Cowboys use them to capture cattle or win a steer-roping event. Climbers rely on their strength as they scale rock faces. Camp counselors know their worth, dispensing teams of children to tug and pull at each end. Even corporate upper-management types use ropes in this fashion to build team spirit. Who’d have thought that a measly rope could have so many purposes? But that’s not all. To that list, you can add “total-body trainer.” If you’re looking for a novel way to amp up your workouts — and your physique — here’s what you should know about a growing fitness trend called battle ropes.
Sometimes referred to as “power ropes” or “combat ropes,” battle ropes can be anywhere from about 20 to 100 feet in length, made of natural or artificial fiber, and weigh from 20 to 75 pounds, depending on the rope length and diameter (on average 1.5 to 2 inches). “The longer and thicker the rope, the more of a challenge it poses,” explains Antonio Reyes, an NASM-certified trainer at UFC Gym in Torrance, California.
Because of their size, these aren’t ropes you can pick up at any local Home Depot, but many fitness centers now stock their own, and numerous equipment manufacturers offer more affordable versions for personal use.
While a spectator or dyed-in-the-wool “I use nothin’ but free weights” type might scoff at its potency, rope training is far from a walk in the park. “When using battle ropes, you train multiple muscle groups in all three planes of motion — sagittal, transverse and frontal,” says Reyes. “This not only gives you a great conditioning effect but it also improves strength, coordination and endurance.” Simple point: Your game — no matter what it is — improves significantly.
Battle ropes jack up your heart rate in minimal time, making rope training an unparalleled fat-burning activity. “The ropes give you a great interval-training workout, which every ounce of research indicates is the best way to optimize calorie burn, fat burn and heart health,” states Jim Karas, celebrity trainer to Hugh Jackman and others, and author of The Petite Advantage Diet (HarperOne, 2011). Due to their weight and the instability caused when you swing ropes — which forces you to engage your muscles in response — rope training also increases lean muscle mass, which in turn contributes to an increase in metabolism and fat loss.
We provide three level-appropriate workouts, or you can freestyle your session by choosing 4–5 moves and arranging them in a circuit. Battle the ropes up to three days per week and you’ll be combat-ready in no time!
Do each move in order, then repeat once or twice.
Set Up Your Ropes
- Choose a space that provides plenty of room on all sides to perform the movements.
- Secure the center of the rope around a strong fixed point, such as the base of a Smith machine or through a heavy kettlebell, or around a tree trunk or fencepost.
- Make sure the rope is of equal length on each side before starting the exercises.
- Face the ropes, hold an end in each hand, and walk backward until the ropes are straight.
- Stand with your feet hip width apart or slightly wider, with your weight distributed evenly between your feet.
- Descend into a quarter squat and lean slightly forward with your chest up.
- Keep your back flat, your head up and your abs tight as you perform the moves.
- Use a full range of motion with each rep, making sure the wave goes all the way from your hand to the other end of the rope.
Using both hands, move the ropes up and down simultaneously from head to hip height, keeping your core tight and your back straight.
Advanced Move: Double/Alternating Waves, Moving Side to Side
Shuffle to the right and then to the left as you continue your rope waves. This move is great for hand-eye coordination and balance.
Advanced Move: Squat Double Waves
Instead of remaining stationary during your waves, perform squats to further challenge your legs and arms.
Just like double waves, except you wave the ropes in an alternating pattern.
Advanced Move: Double/Alternating Waves, Walking Forward & Back
Take 4–5 large steps forward while doing either a double or alternating wave. The ropes will feel heavier as you move forward, so use larger arm motions to keep them moving.
Advanced Move: Reverse-Lunge Alternating Waves
Alternate lunging to the rear as you perform alternating waves.
Move your hands apart and together quickly to make the ropes slide in and out in horizontal waves along the floor.
Advanced Move: Rope Jacks
Hold a rope end in each hand and do jumping jacks to challenge your shoulders and cardiovascular system.
Double In-and-Out Loops
Move the ropes in opposite directions like a double-dutch jump rope, looping them outward for a number of reps, then changing direction and looping them inward.
Double Rope Slams
Using both hands, simultaneously lift the ropes high as you come all the way up onto your toes, then slam the ropes as hard as you can onto the floor, using your whole body to whip them downward.
Hold the rope ends together and trace a horizontal figure eight in the air in front of you. The larger the figure eight, the more challenging it is.
Bring both hands close together and keep your elbows tight to your sides. Quickly swish the ropes from side to side along the floor like a snake, keeping your core tight and using your abs to move the ropes, not your arms.
Your Workout, Your Way
To make a move easier: Decrease your range of motion and slow your tempo.
To make a move harder: Increase your tempo and/or range of motion.