If ropes terrified you in your childhood gym class, well, it’s probably because you were asked to climb them. But now that your days of compulsory climbing are over, you can look at ropes in a whole new light. Battle ropes — also called battling ropes — are a versatile piece of equipment that once again prove you don’t need heavy weights to get a good workout.
More than just tools to burn out your arms, battle ropes can be used to build strength and power throughout your entire body. Because of their ability to provide a serious, heart-pumping aerobic workout, they also make great additions to any high-intensity interval training program.
To learn more, we enlisted Jonathan Ross, an ACE master trainer, ropes aficionado and founder of Aion Fitness. Below, he shares five great things about battle ropes:
Ross says if you simply use your arms to propel the ropes, you will quickly exhaust yourself. Instead, you should engage your legs and core to provide a stable base for the movement. “If you let the legs and core create most of the energy for the exercise, your movement will become more efficient, so you will feel less tired by a given amount of work.” He compares the body to a car. Think of your arms like the steering wheel — they tell the car where to go, but the engine (your legs and core) provides the power required to move the car.
“One benefit of rope training is the coordination involved in most heavy ropes exercises,” says Ross. “We need coordination to do everything in and out of a workout. Walking, typing, texting, sports — whatever you do requires coordination. Coordination is always there in the background of everything, including our primary fitness characteristics of strength, power and endurance.” In the case of ropes, your arms move independently throughout the movement, so you’re tasked with maintaining consistent form on each side of the body.
When working out, you don’t always get instant feedback on your form. But when you’re working out with ropes, you have visual feedback directly in front of you — the ropes themselves. “The quality of the wave that moves down the length of the rope will give you a very good indication as to the quality of your movement,” says Ross. “You can directly see when you are generating more power by watching how your rope moves.” Use this to your advantage to tweak your form, speed or power as needed, and you can improve your movement on the fly.
Ross points to a study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research that shows just how vigorous a ropes workout can be. In a 10-minute rope training workout comprising 10 sets of 15-second intervals followed by 45 seconds of rest, researchers measured participants’ peak heart rate to be 94% of their age-predicted maximum. That clocks even higher than your typical HIIT workout. And the average energy expenditure was 112 calories, which might not sound like a lot until you consider the total time at work was only 150 seconds, or two and a half minutes. That’s nearly 45 calories burned per minute.
Ross says training with battle ropes can increase your arm strength, which makes sense. But it can also increase your strength endurance. He mentions another study, in which a group of male volleyball players aged 18–25 participated in an eight-week ropes training program. After the program, the athletes showed significant improvements in arm strength (as measured by dips) and strength endurance (as measured by a situp test.)
“The situp test would not be my first choice when measuring strength endurance,” says Ross. “However, it is interesting that improvements were shown on this test, particularly because an essential element of training with heavy ropes is to create the energy for movement with your core and legs while allowing your arms to simply direct where the energy goes.”