Circuit training, HIIT, Tabata and sprint intervals, and other intense conditioning methods have made some serious popularity gains over the past few years, becoming valuable fat-burning staples in most trainees’ workouts.
Why is this?
Because cardio is boring.
Most athletes would rather do weighted lunges through poison ivy than languish away on a treadmill after strength session, and really, you just look ridiculous on an elliptical trainer. Athletes are looking to more bang for the buck these days, both for efficiency and effectiveness, as straight-ahead traditional cardio eats up a lot of training and recovery time. The usual high intensity stuff is fine, but what if you just used dumbbells, jump ropes, or med balls in your workout, and you’re looking for something new?
Enter the Battling Ropes.
Battling Ropes are nothing more than 30′-50′ segments of dock-ready twisted rope, usually weighing anywhere between 18 and 44 pounds. That may not sound like a lot, but the weight isn’t the biggest factor in the difficulty of the exercise here – intensity and duration of the movement, like most high intensity interval drills, is what will finish you off. Thanks to the waves you’ll be creating with the ropes, these exercises are low-impact and fairly cyclical, meaning that each muscle contraction will face very little eccentric stress as your arms chop up and down, meaning you can go harder, longer, and without facing the dreaded DOMS in the morning. Even better, just like sprinting, the fast bursts of high intensity are almost unbeatable when it comes to fat burning. As a simple piece of rope, you’re basically only limited by your imagination when it comes to using it as a tool, but it’s always good to know the basics of technique:
Tsunami (double wave)
Performing the basic Tsunami wave is fairly simple: just wrap a longer rope around a pole or anything else that won’t budge, grab both ends, and get into a half-squat position. Starting the wave looks a lot like painting with a giant brush; using your legs, abs, arms, and shoulders, you’re looking for big, clean strokes at an even 1:1 pace. If the upstroke is slower than the downstroke or vice versa, you’ll end up slapping the floor, and all that power you generated will simply die in front you. Once you’ve got the movement down and the waves are consistent, start bumping up the pace – the faster you go, the tougher the exercise will get. When done right, you’ll feel this one through your shoulders and abs like crazy, as soon as you can pull your head out of that bucket over in the corner.
Hurricane (alternating waves)
The movement principle for the Hurricane is similar to the Tsunami in that you’re looking to create a series of smooth waves, this time without help from the abs, as you’ll be alternating your strokes and developing most of the power through your arms and shoulders, at a higher speed to boot. Hand movement will almost resemble beating a drum, and you should keep the pace even, without “galloping” and one hand outpacing the other. While this movement will shred your shoulders in no time, your arms will definitely know they were worked – try not to plan any great tests of penmanship for a day or two afterward.
Crossover (lateral waves)
If you’re looking for an end-of-workout shoulder torcher, this is it. For this variation, you’ll be throwing some lateral waves with the ropes by moving your arms from outside to inside, similar to a pec fly, crossing the hands over one another and back on every rep. This one may not crush your delts from the start, but after 15-20 seconds without so much as a helping hand from lower core muscles, a distinct fiery burning sensation will tell you that work is being done. Great for bringing out the lateral head of the deltoid if you’re not big on 17 different kinds of dumbbell raises.
Battling ropes makes for an excellent finisher at the end of a workout, or simply some high intensity sprint-style work for those a little more accustomed to pain than most. Try giving these variations a shot in the middle or at the end of your routine to pump up your program:
20 seconds all-out effort, 20 seconds rest with any of the above styles, or mix up your own combinations. 8-16 total work sets
Same as above with a tougher time scheme, try using the Tsunami first to be sure you can make the full :30. 6-12 total work sets
Start with :20 of Tsunami, followed immediately by :20 of Hurricane, then :20 rest. Try mixing in some kneeling variations. 4-8 total work sets
Up and Down
Choose any style for :30-:40 seconds, performing constant reverse lunges while maintaining a fast rope pace. 4-8 total work sets
Keeping your eye on the clock, start standing with a constant fast rope pace in the right hand only for 8 seconds, then drop to the knees for 8 seconds, put your free hand on the ground for 8 seconds, and finally one-arm high plank for 8 seconds, then quickly switch to left arm high plank, left hand and knees, kneeling, and back to standing with the rope in your left hand. The whole circuit should be 1:04. 2-4 total work sets
So forget the 200 crunches you were going to do at the end of your workout, and skip the elliptical – battling ropes give you way more bang for your buck, and you get to feel like you’re in a Gatorade commercial. From your legs to your abs, arms to your shoulders, nothing is left untouched by a session with the ropes. Throw them into your next workout to see what kind of battle you have in you.
Jeff Butterworth is the owner of Boston-based Rx Strength Training and a CPT/USAW Olympic Coach whose philosophy is simple – eat right and do work. No fads, no trends, just basic movements, barbells, and kettlebells.
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