You are dangling from a ledge fifty feet off the ground. You’re terrified, tired, and confused. Just as you resign yourself to a fate that you never thought would befall you, a rope lands inches from your perch. Safety is only ten feet above your head if you could pull yourself up to it.
You grab hold of the rope. It’s securely fastened above. The wind briefly pauses and the air is still. All you need to do is put one hand over the other and you can put this situation behind you. Could you pull yourself up ten feet? Could you even hold on to the rope if others were doing the pulling for you?
If there is any question about your ability to perform this extremely basic task, it’s time to add rope climbs into your routine! Whether you plan on hitting the next obstacle course race or not, being able to haul your ass up a rope isn’t just good for your strength development, it is a basic survival skill that you should have.
How Rope Climbs Differ from Pull Ups
Everyone touts the benefits of Pull Ups; upper body and core strength development that has a million functional applications. Even so, in an emergency situation, chances are the place you will need to pull yourself up onto won’t have a convenient, 1-inch thick smooth bar for you to wrap your hands around. It will most likely be rough, uneven, and oddly spaced out, throwing your carefully-honed Pull Up form out the window.
Ropes require a different type of grip and arm strength than a regular pull up. In addition, the unstable nature of climbing a rope (it definitely won’t be secured in most circumstances) forces you to stabilize your climb using your legs and core to control the ascent.
Reason #1 for Rope Climb Workouts: Basic Survival
As described in the example above, losing your life or becoming seriously injured because you were unable to climb a short length of rope would be pretty pitiful. Practicing rope climbs have an extremely functional benefit: you can climb, hang on, or otherwise use a rope to get to safety.
Reason #2 for Rope Climb Workouts: Obstacle Course/Boot Camp Preparation
If you’re planning on hitting the next popular obstacle course race, it’s pretty much guaranteed you are going to be using a hanging rope to climb walls, traverse mud pits, or reach some elevated point (same thing goes for military boot camps). Save yourself the embarrassment of failing a challenge or letting your friends down by adding a few rope climbs into each workout.
Reason #3 for Rope Climb Workouts: Functional Grip Strength for Everything
Just like a Pull Up, rope climbs require you to move your entire bodyweight in one motion. Even if you incorporate your legs by pinching the rope with your feet, you’re still moving more weight than you usually would with free weights. How often does a 200lb guy use a 200lb weight for muscular-stamina based exercises? Not much. This requirement alone forces you to work your grip harder than you typically would.
On top of that, the angle of your grip is uneven during rope climbs. When you lift a kettlebell, dumbbell, barbell, etc., you are typically using a crush grip that evenly distributes the implement within your hand. The rope does no such thing. Similar to grabbing an opponent’s gi in Jiu Jitsu or gripping a baseball bat or golf club, the rope will be at an angle within your hand. Combined with the weight requirement and the fact that every movement will be fatiguing your grip to some degree, rope climbs will help you build functional grip strength within the first week!
Sample Rope Climb Supplemental Workout
Now that you understand the need for climbing a rope, it’s time to incorporate some sets into your regular program. Here is a set you can do 3-5 times a week before or after your regular program to start building your rope climbing abilities. And no, there is no substitute for climbing a rope; you need to practice the activity itself to improve.
A: 2-Hand Rope Pull Ups – 3 rounds x 5 reps
B: Hand Over Hand Rope Climb – 3 rounds x 5ft up and down
C: Rope Hang Hold – 3 rounds x 30-60 sec
There you have it! After 3 or 4 weeks of this simple set and you’ll be in much better rope-climbing shape. Be sure to take it easy on the first couple rounds and don’t be afraid to keep your feet on the ground if supporting your entire bodyweight isn’t possible yet.