Use the Rope Climb for Amazing Benefits

By on August 21, 2019

The rope climb is the single best exercise I have added to my routine lately – and it has improved my fitness and strength in countless ways.

Since having a baby, I’ve found it harder and harder to get to the gym. So, I moved my training outdoors with a pull up bar and some parallettes. With no heavy squat rack or similar though, I predictably lost weight and strength.

Rope climb

It wasn’t until I added a rope to my garden set-up that things really changed though. Since rope climbing, I’ve noticed my abs becoming a LOT more visible. That’s because the rope climb is an awesome form of cardio, and a great core workout; especially if you’re doing l-sit climbs.

The rope climb is one of the big reasons gymnasts have such huge arms

My biceps have grown again too despite a significant decrease in curls. Because rope climbing on the way up is concentric only. That means the muscle only contracts and never elongates under pressure, minimizing the amount of actual muscle damage that gets caused. That means you can use it as a cardio finisher without worrying about overtraining the biceps. But add the downward portion back in, and it becomes ideal eccentric training that creates a ton of muscle damage.

Rope climb for one armed chin up

The rope climb is one of the big reasons gymnasts have such huge arms it turns out.

Just look at Ross Edgley: ever since he attempted to climb rope for the equivalent height of Everest (yep, he’s insane), his biceps have been actually ridiculous.

And in terms of functional performance, rope climbing is once again boss. The act itself has actual real-world potential use. Rope climbs build incredible for grip strength for example and toughen up your hands at the same time. They’re also excellent for proprioception. My pull ups have  gotten far better, and I can now even do a one armed pull up – something I hadn’t been able to do for a while. This makes a lot of sense, considering that when you climb rope, you take it in turns to hold your entire weight up from one arm while maneuvering the rest of your body.

Best of all, the rope climb is genuinely fun. There’s a small element of danger, real progression, and a ton of different techniques you can use to keep it fresh.

Convinced yet? Here’s everything you need to know to get started.

How to Get Started With the Rope Climb

If rope climbing is so great, why aren’t more people doing it? The problem is that a lot of people think they need to be in a gymnastics hall to try the rope climb, or to be somewhere else where they have ten meters of rope.

Rope climbing and swinging

You don’t. All you need is a short ten foot rope (less even), and a pull up bar or tree branch to hang it from. I have an outdoor pull up bar with a small hoop in it. I then used two carabiners to secure a piece of rope there. The rope came from eBay and had an eyelet built in, it cost about $30.

You could achieve something similar though by tying a knot around a pull up bar in a doorframe – I used to do this. Heck, you could even tie a few towels together and turn them into a rope of sorts.

This doesn’t leave you with a whole lot of space for maneuvering. While that might seem like a bad thing, it isn’t if you practice the L-sit sit-up.

For the uninitiated, this simply means climbing with just your arms while keeping your legs at a right angle. You can do this in a strict, gymnast kind of way, or you can just bend them and keep them flailing underneath you.

All you need is a short ten foot rope (less even), and a pull up bar or tree branch to hang it from.

This will give most people a few reaches before they reach the top, at which point you can either drop off the rope if you’re doing concentric-only and start again, or you can climb back down and then start again that way.

What I prefer doing when I rope climb at the moment, is to climb all around the pull up bar at the top. It has various attachments for chin ups, pull ups, and neutral grip pull ups – so I like to climb around then back onto the rope and really just freestyle it. It’s loads of fun and it lets me throw in the odd static hold for a moment, or a front lever even or leg raise.

Technique and Safety

Before you get too excited, I will say this: the rope climb is brutal on your elbows. This can shred your tendons if you go too hard to soon, so you really need to be careful.

For that reason, I recommend that you don’t jump straight into the rope climb for high reps (you’ll notice it’s not in the beginner program) but instead build up to that by fortifying your tendons first. You can do this by performing high rep hammer curls, by using rings-turned-out push ups, or by using supinated support holds on the rings. In case you hadn’t noticed yet, gymnastics rings are a fantastic tool to add to your arsenal if you have the opportunity. Likewise, you can use planche training (perform pseudo-planche by getting into the straight arm position of a push up, keeping the core rigid, and then leaning your weight forward on your tip toes). Train with these for at least a couple of months before attempting high volume rope climb.

Supinated support hold

And when you do attempt the rope climb, start off easy and then build up. Aim for just one or two climbs and then stop. Use gloves to begin with if you need to (your hands will likewise need time to toughen up) and don’t go to failure.

When you grab the rope, make sure to twist the hands inward to get a tighter grip and to take at least some of the pressure off your elbows. One last tip: rope climbing is much easier when it is warmer. It hurts when the rope is cold!

ALWAYS maintain some tension in the arms and kepe the elbows bent – don’t just hang from them. Cross your hands over at face level wherever possible. If you feel any discomfort… stop!

Rope climbing technique

There are a number of different approaches to rope climbing and different techniques. For example, the J-Hook is a foot lock technique you can use. While this is all important and great, it’s also not necessary for us. We’re focusing on building strength, and we don’t have space to lock our legs! As we’re not climbing high, we’re not really in much danger of falling and hurting ourselves.

Check those out if you’re going higher, but otherwise just grab the rope and go!

Rope Climbing Variations

If the rope climb is too difficult for you to begin with, there are several variations you can try out early on.

One option is to perform pull ups holding the rope. This lets you train the biceps and grip, without needing to move one hand over the other. It’s also ideal if you don’t have much space at all for the rope climb.

You can even just hang from the rope this way – maintaining that engagement in the biceps and 90 degree angle in the elbow.

Another technique is to perform rope-wall climbs. If you can set the rope up near a wall, then you can support your lower body with your feet and climb up this way.

Rope wall climb

Both these easier variations are also ideal for drop sets. Perform the rope climb to failure, then just “drop down” to the easier option – that being the rope pull up, static hold, or rope-wall climb.

If you want to go harder though, then you of course have the option of adding a weighted vest or weight belt. This is an AWESOME challenge, and surprisingly effective as a form of resistance cardio.

Add rope climbing to your training and you’ll see the benefits across multiple facets of your strength.

About Adam Sinicki

Adam Sinicki, AKA The Bioneer, is a writer, personal trainer, author, entrepreneur, and web developer. I've been writing about health, psychology, and fitness for the past 10+ years and have a fascination with the limits of human performance. When I'm not running my online businesses or training, I love sandwiches, computer games, comics, and hanging out with my family.


  1. Matthew says:

    Hey Adam, your material has been very instrumenal in my own fitness journey and I wanted to take the time to thank you. I beat some interesting medical odds and have pretty much fixed them: your material is one of the catalysts of change in my own life. I used to be quite old schooled in my thinking and training but to keep a long story short… for some time I have been in to somewhat unconventional and more functional ways of getting it done. Thanks Adam. I actually can climb my rope that I’ve hung off my stand alone pull-up bar now.

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