Rock climbing is a sport that requires some specialized strength development in your hands and forearms, and training on a board is one of the best ways to build that strength.
There are many climbing-specific fingerboards available, but one of the classics is the simple campus board. A campus board is generally just a 20-degree overhanging piece of plywood with different size rungs and grips on it. It was developed by a German climber named Wolfgang Gullich in the late ’80s, to develop the explosive power and finger strength that he needed to make the first descent of a route called Action Directe, which was the first route to receive the grade 9A in the world. You can find campus boards installed at many indoor climbing gyms, and they’re also easy to create on your own with a campus rung kit.
Campus board training can take a toll on your joints and tendons, making a thorough warm-up absolutely essential before you start a workout. To avoid injury and get the greatest gains in strength, approach the campus board the same way you would a hard route or boulder problem. Boulder lightly for 30 to 40 minutes or up until the point when you feel like you’re really ready to try hard. Make sure to start slow and gradually increase the difficulty. After the warm up, stretch and rest for at least 10 minutes before starting on the campus board.
To reduce the chances of sustaining a finger injury, avoid wrapping your thumb over your index finger in a crimp position. Try to use an open-hand grip position. The open-hand grip position will place less stress on your tendons and will yield the greatest gains in contact strength.
While the design of the campus board enables dozens of exercises with an unlimited number of variations, touches are a good place to start. For touches, start with both hands matched on a rung. With one hand, reach to a higher rung, only grabbing it briefly before dropping back down to the matched position, then alternate hands. If you’re new to the campus board and simply hanging on the rungs seems like an impossible feat, start with your feet on the kicker.
The classic campus exercise. For ladders, pull from one rung to the next without matching, as if you were climbing a ladder without using your feet. The rungs on a campus board are typically numbered one through nine. In the beginning, a ladder would be 1-2-3-4-5 and so on. As you gain strength and can skip rungs, a ladder will look more like 1-3-5-7-9. The ultimate right of passage on the campus board is the ability to pull 1-5-9. While ladders seem overly simple, there’s a fair amount of technique in play that you’ll want to imitate and develop. Instead of simply pulling hard with the upper hand, make sure to simultaneously push down with the lower hand, driving you up toward the next rung. A good workout for ladders is to do two-round sets, three sets total. Each round is a single trip up the campus board, and you’ll want to alternate your leading hand for each round. Rest for one minute between each round and three minutes between each set.
Proper rest is essential not only between campus workouts but during the workout itself. In addition to building finger strength, the campus board is a good way to develop explosive power. To develop the fast-twitch muscle fibers that generate power, it’s critical to approach each effort on the campus board as rested as possible. For general rest and recovery between workouts, a good rule is to campus no more than one or two days per week during a four to six week training cycle, taking a break of several weeks to a month between training cycles. Over-training on the campus board can quickly become detrimental to your climbing health and performance, potentially causing finger injuries and tendonitis. Most importantly, listen to the feedback from your body. If something hurts, stop doing it, and take as much rest as you need!