By Mark Anderson
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).
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.
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 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.
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?