What’s the Deal with Battle Ropes?

Posted: October 31, 2013 in Training
Tags: , , , , ,

For those who aren’t in the know, here’s a brief video showing a battle rope workout. The basic idea is that you get a heavy rope and swing it around for a while.

Battle ropes (or battling ropes) have been experiencing a big surge in popularity recently. Lots of trainers are including battle rope exercises in their clients’ workouts, and some gyms are starting to look like shipyards with the amount of huge ropes they have lying around. But is the battle rope workout just another fad, or are battle ropes a worthwhile long-term addition to peoples’ training programs?

Effective training strategy, or stupid bullshit?

Effective training strategy, or stupid bullshit?

Here’s What I Think:

Like most exercises, battle rope routines can be effective for some people, but may be completely useless to others. Ultimately, it depends on the goals of the lifter/athlete. That said, I typically would not prescribe battle rope exercises for my athletes except in a very few cases, and the main reason is that they aren’t progressable.

The Importance of Progression

The ultimate goal of training is to improve, or progress, over time. That is why athletes are encouraged to lift heavier weights from week to week. Obviously, If we all just lifted the same amount of weight for months at a time, our strength gains would stagnate and our training would be rendered useless. By increasing the amount of weight that we lift over time, we force the body to adapt to this new stimulus and develop strength. For athletes looking to improve in any aspect of fitness (strength, power, endurance, etc), progressable exercises must be utilized to create the desired adaptations.

So how do we progress battle ropes, then? Do we keep buying thicker and thicker ropes until we’re just holding gigantic 20-inch-diameter ropes under our arms and jumping up and down? Obviously, that’s not going to happen.

"Progression shmoshmession! Look at my chiseled chest that I absolutely DID NOT get from doing battle ropes!"

“Progression shmoshmession! Look at my chiseled chest that I absolutely DID NOT get from doing battle ropes!”

In reality, the only way to progress battle rope exercises is by increasing the amount of time for which we do them. And when you progress an exercise by increasing time, you’re developing endurance, not strength, and definitely not power. Plus, once your body adapts to doing battle ropes for a certain amount of time, your endurance gains will plateau unless you keep increasing the time. So then what? Do we just keep going until our training is just 2 straight hours of slapping ropes against the floor? Of course not.

Since we can’t just keep adding more and more time to our hypothetical battle rope sessions, they lose effectiveness as a progressable exercise fairly quickly. And that’s assuming that we even begin a battle rope program in the first place, since they may be completely incompatible with our specific training needs.

So if you’re planning on adding battle ropes to your training program, you need to first ask yourself, “do I need to improve my ability to pump my arms up and down continuously for a long period of time?” Odds are, the answer to that question is no. However, there are some instances where battle ropes can be worthwhile.

When to Use Battle Ropes
1) If you’re just starting out

Like I said, since battle ropes aren’t really progressable they tend to stop being effective tools for driving adaptations pretty quickly. But for somebody who is new to training and isn’t accustomed to a heavy workload, they are a great way to increase someone’s general work capacity and conditioning in a hurry. But once you can’t realistically increase the time of your battle rope sessions any more, it’s time to toss them for something else.

Other, better options for metabolic conditioning and GPP would be things like Prowler workouts and barbell complexes, because we can add weight to these exercises and drive adaptation without having to just tack on extra time to the workouts ad infinitum. But since barbell complexes often contain exercises that are completely foreign to novice lifters, it’s safer to stick with more simple exercise modalities like battle ropes in the early going.

2) If you have a lower body injury

If you have some sort of injury to your lower body and are physically unable to push Prowler or pull a sled, battle ropes are your metabolic conditioning savior. One of my athletes recently tore his ACL, and will be unable to perform any strenuous lower body exercises for several months after his upcoming surgery. Guess what he’s going to be doing a lot of to keep his metabolism fired up while he’s recovering.

If you said “Sitting on a box and slapping the everloving shit out of the ground with his met/con savior: The Battle Rope”, you are eerily correct.

The ol' Sit n' Slap.

The ol’ Sit n’ Slap.

Not only does the seated battle rope workout completely take the lower body out of the equation, but it should be progressable for the duration of most lower body rehab protocols, which typically take less than a year to complete. Since there’s no need to progress the battle ropes beyond the point where the lifter is fully recovered, we can, in a sense, “get out while the getting’s good,” and then get back to those other, more progressable forms of met/con work without having lost anything in the way of conditioning.

3) If you’re a combat athlete

MMA guys and boxers who need to have high levels of upper body endurance to keep throwing hard punches at the end of a tough round can absolutely benefit from battle rope workouts. Even though we can’t realistically progress the exercise to improve strength long-term, we can definitely progress it enough to improve endurance and performance at the end of a 3-minute round of combat.

Since we know how long the rounds are in a fighter’s combat sport of choice, we can tailor the battle rope training to address that specific amount of time. For example, if you’re training a boxer who fights in 3-minute rounds, there’s no need to progress the time of the workouts to anything much more than that. Instead, we can spend time on developing strength and power with weights and plyo training, and develop the ability to express that strength and power for the duration of a 3-minute round with battle rope training.

4) If you’re bored

For me, battle ropes fall under the category of “Rainy Day Exercises” which are things that I’ll throw into an athlete’s program every once in a while just to switch things up, or to try something fresh after a testing day. Every lifter gets bored with their program at some point no matter how often you switch squat types or fiddle with accessory exercises, so sometimes it’s best to just throw them a non-progressible bone and let them break out of their routine for a day or two.

And frankly, after they’ve been through a difficult battle ropes workout, they’ll probably be more than happy to get back to their bread and butter lifts.

"*Hurgh*...eff...you...battle ropes...*Blargh*"

“*Hurgh*…eff…you…battle ropes…*Blargh*”



Since battle ropes have a low ceiling for progression, they definitely should not be included as an integral part of a training program. But they can still be used effectively in a few situations. The key to figuring out whether they’re worthwhile is to determine if they will help you reach your goals or succeed in your sport, or whether you just want to try them because they look cool. If it’s the former, go for it. If it’s the latter, I have a cautionary tale for you about cool-looking exercises called “BOSU Squat: The Squat that Didn’t Do Shit.”

  1. gab says:

    Worse review ever read all you wrote is wrong like you didnt see further than your nose to talk about battle ropes not giving strenght and power LOL like it’s the main goal of using them endurance + strenght + explosion I’m a fighter every fighter uses them they have no power? Yea right and now go tell every pro athlete in every sports theses ropes arnt really good because you can’t upgrade the weight what a bodybuilder mentality right there ohhh can’t lift heavy won’t work…. don’t write to say such things battle ropes are awesome and thats why every REAL athlete uses them.

    • Andrew Sacks says:

      1) Using one exercise to build strength, explosiveness, and endurance simultaneously is not a thing that exists in the real world.

      2) I’m not a bodybuilder, nor do I train bodybuilders.

      3) You obviously didn’t read the article, because I wrote that battle ropes would be a good training tool for combat athletes.

      4) The resistance offered by battle ropes is not high enough to effectively build strength, as strength is defined by the maximum force able to be exerted. I’ve never heard of somebody improving their maximal press or squat by doing battle ropes.

      5) Every “REAL athlete” does not use battle ropes.

      6) Battle ropes are not “awesome.” There are many better ways of developing strength and power. Although they are effective for conditioning, the benefits end there.

  2. Kyle says:

    Old article, I know, but I just got a rope and was looking for its effectiveness (I enjoy using it, either way).

    My legs are in great shape from years of running, so I’ve decided to take a break from running and get my cardio elsewhere. Battle ropes are like sprinting for the arms, which is great for me. This also opens up more possibilities with my lifting routine, since running always limited my squat work!

    So while the issue of progression is present, I don’t want to progress my cardio anymore, so a stagnant cardio routine is acceptable (I can always lengthen the session too, as you noted). Battle ropes are simply supplemental to true progress found in weights. It’s like stretching; necessary for increasing flexibility, but at a certain point, any more progression would be meaningless.

    All this aside, I find rope work intriguingly fun. So if nothing else, I’m just playing around, inventing my own sport.

    Keep getting stronger, and God bless!

  3. Barry Smith says:

    This is the most ludicrous thing I have ever read, progression comes from increased intensity during the same amount of time. Intensity has no limits, other than in the mind, so if you are talking this crap it just means you have not got the stomach for upping the game

    • Andrew Sacks says:

      As it pertains to exercise, “intensity” is defined as a percentage of a maximum weight. So yes, intensity does have limits. Even if you’re using the incorrect definition of intensity, which is basically “effort,” there are physical limits to how much effort a person can exert too. Maybe you should up your game by reading a textbook about these basic training principles.

      • cathy says:

        I agree with Barry. Intensity does not have a limit. You get out what you put in. Ropes are and can be a very important part of a workout. I enjoy playing several different physically explosive sports that require strength along with endurance. And training with ropes help give me that. Andrew, I think you are off base on this article. It is very poorly written. And it appears it is from lack of experience in training. From the picture above, you did not get that chiseled chest from ropes, but you also did not get that chiseled chest without putting supplements and other chemicals in your body. You can train all day, but without intensity, you will have little to show for it..

      • Andrew Sacks says:

        1) Intensity as it pertains to weight training absolutely has a limit. It’s a percentage of your maximal strength. So the limit is 100%.

        2) Did you do a scientific study with controls to prove that training with ropes helps give you strength along with endurance? If not, then you have no idea whether it actually does or not.

        3) Please provide an example of how my article is poorly written, as I find that hard to believe. As far as I can see, all the grammar and syntax is on point, and my argument is clearly spelled out.

        4) I’ve trained hundreds of athletes since I started in this industry back in 2008, so I’m pretty confident I have enough experience to make these claims, especially since they’re backed up by science.

        I would recommend that you read some more literature on strength, power, and speed training, as well as basic exercise science principles. If you’d like I can give you a list of helpful resources so you can become more well-informed for the next time you decide to come out of left field to tell me I don’t know what I’m talking about.

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