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Endurance, Wellness / January 22, 2016

How to Conquer the Rope Climb

Written by: Morris Brossette

It is one of the most feared obstacles athletes face in a race: the (dreaded) rope climb. Usually placed at or near the end of an obstacle race, the rope climb can send a racer into panic mode. With tired legs and arms, and your heart beating out of your chest, how on earth could you possibly climb a 20-foot tall, wet and muddy rope? In this article, you will learn training movements to develop the strength needed to conquer this obstacle – no matter what level you’re at!

My first obstacle race was a Spartan Beast in Glenn Rose, Texas. I drove to the race at 4:15 a.m. with my good friend, watching the temperature fluctuate in his truck between 37 and 39 degrees Fahrenheit as we went over the obstacles we had worked on and the ones we knew for sure would be in the race. I was 100% confident I would crush each obstacle. The only thing concerning me was that damn rope climb. Not only had I not been able to practice climbing a rope prior to the race, but I knew my hands would be frozen from the cold, making the “chord of doom” impossible. Good thing I had been practicing burpees.

We get to the race site, check in, and are ready to go. The race starts and we’re off. We trudge through a muddy creek, climb over a few walls, tackle several other obstacles, and then there it is – the rope. I make one attempt and barely get my feet off the ground. Off to my only set of burpees for the day. The rest of the race is awesome and I nail every other obstacle. After the race, I vow to conquer the one obstacle that chinked my otherwise flawless race armor.

A few weeks later, I reflected on the race with a friend, expressing my concern and frustration. I didn’t get it. I was strong. I could do pull ups, monkey bars, and any other upper body move. What gives with the rope? My friend, who happens to be a top 10 ranked elite women’s Spartan racer told me this: it’s not about strength, it’s all about technique. With one demonstration from her, I gave it a try. To my surprise, I ripped right to the top of a 30-foot rope with minimal effort. From that moment, I have never had an issue with climbing the “chord of doom” and have been able to teach other athletes the same techniques that led me to success.

This is how you do it:

First thing’s first: you need a rope. I recommend purchasing a 1.5-2’’ manila rope. This is what is used in most obstacle races.

Next, I recommend wearing long socks. I usually wear compression socks from 2XU or Zoot. These will protect your shins from rope burn.

Train for the rope in the shoes you will wear in the race. This way, you know exactly how the shoe will grip each time you climb. I race in Altra Lone Peak 2.5. It’s a great lightweight shoe with moderate cushion and solid traction.

My favorite technique what I call the “Ankle Wrap.” This requires the least amount of strength needed from your upper body. The ankle wrap may take a couple seconds longer than others, but from my experience it’s the best bet to keep you on a wet, slick, and muddy rope. This technique works on both dry and wet rope.

The key to a successful rope climb is 85% about your foot hold. However, you still need to have the upper body strength and shoulder mobility to hold yourself in a static position for five to six seconds while locking in your foot hold. To practice rope-specific grip strength, I recommend the following:

  • Seated Rope Pull, “Sit to Stand Bent Knee” – For this drill, you will sit on the ground with your knees bent and feet close to your body. Brace your abs while keeping your spine straight and pull yourself to the standing position. This is a great technique for beginners because you can use your legs to assist as needed.

 

  •  Seated Rope Pull, “Sit to Stand Straight Leg” – Sit on the ground with your legs straight out in front of you. Brace your abs while keeping your spine straight and pull yourself to the standing position. This is a more advanced movement because you are not able to utilize your legs as much for assistance.

 

  •  Isometric Rope Hold, “Arms Extended” – In the unfortunate likeliness your feet slip while climbing the rope, you will need to have the grip strength to hold your body weight for several seconds. (Remember: you will need the ability to hold your body weight for five to six seconds regardless.) This simple drill will help build that strength. Simply approach the rope, take a small hop, grab and hold for up to 10 seconds. I recommend three sets of 10 seconds every other day.

 

So, there you have it. I am sure there are other ways to climb a rope, but these are the techniques and drills I have personally used to conquer my once worst feared obstacle. Whichever technique you choose, practice it often and with a smile; I guarantee you will be victorious. See you at the races!

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about the author

Morris Brossette

Morris “Mo” Brossette grew up running, hiking, biking, and basically living everyday in the woods. Each day was a new adventure of building forts, exploring new areas, and even as a child, creating obstacle courses and other physical challenges to build strength and fitness.

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