Last week we began our two week Training Takeover of the Trango social media channels. We laid out the framework for an 8 week training plan that will help you jump start your climbing training and push yourself to new levels. This program is an abbreviated version of the protocol laid out in the Rock Climber’s Training Manual and will help even the newest climbers delve into the world of climbing training.
This program consists of 4 training “Phases,” followed by an on-the-rock “Performance Phase.” The training phases are:
Today, we’ll introduce Campus Board training and give you some working examples of how it works and why we use it.
What is Campus Board Training?
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.
You can find out more about the History, Theory, and Construction of Campus Boards in this post:
The Benefits of Campus Board Training
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).
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.
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.
For more on the benefits of Campus Board Training, read this post:
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.
For a sample Campus Board workout, check out this post: