Written by Dave Thomas
Earlier I wrote a post about landmines and all the ways I love thee. I posted it right around July 4th madness, so if you missed it I need you to go read it first.
When I posted, I likened their presence at the gym like a drunk relative at Christmas. Some love the interaction because it shakes things up, others ignore him, let him run his course and move on. Only, he’s not moving on. Here’s here to stay. So go over and sit on his lap and let him tell you about making All-State as a sophomore.
Battling ropes fall into the same accessory category. They aren’t part of everyday training, they don’t really have any tangible tracking component to them, we just have to show up and do ’em. People tend to not like what they can’t quantify, so while more popular than landmines, they still have a ways to go before the family accepts them for who they are.
(Yeah, we are listening to Black Rob. What of it?)
Here are the seven reasons they make a great addition to your workout.
1. Dynamic Transverse Movement
There’s way better words I could have used here than dynamic, since calling a movement dynamic is like calling wind, windy. I even went to Thesaurus.com to help me out, but I couldn’t find anything suitable. What I am really trying to infer here with this title is a constant moving, semi-powerful motion that’s more than the precisely controlled movement of lifting. A little outta control, a little varied each rep. Not sloppy, but just, human-like.
I just talked about why landmines were great in the world of multi-plane movement, and while the ropes lack what the landmines have from a load and strength perspective, they make up for it in a much more powerful, fluid style of movement.
Fluid! That could have been a better word. Too late.
Transverse movement is anything movement that occurs approximately parallel with our waistline (more or less). It is a highly elusive form of movement in most of our daily training, and one that benefits everyone, especially those of you who play sports (or still want to train like you do to relive the glory days, like me).
Because you are not releasing anything in the transverse plane (like a med ball side toss), there is both an eccentric and concentric component to it. We have to decelerate then re-accelerate, making it a very complete form of movement.
2. Dynamic Frontal Movement
The frontal plane is anything that moves side-to-side, or up and away from the midline, and it’s nearly as elusive as the transverse plane when it comes to our daily training routines. Maybe we do some side raises here and there, maybe some lateral shuffles, perhaps a lateral lunge or seven, a karate kick perchance. But it usually ends there and it’s rarely explosive and almost never powerful.
The frontal plane is usually slow and controlled. Dull and boring.
The conditioning ropes are one of the only ways that I know of where we can train explosive, frontal plane movement.
Rope Jumping Jacks:
By training the frontal plane very effectively, we get targeted power work on abduction, which means lateral delts and the glute medius, two muscles that don’t normally get a lot of work.
3. Anaerobic Conditioning
When we think of the word conditioning, we usually think of the word cardio, and then I cry myself to sleep at night.
We need to re-frame the conversation around conditioning as it is a totally relative word based on energy system. While a 15-20 minute bout of high-intensity aerobic training is extremely effective and something I both program and train myself quite often, we can also get conditioning benefit in the anaerobic sense, short bouts of high powered movement.
It’s like making sweet, sweet love vs. drunk college banging, and I love the ropes to accomplish the energy system conditioning of the latter (anaerobic).
Broad Jump to Rope Wave:
When we train the anaerobic system in this manner, we train our front end work capacity, which has carryover to our “kick” and horsepower. While this is certainly doable in many forms of training and fitness, the ropes are great because they are highly repeatable (after rest), and very low risk of injury.
The footprint of ropes training is incredibly small on the rest of your training week.
4. Low Impact Power
Like the medicine ball slam, I love the the ropes to generate pure, raw power. I have stated before that 5×5 hang power cleans at 75% are my all-time, single favorite work block of power training, but those take a toll and will leave too big of a footprint to perform as complimentary work.
Max Power Rope Slams:
Ropes are low impact, highly effective form of Phosphagen system training.
5. Targeting of the Scapular Muscles
Because ropes work the transverse and frontal planes quite well make us more three-dimensional, thus more resilient to injury when movement mishap occurs. This three-plan form of movement also happens to be excellent for shoulder health.
Rear Delt “Slams”:
The shoulder complex is made up of four joints, and the health of the complex is largely influenced by the strength of our scapular muscles. If you look at the video of rope waves below, you can see that the velocity of the movement creates turbulence in the ropes, which in turn kicks back demand on the shoulder to fire and stabilize on every single rep.
You can quite literally see the scapular muscles at work in these athletes.
Because of the waving motion of the rope, it creates an inconsistent line of force which keeps us constantly adapting, intra-set rep to rep. Aaron Guyett refers to this as the dual-force dynamic effect, and it’s what makes the ropes the ropes.
6. Brutal Complexes without Brutal DOMS
I am a big, big fan of complexes of all varieties. Any time we can squeeze more efficiency out of a given work block, I tend to take jump at the opportunity. While I love barbell, kettlebell, and dummbell complexes, I also throw battling rope complexes into this love fest because what they lack in load when compared to their complex counterparts, they more than make up for in intensity and volume (aka density).
Pop-Up to Rope Wave Complex:
7. Creates Limb-to-Limb Balance
We all have dominant sides of our bodies. If we are right handed then we will be right side dominant when we press. If we are left footed we will be left foot dominant when we squat. Over time, some imbalances can add up. Most of the time, they are nothing to be overly concerned about as we are humans, not sculptures. Asymmetries are perfectly natural. Still, we want to do all we can to manage them and the ropes are the only form of training we have that do this in an non-weighted environment.
I have news for you. You can’t lift heavy forever. Sooner or lady, your body isn’t going to love 80% and up as your primary form of fitness. It’st best you find some other highly productive tools in your fitness repertoire so you’re not a race horse that gets put down when the trophies stop.
While the ropes do have some weight to them, the primary load in battling ropes is the force that you apply to the movement, similar to plyometrics, only much lower impact. This makes it highly repeatable and among the lower risk forms of training we can do in the gym.
As more and more coaches realize the low-impact benefit you can receive from ropes, I think we are going to see battling ropes become a lot more popular at CrossFit boxes and other strength and conditioning facilities over the next few years. It will only make sense that as an industry we continue to put our athletes in the best positions and complimentary movements possible.
Here are some additional ropes movements with which you can get started:
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