Campus Board Training: The Complete Beginner’s Guide

Campus board training is a fantastic tool for improving your climbing. The idea is to repeat basic patterns of movement on a campus board to increase your upper body strength.

It’s not as straightforward as up and down though! There are a few different types of training you can use a campus board for and deciding what to do depends on your climbing goals.

Do you want to make bigger, more powerful moves?

Do you want to be able to climb longer boulders?

Do you struggle at climbing dynamically and dead-pointing?

These are all areas that campusing can help with and in this article I’m going to give you the tools you need to build your own routine!

This article is written more as a toolkit rather than an exact plan as it’s more important that you find an exercise that works for your level. A seasoned boulderer isn’t going to gain much by going from bottom to top using every rung, while a beginner won’t get very far if they start off by trying to double campus rungs 1-5.

Why Train on the Campus Board?

Simply put, campusing will increase the power in your upper body.

However, there are 4 different types of upper body strength that you can choose to focus on depending on your climbing goals. Let’s look at each.

1. Power Endurance

This is the simple goal of making the same level of power last a bit longer. It normally involves doing exercises that are within your capacity but repeating them with limited rest.

2. Endurance

Strangely enough, you can actually use a campus board for endurance. If it’s within your capacity to campus 40 moves on the board then go for it, but many people actually put their feet on small footholds placed under the campus board and just move up and down the first 2 rungs for an extended period of time. This will help build shoulder activation and give you that lovely forearm pump.

3. Absolute Power

The good stuff. Absolute power is the hardest thing to build and what bouldering is based on. Training to increase absolute power is often focused on generating larger movements that you can only produce when fully rested. It has been likened to attempting a boulder problem at your limit. You wait until you are fully rested and then give it your best attempt.

4. Contact Strength

Contact strength is probably what campus boards train best and it’s one of the most useful types of strength in climbing. Contact strength describes the ability to activate your muscles powerfully in a short period of time.

In other words, it’s the difference between hanging a small edge or position and attempting to jump or throw into that same position. Can you only stick that hold from a static position, or can you stick it after a dynamic move as well? The second is much harder and something that happens in climbing a lot.

Everything you do on a campus board short of endurance exercises is going to improve contact strength. To really focus on it though try to find holds you really must throw and catch rather than lock off to. Smaller rungs or slopers are generally better to aim for as more contact strength will be required to hold them.

How to Not Break Yourself While Campus Boarding

If not done correctly, you can easily injure yourself from campus board training. Here are a few things to think about before you begin.

1. Can You Easily Go Up & Down Using the Biggest Rungs?

The exercises in this article — and campus boarding in general — is aimed at working high levels of power. There is no point in trying it if you haven’t got the basic strength levels yet.

If the board at it’s easiest level is too much for you, then you are better off focusing on climbing overhangs for a while first.

2. When You’re Using the Campus Board, Are Your Shoulders &  Core Activated?

Some people have the pull in their arms to get to the top, but their shoulders aren’t activating. This is poor form and will cause a lot of damage to your joints.

When campusing (or carrying out almost any hanging activity), you’ve always got to keep your shoulders locked down. A lax shoulder will lead to some horrible things in the joint and do an excellent job of giving you that shoulder injury all the cool climbers have.

Check out these photos showing the difference between an activated and relaxed shoulder.

Hanging with bad form

Hanging with bad form

Hanging with good form

Hanging with good form

I find the best way of describing it (without looking at a photo or video of yourself hanging) is to hold your arm above your head and push all the way up so that your shoulder is touching your ear.

This is completely the opposite of what you want. Your shoulders should be down and away from this position while your arms are up.

If you are ever campusing and feel your shoulder brush your ear — DROP OFF!

Another way of explaining this is to be aware of how much you’re swinging. Someone who has their shoulders correctly activated will be able to generate an opposing force from their core and won’t dangle or swing at all.

Obviously, we are aiming to push ourselves in these exercises so it’s okay to swing an amount, but if you are grabbing a rung, bouncing off the board and having to wait a couple of seconds before you can look at going to the next rung, you shouldn’t be on the board.

If you’re unsure about your form at all, get a friend to watch you and compare it to the videos below.

Bad Campusing Form

Good Campusing Form

3. How Are You Holding onto the Rungs?

If you are campusing on slopers then there is no wrong way to hold them. If you are on crimps on the other hand then you must be aware of which grip type you are using. The 3 grip types are:

1. Open hand

Open hand

SAFE to use on the campus board

2. Half crimp

Half crimp

SAFE to use on the campus board

3. Full crimp

Full crimp

NOT SAFE to use on the campus board

Only the first two are safe to use on a campus board. Full crimp is actually the most powerful of the grip types and that means that you must be aware you are not accidentally changing into it when you are trying hard. If you do notice your thumb clinch over your index finger while on the board then drop off.

How to Train on a Campus Board: The 5 Main Movements

You might have seen climbers at your gym do some confusing things on the campus board. Maybe you just thought people go up and down on every rung.

Like I said though, campus board training isn’t as straightforward as up and down. Here’s a list of the 5 main movements people perform during their training and why they’re useful.

1. Single Move

A really simple way of training absolute power is to attempt the biggest possible movement from a matched position on the bottom rung. It’s all about targeting the explosive power you can generate and there is no locking involved.

Often people either match the hold they go to or drop off. Make sure you are hanging for a second first and not jumping off the ground!

2. Jump Catch

Another simple but great exercise is to begin on the floor holding the bottom rung and then attempt to jump up to the highest rung you can reach. The further the rung, the more you will be stretched out and really have to work to engage all the muscles.

This exercise takes the pulling factor out of the equation and really targets your ability to snap into a position of strength. If you want to add to it, see if you can drop back down to both hands on the first rung without hitting the ground.

If you’re really pushing it, you might be trying this movement without your other hand on the bottom rung — but I’m pretty sure you would already know a lot about campusing if you’re trying that.

3. Double Campus

This involves throwing from one rung to the next with both hands at the same time. It’s great for building strength while adding a bit of coordination into your workout too. The further you throw the more contact strength will be required to grab the hold.

This is another exercise that is great to reverse. Many people will jump up 2 rungs and then drop down 1 repeatedly on their way up. This can also be done in a staggered fashion (one arm higher than the other) or with a swapping motion.

4. 1-5-9

This movement builds off of the Single Move (#1 on this list). The idea is to complete the Single Move and then move again to a third rung without matching the middle one.

Moving between rungs 1-5-9 are the most difficult on a campus board and a coveted achievement in climbing. You don’t have to do this! 1-4-7, 1-3-5 or even 1-2-3 also come under this category.

A 1-5-9 type of movement is much more powerful as you must generate most of the second movement from only one arm. I recommend using your lower hand to push through the movement but if you are reaching the higher levels and wish to be really strict, this can be cut out.

5. Single-Arm Campus

The idea here is to be matched on the lowest rung and move only one hand up a rung at a time with the other hand pressing off of the bottom rung. See how high you can go. Once you go beyond your arm span the stronger climbers among us display the exceptionally difficult single-arm campus.

How to Turn the Above Movements into a Training Regimen

Now that you have all the info, here’s what you need to do with it:

First, decide whether you want to train power endurance or absolute power. I haven’t addressed the other two types of strength here because endurance is relatively basic — just move up and down the rungs for an extended period of time — and almost everything targets contact strength.

Then you’ve got to figure out which of the 5 movements above to include in your training regimen.

Absolute Power Regimen

A campus board session geared towards this is really straightforward. There are two basic steps:

  1. Find a movement you are really close to doing or can just about do one in every several goes. This could be something like double campusing rungs 1-4 or just a single move 1-3 on the slopers.
  2. Try your absolute hardest to do it with plenty of rest in between.

I would normally not attempt a movement more than 10 times before moving on to try a different one. These power-focused sessions are about 1 or 2 movements max normally. Don’t worry about repeating the movements all the way to the top.

Power Endurance Regimen

Now we’re onto stuff that should get your face a bit redder.

  1. Find 4 different movements you can do with moderate difficultyIt could be a jump catch to the 4th rung or a single arm campus 1-2-3, back down, swap arm. Each time you land on a new rung counts as a repetition here.
  2. Start yourself a timer and repeat one of your movements for 30 seconds. Aim for 5-10 reps.
  3. Drop off and rest until the end of the minute.
  4. Repeat steps 2-3 on the minute for 4 minutes.
  5. Rest for 4 minutes before moving on to your next movement and repeating steps 2-4

It should take you 32 minutes all together to get through all 4 movements.

There you have it.

You now have the tools to build your own campus board sessions. I recommend no more than one or two of each type of session a week. Also, make sure you’re doing them while you’re feeling strong!

Remember, these exercises are designed to be working the top level of your strength. If your form goes, not only will you no longer be getting the strength gains but you will also dramatically increase your chances of injury.

Happy campusing!