This article appeared in Rock and Ice issue 206 (December 2012).
Campus boards and hang boards are great tools but
the risk of injury is high. Smart use is not just about warming up and maintaining good form—age and experience should determine the required
level of training. Juniors should never do dynamic exercises and should train predominantly with feet on and under supervision of a trained climbing
coach. Beginners should not use hang or campus boards, and should instead work on climbing technique.
1. Know your level
Every climber should boulder for at least a year to develop technique and strength before using
campus boards or hang boards. Juniors must always follow each progressive stage, regardless of the age they start climbing (i.e., a junior who starts
at 14 must still gain four years bouldering experience before following stage 4). Juniors are advised to reduce the volume and intensity of strength
training during growth spurts. Parents and coaches should monitor growth with a chart.
Always start by raising the heart rate, jogging or skipping rope for 2 to 5 minutes. >Spend
20 minutes doing easy traverses on lower- angled walls. Do mobility exercises (e.g., arm circles) while resting. Move on to easy boulder problems and
build up through the grades. Do 2 to 3 hard boulder problems to recruit peak strength before moving on to campus and hang boards. >Alternately,
warm up on the largest rungs with your feet on a chair or door frame for assistance. Rest. Swing your arms. Use gradually less assistance with each
3. Maximize quality and use good form
Only train when feeling fresh and recovered. Never use hang or campus
boards after long, hard boulder sessions or route climbing. >Use smooth, controlled movements. Maintain stable posture by tensing
your core. >Don’t kip violently with your body (this isn’t cross-fit). >Never drop onto straight arms. >If
training with a half-crimp grip, do not allow your fingers to open.
4. Do a second warm-up
Even after warming up, you should still do an “easy” set of each exercise (e.g., with a foot
for assistance or on a larger hold and with fewer reps).
5. Rest efficiently
For strength and power training, 2 to 3 minutes rest between sets will maximize performance and
prevent cooling off. Longer rests will be required after power-endurance sets.
6. Half crimp
The half crimp is the safest grip for training and builds strength for other grips (full crimp and hang).
Hold the fingers at 90 degrees and rest the thumb alongside the index finger. Do a small and strategic amount of hanging (fingers fully open) and full-crimping
(fingers fully closed and thumb locked over index finger) to build specific strength.
7. Never hold dead hangs or lock offs for longer than eight seconds
It is extremely damaging to hold any dead hang
or lock off for more than 10 seconds. This is also pointless for sport climbing and bouldering.
8. Don’t overdo it
The number of sets will depend on your level or whether you have bouldered first. See above.
9. Avoid full lock-offs
Full lock-offs (with arms completely bent) are extremely injurious to the elbows. If you must
do them, never hold contractions for more than 2 or 3 seconds. Lock-offs at 90 degrees can be held for longer dura- tions (up to 8 seconds). The best
climbers do not need to hold full lock-offs.
10. Don’t overtrain
Hang and campus boards work the same muscles as climbing, so do less climbing when you are training
on them. Low intermediates should train no more than 3 to 4 times a week (including climb- ing and hang board/campus board); high intermediates 4 times,
and advanced climbers 5 times a week.
11. Structure your training
Do more intensive training on the first day and volume-based training on the second day
(e.g., bouldering and campus board on day 1, and routes or easy bouldering on day 2). Split your training into phases (usually 1 month in length) where
you focus on strength and then endurance (e.g., in strength phases, train strength 2 or 3 times a week and endurance once). Make sure you have a full
rest week every 2 months and a week break twice a year.
12. Balance the body
Finish every session by training the antagonist muscles. Do 3 sets of 20 reps of push-ups and
reverse wrist curls or finger ex- tensions with a rubber band.
13. Build a base
Beginners are advised to follow a supportive weight- training and core-conditioning program (as well as doing a minimum of 1 year of bouldering) before
using the apparatus.
14. Warm down
Last, do easy climbing (or gentle hangs) followed by a short pulse-raiser and some gentle static stretching
for the arms and upper body.
Neil Gresham has been training and coaching for two decades. In 2001, he made the second ascent of Equilibrium (E10 7a/5.14X) on Peak District gritstone, and last year established Freakshow (8c/5.14b) at Kilnsey, also in the U.K. On October 13, 2016 he made the first ascent of Sabotage—an 8c+ (5.14c) extension to Predator (8b/5.13d) at Malham Cave, North Yorkshire, England. Sabotage is Gresham’s first climb of the grade.