We’ve all seen it, that motivational Instagram video of some “fitspo” doing an exercise over a dated Eminem song in an attempt to either motivate us or sell us some magic pooping tea we don’t need. And what’s the one exercise most of these videos has in common? Battling ropes.
But why? My guess is because, well, they look cool. But are battle ropes a good way to improve physique and performance, or are they all fluff? Here’s the lowdown.
Like any exercise, if you do it hard and fast enough you’re obviously going to sweat. But if sweating was your only goal you’d go for a jog outside. So the next question is, how can we make this an effective part of our routine?
As a NCAA strength and conditioning coach I’ve seen many D1 athletes misuse battle ropes, forcing me to step in and lend a hand. The main problem? The average person grabs the ropes, walks backwards until the ropes are relatively tight, and proceeds to hammer away aimlessly with different unstructured patterns of movement. They look like drummers in a high school garage band on Adderall.
This isn’t doing much of anything, and it’s unlikely to cause any sort of muscular adaptation. Why? Because there isn’t enough actual load placed on the muscle when the ropes are pulled tight. Yes, it’s easier to move those ropes like a wild banshee, but it’ll prove about as effective as jogging.
Try This Instead
- Grab the ropes, walk back, then take two big steps forward so the ropes are NOT taut.
- Take an athletic stance and an upright posture.
- Set a Tabata timer on your phone for 10 rounds of 20 seconds of work with a 10 second break.
- Alternate each round between strokes of your choosing. But once you pick a stroke, you must maintain it for the whole 20 seconds; you can’t switch until the round is over. Once the 20 seconds is up, feel free to switch to another pattern.
- Find somewhere to escape the burn in your delts.
Like any other exercise, the load matters. If you allow more slack in the ropes (by stepping forward) you’ll be forced to work with the weight of the rope itself. Stretching them out tight doesn’t allow for any actual weight to be loaded on the movement of your arm strokes.
Recommended Arm Strokes
- Small waves (alternating arms)
- Big waves (alternating arms)
- Double arm slams
- Jumping jacks (full jumping jacks with a rope in each hand)
- Outside circles
- Inside circles
- Horizontal (making the ropes move in a snake pattern on the floor by moving the handles inside to outside in a horizontal pattern)