Rope Climbs to Infinity & Beyond

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Rope climbs. A flash back to Physical Education classes of old, and a movement that comes up in CrossFit just often enough to be stressful each time it does. Because let’s be honest -even if you are lucky enough to be at a box that has a rope (or multiple ropes), how often does it cross your mind to get in rope climbing practice at the end of a WOD or lifting session? Learn why this gymnastic skill should be in our repertoire and how to get up and down a rope gracefully… and without rope burns.

Rope Climbs: Not Just for P.E. and Obstacle Courses

Did you know?
Rope climbing was an Olympics gymnastics event until 1932.
Why should you learn to climb a rope, other than that CrossFit WODs sometimes ask you to do so?

Rope climbing is an effective exercise for the arms, upper back, core and legs and is used in the military as a confidence building tool as well as for physical training. Becoming popular in nonmilitary circles such as martial arts and hardcore fitness enthusiasts, climbing ropes are usually between 20 and 30 feet high and two to three inches in diameter—the thicker the rope, the greater the grip challenge.

If you have ever attempted to climb a rope, either in a practice session or within a WOD, you know that it places incredible demands on your entire body, and sometimes even more so on your mind, since you cannot simply let go of the rope if you feel suddenly tired. Because this is a bodyweight movement, it automatically qualifies as a gymnastic skill.

Basic Techniques

Progressions with feet on the floor:

You can vary the challenge of this sub depending on how much you bend your knees and/or hips while you are pulling your body up.

Watch Annie Sakamoto in an old-school CrossFit HQ video demonstrate a full range of rope climb techniques in a breezy 2.5 minutes. The first techniques she shows include a basic “PE” style; the monkey wrap (not highly recommended because it is difficult to maintain good foot grip); and the thigh grab. What do all of these styles have in common? Watch how she reaches up with her hands, then uses her core to bring her legs up, re-grip the rope, and stand.

She moves on to demo advanced legless techniques – including an L-sit legless climb – and finally shows beginner progressions with feet on the floor:

So how do you go from little or no rope climb experience to getting up a rope even partway? First, let us figure out if you can sustain your bodyweight on the rope for a few seconds at a time.

A Quick Strength Test

Many folks are intimidated by the sight of the rope for a multitude of reasons, including the height, the demand on grip strength, etc. While it may take time to develop the upper body pulling strength to climb a rope without leg assistance, never fear: you can learn techniques that will still allow you to climb efficiently.

Keep it hanging: 

The leg extension check is to ensure that you can support yourself hanging while your feet re-grip the rope during a climb.

If you are not sure whether or not you are strong enough (yet) to make an attempt at a rope climb, try out this test from Carl Paoli of GymnasticsWOD: On the rope, reach your hands as high up as you can, then pull your legs up into a hanging tuck that lasts at least five seconds. If that is manageable, then try pulling up into the tuck, and try extending each leg one at a time. If you can do this, then you have enough strength to rope climb.

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