Fit Tip: Working up to a Rope Climb

Posted On Dec 12, 2019 By Lisa Traugott

A woman climbing a rope.

Rope climbs are not just used by soldiers scaling buildings anymore. Cross Fit, American Ninja Warrior competitions and just about every obstacle course race out there will include a rope climb. Watching children on the playground, you would think this is the easiest thing ever. Not so, my friends! At least it sure wasn’t for me!

If you have a lot of upper body strength (like my son and his elementary schoolyard friends), grabbing and lifting works just fine. For those of us lacking beastmode upper body strength there is a technique that uses the strength of your legs to push you up that rope, called the J-Hook. Your upper body is only serving as a counter balance, which makes rope climbs totally doable.

Before we get to that though, here are three exercises to build up the strength to doing a rope climb. Do these exercises three times per week, allowing for rest days in between so your muscles and recover and grow back stronger.

Dead Hangs

This is the simplest exercise to develop grip strength and also build up the muscles required to do more strenuous exercises like chin ups and pull ups. Use an underhand grip to hold onto an overhead bar, lift your feet off the ground and just hang there. Start by hanging for 10 seconds and then rest for 30 seconds. Repeat for three sets. Work your way up to 45 seconds to 1 minute at a time.

Seated Rope Climb

Sit on the ground, under a hanging rope, with your legs out. Press your heels into the ground for balance and just your upper body strength to pull yourself up to standing. Then slowly lower your body back to the ground, to the start position. This not only works your upper back and biceps, but also works on your grip strength. Rest for 45 seconds to 1 minute between sets.

Biceps Curls

Your biceps aren’t just there to look pretty; they are integral to get you up that rope. Grab some 10-15 pound dumbbells with an underhand grip and slowly raise them up to your shoulder. Hold for 1 second at the top, then slowly lower them down to the start position. Do 3 sets of 12. Rest for 30 seconds between sets.

A woman using the j-hook technique to climb a rope.

When you feel strong enough to try climbing a rope, try this technique to get you started.

J-Hook Rope Climb Technique

  • Place rope in the center of your body.
  • Raise your right knee up, parallel to your waist.
  • Put rope over the outside of your right foot.
  • Grab the rope high above you.
  • As you raise your right knee, take your left foot and hook it under the rope, so now the rope is resting on top of your left foot. It should look like you are sitting in midair.
  • Squeeze both feet together so there is enough tension on the rope and then stand up.
  • Reach your arms up as high as you can and bring your knees together as close to your chest as you can so you can move the longest distance as possible.
  • Repeat until you reach the top.

Even if you don’t run obstacle courses, rope climbs are a great conditioning exercise because it engages your fingers, forearms, upper arms, shoulders, inner thighs, glutes and hamstrings. It might take you multiple attempts to get up the rope, but when you do you will feel like a ninja.


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