Rope Climbing Builds Upper Body and Grip Strength Unlike Anything Other Exercise

By Corey Beasley

Climbing a Rope is One of Those 'Bang for Your Buck' Exercises

If you've ever climbed a rope, you know its a butt kicker.  Your arms, upper back, core, grip strength, and legs get worked in a way that you just can't find in a traditional gym. For wrestlers, grapplers and fighters, climbing a rope consistently can build strength in your grip, arms and upper body that will transfer onto the mat or into the cage.

Better Than Pull Ups?

For most people, climbing a rope requires more strength and endurance than performing pull ups on a bar.   Not that pull ups are bad, but the grip angle, thickness of the rope and climbing hand over hand usually shocks people. Many people lack the grip strength to hold on effectively, so taking some time to improve their grip strength and get used to climbing hand over hand is essential.

Legs or No Legs?

Military, Crossfit and Adventure Racers use their legs for increased efficiency.  They want to get to the top, while using the least amount of energy possible.  That is great, but we are not climbing rope for efficiency sake...grapplers and fighters should be climbing rope to improve strength.  So we are going to focus on 'no leg' exercises to build strength.

Exercise Progressions

Sled Drags - Exercises like this help you get used to having your hands on the rope and pulling hand over hand.  These are a great way to develop the strength and endurance needed for more intense variations.

No Sled, No Problem - Throw your rope over a bar and pull weights.  You still get the hand over hand movement and develop strength to hold the rope.

Never ending Horizontal Rope Pulls - Instead of using a sled, you can simply wrap the rope around a large post to create resistance.  Once the end of the rope gets to the post, you simply grab the opposite end and keep pulling  These can be done seated, standing, in the plank, or lying on the floor.

Never ending Vertical Rope Pulls - Similar to the previous drill, this one is simply done over a higher anchor point to simulate the vertical pull needed for a rope climb.

Standing to Lying Hand Walks - Another great drill that increases the intensity, without holding your entire bodyweight.

Rope Handle Pull Ups - Now we have to pull our weight, but we're not having to pull hand over hand yet.  These are killer pull up variations!

Rope Hang Isometrics - Isometrics are essential for combat athletes.  Developing the strength to hold over time will yield huge benefits on the mat or in the cage.

Rope Climbs - Once we are used to the ropes and have developed a solid foundation of strength, it's time to climb!

2 Rope Climb - Try climbing on two ropes and it provides a new challenge.

Resisted Climbs - once you get proficient at regular climbs, try adding a vest to increase the load.  5-10 lbs will shock ya, so start adding weight slowly and build up over time.

Workout Ideas

Reps - Counting reps on any rope pull or climb is a simple way to track progress. ie. How many rope pull ups can you do?

Distance - Climbing a rope can start by going half way up and back, so you get comfortable. Then you can go to the top and back.  Or performing multiple climbs sequentially. If you are doing less intense drills, you might pull for a certain distance.  For example, if you are doing the never ending pulls, with a 100' rope, 27 lengths is about 1/2 mile.  You can mix it up to fit your goals, create team challenges or similar to keep the athletes engaged.

Time - How much work can you perform in a given time?  This is another great way to squeeze more work into a given time frame.  How many climbs or reps can you perform in 30sec? 60sec? 120 sec?

Race a Friend - You'll be surprised how much harder you work when it becomes a contest.

*Be sure to develop a good foundation before attempting a potentially dangerous challenge.  No need to have some new guy lose his grip, trying to compete with his buddies.  Start with ground based challenges and exercises, so you develop a solid foundation.


Need Equipment?

Climbing Ropes – From gym classes to the military , rope climbing exercises have long been a measure of an athlete’s upper body strength and endurance. Perfect for developing strong grip and powerful pulling strength.

X-Vest – One of our favorite weighted vests. Perfect for bodyweight exercises, hiking, plyos and more.

Grandfather Clock Grip SystemThe are a new take on the classic towel grip pull-up, but better simulate grabbing an opponents wrist. Perfect for pull ups, rows, farmer walks and other grip work.