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.