Picture this. You’ve just surpassed the 3-mile marker. Forearms and finger tips are cramping from 300 yards of unforgiving bucket carries. The bottoms of your feet feel heavy, your thighs are burning and just above the grassless hill you see it… The rope climb.
In that moment you have a choice to make. Complete the rope climb or take a quick trip to the penalty zone for 30 burpees (Spartan Race). What decision do you make?
Truth is, many racers settle for 30 unfriendly burpees without even attempting the rope climb. It could be intimidation. After all, the rope climb is far from easy. It could be fear or exhaustion. But often times, it’s a lack of training. And without proper training there will always be a lack of confidence.
This has been a challenge for many of my obstacle racing clients. So improvisations had to be made. In fact, one of my most popular trainings on YouTube is the “Spartan Race Rope-less Rope Climb” video. And there’s reason for it. Most people don’t have access to a gym with ropes to climb. Similarly, plenty of racers don’t have access to a high tree and a 20-foot long rope in their backyard.
For that reasoning, participants either “wing-it” with the rope climb on race day or avoid the obstacle altogether. You don’t have to settle for either.You can effectively train to conquer any rope climb at any obstacle course race without using a rope.
Don’t get me wrong. Rope climb training with an actual rope is unbeatable. Practicing technique and experiencing the obstacle first hand will make for a higher completion rate come race day. Yet simply because you don’t have access to this tool does not mean you can’t be successful. Below, I'm going to give you some 3 unique exercises that will prepare you for this obstacle.
Question is, how bad do you want to complete the rope climb on race day? If you’re serious, keep reading till the end. I’m also going to give you complete access to my best training tips for some of OCR’s most challenging obstacles in my downloadable Short Course Crusher’s Guide at the end of this training.
Let’s get started.
How about a quick anatomy lesson?
When climbing up a muddy rope, several different muscles fibers will be highly activated; the “lats” (majority of your back muscles), biceps, and forearms to name the “Big 3”. To prepare your muscles for this challenge, training for strength and functionality is key. Little strength in these “pulling muscles” means little climbing.
The following exercises are going to strengthen the very muscles needed to hoist you to the very top of the rope climb.
Exercise 1: Underhand-grip Pull-ups
Underhand-grip pull-ups will force your back muscles to develop functional strength for pulling yourself up a rope. It’s not some fancy back exercise machine that sits on a track or is guided on a cable. It’s as close to rope-climbing simulation as you can get.
The underhand-grip pull-up also recruits muscle fibers in the biceps and forearms more heavily than any other pull-up variation.
Would you believe me if I said strengthening your biceps and forearms is even more valuable than training your back muscles for the rope climb? It’s true. Your biceps and forearms will be the first to fatigue during a rope climb. If those 2 muscles cannot hold on any longer then it won’t matter how strong your back is. You’ll have to let go. Keep this in mind as you train for the rope climb.
By the way, if you’re thinking to yourself, “what if I can’t do a pull-up?” Don’t worry. You can always practice partial pull-ups until you build enough strength to complete a full pull-up repetition.
If you can’t do a partial pull-up, then I suggest practicing the dead hang and developing your back muscles using dumbbells for rows or an assisted pull-up machine.
Exercise #2: Hanging Knee Raise
Place a medicine ball between your knees and squeeze your legs together tightly. Stand underneath the pull-up bar, reaching upward and gripping tightly. As you hang on the bar, keep your knees squeezed together around the medicine ball and raise your knees to your belly button. This is how you perform the hanging knee raise. If you need a visual, take a look at This Video.
I'm sure you can picture the rope climb simulation. Imagine yourself holding onto a rope while you tightly grip the bar and pretend the rope is in between your legs. With each knee raise, get vision of yourself moving another foot up the rope. Keep your core tight, legs sturdy, and breathing under control. Repeat this movement until you can no longer hold onto the bar.
This exercise is a triple whammy for rope climb training. You’ll develop your grip strength and endurance with the dead hang. You’ll ignite your core, developing abdominal strength, hip mobility and power. And of course, you’ll be a master at simulating an often used rope climbing technique. Not too shabby for training without a rope, right?
By the way. If you do have a rope to train on, yet are weak in your back, biceps, forearms or core, you can benefit tremendously from following this training.
Exercise #3: Dumbbell Hammer Curl
SHOCK ALERT! Biceps are NOT just show muscles. Especially for obstacle course racers. Truth is, if you don’t develop strong biceps then several obstacles, not just the rope climb, will be a challenge come race day.
The dumbbell hammer curl is one of the best moves you can use to develop strong biceps and forearms. When selecting a weight for the dumbbell hammer curl, be sure to make your selection on the heavier side. Forget the 15 – 20 rep range.
Instead, after properly warming up your arms, select a resistance that is challenging through an 8 – 10 repetition range.
To perform this movement, keep your elbows tight at your side and grip the dumbbells with your palms facing in toward your belly button. From there, curl the dumbbells up and slowly lower them back down.
Keep in mind, your body works as a unit. You are only as strong as your weakest link, remember that sang? Approach the rope climb with no weak links and you’ll have the confidence to attack the obstacle without settling for another 30 exhausting burpees.
If you’ve never successfully completed the rope climb, make it your goal for the next race, eh?
As promised, because you’ve finished reading this entire training, I know you’re serious about conquering the rope climb and dominating any obstacle that stands in your path. I want to give you Free and Instant Access to my Short Course Crushers Program and a big thank you for stopping by for Trainer Tuesday with Mud Run Guide. Enjoy.
Now go conquer the rope climb.