Over the past few years, Battling Ropes® have quickly made their way into the mainstream – they are in most commercial and private gyms, used by a majority of professional and college teams and are often seen in TV commercials and magazines.
In this first article, you’ll learn the basics of battling ropes and the foundation of the system, including:
- The creation of Battling Ropes
- Training benefits
- The velocity/wave segment of the system
- Keys to the system
- Training exercises
- Sample workouts
The popularity of battling ropes is not surprising, given that they are a perfect fit for today’s training environment - the movements can be quickly and easily implemented individually or in a group setting, they are fun, safe and functional, and the system can be scaled to challenge any ability level to provide a great alternative or supplement to any training program.
Despite this popularity, many have not yet added rope training to their programs, and those that have are often missing out on some of the unique benefits the system offers. There’s more to the system than simply creating waves and circles! In fact, the typical method of using the ropes is actually only one of seven segments of the complete Battling Rope training system.
Use the ropes for almost any training goal, including:
- Work capacity
- Fat loss
- Aerobic and anaerobic conditioning
- Strength endurance
- Explosive power
- Power endurance
- Grip strength
Development of the System: Finding the Missing Link in Training
The Battling Ropes training system is relatively new, created by John Brookfield within the last decade as a method to improve his ability to sustain speed, strength and power over longer periods of time.
John found that he could use ropes to mimic forces in nature that display these qualities, such as the flow of a hurricane or fast moving water – nonstop and relentless with no lull in the action. This discovery led to the first phase of battling ropes, known as the velocity, or wave, system.
After noticing improvements in his own performance, John began introducing his training to others - including those with an extensive training background. What he found interesting was that the ropes became a great equalizer. Regardless of previous training experience or focus, everyone initially struggled to maintain the intensity of their waves for any length of time. Because the ropes require application of enough force to create speed on the rope AND the ability to sustain that pace, both the strength athletes and those trained in endurance fatigued within the first minute.
However, with continued training, they all improved their ability to create strong, fast waves and sustain their pace over longer periods of time and saw the transfer into results in their own fitness and performance. No other type of training demanded such a complex and constant effort and produced universal results - revealing a system that addresses a missing link in training.
The Missing Link
This is the main benefit of battling ropes that most people miss. Most trainers use the ropes in circuits or intervals. This is certainly an effective method of conditioning and fat loss, and one that should be a part of a good training program. But to see increased transfer to more aspects of training - especially work capacity - I strongly suggest also increasing your time intervals to a minimum of 5 minutes on one exercise, even going up to 20 minutes and beyond.
Many trainers might think that sustaining for longer time periods is unnecessary if their athletes and clients aren’t training specifically for endurance. I used to think so too! When John Brookfield first introduced me to battling ropes, I was competing as a weightlifter and a bobsledder. The longest time I might ever be performing was about 10-15 seconds, and my regular training usually consisted of lifts in the 1-5 rep range with plenty of rest in between. I was definitely not interested in training for endurance.
However, I trusted the system and worked diligently to increase my time to be able perform 20 minutes of continuous alternating waves at a steady pace. The carryover to my training was unexpected. I found I was able to perform more sets at a challenging weight before becoming fatigued because my work capacity had increased. Now that was a welcome change and one that was beneficial for a strength and power athlete.
What Makes Rope Training so Special?
In addition to being fun and different, there are other elements that are unique to battling ropes, making them a great choice for your clients!
The most unique and challenging aspect of battling ropes is that they require 100% output and there is no momentum. No other training method requires such a consistent and constant effort with no recovery part of the movement.
You must generate enough force and speed with every wave for them to continue to reach the anchor point. This is why 20 seconds feels like an eternity at first, and also what makes them so effective at increasing your work capacity when you increase your time.
Even when rope exercises are performed with high intensity and effort, they are relatively easy on the joints. No matter how much effort you put into the rope, there is no force coming back at you. In fact, there are physical therapists that use battling ropes for shoulder rehab patients.
Simple to learn:
The ropes exercises are very simple. This doesn’t mean they are easy! It just means you can be comfortable knowing that with some basic instruction, you can be confident in your ability to teach the movements and trust your clients to perform them properly in order to work hard on the ropes safely.
Every exercise in the battling ropes system can be scaled for any fitness level. I use the same rope and the same exercises (adjusted as necessary) for my older clients that I do with my high performing athletes. No matter how far you advance in the system or on a given movement, there is always a way to increase the difficulty, intensity or challenge of the exercise for continued progress.
No one has equal speed, strength, power or coordination on both sides, and this is evident on the rope. If you watch your rope, you’ll notice one side of the body will start move differently than the other, especially as you fatigue. You don’t need to know anything about corrective exercise to correct this imbalance. With continued training in the same movement patterns, you’ll slowly notice the two sides begin to balance out.
The rope is a great feedback tool. The movement of the rope reflects the movement of the user. Strive to create a smooth, fluid motion and watch your waves travel down the rope. As you fatigue and the waves start to falter, you’ll see the change in the rope and will work harder to continue getting your waves as far as possible. As John says, "Don’t let your category 5 hurricane become a tropical depression!"
Choosing a Rope
Throughout the development of the system, John tested various lengths and sizes of ropes and found that the 50 foot, 1.5” diameter ropes work best. Elite athletes and beginners can all use this rope efficiently for the velocity training.
Shorter ropes become easy quickly – your client doesn’t need to get the wave to the end of the rope to get an appropriate challenge. As they progress, they'll see their waves traveling father down the rope and will eventually be able to get their waves to travel to the anchor point.
Heavier ropes (2” diameter) create a different challenge and should be viewed as a progression from the 1.5” rope - after your client can sustain their pace for longer time intervals.
Wave training is the segment of battling ropes that you see most often and is the foundation of battling ropes. The goal is to create a series of continuous waves that travel the length of the rope with no break in the movement.
Usually, exercises are performed for specific times, but could also be performed for reps or for a set distance based on the length of the rope. You are only limited by your creativity – there are no fixed planes of motion, so creating your own patterns and exercises is a great way to bring variety to your training.
Rope set up:
- Place the middle of your rope behind a post or other smooth surface – this is your anchor point.
**NOTE: A rough surface or one with corners will chew into the rope causing it to fray.
- Bring the two free ends together and walk away from the anchor point until the ropes are straight.
- Holding the ends of your ropes, with one rope in each hand, walk back until you feel the rope get taut and then be sure to take one step forward. This allows enough slack in the rope to move correctly (and is one of the biggest mistakes I witness with rope training).
Hold the rope as if you are shaking someone’s hand. Your thumb and first finger should face the anchor point and the free end of the rope comes out of the little finger side of your hand.
Hold the rope with your thumb and first finger pointed toward the ceiling, palms facing each other. The free end of the rope will also point toward the ceiling.
- The ropes should stay between the hips and shoulders, keeping the waves small to mid-sized.
- You’ll get more out of your rope training if you keep your waves smaller and learn to move the ropes quickly instead of creating a big slam type movement.
- The faster you move and the stronger your wave, the better your waves will travel.
- Relax the arms. When you relax and move the arm like the rope moves – more like a whip - you can create more force and intensity on the rope and sustain that intensity for a longer time than if you try to “muscle” the rope.
- Relax the body. Find a grounded athletic position, but stay relaxed throughout the movements. Force, power and speed transfer most efficiently through a relaxed body, not one that is locked into a tense position.
- Feel what the feet, core and shoulders are doing throughout the exercises. Even when just moving the arms, these movements incorporate the entire body!
6 Basic Exercises
1. Double waves, underhand or overhand
2. Alternating waves, underhand or overhand
3. Outward circles, underhand
4. Arm sidewinder (in and out), underhand
5. Sidewinders (side to side), underhand
6. Crossovers (arc), overhand
3 Rope Challenge Workouts
- 30 seconds on/30 seconds off
For a quick 6-minute workout, perform all 6 velocity exercises listed above (under “6 Basic Exercises”) for 30 seconds, with 30 seconds rest. Repeat if desired.
- Increase work time
- Decrease rest time
- Increase the pace
- 5-10 minutes of continuous ropes
To increase your ability to sustain for longer time periods and increase work capacity, move the ropes continuously for 5-10 minutes. Change the exercise as often as needed to keep the ropes moving.
- 5-10 minutes alternating waves, pace 60-90 reps/arm/min
Remember, sustaining a pace for longer time is the foundation of the battling ropes program and yields the greatest benefits. Build time incrementally – alternating between increasing time and intensity.
Lead up progressions:
- 5 rounds of 45 seconds work/15 seconds rest
- 5 rounds of 50 seconds work/10 seconds rest
- 5 rounds 55 seconds work/5 seconds rest
Battling ropes add variety and excitement to your training with great results and carryover. In the next installment, I will introduce other segments of Battling Ropes as well as guidelines for incorporating the training into your clients’ programs.