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Introduction To Campus Board Training - Duncan Brown


Introduction To Campus Board Training
Brought to you by "Athlete By Choice"

Taking your first steps into training on a campus board can seem daunting. We often see powerful climbers on these boards performing advanced exercises that require large amounts of power and coordination and think “I can't possibly use that board – it's much to advanced for me” and end up discounting the campus board as a suitable tool for our needs as climbers newer to training in such ways. Either that, or we jump in head first and attempt exercises too advanced for us and risk serious injury by attempting such advanced exercises before our tendons and other connective and supporting tissues are ready for this kind of work.

So then, how can we use such a seemingly advanced tool in a way suitable to our level of strength and skill? The answer is to approach campus board training in a progressive manner, starting with large, comfortable campus rungs, learning new movement skills step by step, perfecting them and then progressing to more advanced movements and finally to smaller rungs only when we have perfected the previous steps. 

Below we will outline a progressive series of exercises that lead from the very beginning of the skill sets we require for using a campus board, all the way through to standard campus laddering (the standard movement worked on using a campus board).

Before we go through the exercises, though, we will make a suggestion regarding how to structure a campus board work out.

An effective campus board workout, due to its high demands on strength, power and coordination, is ALWAYS done AFTER a thorough warm up but BEFORE doing other types of training that will cause you to fatigue. Being 'pre-fatigued' causes us to lose some of our fine motor coordination and response time which during an activity like campus board training can lead to injury very easily.

Warm up thoroughly, start your campus board training whilst feeling fresh and keep the length of your session short enough that you finish the session feeling invigorated more so than fatigued from the workout.

Progress through a few sets each of the exercises below that you have already mastered, do several more sets of the skills you are currently working on and then finish and move on to other types of training. For all but the more advanced athletes, 10 – 20 minutes of campus board training in a session will be more than enough to elicit the desired training response without too high a risk of injury. Be sure to rest long enough between sessions on the campus board so that you are 100% recovered before you next use the board. For most people this will be between 24-48 hours, but for some people may even be more, so ensure you are rested and recovered fully before your next session.

If at any time you feel like you do not understand a movement or technique please seek advice from a coach to help you to attain and maintain correct technique in all facets of your training.

The Exercises

  • Remember: the exercises begin at the very base skill sets required to use a campus board. Ensure you have mastered each step before moving on to the next. Begin with the largest campus rungs only until you have mastered all the basic skills below before moving on to smaller campus rungs.
  • For all exercises use a open hand grip position, or at most a half crimp grip position. At no point of these exercises should you be using a full crimp grip position.
  • During all of these exercises pay attention to your back and shoulder muscles. Attempt to keep a small amount of tension in the muscles, even in the basic hangs, and focus on pulling your shoulder blades together to keep your shoulders back and in better alignment for their full range of motion. Having an expert assess your shoulder movement may help in keeping you away from shoulder issues in the long run. 
  1. Dead Hangs - Hold a rung with both hands and hang from it for a minimum of 10 seconds.
  2. Offset Dead Hangs - Hold one hand on the lowest rung and your other hand on the next rung up and hang from them for a minimum of 10 seconds. Perform this again with your hands in the opposite arrangement. This can be progressed to a higher and higher upper rung as you acquire more strength, but to begin with working up to being able to hold your low hand on rung 1 and your upper hand on rung 3 will suffice.
  3. Pull Ups - Hold a rung with both hands and starting from a hanging position, perform a pull up. Being able to do a minimum of 5 smooth pull ups is a good base level to work from.
  4. Offset Pull Ups - Hold one hand on the lowest rung and your other hand on the next rung up and perform a pull up, bringing your head up level with the highest of your hands. Being able to do a minimum of 5 smooth offset pull ups is a good base level to work from. This can be progressed to a higher upper rung as you acquire more strength, but to begin with working up to being able to hold your low hand on rung 1 and your upper hand on rung 3 will suffice.
  5. Jump & Catch Drill - Before progressing to campusing in full, we need to learn the coordination to catch a campus rung whilst moving quickly and hold our body weight though the movement. To begin with, start with your feet on the ground, hold one hand on the lowest campus rung and then jump to a rung a little higher up the board (where it seems natural to jump to will depend on your board and your height) and catch the rung and hold this position for 3 seconds before dropping back to the ground. Repeat on the other hand. Being able to do this comfortably on both sides, jumping up several rungs and catching the rung in a comfortable and coordinated way is necessary before moving on to the next steps.
  6. Pull & Catch Drill - Start hanging with both hands on a rung and pull up throw one hand up to the next rung, catch it, hold the position for 3 seconds and then drop down to the ground. Repeat on both sides. Progress this to pull up to as high a rung as you can get to, but at least work up to pulling from rung 1 to rung 3 before taking the next step.
  7. Offset Pull & Catch Drill - Start hanging with one hand on rung 1 and one hand on rung 2, pull up and throw the lower hand up to rung 3, catch it, hold the position for 3 seconds and then drop down to the ground. Repeat on both sides. Progress this to pull up to as high a rung as you can get to, but at least  work up to pulling from rungs 1 and 2 through to rung 4 before taking the next step.
  8. Basic Matching Ladders - The primary exercise that we do one a campus board, while glorified in it's ultimate movement, the famous “1-5-9” movement, begins at a much more accessible level with the basic single rung ladder. Start hanging with both hands on the first rung, pull up and throw one hand up to the next rung, match that rung and repeat the movement and match up through the rungs above, alternative which hand you lead with each time.
  9. Ladders - The final step! Start hanging with both hands on the first rung, pull up and throw one hand up to the next rung, catch it, perform the next step as for the 'Offset Pull & Catch Drill' and repeat this up the board.

From this final stage of being able to smoothly perform ladders on the campus board you can work on making the ladders more and more powerful by skipping out more and more rungs in between each movement.

As you acquire more power and coordination you will be able to look further into the more advanced techniques of campus board training. But, until then, progress your campus board training slowly and steadily, master each new skill before moving on to the next and above all, enjoy learning the new skills and gaining new power!

Happy training!

For further advice on all aspects of training please don't hesitate to contact Duncan Brown, from Athlete By Choice.

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