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Campus Board or Fingerboard?

We've teamed up with professional rock climber, physical therapist and coach Ofer Blutrich to discuss some of the most common things we all experience in climbing

By Ofer Blutrich

The campus board and fingerboard have become staples of climbing training. But to some these boards are a mystery. If you’ve ever wondered which is better for training your fingers, you aren’t alone.

Image: Nora Kiraly campusing by Tibor Varga

In order to figure out which board you should actually use to train on, we should first take a step back and ask a few different and fundamental questions: what does it actually mean to "strengthen" the fingers and what is our goal? To improve, strength or power?

So which board you should train on? Let’s start with the basics by learning to distinguish between strength and power.

Strength is defined as the amount of force a muscle can produce, measured in Newton (N) or in kilograms. It’s also described through the term MVC, Maximal Voluntary Contraction, which is “the greatest amount of tension a muscle can generate and hold, however briefly, as in muscle testing.”

Power, on the other hand, is how much force we can produce in limited time. One way to define it is the Rate of Force Development (RFD). According to Science of Sport, RFD “is a measure of explosive strength, or simply how fast an athlete can develop force – hence the 'rate' of 'force development'.” Think of this as the speed at which you can contract your muscles and apply force.

Image: Manabu Yonihama

In almost every exercise (pull-ups, fingerboarding, push-ups) both parameters exist and it’s worth noting that strength cannot be completely separated from power. Without a certain amount of strength, catching a dynamic hold from a swing wouldn’t be possible. In trying to figure out which board to use in your gym session, it’s important to consider which is the focus of your workout.

If you’ve ever done a big move and weren’t able to latch a hold, you’ll be interested to learn about how time plays a large role in training these two aspects of climbing.

Why is time to failure another important parameter when choosing exercises? Because applying muscular force is dependent on not only the muscle, but also on our nervous system.

Since power is defined as the speed it takes for you to apply force, time is an important variable when we think about how long we are able to stay on a hold until failure. It’s also important when thinking about how you to muster the force you’re applying, or at least a percentage of your maximum force.

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Our brain also plays a huge part in our maximum power. The science behind it explains that our nervous system is composed of “cables” called neurons that conduct electricity. A neuron quickly transmits neural signals according to the physical parameters of the neuron.

In order for the muscle to fulfill its existing potential of force exertion and contraction (our max strength), it must receive an electrical signal for the maximum number of motor units existing in it to engage.

Since the force of the muscle contraction depends on the amount of electricity received through the neuron transmission, time is crucial. If the speed of the signal is not high enough, the amount of force will be lower. The time requirement of the task (a quick grab for example) dictates the amount of force that can be developed.

When considering how this relates to choosing the right board, a campus board doesn’t develop strength due to the fact that it is a quick action, which doesn’t allow the nervous system to fully operate.

And when we campus, we cannot apply our maximum strength because the time needed to apply our bodily force is lower.

So, what do we get from the Campus Board?

  1. Improvement in RFD, or the speed at which we can contract our muscles
  2. With the ability to utilise the muscles faster thus more POWER - More work for time spent.
  3. Ability to stimulate motor units in the muscles that wouldn’t work when operated slowly.

Image: Nora Kiraly fingerboarding by Tibor Varga

And, what should we do if we want to develop maximum strength?

If your goal is strength, think about an exercise where the nervous system can have the maximum amount of time in order to develop the maximum amount of force. Building strength is more suited for fingerboarding training with static holds.

It’s important to remember that for the same person, the maximal strength that can be developed in a static hold will be greater than a dynamic jump to the same hold size.

We might hope in training that we could bring both to the same level, but it is impossible to have the same level of maximum strength in a static and dynamic movement.

Now let’s get back to the original question:

I’d like to strengthen my fingers, should I practice Campus Board or Fingerboard?

What do you think? Maybe you can answer the question now?

Perhaps the best hint is to reply with a question.

What is your goal and what do you wish to train? Do you want to develop power or maximum strength?

The answer is simple, if you wish to develop power, focus on campusing and if you want to develop strength, using the fingerboard for static holds is the way to go.

Now you have the knowledge to plan your next gym session!

Ofer is a physio therpaist, professional rock climber, coach & speaker based in Israel and is a long term friend of the brand.

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