THE KEY TO a healthy training program is variability. The body moves in more than just one way, and we need to move in all planes of motion to effectively train the overall functionality of our bodies. Battle ropes are a unique piece of equipment that allow us to do just that.
“Battle ropes are, in a sense, free weights,” says Eric Sung, C.S.C.S. Free weights are weights that are not limited to a fixed range of motion (think about how a Smith machine only moves up and down on a track, in comparison). Since battle ropes are not fixed to a track, they can add resistance to movement in any direction we want them to, Sung says. That means they can aid in movements that work through different planes of motion and activate more muscle groups for a full body workout that will effectively burn fat. They’re especially good for mixing up your cardio routine—you’re not going to find many pieces of cardio equipment that allow you to twist, adding a rotational (transverse) component to your workout, let alone one that allows you to slam your way to an elevated heart rate.
They’re an everyday tool turned gym accessory with loads of benefits. The types of ropes you’ll want to grab to swing for your workouts are a bit more substantial than what you might have sitting at home, but you can find hearty enough sizes for swinging at hardware stores. Even if you don’t, battle ropes are an effective tool to consider adding to your home gym—their versatility gives you plenty of bang for your buck. Besides their variability, they’re also tough and durable. You can slam them around to train powerful movement patterns without the worry of them breaking.
Sung notes that one useful way to use ropes is for sport-specific training, by mimicking movements you would see on the field or the court. For example, incorporate overhead slams to practice a soccer ball throw. Or, cap off a workout with a quick battle rope centric finisher to get your conditioning in. However you build them into your training routine, you’ll swing, slam, and shake the ropes to ramp up your heart rate, challenge your muscles, and burn fat.
“The key to their effectiveness is that they work each arm independently, eliminating strength imbalances as they sculpt your muscle,” John Brookfield, creator of the original battling-ropes system, told Men’s Health.
Benefits of Battle Ropes Workouts
One of the best parts about battle ropes workouts is that you won’t be limited to training one muscle group at a time. These types of sessions are designed to be high-effort, with your whole body engaged. You’ll definitely work both arms, along with your back, chest, legs, and core, depending on your routine.
Adding ropes to your routine also provides a killer cardio workout without the monotony that comes with other aerobically-focused activities. You’ll sweat bullets while you swing, no matter what you’re training to do. You can train for power by slamming the ropes on the ground, too—the possibilities are endless.
Read on to maximize your burn—and brawn.
Battle Ropes Training Rules to Swing By
Battling ropes are useful tools, but you won’t get anywhere if you just flail away aimlessly. If you’re going to pick up a rope, live by these rules to make the most of your workout.
TRAINING RULE 1: Move in Many Directions
Don’t just wave the ropes up and down. “Try different motions to work different muscles and skills,” said Brookfield. Going from side to side, for example, places more emphasis on your hips and core, building total-body stability. Moving the ropes in circles improves shoulder mobility and range of motion, boosting athleticism and reducing your risk of injury. Switching among different motions in your training sessions will help you sculpt functional real-world strength.
TRAINING RULE 2: Use Ropes for Everything
Lots of guys use battling ropes as a finisher or as one exercise in a larger circuit. “But ropes also make for a great workout in and of themselves,” Brookfield advised. You might do each exercise for 10 minutes, for example, or do waves alone for a full 20 minutes. “Doing one task for extended periods teaches your mind to focus and helps your body flush lactic acid.” It also extends the time your muscles are under tension, helping you build strength as you shed fat.
TRAINING RULE 3: Adjust the Resistance
The amount of slack in the rope determines the load. “Moving away from the anchor point decreases exercise intensity, while stepping toward the anchor point increases it,” Brookfield said. Adjust the slack so you’re challenged to complete each set. If you’re doing a battling-rope workout, alternate between two minutes closer to the anchor point and one minute farther away. “The time you spend farther from the anchor is active recovery.”
TRAINING RULE 4: Move With Intent
With other free weights, like dumbbells and kettlebells, we’re accustomed to controlling our movements, and that typically involves moving slowly. When it comes to working on power with battle ropes, that means moving through each rep fast and hard. “With battle ropes, it’s all about intention in speed and power,” Sung says. If you’re half-heartedly slamming the battle ropes, you won’t gain much from the movement. “Submit to each rep and make each one count.”
Two Battle Rope Exercises You Must Master
This is the classic battling-rope exercise. “It works each arm independently and keeps your muscles under tension for extended periods,” said Brookfield.
Directions: Hold the ends of the rope at arm’s length in front of your hips with your hands shoulder-width apart. Brace your core and begin alternately raising and lowering each arm explosively. Keep alternating arms for three to four sets of 1 to 2 minutes.
Instead of making waves, slam the rope to the ground. “You’ll build more power and hammer your core,” says Brookfield.
Directions: Keep both feet flat on the floor as you move the ends in an arc above your head, lifting them to your left and slamming them down hard to your right. Repeat in the opposite direction. Continue alternating for three to four sets of 1 to 2 minutes.
Perfect those two basic moves to start, then give these other variations a try.
The 10-Minute Battle Rope Core Workout:
Not sure where to start with battle ropes? Try this 10-minute core burner led by Mathew Forzaglia, C.P.T.
The Warm Up: 30 seconds each, two rounds
Battle Rope Jacks
How to Do It:
- Hold the ropes in each hand. Perform a jumping jack by jumping the feet out at the same time that you bring the arms up and overhead.
- Keep a slight bend in the knees and elbows. Stay light on the toes.
Alternating Lunge Wave
How to Do It:
- Lifting each arm to create a wave as you step down and back into a reverse lunge.
- Alternate which leg you are stepping back with. Try to create a 90 degree angle in both knee joints while keeping your chest up tall.
The Working Block: 45 seconds of work / 15 seconds of rest / 3 rounds
Plank Alternating Slam
How to Do It:
- Start in a high plank position, with your wrists under your shoulders and toes under heels. Maintain a flat line through your spine from your shoulders to your heels.
- Lift one arm to do three slams with the battle rope before switching to the other arm. Keep your hips square to the ground by avoiding swaying to the non-moving side.
- If you need, come down to your knees.
Battle Rope Russian Twists
How to Do It:
- Start in a V-sit position, with your knees bent and lean your torso back slightly.
- Pull the ropes up and over your knees together by twisting at the core.
- For a little extra challenge, lean your torso back even further.
How to Do It:
- Start by holding both ropes by your left knee. In one fluid motion, extend the hips, knees, and back to swing the ropes up and overhead before crunching back down to slam them to the ground by your right knee.
- Focus on creating power on the slam down.
Battle Ropes to Burn Fat at Home
Training ropes come in various lengths and thicknesses, so you should know what you’re dealing with before you give any a swing. If you’re looking to buy some for your home setup, check these options out.
Michael Easter is a health and fitness writer, a visiting lecturer at UNLV, and the author of The Comfort Crisis.
Cori Ritchey, NASM-CPT is an Associate Health & Fitness Editor at Men’s Health and a certified personal trainer and group fitness instructor. You can find more of her work in HealthCentral, Livestrong, Self, and others.