Entry-Level Campus Training

Developed nearly 25 years ago by the late Wolfgang Güllich, Campus Training (CT) has become a fundamental training technique for intermediate to advanced climbers specializing in bouldering and sport climbing. Regardless of your current level of strength, I believe that you can quickly add 10 percent (or more) to your contact strength and power with just a few weeks of CT. Of course, such a gain is significant and could translate to a one or two letter- or V-grade increase in climbing ability.

The effectiveness of CT comes from neurological adaptations (not actual muscle growth) shown to result from plyometric-type training exercises. While CT is a dilute form of the plyometric training used by elite athletes in other sports, it remains one of the most effective training methods for climbers. Unfortunately, CT is dismissed by many climbers as “too dangerous.”

The fact is, most injuries related to CT result from overtraining and/or misuse of the most advance Double-Dyno CT exercise. Please note that there are less-risky, lower-stress CT exercises that many climbers safely use as part of their training program.

In this first article on Campus Training, I’ll present two staple exercises that you can put to work today to increase your lock-off strength, power, and contact strength (ability to stick small edges). Future articles will detail several more advanced exercises.

This is one of the best exercises for developing upper body power. Just as the name says, this exercise involves laddering hand-over-hand and with no-feet up the board. Descend the board in the same fashion, and repeat until failure. To help quantify your training, it helps to number the rungs from bottom to top. Therefore, initially you might ladder up rungs 1-2-3-4-5, but progress to a more powerful 1-3-5 sequence as your strength and power increase (1-4-7 is the elite benchmark to aim for). First-time CT users should perform just three total sets, whereas well-trained individuals may do anywhere from three to six sets. Rest for two to three minutes between sets.

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Touches (aka “Lock-offs”)
This exercise trains lock-off strength as well as contact grip strength. Begin by hanging from the bottom rung of the board. Pull-up with both hands, then in a continuous motion lunge up with one hand to grab the highest rung possible (usually the 3rd or 4th rung, depending on the spacing). Lock-off here for a second or so then drop back down to the starting hold and return to a hanging position. Immediately, pull back up and lunge with the opposite hand to grab a high rung. Again, hold the lock-off for one second before dropping back down to a two-handed hang. Continue in this alternating fashion for 6 to 12 (hard) total touches. Ideal form would be a solid 1-second lock-off at the top positions, but only an instant of pause at the bottom position before launching back up with the next touch. Do one to three sets, and rest about three minutes between sets.

Campus Training Guidelines

  • Engage in Campus Training only if you are an intermediate to advanced climber (able to toprope at least 5.11 or boulder V4) with at least two years of sport-specific training exercise AND no recent history of finger or arm injury.
  • Warm-up thoroughly; this should include about 30 minutes of progressively more difficult bouldering. Consider reinforcing the base of your fingers with a few tight turns of athletic tape. Emphasize quality over quantity.
  • Four quality sets on the campus board is far better than eight sloppy, poorly executed sets. Remember, campus training is only a small portion of a good strength training workout–make it the central part of your training program and you may get injured.
  • Do not campus train while in a state of high fatigue–it’s vital to maintain good technique and high quality execution (i.e. not “catching” with completely straight arms, which stresses the shoulders).
  • End the training session immediately upon any sign of joint or tendon pain.
  • CT a maximum of twice per week during the strength/power phase of your training program.