Who Needs Campusing?

In autumn 1991 the late Wolfgang Gullich redpointed Action Directe, a very steep route with shallow finger pockets.  At 8c+ (34?), it was the hardest sport route in the world.  Gullich’s training for the route: climbing using only one finger of each hand, feet hanging free, on an overhanging ladder of wooden first-joint finger edges.  This was the original campus board (named for its location in the Campus Gym at Nurnberg, Germany)

Campus boards, says Jerry Moffatt, are best used for increasing power, “which is what we all want and need”.  Moffatt has been training on campus boards since 1987 and continues to do so today.  Although campusing could also be used for endurance, Moffatt feels its not the best way, plus the repetitive easy moves endurance training requires could be injurious, boring and give you blisters.

Jim Karn believes that campusing is best used for working on specific weaknesses: If you’re poor at locking off open-handed, practise open handed lock-offs on a campus board.  If your problem is long dynos, do long dynos.  If you can’t identify specific weaknesses, or if you want to improve your all-around power, Karn believes bouldering on short powerful problems is of greater benefit than campusing.

Why They Work

There are two basic ways your muscles get stronger.  One is by increasing fibre size; the other is by teaching your nervous system to recruit more fibres into single contractions.  Campusing primarily improves the latter.  As your hands hit the rungs the sudden loading teaches your nervous system to fire more muscle fibres at a time.  Thee result: more power.

The Sydney Indoor Climbing Gym Campus Board

Its modelled on the “School Room” board used by Jerry Moffatt, Ben Moon and others in Manchester, England.  It has nine rungs with 22 cm spacing, with three sizes of rung.


Try to use open-handed grips as much as possible.  Crimping is more likely to injure your fingers.  When used correctly, a campus board can actually  strengthen your tendons to prevent injury.  Placing heavy loads on your tendons causes them to grow and strengthen, but there’s a fine line between training that stimulates tendon growth and that which causes injury.

Warm up adequately first.  As well as your normal climbing warm up, boulder hard for at least half an hour before campusing.

How to Use It

Break you workout into sets and reps.  Jim Karn does six reps per set, three each on each hand.  Rest between sets, with longer rests to emphasise explosive power and shorter rests to work power endurance.

Hand over Hand
Go up and down rungs using an open-handed four finger grip without any support from the feet.  To emphasise finger power, use increasingly smaller edges.  To increase lock off power, skip rungs and try to do moves more statically.

Drop Backs
Start with both hands on a rung.  Pulling as fast as possible, touch, but don’t hold, a higher rung then immediately drop back to the first.  Without pausing, repeat with the other hand, aiming for about 12 high speed reps.

Double Dynos
Go up two hands at a time instead of one.

Start at the top and descend.  Depending on your strength compared to the size of the edge, you’ll either come down slowly or have to snatch as fast as possible between rungs.  The former increases muscle size, the latter trains recruitment.  When you plateau on one, move to the other to improve.

Get to the top with as few moves as possible, starting with both hands on the bottom.  Going 1-5-9 on the smallest rungs was a popular project with Ben Moon and Jerry Moffatt.

Use less fingers
for any of the above.