Maligned as a fad in the fitness arena, battle ropes are one of the most misunderstood and misused pieces of gym gear. Maybe people shy from battle ropes because they’re concerned about shoulder injury, or maybe they just don’t understand how to use them properly.
The truth is that battle ropes can be used to train explosive power and strength, and you can work on aerobic capacity and lean body mass development. The caveat? You have to know how to use them. Learn the basics and you have an effective, exceptionally versatile and challenging workout that offers amazing power-building benefits
What are Battle Ropes?
Battle ropes can be used as a stand-alone workout or as part of conditioning, strength training, or metabolic conditioning. Ropes will help you improve your overall fitness capacity because of the varying movement patterns, power output options, and methods of use. In short – they’re the best tool in the gym that you’re not using.
Although ropes have been around for millennia, it wasn’t until 2010 that battle ropes found their place in the current fitness arena. John Brookfield was inspired by watching waves and thinking about force output. As a strongman record holder, Brookfield has always been interested in unconventional ways to develop and increase strength. After testing them out on himself, Brookfield realised that battle ropes could help improve power endurance and improve aerobic and anaerobic capacity in athletes.
Why Use Battle Ropes
The real question here is, “Why not?”
Ropes help improve your body’s response to stress.
The dual-force dynamic effect is a fancy anatomical way of saying that ropes require your body to work on two levels – both by balancing and creating stability at the same time. The combination of gravity and the force of the rope improves the body’s automatic reaction that triggers a physical response to stimuli.
When you purchase a set of ropes, you’re buying for now and for later. Unlike weight training where you might need to purchase heavier weights as your body learns to adapt to the load, ropes offer external loads that are directly proportional to the strength you have now – and the strength you develop while using them.
In short, rope work offers you the chance to work within the limits of your own force production. Similar to rowing, the harder you work, the more force you create. Translation – the constant communication between your brain and your body means that there’s very little muscular and neural disconnect. Your movements can be explosive as you’re able to produce.
As you work with battle ropes more frequently, your body begins to learn how to maintain the intensity required to stay active. In turn, this helps increase the lactic acid threshold in your body, with specific focus on your upper body. Since lots of conditioning focuses on drills that include the legs, integrating battle ropes can help balance out your training.
Serious caloric burn
Studies show that battle ropes are comparable to running with respect to overall calories burned. Of course, caloric deficits are just one part of the fitness puzzle, but if you’re looking for a quick but high intensity cardio workout, grab the ropes. Your heart rate will skyrocket and keep your metabolism revved long after your battle rope workout is complete.
Because you can work with ropes to help develop multi-planar movements, they’re amazing tools to help you boost range of motion. Incorporating battle ropes as part of your overall strength helps push your body past homeostasis so soft tissues can learn to restructure and adapt. The results are stronger joints and muscles.
Alternating waves help build force and strength without muscle soreness because there’s no eccentric load. Ropes can also help train the ATP, glycolytic, and oxidative energy systems – depending on how you incorporate rest into your training. ATP is used for short, intense bursts of activity under fifteen seconds. Then glycolytic takes over from thirty seconds to 2 minutes, and then your oxidative system is used. In short – your body learns how to adapt more responsibly under stress and optimise the oxygen it receives.
Battle ropes require your brain and body to work on multiple levels simultaneously. When you use ropes, you’re creating a whole-brain connection – the right and left brain work together to engage the cognitive systems with the limbic systems.
Rope work is tough work. Time stops, stands still, and nothing about ropes gets easier – especially when you’re working intervals. That said, when people start using ropes, the idea of maintaining any discernible level of intensity seems like a far-off dream.
As with all fitness, the mental toughness that comes with incorporating rope training helps teach athletes how to overcome obstacles that seem insurmountable. Consistent training helps break mental barriers, and in turn, this mental work can help develop success in other areas – both in the gym and out.
Imbalances are revealed
Unilateral movements are performed with one arm or leg at a time. Bilateral movements are performed with both legs or arms. Unilateral rope training can help correct imbalances on your naturally dominant side. In turn, you’ll be safeguarding against overtraining and overusing that size.
Unilateral rope work will also help isolate and correct any muscle imbalances you have and helps to improve your overall balance.
What Muscles Do They Use?
Rope work will engage different muscle groups depending on your position, the type of rope you’re using, and your expenditure of force.
But no matter what kind of training approach, your time with the ropes is well spent. Ropes will work:
- Ankles, feet, knees – The body works with gravity to leverage wave output and to remain stabilised when the force of the wave returns to the body. Every wave helps keep the feet, ankles, and knees rooted in position using the body as an anchor for the movement. In turn, this helps to develop and strengthen the tendons in the knees and ankles, which might help with mobility and squat depth over time.
- Brain (so often overlooked in training, but a key part to real overall strength!)
- Core – Stretching from the shoulders to the hips, the core is stabilised and strengthen through the rotation and anti-rotation in basic wave movements. The basic wave movement is contralateral – that means the left lower limb moves in sequence with the right upper limb, which is the same movement found when walking, running, cycling, etc.
- Grip – Holding onto the ropes for long periods of time requires serious grip strength. In turn, a strong grip can help you pull more explosively on deads and push better on bench.
- Hips – The contralateral movement that strengthens the core also activates the hips across all planes of motion because of the changing way the wave is produced.
- Shoulders – A neutral spine and upright torso help the shoulders get stronger and more stable.
Remember that the more you grip the rope and tense your body, the faster you’ll tire yourself out. The most important thing is to remember to relax. That means you need to hold the rope lightly and keep your upper body loose. Similar to marathon trainers who perform better when they smile, try to think about rope work as something fun and carefree. It sounds silly, but you’ll actually be able to move faster, maintain intensity, and work for longer periods of time.
Are you breathing?
Rope work is constant output, so there’s no rest. As you begin integrating rope training to your program, remember to breathe. It’s very common for beginners to hold their breath or simply forget to breath. Instead, try to match your movement with your breathing pattern. For example, maybe on the ascent you breathe out, and on the descent, you breathe in.
As your speed and intensity increases, so too will your breathing. If learning to breathe with movement feels very foreign, consider integrating some yoga to your training, since its foundation is built on the unity of breath and movement.
Engage your entire body
Contrary to what you might think, when you’re using ropes effectively, your entire body is engaged. This helps increase power and efficiency. Specifically, your quads and glutes should be firing and active, whether you’re slamming the ropes or making waves. Just like with a kettlebell swing or any Olympic lifting, your hips are directly responsible for how much power is transferred to your arms. The more engaged you keep your lower body, the more explosive the movements.
Move in many directions
The up and down wave is one of the most common rope movements, and that’s great for beginners. But remember that you should be working on different muscle groups in multiple planes of motion. Moving the ropes in a back and forth motion is going to activate and engage different muscle groups.
The amount of slack in the rope is going to change how much resistance is available. If you’re just starting out with ropes, then you should probably work a little closer to your anchor point. If you’ve been working with ropes for a long time, then step as far away as you want – just make sure you’re still able to complete your movements with good form.
What to Look for When Buying Battle Ropes
Ropes come in a variety of lengths, widths, and material type. Before you rush out and buy a set, consider your goals.
All ropes are going to build muscle, increase your cardio endurance, and help build explosive power. Choosing the right thickness and length is going to depend on how strong you are already, where you are in your fitness goals, and whether or not you have the basics of rope work mastered.
Thickness and length
The most common rope lengths are 9m, 12m, and 15m.
If you’re planning to use ropes exclusively for muscle building training sessions, then you should consider a thicker rope – something that’s at least 5cm wide. A rope this thick will be harder to handle and will ultimately help you build more muscle.
Cardio-heavy training sessions need thinner ropes so you can tax your heart first before taxing your body. Look for something that’s 38 mm or less. This thickness will help you control the ropes more easily and incorporate more movements.
Thicker ropes will carry more weight, and in turn, require greater grip strength. Longer ropes give you more motion.
A rope is a rope, so the best length is really determined by the workout space you have available. Shorter ropes aren’t as fluid and won’t move as well but are ideal if your home gym is on the smaller size. The most common rope length is 15m. This gives you 7.5m of length to work with for each arm.
The most common rope materials are poly Dacron and manila.
Poly Dacron is made from polypropylene and Dacron plastic fibres. The polypropylene is twisted into strings, and then the Dacron is wrapped around it. Dacron provides strength, and polypropylene is a useful, lightweight core. There are varying ratios of polypropylene and Dacron that are used in rope manufacturing. However, most manufacturers don’t disclose their ratios, which can make it difficult to purchase a quality rope. Most poly Dacron roles are very stiff when they first come out of the box and often take a few sessions to loosen them up.
Manila ropes are made from hemp and often shed. They’re great to use outside, but because they’re not made from plastic, they tend to wear out quickly.
An additional 1.5m of working space is needed, no matter what length of rope you purchase. So if you buy a 15m rope, you’re going to need at least 16.5m of working space.
How to anchor
If you’re training outside, it’s easy to anchor battle ropes to anything that’s stable and rooted in the ground. Remember that your anchor needs to withstand a lot of force and motion, so the stronger, the better. Stay away from anything that has sharp edges, too, since those can cut the lifespan of a rope in half. If you have somewhere you can drill holes you can buy an anchor strap kit built for the job.
Anchor your ropes inside by using a heavy kettlebell or around a weighted sled. Some rigs also have optional rope loops that can be attached at the base.
A Detailed Look at the Best Battle Ropes
POWER GUIDANCE Editor’s Choice
Power Guidance understands that different athletes will want to use different length ropes. These ropes come in three different lengths and increase in thickness as the length goes up. Made from just Dacron, this rope is going to last for a while.
- Optional thickness and length make this a good choice for serious rope enthusiasts
- Handles very well right out of the box – no loosening sessions required
- Comes with a free anchor
- Nylon sleeve that covers the rope is a gimmick; there’s no need to protect the rope from friction
- Sleeve makes the rope get twisted a lot during work
- Sleeve rips very easily
This is a decent and durable rope for those who have been working with ropes for a while. The varying lengths and thicknesses are useful when selecting which rope will be best for your goals. However, the nylon sleeve covering is pretty much useless. It rips and frays easily, and basically impedes the fluidity you’re searching for when using a rope.
This basic rope will help introduce you to the benefits of rope training without having to spend a lot of money. Made from Poly Dacron that’s suitable to use indoors or out, the Display4top comes in three lengths and one thickness. Excellent for developing rope training skills and useful for cardio development.
- Optional lengths make this good for specific goals
- Thickness doesn’t change with rope length
- Poly Dacron isn’t the highest quality, so these ropes tend to fray quickly
This might not be the rope for you if you’re already familiar with the benefits of rope training. Its Poly Dacron isn’t the best on the market and tends to fray easily. This might be a good addition for your home gym if you’re new to ropes or just want to have the option available for you. Serious training might break down the Poly Dacron very quickly.
The MORO rope is heavier than most on the market, which is great since it gives you more value for your money. Swinging this rope around is definitely going to increase your cardio endurance and your overall stamina – not to mention build serious muscle mass in the process.
- It’s a heavy rope, which makes workouts more challenging
- Poly Dacron weave is strong, so this probably won’t fray quickly
- Thickness doesn’t increase with longer lengths
It’s neat that the MORO comes with a waterproof jacket, but that’s not really necessary since most people don’t train for long periods of time in the rain. This rope requires some loosening, so don’t expect it to be workout-ready right out of the package.
This Yaheetech battle rope is a little thinner than some of the others on the market, making it ideal if you want to incorporate a lot of cardio into your current training. The length makes it ideal for smaller spaces, and it comes with shrink-wrapped handles for easy gripping.
- Protective sleeve around anchor point to prevent unnecessary fraying
- Heat shrink grips are comfortable to hold
- Rope is very light
- No length or thickness options, so this isn’t suitable for anyone who has worked with ropes for a while
- Frays very easily
Because this rope is so light, it’s best suited for anyone who is brand new to rope work, or to fitness in general. This isn’t the rope for you if you’re looking to work on explosive power, grip strength, or if you’ve been using ropes for a while.
These Jordan Fitness training ropes come with the right coating to work inside or out, and the 15 meter length means you’ll have enough room to get a serious cardio workout – even if you’re working indoors.
- Made from Manilla rope, not plastic
- Weatherproofed covering means you can use this during any weather
- Covering makes the rope a little slick at times, which impedes workouts
- Stiffness takes a while to go away, so the first few sessions with these ropes might not be as effective as you like
Several size options to choose from make these Jordan ropes an easy choice. Varying lengths mean that you’ll be exploring your endurance and cardio limits with every session. The water-resistant nylon covering makes them suitable to use outdoors as well as inside. Non-slip grips mean your hands won’t fail you when you need them most.
The first time you pick up a rope, expect time to stop still. Just like when you get on a rower for the first time, that first 500m is the longest distance in the world, trying to make waves with ropes for even twenty seconds will feel like an eternity. Don’t let that deter you. As with everything in life, rope work doesn’t get easier – you just get better. Commit to incorporating battle ropes into your conditioning training or add rope work in for a blowout metcon.
Pulling on ropes, lifting them in different patterns, and slamming them on the ground all helps increase your overall balance and stability. By engaging both your upper and lower body, you’re getting more effective training in a shorter amount of time.
This dual force dynamic effect helps your body’s response to the load and over time, the likelihood of injury becomes almost nil. Since the force of ropes coming down is self-powered, you’re in complete control. The best part is that you’ll only ever need to purchase one set of ropes. As your strength and conditioning improves, so too will your endurance and power.
Battle ropes can help you overcome a fitness slump because they’re a lot of fun. There’s something really freeing about throwing around a set of ropes that helps combat boredom and help you remember why you started this journey in the first place.