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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.

Recommended Reading – Revelations by Jerry Moffatt

The holidays are upon us, which means friends and relatives will soon be pestering you for your wish list.  If you don’t already have it, I highly recommend asking Santa for a copy of Jerry Moffatt’s outstanding autobiography Revelations.

RevelationsJerry Moffatt was probably the best climber in the world for most of the 1980s, and he continued to push standards throughout the 90′s.  He was integral to the explosion in free climbing standards that occurred during the 1980s.  He was also a highly accomplished trad, headpoint, and solo climber and perhaps the best on sight climber of his generation.

While Moffatt’s story is a fascinating and entertaining read in itself, I mention it here because the book also offers countless insights for the performance-oriented climber.  Moffatt was among the first climbers to really embrace training, and he goes into considerable detail explaining how he trained for different objectives.  He also recounts the legendary characters (like Bachar and Gullich) that influenced his ideas on training, while discussing his thought process when developing training plans for different goals.

Moffatt possessed legendary focus and determination.  He dreamt big, but he backed up his dreams with hard work and tremendous effort in the moment of each ascent.  His book describes in detail how he approached stressful performance situations (like the first On Sight ascent of the Gunks’ Supercrack and World Championship competitions).  Any climber, of any ability, can benefit from these lessons.

ANY climber can benefit from Moffatt's considerable wisdom!  Photo: Nick Clement

ANY climber can benefit from Moffatt’s considerable wisdom! Photo: Nick Clement

While Moffatt was often head and shoulders above his peers, he was not superman.  He provides a glimpse into an elite world that most of us will never experience, yet his story is very relatable.  He frankly describes his various injuries and accidents, humanizing himself while tackling the frustration and despair that comes with any setback.  He confronts many of the same challenges we all face on our own paths to continuous improvement, giving us real hope that we can overcome them too.

I’ve read the book cover-to-cover three times now, and I will surely read it again.  Its hands-down my favorite climbing book.  His trials and eventual triumphs never fail to motivate me, and should give you the extra boost you need to fire up your winter training sessions.

For those who’ve already enjoyed Revelations, here are some other recommendations.  None of these are technical manuals; they are entertaining reads that also impart random snippets of climbing wisdom:

Wolfgang Gullich: Life in the Vertical by Tillmann Hepp.  This biography of the world’s most beloved climber is now out of english print and therefore correspondingly rare and expensive.  However, if you can get your hands on a copy you won’t be disappointed (check your library or ask around–the AAC Library in Golden has a copy).  In addition to recounting Gullich’s countless ground-breaking ascents, the book also discusses his training methods, tactics, and attitudes, including several interviews and short pieces penned by Gullich himself.

Beyond the Summit by Todd Skinner.  This book describes Todd’s quest to free Trango Tower, but also details his development as a climber and other groundbreaking ascents like the Free Salathe Wall.  As a training tool, this book will help you with goal-setting and motivation.

Full of Myself by Johnny Dawes.  To put it simply, Dawes was a rock genius, in the sense that he was an artist of completely unique ability and vision.  He was never the strongest climber, but his talent for movement was incomparable.  His book goes neck-deep into what it takes to become a technical climbing master.  If you’re unfamiliar with his work, consider viewing his legendary film Stone Monkey to get an idea of his abilities (in fact, if you can find the DVD, you might just ask for that instead of the book!):

A History of Freeclimbing in North America: Wizards of Rock by Pat Ament.  This tome is an encyclopedic catalogue of noteworthy ascents from 1869 to 2001.  It’s not the kind of book you would normally read cover-to-cover, but many of the entries include long, first-person accounts from the players themselves.  It’s absolutely essential for any lover of climbing history, but it also has some good insights for the performance-oriented climber, such as interesting training and tactical tidbits from legends like John Bachar, Tony Yaniro, and Alan Watts.  Ament’s occassionally editorializing on style comes off as petty at times, but it’s generally easy to ignore.

If you have any other recommendations for books that offer a bit more than an entertaining read to get us through the long winter, please post them in a comment below.

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….

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