I’ve got a secret and if you promise to keep it to yourself I’ll fill you in on it.
There are days that I don’t really feel like going to the gym to workout. I know, I know, gasp! Every once in a while the idea of it just seems tedious, no fun, and boring.
A few years ago I had actually become so burned out that I stopped going. I stopped Crossfit, I stopped lifting weights at the gym, and besides some squats, pull-ups, push-ups, and light walking I wasn’t really doing much.
I wanted to move my body more but I really didn’t feel like dealing with the gym crowd or doing another Crossfit WOD.
So I sold some of my junk on Craigslist and buy some used dumbbells and kettlebells at a local Play-It-Again Sports. I got to the shop and started looking around. The dumbbells and kettlebells that I wanted were there so I started loading up the truck I was borrowing.
But then it happened. I swear a bright light from the heavens above shined down on it. A beautiful bright red battle rope. We made eye contact and I walked towards it.
You’ve probably seen one of these things being used on a fitness commercial or by an elite athlete. Personally, I had never touched one but had always thought it looked like a good time and a hell of a workout.
Anyhow, I bought it. Took it home and the rest is history.
Today’s article is all about the battle rope. What it is, the benefits of training with it, how to buy a good one, and how to train your entire body using one.
BENEFITS OF BATTLE ROPE TRAINING
In a study conducted by the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, mean oxygen consumption was measured amongst various exercises including battle rope training, burpees, and the bench press. Other resistance training exercises and bodyweight movements like the squat, push-up, and plank were also included in the study.
It was found that the greatest oxygen consumption was used during battle rope training followed by the burpee. Yeah, you just read that right. Battle rope training surpassed the ever hated burpee in oxygen consumption. It was also shown that training with a battle rope burned an average of 10.3 calories per minute.
However, the greatest benefit may be that they simply allow you do high-intensity interval training without having to spend time on a treadmill, running, rowing, or other pieces of equipment that may have begun to bore you. High-intensity interval training allows you to increase your resting metabolic rate, VO2 max (oxygen muscles can consume) and enables you to train both the anaerobic and aerobic energy systems.
Other benefits of battle rope training include
- You can maintain a high intensity over an extended period of time
- It’s easy to create a simple and effective fast workout that can be done at a gym or at home.
- It’s super easy to set up and doesn’t take up much space when stored
- You can use it to get in a full-body workout
- It increases lactic acid threshold in the upper body which is super unique because most of the time work like this is done with the lower body
- You can alternate between low and high impact by the way you move the rope
- Great for developing grip strength which can help to improve other lifts like the deadlift, pull-ups, and kb swings
- You’re able to work the upper body independently
- It’s fun as all get-up to use
Battle rope training also gives you a chance to look for some small muscular imbalances. If you watch the waves as you’re training you’ll be able to notice whether or not they are even with one another. For example, you may see that your left arm is really struggling to control the rope and produce big, strong, consistent waves that reach the anchor, but your right arm has no problem.
WHAT BATTLE ROPE SHOULD I BUY?
It can get a little confusing trying to decide which battle rope to buy based on your fitness level. They come in all kinds of shapes, sizes, weights, colors, and materials.
Ropes will range in size from 30 feet to 100 feet and different thicknesses (diameters), usually 1″ to 2.5.” The longer and thicker the rope the heavier it will be. The Onnit academy has a great sizing chart for some of their most popular ropes sold.
- 40-foot rope, 2-inch diameter: 21 lbs.
- 40-foot rope, 1.5-inch diameter: 17 lbs.
- 50-foot rope, 2-inch diameter: 30 lbs.
- 50-foot rope, 1.5-inch diameter: 24 lbs.
Most of the battle ropes that you’ll find are made from three types of material.
Poly Dac Ropes
Poly ropes are usually made from an 80/20 blend of polypropylene and polyester. These ropes are great for indoor and outdoor use. They’re usually lighter, softer, and do not shed as much. Price-wise there are usually you mid-range ropes.
These ropes are made from manila fiber which makes them a bit heavier. They’re often less expensive than poly-dac and nylon ropes but shed quite a bit and can be hard on the hands. They’re great for outdoor use.
Many nylon ropes are double-braided which means that a layer of braids is covered with another layer on top. This makes them extremely durable and strong but also more expensive. This is a great all-around rope for indoor and outdoor use. If you plan to use your rope often or for group classes this is your best bet.
Nylon ropes also look and sound really cool when you use them. So you’ll have that going for ya. They’re also water-resistant which makes them great for use outdoors.
Great info Justin but just tell me which one I should get.
Ok ok, but it depends on a few things.
Where will You Be Using Your Rope?
If you’re going to be training mostly indoors you may want to buy synthetic fiber battle ropes made from material like polypropylene, poly-dac, or nylon. These materials won’t shed as a manila rope will.
What type of training do you want to do with it?
If you want to attach weights or a sled to it and do pulling exercises the 100-foot rope is a great option. If you prefer to use it for more conditioning and HIIT style training the shorter, thinner, and lighter ropes may be your best bet.
Your body type, size, gender, level of fitness, and training experience can all influence what rope to buy but the most popular size purchased is a 50-foot rope with 1.5″ diameter. This rope seems to be the happy medium for most trainees looking to improve general conditioning. It’s difficult enough to use for well a well-conditioned person while at the same time allows for a noobie to rope training to learn basic techniques without being too difficult.
Some really great battle ropes to check out.
I ended up getting my battle rope, “Big Red” from Play It Again Sports for about $50-$60. You could also do some searching on Craigslist.
HOW TO SET UP YOUR BATTLE ROPE FOR TRAINING
This is the easy part. All you really need is a fixed stationary location like a pole, kettlebells, tree, or weighted plates. I like to loop mine around something that has a cover or top to it. This keeps the rope from moving up and down too much as I’m training with it.
If you’re struggling to find a location to anchor your rope or prefer something with a top as I do, there are al sorts of anchor accessories out there that you can use for training.
HOW TO GRIP THE BATTLE ROPE?
Properly gripping the battle rope can make a huge difference in performance while doing different exercises. There are two main grips that you’ll use when working with the battle rope and one alternative grip you can also use.
Overhand or Handshake Grip
The overhand or handshake grip
This is the grip that you’ll be using most often. It’s used when doing some of the fundamental battle rope exercises like the alternating wave, two-handed waves (or stagecoach exercise), outside circles, as well as pulling exercises like a sled or weighted pulls and pull-ups.
Lay the rope flat on the ground and pick it up at the handles so that your thumbs are pointed towards the anchor. The ends of the handles will be pointed towards your body. You’ll want to get as much of the rope as you can in the palm of your hand so that you take the pressure off of your fingers.
Wrap your fingers around the rope and secure your grip by placing your thumb over the fingers. You can also hold the rope like you would a golf club and leave the thumb off of the fingers. This is my personal preference.
How tightly you grip the rope is up to you. I try to stay away from a G.I. Joe Kung Fu Grip mostly because my forearms tend to fatigue quickly. I’ve also noticed that with a bit of a looser grip I seem to have more fluidity and range of motion in my wrists, elbows, and shoulders – making for smooth waves.
Underhand or Microphone Grip
The underhand or microphone grip:
This is the second grip you’ll use most often. This grip comes in handy when doing exercises like rainbows/hip toss, crazy eights, and diagonal pulls.
Pick up your battle rope so that the ends of the handles are facing the ceiling or sky. Now grab the rope so that your thumbs are pointing towards the ceiling or sky as well. Place as much of the rope as you can in the palm of your hand and wrap your fingers around the rope. You now have the option of wrapping your thumb around your fingers to secure your grip or placing your thumb on the rope but leaving it pointing upwards. Again, how tightly you grip the rope is a personal preference.
Four Finger or Sock Puppet Grip
The four-finger or sock puppet grip
This isn’t a grip you’ll use very often but you can use it for most battle rope exercises. It’s typically used for more advanced battle rope athletes and for those looking to improve grip or finger strength. I’ve personally used this grip when trying to get better at rock climbing.
Pick up your battle rope so that the end of the handles are facing the ceiling or sky. Now simply grab your rope so that the end of the handle is pushed into the palm of your hand. Next, fold your 4 fingers on top of the rope and place your thumb underneath the rope. Sort of like you are playing with a sock puppet – hence the name.
I use a bit firmer grip when using this one. Mostly because it’s pretty frickin tough to hold the rope otherwise. If you decide to use this grip you’ll notice a significant difference in your ability to move the rope with speed and in multiple directions. Use this grip often and you’re likely to turn into Popeye.
THE 3 PRIMARY BATTLE ROPE MOVEMENTS TO MASTER AND COMMON MISTAKES
When you want to get good at something you’ve never done before what should you do?
No, no, no… don’t f*cking Google it.
Master the fundamentals. In battle rope training there are 3 basic movements you’ll want to practice before moving on to more advanced stuff. By doing this you’ll set yourself up for some amazing workouts in the future.
THE BASIC SET-UP
Grip the rope lightly, relax your shoulders, bend slightly at the knees and keep your lower body loose. Take it from Mika and, “Relax, take it easy.” There can be a tendency to tighten up everywhere when doing battle rope training but you’ll actually want to stay fairly loose. If you’re having a hard time doing this your rope may be too big for you.
Keep your chest and head up with eyes focused on the anchor in front of you. Even though you’ll be moving the rope at a pretty high pace, try to use slow and controlled inhales and exhales. As intense as the ropes exercises can be they also can be somewhat meditative if you’re breathing properly.
Below I outline the 3 movements but make sure to watch the videos attached. This is definitely one of those things that’s better to see than to read about.
The Wave: Alternating or Two-Handed
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Pick up your rope using the overhand or handshake grip discussed previously in this article. Walk the rope back so that there is no slack. Now take one to two steps forward. This should give you the perfect amount of slack for creating those nice big beautiful waves.
Bend slightly at the elbow and start the movement by rapidly raising one arm to shoulder height. As this arm begins to drop begin to raise the other arm as to shoulder height as quickly as you can. Continue alternating arms up and down as quickly as you comfortably can or until you pass out… that was a joke.
The Slam: Alternating or Two-Handed
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Pick up your rope using the overhand or handshake grip discussed earlier in this article. Again, walk the rope back so that there is no slack and then take one step forward.
Bend slightly at the knees so that you’re in a quarter squat. Keeping your chest up quickly raise the handles of you battle rope overhead using your arms and hands as quickly as possible. Once the handles are overhead immediately driving them towards the ground as aggressively as possible. Pretend that you’re throwing a watermelon to the ground and you want it to explode.
Once the rope hits the ground take a second or two before raising the handles up overhead again to begin your second rep. The idea is to apply maximal force to the slamming part of the movement.
There can be a tendency to use too much of the lower back in this exercise so do your best to keep your chest up when performing it.
Hip to hip
Pick up your rope using the underhand or microphone grip. Walk the rope back so that there is no slack and then take one step forward.
Bend at the knees so that you’re in a quarter squat. With the handles of the rope in your hand extend your arms but leave a slight bend in the elbow. Start the movement by aggressively rotating at the hips to the left (your right foot will pivot). Bring your hands towards your left hip. Once your hands have reached your left hip immediately rotate to the right (your left foot will pivot) and bring your hands towards your right hip.
Want more simple fitness and practical life advice?
COMMON MISTAKES WITH BATTLE ROPE TRAINING
Starting with the rope too tight
This means that the rope does not have enough slack to create waves. You can correct this by stretching the rope out so that it has no slack and then by taking 1 to 2 steps forward.
Struggling to get consistent waves
If you’re having a hard time getting waves to go from the handles to the anchor there’s a good chance that the rope is either too long, heavy, thick, or some combination of the three. Don’t stress, you don’t need to buy a new rope. Just wrap the rope around the anchor a few more times so that the rope is not as long.
The rope pounds the ground ever time you make a wave
If you’re trying to work in alternating waves and the rope is pounding the ground every time you’re just a little late on the up motion. It will take some practice but almost as soon as your hand fishes guiding the rope to the group you want to bring it right back up.
You’re not bending your elbows and all of the work is in the shoulders:
Most of the battle rope movements come from the elbow joint – especially the wave movements. Relax your arms and instead of trying to make waves as fast as possible try making slow waves and focusing on bending the elbow. If that doesn’t help you can pin your elbows to your side. Try your best to keep them there while making waves with the battle rope. This will force you to take some of the shoulders out of the movement and use more of the elbow joint and wrist.
You’re standing like a boner…erect
Yup, I just said that but it’s my blog and I’ll do what I want. Make sure to bend your knees a little when using the battle rope.
You’re using too much of your back and really feeling it:
If you’re back is killing you when you’re using the rope it may be because you’re hunched over too much or using it to assist in the exercises. This can be a big problem with doing two-handed slams or waves. Keep your eyes and chest up and pointed at the anchor. This can be tough when you start to fatigue but do your best with it – your back will thank you later.
If you have any particular questions about battle rope workouts or technique feel free to email me here.
BEGINNER AND INTERMEDIATE BATTLE ROPE WORKOUTS
I didn’t want to leave you with all content and nothing to take home and take action with. Below is a shortlist of some beginner battle rope exercises as well as two workouts you can try.
Beginner battle rope exercises:
- Alternating waves
- Two-handed waves (stagecoach)
- Two-handed slam
- Outside circles
- Hip to hip
- In and outs
A few intermediate exercises you can try:
- Alternating waves with a reverse lunge
- 5 two-handed waves + 1 burpee
- Alternating waves with lateral shuffle
- Alternating waves with pistol squats
- Two-handed slam with jumping lunge
Beginner Battle Rope Workout
The workout below is performed as a circuit. You’ll first complete exercise (A1) rest 30 seconds, move on to exercise (A2), rest 30 seconds, and repeat this process until all 5 exercises have been completed. This is 1 round. You’ll rest 60 seconds after round 1 and complete 4 more times for a total of 5 rounds.
- A1. Alternating waves, x 30 seconds; rest 30 seconds
- A2. Two-handed waves, x 30 seconds; rest 30 seconds
- A3. Hip to hip , x 30 seconds; rest 30 seconds
- A4. Two-handed slam, x 30 seconds; rest 30 seconds
- A5. Snake, x 30 seconds
Rest 30 to 60 seconds after each round. Complete 4 more rounds for a total of 5 rounds.
Intermediate battle rope workout
The workout below is performed as a circuit. You’ll first complete exercise (A1) rest 10 seconds, move on to exercise (A2), rest 10 seconds, and repeat this process until all 7 exercises have been completed. This is 1 round. You’ll rest 60 seconds after round 1 and complete 4 more times for a total of 5 rounds.
*Note: This workout includes some kettlebell exercises. Simply omit them if you do not have one.
- A1. Alternating waves with a reverse lunge, x 30 seconds; rest 10 seconds
- A2. 5 two-handed waves + 1 burpee, x 60 seconds; rest 10 seconds
- A3. Two-handed slam with jumping lunge, x 60 seconds; rest 10 seconds
- A4. Goblet squats, x 25 reps; rest 10 seconds
- A5. Alternating waves with lateral shuffle, x 60 seconds; rest 10 seconds
- A6. In and outs, x 60 seconds; rest 10 seconds
- A7. Kettlebell swings, x 25 reps
Rest 60 seconds after your first round and complete 4 more rounds for a total of 5 rounds.
If you’re interested in learning more about battle rope training, different exercises, and exploring more ways to work out with them than checkout the Onnit Academy or the Onnit Academy On Demand. They have some fantastic resources to help you optimize your training.
Want more simple fitness and practical life advice?
OTHER BATTLE ROPE TRAINING TIPS
When you first start training with the battle rope spend most of your time focusing on the fundamental movements. Concentrate on getting consistent waves from the handles to the anchor. After you have some solid technique down ramp up the intensity a bit. A good place to shoot for is between 120 and 150 alternating waves per minute.
With battle rope training you have the ability to design workouts in a multitude of ways.
Time: You could use intervals like 20 seconds on with 10 seconds of rest, 1 minute on with 1 minute of rest, or 5 minutes on. Some good work to rest ratios I’ve found work well are below. For beginners, 10 to 20 seconds of work with 30 to 60 seconds of rest is a great place to start.
Distance: If you have a 50-foot rope this means you have 25 feet in each hand. You could design a workout so that you go a mile on the rope ( 1 mile = 5,280 feet or 1 mile = 1,609 meters).
Reps: A workout could be created so it has 50 alternating waves, 100 two-handed slams, or 75 rainbows.
- If you’re looking for extra grip strength you can fold the handle over to create a much thicker grip
- Most exercises are done while standing. But as some of the workouts above show you can also kneel, sit, plank, move forward and backward, laterally, squat, lunge, jump, and even burpee
- If you’d like to work more on strength or just feel like you need to step up your battle rope training you can do this by increasing the length or diameter of the rope. This will make it much more difficult to produce waves that reach your anchor as well as really test your grip strength
- You can also use them to climb and pull weighted objects
PS: If you’re looking for a good battle rope I recommend checking Craigslist and Play-It-Again sports for a used one but if brand new is your thing these sites below have some pretty sweet ropes.
Photo Credit: Indian Workout
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