Your Complete Guide to Battle Rope Workouts

This versatile workout tool can be tailored for a variety of fitness goals, including building explosive power, strength, and endurance.

Guide to Battle Ropes
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Slamming battle ropes can make you look pretty badass in the gym (case in point: Tracee Ellis Ross whipping through this battle rope exercise.) It takes some serious strength and power to make waves with battle ropes — literally. That's why many trainers recommend using this versatile workout tool for achieving a variety of fitness goals. Whether you want to build muscle or get your heart rate up and break a sweat, battle rope exercises are conducive to different forms of training.

What makes battle rope workouts unique to building strength and muscular endurance is that they work your muscles in a different way from what your body is used to doing. For example, what you mostly do when you work out is a form of mechanical physics, aka what you do when you're lifting weights, says Jesse Grund, M.S., T.S.A.C.-F., C.S.C., a certified strength and conditioning coach and battle rope coach with Living.Fit.

"If you take a dumbbell in your hand and raise it over your head, that's mechanical physics," says Grund. "The battle rope is different because it's actually wave physics. We're actually not just moving against gravity; we're now trying to create a wave on the rope."

Because the rope creates waves, it doesn't obey the same laws of mechanical physics, where the weight comes down. You're continuously making waves with the rope, so you're managing force in a different way.

That's why working 30 seconds on the battle rope can make you feel totally wiped versus doing 30 seconds of medicine ball slams, for instance. It's a new adaptation for your body because the rope is making the force of gravity feel heavier. This makes battle ropes accessible and challenging for everyone — from beginners to athletes.

With that, here's everything you need to know about battle rope workouts and how to incorporate battle rope exercises into your workout routine, depending on your goals.

What Are Battle Ropes?

Battle ropes come with two handles and are often anchored to a squat rack, sled, or kettlebell. There are a variety of sizes and weights of battle ropes, including thinner and lighter vs. heavier and thicker ones, that play different functions.

Choosing the right battle rope is like choosing the right weight when you're lifting weights, says Cristina Chan, C.P.T., trainer at F45 Training in Venice, California.

"If you are working on your grip and want to build strength in your explosiveness, picking a thicker battle rope will help you work toward those goals," says Chan. "On the reverse, if you want to focus on fast-twitch movement or are a beginner and want to work on form, a lighter rope is going to be a better choice."

However, the standard battle rope size is one that has a 1.5-inch diameter and is 50 feet long, says Grund. This particular size allows you to scale the rope based on your distance to the anchor point and can be adapted for different types of workouts, whether you want to build strength, power, endurance, or even aerobic capacity.

"The closer you get to the end of the rope (the anchor point), the harder things become on the rope because there's more rope that you have to move," says Grund. "So, what you want with any equipment is to be able to scale it. As I get better at something, I can continue to increase the level of tension and the strength required to do it. "

Ultimately, when using the battle rope — whether it's a light or heavy rope — the distance between you and the anchor point and the intensity at which you're moving the rope is going to drive the changes you want to make, says Grund.

Benefits of Battle Ropes

Doing battle rope exercises — even for just a few seconds — can feel really tough, and there's a good reason for it. Battle rope workouts challenge your body in multiple ways.

Acts As a Full-Body Workout

Battle rope workouts target your entire body, including your arms, shoulderscoreback, and glutes. These muscles work simultaneously to move the rope with explosive power, says Chan. Although battle rope exercises are well-known for working the upper body, much of the power that you use to slam the ropes actually comes from your lower body.

"Power from the legs and hip complex is the driving force behind a strong battle rope slam," says Chan. "You begin in a squat-like position and push off the heels to engage the hamstrings and glutes to generate momentum upward."

The energy you build from your lower body transfers to your upper body as you engage your core, so the more explosive you are with your legs and hips, the faster and higher the rope will move, explains Chan. That's because whenever you create force, you're generating it from the ground up. For example, when using the rope from a kneeling position, you quickly realize that the work is a 50/50 split between your upper and lower body, says Grund.

"Your hips, your spine, and your core are doing just as much work as your arms are," says Grund.

When you're doing battle rope exercises, get into a quarter squat, also known as an athletic stance, with your knees slightly bent, your hips flexed, and your weight over your center of mass. Grund has his clients visualize an NFL linebacker in a game: "They're ready to move right. They're ready to move left. They're ready to move in whichever direction."

Builds Lean Muscle

Yup, slamming some ropes can make you stronger and build muscle. Battle ropes predominantly work concentric muscle action, according to Grund.

FYI, there are three different movements for muscle action: concentric, isometric, and eccentric. For example, when you're doing a bicep curl, bringing the dumbbell to your shoulder is a concentric movement. Isometric movement is the halfway point, so it's at the end of the concentric movement and before the eccentric phase, which is when you're lowering the weight.

When you're working out with battle ropes, there isn't additional load in the eccentric phase. You're constantly working in the concentric phase to create force when making waves.

"The eccentric action is where the damage and soreness come in on your muscles," says Grund. "So because of that, you can do it [battle ropes] every single day of the week. One session will not overlap or interrupt the recovery from another session."

Strengthens Your Grip

You want to have a firm grip when holding the battle rope, but your grip shouldn't be so tight that you're pulling the rope. "When you shake the rope, the anchor wants to pull it away from you," says Grund. "We call it a living grip. You don't want to white-knuckle when you're holding the rope, but at the same time, you don't want to be so loose that when you throw that first wave that it comes right out of your hand." In other words, your grip should be firm enough that it's responsive to the movements.

You can hold the battle ropes in an underhand or overhand grip; some movements require a certain grip, but generally, the way you hold the rope depends on your personal preference. The underhand grip looks as if you're holding a joystick, and the overhand grip looks like you're shaking hands with the rope, says Grund.

Adaptable to Different Training Goals

Battle rope exercises are used to design a variety of workouts according to your specific fitness goals, so you can get a great 30-minute workout in and check all of your boxes for strength, power, endurance, and cardio.

For example, if you have goals of building more explosive power, you'll alternate between intervals of 5-10 seconds of high-intensity work and longer bouts of recovery, about 50-60 seconds, says Grund. If you'd like to build strength, then your intervals are going to look more like 20 seconds of work and 40 seconds of rest, or 15 seconds of work and 30 seconds of rest. For strength endurance, your intervals will be a little longer — say, 30-40 seconds of work and rest for the same amount of time or half of that time.

"You can spice up your workout by adding battle rope slams to your current strength workout as a superset or create a killer cardio workout simply using battle ropes and a timer," says Chan. "For example, a superset with battle ropes would look like one set of a similar strength exercise, like front squats, immediately followed by a set of battle rope slams."

And if you want to use battle ropes for your cardio, then you can work at a lower intensity in a steady state for however long you'd like, says Grund.

"A cardio workout could include a series of work and rest periods training the heart and lungs to be explosive in short periods of time," says Chan. Your warm-up and cooldown or finishers are other ways you can incorporate battle ropes into your workouts, adds Chan.

Common Battle Rope Mistakes

Battle ropes are only effective if you use them correctly. Here are common mistakes — and how to fix them.

Using Only Your Upper Body

Working out with battle ropes involves your entire body. A common mistake is only using your upper body as the main mover; however, your legs and core play a large role in producing power and explosiveness, says Chan.

Only using your upper body can make the exercise more difficult. "This can result in an imbalance movement, where the back, shoulders, and neck are being used instead of the core and legs, making this move harder than it should be," says Chan.

Going Too Hard

It's not necessary to hike up the intensity to level 10 all the time when you're using battle ropes. The intensity at which you're moving the rope should depend on your specific training goals.

"A lot of people will jump on a rope and they'll just go, 'All right, I'm on a battle rope. It's time to go as fast as I can,'" says Grund. "It's not like that." For the first couple of times that you're using the rope, you should be working at 60-70 percent of your max effort during intervals. This gives you a sense of how the rope works and moves, and allows you to get more comfortable with moving the rope with proper form.

Having a Stiff Lower Body

You want to allow for natural movement in your lower body when you're working out with battle ropes. Your feet don't need to be glued to the floor. In fact, you can take a few steps toward the anchor point or move to the right or left to make the exercise more challenging, says Grund.

"There's so much that you can do, but too many people just get rooted to the ground and think just shaking a rope and standing in one place is going to create desired change," he says. "And for the most part, it's not going to. You organically move; your muscles and fascia move interdependently. So when I'm trying to create force in a rope, I want to encourage that movement out of my body."

Holding the Rope Too Tightly

Another common mistake is holding the rope with a tight grip, which makes the exercise less effective because the weight is pulling them forward. Instead, you want to take three steps toward the anchor point and have a bit of slack in your feet and grip, says Grund.

"Grip is a key factor in how you are able to make the most out of your battle rope slam," says Chan. "The most common approach to ensuring that your wrists are straight is a neutral grip (palms facing each other) with thumbs on top of the handle facing forward." Holding the rope this way allows you to move the rope vertically without having to flex or extend your wrist and maintain a firm grip, she adds.

"Some grips will feel better than others depending on the exercise," says Chan. "See what feels comfortable for your wrist and is the most optimal for the exercise at hand as well as how it hits your muscles."

The Best Battle Rope Exercises

There are a variety of exercises you can do on the battle rope that will specifically target your fitness goals, but the wave and power slam are two basic moves to know.

The Wave

This classic exercise will give you a feel for using the battle rope and can be used to build strength and endurance.

A. Grab the battle ropes with a neutral grip and position body so there is some slack in the ropes.

B. Get into an athletic stance, bending both knees into a shallow squat and bring arms out in front as if driving a horse and buggy.

C. Bring right arm up and flick wrist like you are throwing the rope up and away and then bring right arm down. As right arm is coming down, bring left arm up and do the same motion. Keep alternating right and left as you create undulating waves down the rope.

The Power Slam

The power slam builds explosive strength over muscular endurance, says Chan. "As such, sets will be shorter and more taxing as you will be using all of your force to slam the ropes down each rep," she explains. "This exercise is best performed with a thicker rope, but any battle rope will do."

A. Hold the rope with a neutral grip.

B. Get into an athletic stance. Bring arms up to about head level and then forcefully slam the rope down with both hands.

C. Bring the rope back up with elbows at head level and then slam it down again. Continue this for a set number of reps.

Heads up: This is not an exercise to do for long sets. You want to do a number of reps where you can sustain explosive power. Stop when force starts to decrease. For most people, this is usually around 10-15 reps, depending on the thickness of the rope, says Chan.

The Best Battle Rope Workouts

Ready to give battle ropes a try? These battle rope exercises and workouts will help you get started and progress as you get stronger and more powerful on the rope.

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