Side-Up edge looks easier to grab to me.

Qualitatively, here is what I found:

  • Flat-Side-Up feels noticeably “sharper” (un-skin-friendly).  I could easily see getting a flapper using the relatively small-radius flat side.
  • Long moves to distant rungs are easier to latch on Flat-Side-Up rungs.  I think this is because when latching a distant rung, the arm is oriented near-vertical, so the ‘slopey’ nature of the gripping surface is not much of a factor, while the extra depth, and sharper lip make the rung easier to latch.
  • When attempting long moves, its more difficult to keep the low hand in-play on Flat-Side-Up rungs.  I think this is because with larger moves you really need to push down with your lagging hand (more on this next week), while that forearm is nearly horizontal to the ground.  An incut edge allows you to pull out slightly, which really helps keep that hand in contact with the rung until you’re ready to remove it.  I think with practice I would get better at pushing the low hand in the “right” direction (parallel to the angle of the board) and this would be less problematic.
  • Overall, for smaller moves, the flat-side-up configuration was noticeably easier for me.  This held true up to a 1-4-7 Max Ladder. 
  • Overall, for moves at my limit, the two orientations seemed equal in difficulty.  When I tried 1-4.5-7.5 or 1-4.5-8 on Flat-Side-Up rungs, I noticed my lagging hand occasionally slipped off Rung 1 (and even Rung 4.5) when I tried to push off (to go from 1 to 7.5 or 8), which made up for the relative ease of latching distant rungs.

In conclusion, I plan to stick with Incut-Side-Up rungs (pun intended).  The difficulty seems about the same, but the smooth radius on the incut side of the rung makes them much less threatening to my skin.  The last thing I need is a skin injury from campusing.

Next week, I will get into the details of how to campus effectively.  Campusing is perhaps the most difficult training activity to do well.  If not done properly, campusing is a waste of time, but even worse, it can cause serious injury. Proper form will help you minimize the risk of injury while ensuring you get the most value out of this training.

Campus Board Refurbishment- What’s Your Angle?

When I built my gym in the Lazy H, I never really put much thought into the angles of the walls.  I mocked it up with the joists and basically just eye-balled it.  Almost immediately it became clear that my campus board wasn’t quite as steep as it should be, and this has been an itch in the back of my mind for a long time.  During my fall campus phase I started doing some research on the “standard” angle for a campus board.  This research revealed that there is no standard, although one could make a really strong argument for 15 degrees overhanging, as a compromise if nothing else.  This is what Metolious advocates in their brochure, and some sources indicate this is the angle of the Schoolroom Board in Sheffield (although others say 12.5), a board that many others are modeled after.  Looking at photos of Gullich on the original Campus board, it appears that was around 11 degrees, so one might make an argument for that angle as well.  It appears to me that the board on Moon Climbing is about 17 degrees.  Some other sources advocate for 20 degrees (which happens to be the angle of the Foundry board; Jerry Moffatt’s climbing gym).

This is the campus board shown on Moon Climbing

This is the campus board shown on Moon Climbing

The angle of the board can be important for several reasons.  First, it affects how incut the rungs feel.  Obviously the rungs will feel less positive on a steeper board, and should be slightly harder to grip.  But they should also be less painful to latch.  Second, a steeper board will keep your hips and lower legs further from the board.  In addition to keeping you from kicking the board as you get higher, this gives more room for the low hand to continue pushing down when you make really big moves (moves in which your low hand is below shoulder height).  Finally, the steeper the board, the less vertical distance one must travel to move from rung to rung. 

Campus Board Before Angle

My board *before*.

My board was installed at the same angle as the south side wall, about 8 degrees overhanging.  At that angle, a move between two rungs spaced 12″ apart requires 11.88″ of vertical travel.  At 15 degrees, the same move requires 11.59″ of vertical travel.  Probably not a big deal, but consider the mythical 1-5-9 Max Ladder (Moon spacing, 22cm between rungs).  The lagging hand must travel 176 centimeters (almost 4 cubits!) across the board when going from 1 to 9.  For such a big move the difference in vertical travel between an 8 degree and 15 degree board is 1 and 11/16 inches (a little over 4 and a quarter centimeters for those keeping track).  That is the sort of thing that goes through my head when I’m sitting in staff meetings, and that is what is slowly making me insane.

But I digress.  I wanted to know how perceptible such a difference would be, and what impact it might have on my campus performance.  Is it all a wash, with the improved incut of a less-steep board compensating for the greater span?  Or would I suddenly burst through and set new personal bests on a slightly steeper board (heaven forbid I actually get worse).  I resolved to correct the error of my original construction, but to do so would required tearing up half the gym, so I had to wait for the off season.

Removing the interior panels to access the lower joist joints.

Removing the interior panels to access the lower joist joints.

The board is mounted primarily to two 2×6 joists that connect to the main structure of the barn at the floor and ceiling.  The plan was to install a temporary hinge of sorts to the cieling joint, then disconnect the floor joint and “swing” the entire campus board structure up to the desired 15 degree angle.  Easier said than done.

The top of the board was relatively easy to get to, as I never finished installing the interior panel on the east side of the board.  I started by installing  3/8″ bolts in the joists and adjoining rafters at the top of the board to create the “hinge”.  The next step was to remove a seemingly endless series of interior panels to get access to the lower joist joints.  Apparently the entire interior is one long daisy chain, where Panel A can’t be removed without removing Panel B, Panel B can’t be removed without removing Panel C, and so on.  In the end I had to remove 10 interior panels, two exterior panels and miscellaneous trim pieces.  Each Panel averaged around 16 screws, not counting screw-on jibs which I thoughtfully installed right on the studs (meaning they had to be removed to free the panels).

"Hinge" Bolts installed at the top end of the joists.

“Hinge” Bolts installed at the top end of the joists.

Long story short, it was a huge pain, literally and figuratively as I tweaked my back trying to remove one particularly pesky stripped screw.  Eventually I got them all out and was able to swing the board into position with the help of several crow bars and three hammers.  I cut the joists to their new, much shorter length, bolted everything in place, and voila, “installation is the reverse of removal.”

Campus Board Angle After:  I'm sure it was totally worth it!

Campus Board Angle After: I’m sure it was totally worth it!

The final step of this experiment was to test the new board and determine if the steeper angle had any effect on my campus ability.  This project was completed in late November, and as I described in this post, I set a new personal best on this board in January.  I’m not quite ready to give all the credit to the steeper board, but even after my first session on the steeper board it felt like things were a bit easier; I could latch my baseline max ladder more consistently than usual, and seemed like I was getting an extra inch or so of height on the biggest moves.  I also noticed it was a lot easier to press down with the lagging hand. I haven’t noticed any ill-effect of the steeper angle (such as the less-positive rungs making increasing the difficulty).  Long story short, I’m happy with the results and would recommend at least a 15 degree angle to anyone building a board from scratch.  I’m not sure its worth the effort to change the angle of an existing board, unless you’re close to doing 1-5-9 or something and need a bit of extra help 🙂

Campus board installed at the new and improved angle.

Campus board installed at the new and improved angle.

Raise the Roof

Yesterday afternoon I set a new personal best on the Lazy H campus board.  I did a max ladder of 1-8-15 (metolius spacing; 4″ o.c.). 

I realize this is not a super amazing feat, and has been bettered by countless climbers, but its a landmark for me because my board (and therefore my imagination) only has 15 rungs.  When I built the Lazy H in 2008 I scarcely dreamed I would ever need to increase the height of my board; that first season the best I managed was 1-6-11.  The only reason I went as high as 15 was because rungs are sold in packs of five.  The upper few rungs were more of a pipe dream than anything else. 

I bring this up to emphasize two training-related points (besides to spray and post a video of myself with my shirt off): the power of goals and the value of quantfying and tracking the results of your training.  Almost as soon as the dust of construction had settled, that 15th rung became a goal (albeit an unlikely one).  Furthermore, because it was visible and tangible during each campus session, it gave me continuous motivation to get the most out of my training.  Every time I went to the campus board I could see my goal sitting there, gathering dust, waiting for me to get better.  The opportunity to achieve a victory each and every session, even a “plastic” victory, pushes me to put in that extra bit of effort, get enough sleep, eat properly, and focus during the workout.

Quantifying my performance on the campus board, and comparing my progress from season to season has paid huge dividends.  Each season we all strive to be a little bit better than the previous season, but without a yard stick, its really difficult to know what that means.  How good was I last season?  I sent some routes and failed on others.  Were the routes I sent soft?  Were the ones I failed on stiff?  There’s a lot of subjectivty (and therefore ambiguity) on the performance end of our sport.   

This is another area where training (and more specifically, quantifying & documenting our training) can lend a hand.  I know how good I was last season, because I have an emperical record of each hangboard workout, campus session, and power endurance interval I completed.  I can compare that data to this season and its plainly obvious, regardless of how my outdoor projects work out, that I am tangibly stronger than I was last season.  That information alone is extremely motivating; it confirms I’m on the right path (or one of the right paths, anyway) regardless of whether the plethora of circumstances affecting outdoor performance (weather, partners, route selection…) go in my favor.

Now I have a new problem, I need to figure out how to raise the roof of the Lazy H so I can add  the next 5 rungs to my campus board, although that should be trivial compared to the task of expanding my imagination to accomodate those rungs.

Campus Training Part 3: Basic Routine

This is part 3 in a three-part series on Campus Training.  If you haven’t read Part 1 and Part 2, please do.   This training is for the thoroughly healthy.  If you have any nagging injuries, particularly finger, elbow or shoulder injuries, DO NOT DO THIS!  There are many different ways to use a campus board; this is just one way, and it happens to work.  Remember that the frequency and rest associated with these workouts is critical to avoiding injury (see Part 2 for details).  Avoid consecutive Campus workouts and take extra rest following each Campus workout.

Now on to the basic routine:

Like any training activity, begin with a thorough warmup.  I like to start with 15 minutes of low intensity ARC-style traversing.  Treat this period like any ARC set, focusing on using good technique and smooth, relaxed movement.  Near the end of this period do some active stretching while still on the wall.

Next do what we will call a “Boulder Ladder” for lack of a better term.  Begin with easy bouldering (starting at V0 or whatever the easiest available problems are).  Complete one to three boulder problems at each V-grade before progressing to the next grade (the number of problems completed at each grade should depend on how many grades you need to step through, with the goal of completing the Ladder in 20 minutes or so).  Continue stepping up the Ladder until you reach your typical boulder flash level.  The goal is to do each problem first try, but if you fall off, feel free to repeat the problem or move to another problem of the same grade.  The goal is NOT to get entrenched in an epic project.  Take typical rest periods between problems, which varies between climbers.  If you rest a lot between problems, the set may take more than 20 minutes.  That is ok, this is not a race.  By the end you should have completed between 10 – 15 problems of increasing difficulty.

The final warmup activity is 15-30 minutes of limit bouldering (again, the duration will depend on how long you rest and your level of fatigue.  For me, if I spend more than 50 minutes from the beginning of my ARC traverse to the end of my limit bouldering, my Campus workout will suffer, YMMV).  Pick 2-3 problems that you cannot flash and work them for 5-10 minutes each.  These problems should be right at your limit (in other words, avoid problems you can do 2nd or 3rd try), and they should be powerful, with one or two REALLY hard moves that you can’t do (as opposed to 10 consecutive pretty hard moves that result in a pump-managment challenge).  Its easy to get side-tracked during this activity, so keep your eye on the clock and stay focused on the big picture.  Once completed, take a good 5-10 minute break, get some water, then get ready to rage.

Record all of your Campus sets in a logsheet like the one shown here.  Note that I’ve also included details on my warmup activites.

Begin with a few sets of “easy” campusing (an oxymoron, I know).  Starting with the largest set of rungs, do a “Warmup Ladder” up the board at a comfortable interval (12″ for me), then jump down.  Repeat leading with the opposite hand.  Do the same set of ladders on the medium rungs, then the small rungs, with 1-2 minutes rest between sets.  If you aren’t strong enough yet for the small (or medium) rungs, skip those sets, but do the remainder of the workout on the smallest set of rungs you are strong-enough to use.

Next do 8-16 sets of “Max Ladders” on the smallest rungs you can, alternating your leading hand, resting ~1-2 minutes between sets.  As I mentioned in Part 2, I only recommend really pursuing 1 or 2 Campus Exercises, and this is my favorite.  This is the most basic movement, the most specific to rock climbing and the best for isolating individual hands.  My first two sets usually entail a ladder I can reliably do every time (i.e., Small Rungs, B1-L7-R12-B12, leading with each hand) , then the rest of the sets are spent pushing the envelope to the next interval (Small Rungs, B1-L7-R13-B13).  If I succeed and still have training budget available, I try to push to the next interval (Small Rungs, B1-L7-R14-B14 or B1-L8-R14-B14) and/or work a variation that will set me up for the next increment (i.e., Small Rungs, B1-L8-R13-B13, which is slightly harder for me than B1-L7-R13-B-13). 

Once I feel I’ve stopped making progress on Max Ladders (stagnating or regressing after 2-3 tries on a given movement.), I move to Double Dynos.  Double Dynos should take less than half the time as Max Ladders since you don’t need to alternate leading hands.  Considering they are far less specific, I further skew my effort in favor of max ladders.  I like these for several reasons.  First, they really accentuate the eccentric/concentric contractions required of plyometric training.  Also since you loose contact with the board I think they are great for developing spatial awareness and hand-eye coordination at high speeds.  Additionally, any movement involving a stationary hand will benefit from whatever lock-off strength the stationary hand can contribute, while also increasing the time available to latch the high hold.  Doubles eliminate that lock-off component while also keeping the latch period nice and short, thus encouraging the cultivation of good contact strength.  Finally, I think they require higher arousel and commitment than max ladders, making them good for developing the type of aggressive attitude that is helpful for powerful climbing.  Note that with Doubles, one could argue the second movement is somewhat redundant.  However, if the first and second moves are done in a continuous movement the mid-point requires the ideal plyometric movement of catching the rung and immediately springing back upwards.

The rest intervals are really important.  You need to be able to move explosively for Campus Training to be effective.  There really is no such thing as too much rest for this type of activity, so rest as long as you need to be at your very best when executing each set.  I find that 90 seconds is about perfect for me.  Once you start to feel fatigued, end the workout.  At that point you are only courting injury and no longer improving your power.

The entire workout by set:

Key: B=Both Hands, L = Left hand, R = Right Hand, number indicates Rung Number
Note that my Small Rungs are spaced 4″ on center, as prescribed here  These ladders are what I am capable of, but your ladders will differ based on your ability and body size.  These are only meant to be an example.

Warmup (Basic Ladders, alternate leading with each hand):
Set 1: Large rungs, B1-L2-R3-L4-R5-B5 (aka, basic ladder, leading with Left Hand)
Set 2: Large rungs, B1-R2-L3-R4-L5-B5 (aka, basic ladder, leading with Right Hand)
Set 3: Medium Rungs, B1-L3-R5-L7-R9-B9
Set 4: Medium Rungs, B1-R3-L5-R7-L9-B9
Set 5: Small Rungs, B1-L4-R7-L10-R13-B13
Set 6: Small Rungs, B1-R4-L7-R10-L13-B13

Max Ladders:
Set 1: Small Rungs, B1-L7-R12-B12
Set 2: Small Rungs, B1-R7-L12-B12
Set 3: Small Rungs, B1-L7-R13-B13 (attempt) 
Set 4: Small Rungs, B1-R7-L13-B13 (attempt)
Set 5-10: Repeat Sets 3&4 as necessary to complete movement leading with each hand
Set 11: Small Rungs, B1-L7-R14-B14 (attempt, only if completed Set 3 Ladder; may also try B1-L8-R14-B14, etc)
Set 12: Small Rungs, B1-R7-L14-B14 (attempt, only if completed Set 4 Ladder)
Set 13-16: Repeat Sets 11&12 as necessary to complete movement leading with each hand, or until progress stops

Double Dynos:
Set 1: Large Rungs, B1-B2-B3-B4-B5
Set 2: Medium Rungs, B1-B3-B5-B7-B9
Set 3: Small Rungs, B1-B4-B7-B10-B13
(max Double Dynos)
Set 1: Small Rungs, B1-B6-B11
Set 2: Small Rungs, B1-B7-B13 (attempt, only if completed previous movement)
Set 3: Small Rungs, B1-B8-B13 or 14 or 15 (attempt, only if completed previous movement)
Set 5: Small Rungs, B1-B9
Set 6: Small Rungs, B1-B10 (attempt, only if completed previous movement)

End each exercise when performance begins to regress, then complete your core exercise of choice.  The campus portion of my workout typically last no more than 40 minutes (with sets performed on 90-second intervals).

Campus Training Part 2: Frequency & Exercise Overview

This is part 2 in a three-part series on Campus Training.  If you haven’t read Part 1, please do.

Frequency & Rest

The next order of business is to discuss frequency.  Of all training activities, this one has the highest Gab-to-Grab ratio of them all.  That is, far more time is spent talking about Campusing than actually doing it, and that is how it should be.  This training is used sparingly because it is extremely high intensity, and has very limited specificity to rock climbing compared to other mutually exclusive activities like limit bouldering.  In other words, limit bouldering offers a lot more upside than Campusing, and its not safe to do large amounts of both, so err on the side of too much limit bouldering.  Personally, I dedicate about 5 minutes of training time to bouldering for every minute of Campusing (and that doesn’t even account for the fact that every minute of “campusing” really only entails about 5 seconds of contact with the Campus board).  My typical Max R phase will last 3-4 weeks, and entail alternating workouts focused on Campusing and Limit Bouldering.  An outdoor, power-focused climbing day would usually count as a “limit bouldering” day.  Every campus workout is followed by two full rest days (i.e. 70 hours of rest). 

I will pretty much never do more than 5 Campus workouts in a given training cycle.  In my experience, absolute campus power will begin to wane around the 4th-5th workout, although actual bouldering ability should continue to improve as other factors (like movement skills & core strength) improve.  Once I stop improving on the Campus Board I move on to other things.  The schedule will inevitably vary somewhat based on specific climbing goals, targets of opportunity (three-day weekends), etc.

Campus Exercises

There are many different ways to use a Campus Board, and its likely new exercises are invented all the time.  This is not meant to be an exhaustive list but I included every exercise I’ve tried.  If you know of something worthwhile that is missing, please describe the exercise in a comment.  Campusing should only be done in an open-hand or half crimp (Index and Pinkie straight, Middle & Ring bent ~90degress at the big knuckle) grip position.  Do not campus with a closed crimp grip.

Just about any of the Campus exercises described below can theoretically be done in both directions, that is, going up the board and going down.  Theoretically going down will produce more dramatic results, but also increases injury risk significantly.  Its also possible to do both in a single continuous movement (as described in the discussion about  plyometrics).  Personally, I’m not a big fan of going down, as it completely eliminates what little specificity exists in Campus training, and it just feels really dangerous.  But if you find yourself unreasonably healthy and you need that last little bit of power to complete an extremely valued goal, you might consider adding some limited down-campusing.

Note all of these exercises are shown in the video if you just want to cut to the chase….

-“Basic Ladders”: Go up the board one rung at a time, alternating hands, hitting every rung until you reach the top.  This can also be donw with a match between movements if the basica ladder is too strenuous.

-“Max Ladders”: Go up the board alternating hands, skipping as many rungs as possible.  The ultimate goal is to increase the distance between the first and last rung. 

-“Max 1st Move”: Start matched on the first rung and go as high as you can stick with one hand.

-“Go-Agains”: AKA “Bumps”, do the first Max Ladder move, then continue “bumping” the high hand one rung at a time until failure.

-“Touches”: As for the first move of a Max Ladder, but instead of latching the high rung, simply touch the rung, then ‘fall slowly’ back onto the starting rung. 

-“Double-Dynos”: (AKA “Doubles”) Move both hands at the same time in matched fashion, so for each movement your body has no contact with the board. 

-“Up-Down-Up”: This is a more advanced plyometric version of the other exercises, and is usually done with a Double Dyno, but could also be done with one hand fixed if Doubles are too hard (as for Max Ladders).  Begin by Campusing up a set increment of rungs, then down a set increment (with the same hand or matched hands).  When you latch the lower rung explode back up (trying to make the down and up portion one continuous movement). 

-“Typewriters”:  Begin with hands matched on the left (or right) end of your campus board.  Bump your right (or left if starting on the right end of the board) hand as far right as you can, without going up the board.  Continue bumping your right hand right until you run out of real estate or are about to fall off, then match your left hand next to your right. 

Demonstration of Campus Exercises.  It may help to view thise several times.  Never do all of these in one workout (unless you’re filming a video for your Training Blog)

Now that I’ve described a plethora of exercises, let me contradict myself.  I think a big mistake lots of people make is that they try to do too many different types of movements on the campus board.  In my opinion there just isn’t enough training time available to properly work all of these areas.  If you try to fit all this stuff in you will consume your entire time allotment just doing each activity once (leading with each hand).  That doesn’t allow any time to actually repeat a movement.  How can one expect to get better at a movement if they only do it once?  I describe all these exercises because they might help you overcome a specific weakness, but I would not recommend that any one person do all of them.  Tune in next week to find out which ones I think are really worth investing serious time in….

Campus Training Part 1: History, Theory & Campus Board Construction

This is Part 1 of a 3 part mini-series on Campus Training.  Check back for the rest of the story in the near future.

Gullich going big on the original Campus Board. Note how low his left hand is!

The legend of the original Campus Board is well-known and often re-told, not unlike the Epic tales of the ancient Greeks.  The incomparable Wolfgang Gullich installed the first board at a Nurnberg gym known as “The Campus Centre” to help elevate his finger strength to levels that could only be described as “futuristic”.  The board consists of a ladder of finger edges, and the training method is to move dynamically between these edges with feet dangling.

The concept behind the Campus Board is to apply methods of “Plyometric Training” in a manner that is specific to rock climbers.  Plyometrics have been around for a while, originally developed by Soviet Track & Field coaches in the 1960s to help train explosive power in their athletes.  Early plyometrics involved activities like jumping off a high surface, landing on a lower surface and immediately springing back up to the original height.  Theoretically the landing causes an involuntary eccentric contraction in the leg muscles which must be immediately converted to a concentric contraction in a very short period of time.  This type of training is still widely regarded as the best method for improving explosive power.  Gullich’s visionary adaptation of these concepts proved to be the key to his ground-breaking ascent of Action Directe in 1991, amazingly still one of the hardest routes in the world.

Gullich mono-campusing on his opus, “Action Directe”

Considering that (simplistically speaking) Power equals Force divided by Time, there are two key reasons Plyometric Training is effective at developing explosive power.  While it helps increase muscle fiber recruitment (key to maximizing the force element of the equation), there are many ways to increase recruitment some of which are likely more effective.  What sets plyometrics apart is the dynamic aspect of the training, which helps train muscle fibers to contract more quickly, allowing us to generate high levels of force in short order.  The obvious application to climbers is to use plyometrics to improve “contact strength” (if you’re unclear on the definition, read this), the key to performing difficult dynamic climbing moves (and often the key to success on hard routes or boulder problems). 

As with classic Plyometric training, the act of latching a difficult dynamic move entails a short period of eccentric contraction in the forearm muscles followed by an immediate concentric contraction to achieve the desired isometric grip position.

In addition to the pure strength benefits of Campus Training, this method is very helpful for improving the inter-muscular coordination required for good “accuracy” in dynamic movements.  The more you practice dynoing or campusing, the better your brain gets at aiming for holds. In a few sessions I can pretty quickly get to a point where I’m basically deadpointing every campus move, which makes the moves much easier. This accuracy translates directly to the rock, although on rock, every move is different, so your accuracy on an onsight will likely never be perfect, but it should improve over time.  The more you practice dynamic movements, the better your body & mind get at remembering those types of movements, meaning you should find yourself better able to “dial” dynamic moves on your projects over time.

Consistent Campus Training will greatly improve your muscular coordination, key for moves requiring tremendous accuracy like this dyno to a mono pocket

Finally, its well known that some climbers just don’t do well on dynamic moves.  This could be due to a general lack of aggression or a strong desire to remain “in control” on the rock.  Campusing can work wonders with these issues.  By encouraging aggressive and committing movement in a low-risk environment, climbers can overcome years of overly static movement after only a handful of short campus sessions.

With all the many great things Campusing has to offer, its worth noting the downsides.  First, there is no doubt that campusing is much harder on the joints than other methods of recruitment training such as hangboarding.  Campusing is by its very nature somewhat wild and out of control.  With a hangboard you can dial-down the intensity at will, and let go the moment things get uncomfortable.  Often in campusing (or dynoing in general) the only sign of injury comes after its too late.  For that reason, its critical to minimize the amount of time dedicated to the Campus Board, and ensure that you are 100% injury free before beginning any campus activities.  Elbows are particularly at risk, but shoulders and fingers need to be healthy as well.

Hopefully your board looks something like this, or perhaps even better. From left to right the board has “Large”, “Small” and “Medium” rungs.

Now that you’re all psyched to get campusing, you just need get yourself a Campus Board.  Ideally you have a local gym with an acceptable board.  The board needs to be in good shape, with a large quantity of smooth “rungs” of uniform size and shape, spaced at short intervals (around 3-4″).  Many boards have way too few rungs.  The result is climbers quickly progress to whatever is near their limit, then its pretty much impossible to improve any further because the next increment of progression is too great.  The legendary Ben Moon has popularized the spacing of his board (22cm intervals), which is famous for the “1-5-9” ladder.  This spacing is way too big!  Someone like me can do 1-4-7 on Moon spacing, but I would have no prayer of doing 1-5-9.  So I would be forced to do something that is too easy to be at my limit.  Some day I may be able to do 1-5-9, but I won’t get there by repeatedly doing 1-4-7.

Another common problem is boards that mix different sizes and shapes of rungs on the same ladder.  This causes the same problem as a board with too few rungs.  The board should be ~15 degrees overhanging, and free-hanging to allow your feet and legs to swing around without dabbing on nearby walls.  If you don’t have access to a good campus board and you want to build your own, I highly recommend wooden Campus Rungs like these.  For some great tips on building your board, check out this guide.  You don’t necessarily need all three sizes of rungs–at this point I have no use for the Large rungs and only use the Medium rungs for warming up.  Finally, the rungs need to be numbered so that you can record and track your training.

Look for much more on how to get the most out of the Campus Board in the next few weeks….

Contact Strength, Max Recruitment, & Power Training

‘Contact Strength’, ‘Max Recruitment’ and ‘Power’ are terms used often by climbers in training, but their actual meanings and inter-relationships can be somewhat ambiguous.  As the first in a mult-part series on the subjuect, this post will attempt to clarify these terms and explain precisely what they mean for Performance Climbers. 

Skeletal muscle is composed of many individual muscle fibers, and they don’t always work in unison.

Each muscle in the body is composed of a multitude of individual muscle fibers.  When your muscle completes a contraction, not all of these muscle fibers are contributing to that contraction in a useful way.  Some fibers may contract at the wrong time, or too slowly to be effective, some may not contract at all.  Some of this is accidental, but some is intentional.  Individual fibers cannot sustain a contraction over a “long” period of time.  Any sustained muscular contraction is achieved by alternating the brief contractions of individual fibers (allowing some to rest while others are working).  This has obvious advantages to endurance athletes, but is problemmatic for those seeking to produce the greatest amount of force for a single, short burst of effort.

Max Recruitment Training is all about maximizing the amount and effectiveness of muscle fiber contractions for a single effort.  This is done in part by increasing the number of active fibers during a contraction.  The goal for climbers training Max R is to increase the ability to generate maximum force to execute one ridiculously hard move.  Of course, most of the time ‘ridiculously hard’ moves are atleast somewhat dynamic, which brings us to an oft used (and mis-used) term in performance climbing, “Contact Strength”. 

Contact Strength: if you can’t generate high force quickly, you won’t be able to ‘stick it’.

Contact Strength is a widely confusing term, so let me spell out my definition.  When you grasp a hold, your muscles do not exert peak force on the hold immediately. It takes “a while” (on the order of a tenth of a second in some human muscles*) for your muscles to generate maximum force. “Contact strength” is basically the amount of force you can generate during the period of initial contact with the hold.  This is critical to climbers executing a dyno, because you need that force to ramp up as quickly as possible, during the brief instant when your fingers are still in contact with the hold you are dynoing for. 

You’ve probably heard of “fast twitch” and “Slow twitch” muscle fibers, each designed to be more effective in different types of contractions.  Slow Twitch fibers are more dense with capillaries, allowing them to sustain areobic activites, but they take about three times as long to contract as “Fast Twitch” fibers.  On the flip side, Fast Twitch fibers are unable to sustain long efforts.  Fortunately for the “tortoise” climbers out there, some slow twitch fibers can be trained to behave more like fast twitch fibers (trained to contract more quickly).

A highly magnified cross cection of muscle tissue showing three muscle fiber types. Type 1 are “Slow Twitch” (the most common type), Type IIB or IIX are “Fast Twitch”. Type IIA fibers have attributes of both fast and slow twitch, and can be trained to behave somewhat like either.

However, true “max Recruitment” training in the weight-lifting sense doesn’t necessarily train the speed element of a contraction, but rather the maximum generation of force independent of time.  A weight lifter looking to max out his deadlift can tug and scream for half a second before the barbell actually lifts off the floor.  This can be true of hard climbing moves as well, as in the first hard move pulling off the ground or off a good stance, but in my experience the vast majority of crux moves must be executed dynamically.  So climbers need to find a way to train Max Recruitment that also helps to improve contact strength.  For this reason, it would probably be more correct to say that climbers can benefit from “Power Training” vice “Max Recruitment”, but since Power is a subset of Max R, both are relevant to climbers, its simply a matter of determining the best use of limit training opportunities.

Here are some general descriptions of a few climbing-specific activities that will help train Power or Max R in the climbing muscles without eschewing other key aspects of climbing training: 

Limit Bouldering: Pretty simple, bouldering right at your limit.  The key is to do problems that emphasize one or two REALLY hard moves, rather than problems that entail 6-8 pretty hard moves.  Remember, we want a small number of reps at very high intensity.  Bouldering at a lower intensity is fun and can have other training benefits, but to get Max R improvements, the moves need to be WAY HARD!  To get an additional power training effect, emphasize hard dynamic moves.

A good limit boulder problem will emphasize 1-2 really hard moves


  • Very sport specific
  • Trains entire body (finger strength and core)
  • Trains movement elements
  • Can be done outside
  • Way more fun & social than any of the other options!


  • Difficult to quantify intensity for purposes of tracking from season to season, can be alleviated with private wall or visiting outdoor boulder crags
  • Difficult to isolate specific muscle groups (may be limited by core strength, etc). Can be alleviated with routesetting privileges
  • Relatively uncontrolled, can lead to increased injury risk
  • More susceptable to external influences (peer pressure, projects at the whim of your gym’s routesetters, confusion between training & performance (desire to send training problem encourages unwise behavior))

Campus Training: This dynamic style of training involves footless dynos between like holds, and is probably the best method of pure power training available to climbers.  Look for some in-depth discussion on this in the coming weeks.


  • Easy to quantify
  • Easy to isolate finger strength
  • Best for improving dynamic accuracy & confidence
  • Perhaps the best method for improving “contact strength”


  • Higher than normal risk of aggravating elbows/shoulders
  • Depending on setup, can be difficult to progress
  • Not as specific to rock climbing as Limit Bouldering
  • Little movement training involved (although it does require some coordination, these movements aren’t very specific and not sufficiently varied)
  • Can be painful/hard on the skin
  • Requires special equipment (a campus board)

Hangboard Training: A hangboard can be used for any type of muscular training, its just a matter of varying the number and duration of reps and sets to achieve the desired goal.  Max R training on a hangboard would involve 2-3 sets of 1-3 reps of a short duration (5 seconds or less) for each grip position.


  • Easy to quantify
  • Easy to isolate finger strength
  • Can be done without access to crag or gym


  • Not very specific
  • Little to no dynamic component, which is key to Power Training/contact strength
  • No movement training benefits
  • Monotonous (after 4 weeks of Hypertrophy training on the hangboard, do you really want to do another few weeks of Max R on the hangboard?)

What’s my favorite?  I’ve never used a hangboard for Max R training, and I have no plans to, but I could see the benefits if you didn’t have access to a good campus board or bouldering facility.  Unfortunately the lack of a dynamic element is a significant disadvantage.  I think both Limit Bouldering and Campusing have their place, but I favor Limit Bouldering because of the benefits of training movement and the entire body system all at once.  In the next few posts I will go into much more detail on Campus training and how it should be integrated with Limit Bouldering into your training plan.