Campus Training Part 3: Basic Routine

This is part 3 in a three-part series on Campus Training.  If you haven’t read Part 1 and Part 2, please do.   This training is for the thoroughly healthy.  If you have any nagging injuries, particularly finger, elbow or shoulder injuries, DO NOT DO THIS!  There are many different ways to use a campus board; this is just one way, and it happens to work.  Remember that the frequency and rest associated with these workouts is critical to avoiding injury (see Part 2 for details).  Avoid consecutive Campus workouts and take extra rest following each Campus workout.

Now on to the basic routine:

Like any training activity, begin with a thorough warmup.  I like to start with 15 minutes of low intensity ARC-style traversing.  Treat this period like any ARC set, focusing on using good technique and smooth, relaxed movement.  Near the end of this period do some active stretching while still on the wall.

Next do what we will call a “Boulder Ladder” for lack of a better term.  Begin with easy bouldering (starting at V0 or whatever the easiest available problems are).  Complete one to three boulder problems at each V-grade before progressing to the next grade (the number of problems completed at each grade should depend on how many grades you need to step through, with the goal of completing the Ladder in 20 minutes or so).  Continue stepping up the Ladder until you reach your typical boulder flash level.  The goal is to do each problem first try, but if you fall off, feel free to repeat the problem or move to another problem of the same grade.  The goal is NOT to get entrenched in an epic project.  Take typical rest periods between problems, which varies between climbers.  If you rest a lot between problems, the set may take more than 20 minutes.  That is ok, this is not a race.  By the end you should have completed between 10 – 15 problems of increasing difficulty.

The final warmup activity is 15-30 minutes of limit bouldering (again, the duration will depend on how long you rest and your level of fatigue.  For me, if I spend more than 50 minutes from the beginning of my ARC traverse to the end of my limit bouldering, my Campus workout will suffer, YMMV).  Pick 2-3 problems that you cannot flash and work them for 5-10 minutes each.  These problems should be right at your limit (in other words, avoid problems you can do 2nd or 3rd try), and they should be powerful, with one or two REALLY hard moves that you can’t do (as opposed to 10 consecutive pretty hard moves that result in a pump-managment challenge).  Its easy to get side-tracked during this activity, so keep your eye on the clock and stay focused on the big picture.  Once completed, take a good 5-10 minute break, get some water, then get ready to rage.

Record all of your Campus sets in a logsheet like the one shown here.  Note that I’ve also included details on my warmup activites.

Begin with a few sets of “easy” campusing (an oxymoron, I know).  Starting with the largest set of rungs, do a “Warmup Ladder” up the board at a comfortable interval (12″ for me), then jump down.  Repeat leading with the opposite hand.  Do the same set of ladders on the medium rungs, then the small rungs, with 1-2 minutes rest between sets.  If you aren’t strong enough yet for the small (or medium) rungs, skip those sets, but do the remainder of the workout on the smallest set of rungs you are strong-enough to use.

Next do 8-16 sets of “Max Ladders” on the smallest rungs you can, alternating your leading hand, resting ~1-2 minutes between sets.  As I mentioned in Part 2, I only recommend really pursuing 1 or 2 Campus Exercises, and this is my favorite.  This is the most basic movement, the most specific to rock climbing and the best for isolating individual hands.  My first two sets usually entail a ladder I can reliably do every time (i.e., Small Rungs, B1-L7-R12-B12, leading with each hand) , then the rest of the sets are spent pushing the envelope to the next interval (Small Rungs, B1-L7-R13-B13).  If I succeed and still have training budget available, I try to push to the next interval (Small Rungs, B1-L7-R14-B14 or B1-L8-R14-B14) and/or work a variation that will set me up for the next increment (i.e., Small Rungs, B1-L8-R13-B13, which is slightly harder for me than B1-L7-R13-B-13). 

Once I feel I’ve stopped making progress on Max Ladders (stagnating or regressing after 2-3 tries on a given movement.), I move to Double Dynos.  Double Dynos should take less than half the time as Max Ladders since you don’t need to alternate leading hands.  Considering they are far less specific, I further skew my effort in favor of max ladders.  I like these for several reasons.  First, they really accentuate the eccentric/concentric contractions required of plyometric training.  Also since you loose contact with the board I think they are great for developing spatial awareness and hand-eye coordination at high speeds.  Additionally, any movement involving a stationary hand will benefit from whatever lock-off strength the stationary hand can contribute, while also increasing the time available to latch the high hold.  Doubles eliminate that lock-off component while also keeping the latch period nice and short, thus encouraging the cultivation of good contact strength.  Finally, I think they require higher arousel and commitment than max ladders, making them good for developing the type of aggressive attitude that is helpful for powerful climbing.  Note that with Doubles, one could argue the second movement is somewhat redundant.  However, if the first and second moves are done in a continuous movement the mid-point requires the ideal plyometric movement of catching the rung and immediately springing back upwards.

The rest intervals are really important.  You need to be able to move explosively for Campus Training to be effective.  There really is no such thing as too much rest for this type of activity, so rest as long as you need to be at your very best when executing each set.  I find that 90 seconds is about perfect for me.  Once you start to feel fatigued, end the workout.  At that point you are only courting injury and no longer improving your power.

The entire workout by set:

Key: B=Both Hands, L = Left hand, R = Right Hand, number indicates Rung Number
Note that the Small Rungs in this example are spaced 4″ on center, as prescribed here  These ladders are what I am capable of, but your ladders will differ based on your ability and body size.  These are only meant to be an example.

Warmup (Basic Ladders, alternate leading with each hand):
Set 1: Large rungs, B1-L2-R3-L4-R5-B5 (aka, basic ladder, leading with Left Hand)
Set 2: Large rungs, B1-R2-L3-R4-L5-B5 (aka, basic ladder, leading with Right Hand)
Set 3: Medium Rungs, B1-L3-R5-L7-R9-B9
Set 4: Medium Rungs, B1-R3-L5-R7-L9-B9
Set 5: Small Rungs, B1-L4-R7-L10-R13-B13
Set 6: Small Rungs, B1-R4-L7-R10-L13-B13

Max Ladders:
Set 1: Small Rungs, B1-L7-R12-B12
Set 2: Small Rungs, B1-R7-L12-B12
Set 3: Small Rungs, B1-L7-R13-B13 (attempt) 
Set 4: Small Rungs, B1-R7-L13-B13 (attempt)
Set 5-10: Repeat Sets 3&4 as necessary to complete movement leading with each hand
Set 11: Small Rungs, B1-L7-R14-B14 (attempt, only if completed Set 3 Ladder; may also try B1-L8-R14-B14, etc)
Set 12: Small Rungs, B1-R7-L14-B14 (attempt, only if completed Set 4 Ladder)
Set 13-16: Repeat Sets 11&12 as necessary to complete movement leading with each hand, or until progress stops

Double Dynos:
Set 1: Large Rungs, B1-B2-B3-B4-B5
Set 2: Medium Rungs, B1-B3-B5-B7-B9
Set 3: Small Rungs, B1-B4-B7-B10-B13
(max Double Dynos)
Set 1: Small Rungs, B1-B6-B11
Set 2: Small Rungs, B1-B7-B13 (attempt, only if completed previous movement)
Set 3: Small Rungs, B1-B8-B13 or 14 or 15 (attempt, only if completed previous movement)
Set 5: Small Rungs, B1-B9
Set 6: Small Rungs, B1-B10 (attempt, only if completed previous movement)

End each exercise when performance begins to regress, then complete your core exercise of choice.  The campus portion of my workout typically last no more than 40 minutes (with sets performed on 90-second intervals).


10 thoughts on “Campus Training Part 3: Basic Routine

  1. Do you have any advice on progressing to the double dyno? Are there any intermediate exercises that you would recommend? I can ladder fine on small rungs but the double dyno eludes me even on large rungs. I’m thinking about putting some 1.5″ depth rungs on my board to progress to doubles on the standard edge widths. Do you think increasing the edge with is the key to getting the double dyno?


    • Completing a Double Dyno for the first time can be challenging. In fact, it seems like every season I have to re-convince myself that I can do it. In my experience, the challenge is primarily mental–it just seems too improbable! Here are a couple tips for convincing you brain that your body can do it. First, do a few “touches” first. To do this, spring upwards with both hands formt he lower rung, and simply touch the upper rung, without trying to “latch” it. You can do this drill several times to help improve your aim. As your accuracy improves, try to briefly weight the upper rung without latching it, then eventually, try to actually latch the high rung.

      Second, if you have a partner, ask for a “power spot”. Have them hold the small of your back , just above the hips, and take some weight off your arms as you go for the double dyno. Have them remove less weight each time, until you’re able to do it without a power spot.


  2. Thanks for posting this detailed Campus workout, Mark. I just finished my first one of my first power phase, and wanted to leave some notes from a novice perspective. You are incredibly thorough on these posts, but due to your expert-level ability, most things need to be tweaked for a relative beginner.

    I found it difficult to do more than a few (6-7) moves in my warmup sets (B1-L2-B2-R3-B3-L4-B4…) — I guess the point is to limit the quantity of moves and focus on difficulty, but it was pretty demotivating not being able to get above the 4th or 5th rung on my warmups!

    I also found that 90 seconds wasn’t nearly enough rest time to completely recover, it was close to double that. Also, I suspect that I need to better utilize momentum on the max ladders.

    My local gym has a system for taking weight off (similar to a hangboard setup), any suggestions on that? Such as progressing on smaller rungs vs. increasing max ladders? Or should I just continue practicing with bodyweight to hone technique?


    • Alec,

      Thanks for the great notes. Make sure you check out my post on “Tips for Effective Campusing” too.

      I suggest you try the pulley system and see how it goes. As for hangboarding the goal should be to use rung sizes that are representative of your goal routes, so if you typically climb outside on smaller holds, use the pulley system as necessary to train on smaller rungs.


  3. If I haven’t been able to complete a sequence (say 1-5-7), is it better to use intermediates to get there or to keep slapping at the target rung until I get it at some point later in the phase?


    • Larissa,

      It’s nest to compromise and do both! Spend a few sets doing 1-4.5-6.5 (or whatever the next hardest move you can do is), and then spend a few sets attempting the 1-5-7.



  4. Hi,
    Could you define what you mean by “set” for campusing? Is a set constructed of several “reps” or is 1 set== 1 rep? If not, how to decide how many repetitions per set?



    • Mikael,

      A “set” on the campus board is one trip up (and/or possibly down) the board. Basically, any time your feet leave the ground, that’s a set, and the set ends once your feet return to the ground. Reps within a set would equal the number of hand movements performed. So a 1-5-9 Max Ladder is one set, composed of three reps.


  5. Hey,

    Bought your book a few month ago. Really interesting and well made. On p.145, you’re talking about “progressive max ladders” (sets 9-20). I’m sorry for my poor english, but cannot get the idea of what “progressive max ladders” is. What do you mean ?

    Still, thanks for having written your book, I love it. Greetings from France !


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