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Learn the Ropes

The science is new, but the tools are old. Here’s how to use these primitive training aids for top-flight conditioning.


No matter how much research accumulates on the benefits of sprinting for fat loss, running is still primarily — not exclusively — a lower-body activity. Is it possible to get similar benefits from upper-body-focused work? Battling ropes, known colloquially as heavy ropes or battle ropes, are a fully trademarked training implement designed by John Brookfield that allow you to get a taxing, upper-body burn while reaping full-body benefits. A 2013 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that interval training with battling ropes elicited metabolic effects similar to leg-wrecking sprints. So if you have access to ropes (you can get a set at, enter the fray and send your aerobic and anaerobic levels soaring.

Alternating Waves

This is the version that most rope novices are familiar with. Grasping the ends of the rope, you simply alternate waving the ropes vertically for time. The goal is to send as many “waves” down the line as possible in the time allotted. This front-delt-focused movement is akin to hitting a heavy bag for time but without the impact trauma that comes with it.

Two-Handed Slams

Done at a slightly slower pace because of the longer range of motion, the focus of two-handed slams is power. Keeping the ropes inside shoulder width, raise them up above eye level and “slam” them down as hard as possible, squatting down slightly and hinging at the waist — like in a kettlebell swing — as the ropes hit the ground. This is more of a power movement that taxes your explosive energy system while hitting your abs and core musculature.

Lateral Waves 

Looking to fry your rear deltoids? Lateral waves place a heavy demand on these smaller muscles as you drive your elbows back on each rep. Your pecs are the prime movers as you whip the rope forward but, not surprisingly, they don’t fatigue as fast. Use a full range of motion on each wave, and watch that the ropes don’t overlap in the middle.

Double Dutch

Also known as “outside circles,” these call for you to wave your arms in large circles for speed. Your right arm will move counterclockwise and your left will move clockwise. The rope will show “loops” or “spirals” moving to its anchor point during your set. This dynamic move touches off a full-shoulder fire but adds ancillary work for the smaller external rotators, as well.

Surfing Bigger Waves

With nearly any move, you can increase the level of difficulty by adding a stationary squat at different heights or by actually performing full-range-of-motion squats or lunges (lateral or traditional). Newbies would be wise to take on the ropes within the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research study parameters, which called for 15 seconds of work followed by 45 seconds of rest, 10 times. But you can increase to more demanding setups like Tabata (eight 20-second work bouts, each followed by 10 seconds of rest) or a 1:1 work ratio of 30 seconds on, 30 seconds off.