The Campus Board

Posted on 03. May, 2010 by in News

Anyone who is serious about taking their bouldering to the next level has spent some time on the campus board. I have been campusing seriously for the last two years and it is often so enjoyable that it seems that it could be an end in itself. Not only that, but it is the best way to build power for bouldering and its objective measurements allow for real and accurate measurements in improvement.
The campus board was invented by all around rock legend, the late Wolfgang Gullich, in Nurnburg, Germany in 1988 while he was training for a project in the Frankenjuru. Gullich trained on this footless apparatus for 3 years and in 1991 he made the first ascent of Action Direct 9a (5.14d). At the time, only Ben Moon’s Hubble had been given 5.14c. It stood as leaps and bounds above what climbers had achieved on a rope. Nineteen years later, it has still only been climbed 12 times, and remains the benchmark for the 9th grade in sport climbing.


Iker Pou makes the 3rd ascent, and you get an up close look at the severity of the route.

It also introduced into the lexicon of our sport the term “campus board” and “campusing” which means to climb without the use of your feet.

Ben Moon has made campusing a virtual science, and his excellent site details many aspects of training on a campus board. Most importantly is the standardization of the distances between the rungs.

An ideal campus board will have a few different sized rungs, spaced at around 22cm apart with up to 9 numbered rungs going upwards. -Ben Moon

I think it would be great if the Moon dimensions were the standard. It seems that at least 20 degrees is a great angle for the steepness of the board, and this keeps the climbers hips and knees from hitting the bottom of the board. There should also be three sizes of rungs. Many have argued that 1-5-9 (starting matched, skipping 3 rungs, and then moving up with the opposite hand, skipping 3 more rungs, no matching) on a campus board is the ultimate expression of power, but it seems questionable that this has been done on a board set up with these specific standards. Here is Rich Simpson getting close:

While he tags 1-5-9 a close inspection reveals the last rung to be a shorter pull than the first 8. This is clearly impressive, but I don’t know of anyone who has done more. 1-5-8 is a very good level for any climber. The campus board at the Denver Bouldering Club is built to Moon specifications, and we are in the process of doing the same at Movement.

3688200357_7ea259dbc6_b The campus board at the DBC.

I am convinced that every climber could improve from campus work. I have noticed significant gains in my own climbing and I will continue to the board hard. Get psyched!

36 Responses to “The Campus Board”

  1. Daniel

    03. May, 2010

    not exactly moon specs (20cm instead of 22) but still impressive: http://vimeo.com/6314248

  2. Kevin Post

    03. May, 2010

    Whenever I try to use the campus board I feel as if my tendons are going to pop. I want to become a stronger climber but I don’t want to severely injure myself because that would obviously be a huge setback to achieving my climbing goals. I need some recommendations on building finger strength before attempting campus boarding. Any advice is greatly appreciated. Thanks for the article Jaime.

  3. sidepull

    03. May, 2010

    How about 2-9-14? Of course I’m not sure the rungs used the same spacing as the board no longer exists.

    Relevant thread (unfortunately the video link half a page down is broken – but B3B probably knows how to contact MC).

    Enjoy:

    http://www.utahclimbers.com/phpBB3/viewtopic.php?f=3&t=1741&p=15680&hilit=campus+board#p15680

  4. peter beal

    03. May, 2010

    Thoughtful and interesting piece here Jamie but a couple of things to consider. First, Action Direct was preceded by Hubble (Ben Moon, 1990), which is supposed to be “only” 5.14c yet has been repeated even less.

    Re: campusing itself, many discussions of this training technique emphasize the plyometric aspect of it. Gullich who was a very serious student of sports science thought of it this way. He would drop down and rebound back up immediately. This type of motion, it has been theorized, over-rides the body’s protective reflexes and overloads muscles and tendons, promoting a supercompensation effect and enhancing recruitment.

    Which brings me to point three, campusing is one of the most direct routes to finger and elbow injury available. For the vast majority of climbers, even those climbing at very high grades, time spent campusing would be better used climbing and developing sport-specific technique and strength or on a finger board.

    That said it does have its uses, especially developing power, that is the ability to deliver strength rapidly. My view is that the practice is probably over-rated for its ability to produce actual strength gains, unless the difficult and very risky plyometric method is followed. However you decide to campus, make sure there is a very thorough warmup preceding the session and a substantial break from hard climbing, of two or three days after. Do not campus after a hard session of bouldering or climbing as your risk of injury is exponentially higher.

  5. B3

    03. May, 2010

    Peter, i could have sworn Action Direct was done before Hubble, but it seems you are correct about that.
    I disagree with your opinion that is so high risk for injury. If done properly, under the supervision of a good instructor, it can show very tangible gains in strength,
    Malcolm Smith is the case in point.

  6. B3

    03. May, 2010

    Kevin, the hang board is also a great tool for building finger strength. Ben Moon makes on of the best. Simpke dead hangs can go a long way.

  7. John Servold

    03. May, 2010

    I would have to agree with JE that campusing isn’t as bad for you as many people think. If you stretch properly, know your limits, don’t try to show off. You can achieve greater strength in a shorter period of time. (fingers and upper body) Something I used to do even before I started climbing was pull-ups on reinforced door jams. Which is probably why Campusing is my strength, yet weakness when trying to climb, because I can flash a hard problem with no feet, then try another problem same difficulty or easier with feet and blow chunks. I would say for new climbers and beginners their time would be better spent acutely climbing and developing “Technique”. For the moderate and hard climbers much is to be gained from campusing as long as they have a good foundation in climbing.

  8. Crafty

    03. May, 2010

    All of the talk about how grades must be progressing and how people must be climbing harder now than ever before (V16, 5.15b), but, like you said, Action Directe has only been climbed 12 times. An ascent of it still gets climbers into the news.

  9. peter beal

    03. May, 2010

    Jamie, every book on the subject of climbing training points out the substantial risk for injury from campusing.

    My favorite take on the subject is Julian Saunders, link here:
    http://www.athlon.com.au/articles/r&i_dodgyelbow.pdf

    “The campus board is an elbow-consuming,
    reptile–devouring device. Do it if
    you must. But when your elbows have
    had the life siphoned from them, get
    the rubber hose that respectable gyms
    keep behind the front counter, and beat
    yourself Fight Club style, all the way to
    the ER.”

    Where are the videos of Fred Nicole on the campus board? Dave Graham? Adam Ondra? I have a great deal of admiration for Malcolm Smith but he is not the only good boulderer out there. I used to think the campus board was important but believe climbing is a better and safer use of time.

  10. B3

    03. May, 2010

    Chris with all the talk about V16 and whatnot, I think it’s great to have objective “feats of strength” as has been part of climbing culture for a long while. I wonder if Paul or Daniel, Chris Sharma or Dave Graham could do a one-arm pull up with 30lbs, as John Gill so deftly demonstrated in Master of Rock. I think the campus board can, has and will play into that culture.

  11. Zach

    04. May, 2010

  12. Arthur

    04. May, 2010

    http://www.youtube.com/user/kalashnikovd#p/u/12/cGHcWXWFq4Q

    Local guy who pretty much only trains via campus board and HIT strips. Savage power.

  13. B3

    04. May, 2010

    Peter, I’m not sure you can reasonably argue that because the best climbers haven’t used a campus board they have reached the ability they have. What if these climbers trained seriously? Climbers have failed miserably so far in their dedication to specific training and I think when the best climbers start using things like campus boards you will see a serious progression in the sport, ala Gullich.

  14. Christopher

    04. May, 2010

    I think Jamie and Peter both have valid points here. I agree with Peter that campusing can be very dangerous and is mainly useful only when necessary as a supplement to focusing on actual climbing technique and using a fingerboard. On the other hand, I think Jamie is correct in that it really can develop power gains in a synergistic way, combining both the fingers, pull muscles, and even core to some extent. Of course, variation is always key when considering these things, since your body will stagnate and become injured in the long run if you just focus on one thing.

    Also, I strongly agree with Jamie that if some of the best climbers (boulderers, in particular) would actually start doing educated, serious training, that we would see some absolutely phenomenal things start to happen.

  15. dom

    04. May, 2010

    I might be wrong, but I’m pretty sure Rich Simpson has done real 1-5-9. I think at the school room they have 2 campus boards one that has the short last rung (equivalent to 1-5-8.65 http://www.unclesomebody.com/blog/?p=127) and one that is real 1-5-9 by moon standards. I wouldn’t be surprised if it has been done by others as`well such as Malc Smith?

  16. M

    04. May, 2010

    The school room 9 rung was lower (actually 8.5). Rich simpson did manage 159 on a campus board with 23cm spaced small rungs. He could also 147 on one fingers if im not mistaken.. Malcolm smith could do 158.5 static..

  17. peter beal

    04. May, 2010

    Jamie, the first principle for training for any sport is sport-specificity. Campusing is not sport-specific for climbing, however it may seem to resemble climbing. It is more like weightlifting in that it can boost recruitment and possibly add muscle but not much else. Fingerboarding and weighted pull-ups more directly and consistently add strength without the dynamic and potentially dangerous movements of campusing. I am not saying campusing is useless, but I am saying that it is not essential for, as you put it, serious training

    I’d be interested in hearing your opinion on what constitutes serious training for climbing. Although I agree that many top climbers do not train like Olympians, I am more and more convinced that climbing is not like any other sport in terms of its training protocols.

  18. Seth D

    04. May, 2010

    I think the most important thing to consider in training for climbing is that different people respond to different stimulus in different ways. I am a big guy (almost 200lbs) who got into climbing in my late 20′s and falsely believed that strength was the only way to climb harder. Because of this I hopped on the campus board too early in my climbing career and did a number on my elbows that has taken me years to correct. Campusing can be a great training device when you have the correct background, but it can be POTENTIALLY dangerous if done haphazardly. I think that any good coach would tell you that one of the most important parts of training it to learn to listen to your body and how it responds to training. If you can do that then you can accurately measure what works, what doesn’t, and what’s going to land you on the injured list.

  19. sidepull

    04. May, 2010

    @peter – a lot of climbing trainers, most notably the authors of the Self Coach Climber, would argue that weighted pull ups are less sport specific than weight pull ups (or any sort of pull up). That said, I agree with your reluctance to advocate campus boarding as the necessary “next rung” (bad pun) for advancing climbing training. I also agree with Jamie that the apex of climbing, to date, has usually been achieved by genetic gifts rather than hard work. But people like Tommy Caldwell and Patxi seem to be putting those things together and the results haven’t really been break throughs in terms of sheer difficulty.

  20. Crafty

    04. May, 2010

    Peter, I have to respectfully disagree. With the dynamic style of climbing that many boulderers currently favor, campus training is very sport specific. I think many boulderers could benefit from increased muscle fiber recruitment.

    On a side note, is the video of Ben Moon climbing 1-5-9 in the real thing on a board with a shorter last rung? Just curious.

    Jamie- I couldn’t agree more about the feats of strength. I think they do add something to climbing lore/the overall experience.

  21. B3

    04. May, 2010

    “The school room 9 rung was lower (actually 8.5). Rich simpson did manage 159 on a campus board with 23cm spaced small rungs. He could also 147 on one fingers if im not mistaken.. Malcolm smith could do 158.5 static..”
    If that is accurate that is amazing.

  22. Christopher

    04. May, 2010

    @Crafty: I agree that power is very useful for dynamic bouldering, but that doesn’t mean that campus training is very sport-specific to this end. The movement and the muscle groups that are involved in campus training vs. actually climbing are just too different. However, I do think that campus training holds some merit as a supplement to hard, explosive bouldering for training power for advanced climbers with no recent history of elbow/finger injuries.

    Also, what do you mean by saying that climbers could benefit from increased muscle fiber recruitment? To my knowledge, muscle fiber recruitment is simply a measure of how many muscle fibers are being activated in a particular muscle, and it only lasts as long as the muscle contraction is being held. It doesn’t make any sense to say that campus training increases a climbers muscle fiber recruitment for any relevant amount of time (beyond a few milliseconds during the exercise itself). Perhaps you’re talking about campus training having the pylometric effect of benefiting the elastic-recoil of the musculotendonous system and affecting the response of the muscle spindles and golgi tendon organs, leading to disinhibition?

  23. cardboard_dog

    04. May, 2010

  24. peter beal

    04. May, 2010

    By sport-specific, I mean actual practice of the sport. To use a rough analogy, think of figure-skaters trying to get better at skating by doing ballet, or vice-versa. While there is a resemblance, neither are close enough to justify spending a lot of precious time on the other. I am proposing that campusing is like this to climbing. It’s not really climbing but aspects of it can be helpful to climbing. I don’t think a campus board is key to effective bouldering training since it is very simple to set a campus-like move or set of moves on most climbing walls, retaining the aspect of climbing-specific training.

    Fingerboards, with or without weight, are used purely for strength training and don’t set into motion the learning patterns that accompany campusing, patterns that can dominate your climbing style if you aren’t careful. In other words campusing is just enough like climbing to be a problem. While it is true that dynamic moves are important in bouldering, very rarely do they resemble actual campusing movement. That is why you sometimes see climbers who are amazing on a campus board but can’t climb at that level on a wall or on rock. They have learned a different sport during their training, which is a serious mistake if you want to maximize your real climbing ability

    Perhaps another direction with regard to campusing is to analyze what it actually trains, breaking it down into its components so you can figure out what it does best and focus on that. Unless of course the elusive 1-5-9 is the real goal.

  25. peter beal

    04. May, 2010

    Here’s a way to find the groove in climbing:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wNZe099ESoY

  26. peter beal

    04. May, 2010

    and once you get good at that fence thing, try out your ninja skills:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aDYEgeLaU7Q

  27. Nate

    04. May, 2010

    Has anyone dabbled with systems training? I’ve used a campus board off and on but am petrified of another finger injury. I’m intrigued by systems training as it seems “safer” and was curious what everyone’s impression of this training tool was.

  28. peter

    05. May, 2010

    the ninja skills thing is priceless. at least he topped it out. i wonder if that’s where nalle learned his skills.

  29. campusman

    06. May, 2010

    The campus board makes your arms too strong for climbing.
    The results are less weight put on your feet.

  30. Devin

    17. May, 2010

    what is the name of the song in the iker pou clip? I lost my inertia 1&2 combo dvd and I cant find the soundtrack listing anywhere…. and, uh… yeah campusing is awesome and stuff

  31. DaveH

    23. Oct, 2010

    I have managed 1-5-9 on the board at my gym. The rungs are approximately metolius middle size and the rungs are 8″ (~20cm) apart.

    How much of an accomplishment is this? I’m the 3rd person at my gym to successfully do it, but I don’t know how hard it is to actually do. Is it common?

  32. chossy

    29. Oct, 2010

    Just my two cents…

    I’ve been climbing 10ish years, have had several injuries that made me quit climbing for up to a year, and have NEVER had an injury from campusing or hangboarding. Why? I never do either more than twice a week, and for only a couple weeks at a time. I’m very systematic about my use of both, and I warm up slow and easy.

    To say campusing doesn’t help is retarded. You achieve gains that can’t be achieved through climbing alone. Technique is always the focus of my climbing and training, but every time I stop progressing, I switch to campusing OR hangboarding, and the gains from both have helped me push through to the next level.

    Granted, I’m not the strongest climber (V10 tops) due to work, and a personal life, but to discredit the campus board is to deny yourself one of the most powerful training tools aside from climbing itself. The trick is to mix it up. Even “just climbing” stagnates if you never mix it up.

  33. Brett

    03. Aug, 2011

    Chossy is right. The thing to remember about campus board work outs is that you don’t do this a lot. I supplement my bouldering with campus workouts once per week. Now, I do not climb nearly as hard as Chossy, but I pay attention to body mechanics and what makes climbers stronger. There’s literally tons of research that suggests campusing is what takes good climbers to the next level. Just remember to limit this to once per week, warm-up (this all depends on what you like to do), stretch, and focus. Campusing requires 100% commitment to the activity. If you “jack-ass” around or your friends are all around joking, then this is when injuries happen, Also, change the focus of your campus work outs e.g., power moves (this means more rest time), repetitions (smaller moves, but lots of time on the board), and change your grips to maximize hand strength. Some people can do this twice per week, but in my opinion this all boils down to your fitness. I was not born with incredible tendon strength, so I MUST limit how much campusing I do. Lastly, your campus work out should not take forever – less than 1 hour and that’s with resting.

    BTW, 1-5-9 is beast and if you are doing that, then you are strong. Move on to one arm pulls ups or 5 second front levers. If you are already there, then try levers with one arm or try doing sets of one-arm pull-ups. Hell, skip more rungs…1-5-10….1-6-10. See what can work without causing injuries.

  34. Aaron S

    31. Jan, 2012

    Not sure if this will get seen, given this is such an old post. I actually use the campus board more when I have pulley injuries because campusing doesn’t aggravate them for me. I have a tendency to close crimp really hard when climbing in the gym and outside, but always stay safely half-crimped or open on the campus board. Kinda goes against Peter’s thinking. (Tho the elbows and shoulders may be a different story, although I’ve had no problems).

    Going dynamically from one rung to the next and doing negatives on the campus board fills in the HUGE gap that hangboarding leaves. The need to latch a hold and stop the inertia on top of the normal pull of gravity for your stationary body forces your muscles to work harder.

    Patxi is a prime example of someone who uses campusing. I wouldn’t need to campus either if I could climb outside 4 days every week (as many pro climbers do). I know Ondra has stated he campus’s some when training for bouldering.

  35. polidess

    28. Jun, 2012

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  36. AmbuffNeessum

    14. Jul, 2013

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