The Cooper Institute

Founded in 1970 by the "Father of Aerobics"
Kenneth H. Cooper MD, MPH


Battle Ropes: How hard is the body working?

Written by
Michael Harper, MEd
Posted in
Live well

Thursday, Feb 20, 2014

The use of ropes as fitness equipment has been on the rise in gyms. Ropes, often called battle ropes, similar looking to the ones used at one time for climbing in PE classes, are now being used for a variety of other exercises. The ropes are normally between 30 – 50 feet in length, 1 -2 inches in thickness, and anchored around a pole so an individual can hold both ends of the rope. Thicker and longer ropes will make exercises more advanced.

Examples of common repeated movements using battle ropes include the following exercises:

  • Alternating Waves: In a stable half squat stance, holding one end of the rope in each hand in front of the body, vigorously lift one arm up in front of the body to about shoulder height and then back down towards the ground while moving the other arm in the opposite direction.
  • Double Arm Waves: Similar to the exercise above, but moving both arms in the same direction at the same time.
  • Claps: In a stable half squat stance, holding one end of the rope in each hand in front of the body with the hands together, vigorously move the hands laterally away from each other and then back together.
Most anyone will tell you that performing the above movements continuously for even just 10 – 30 seconds can take your breath away, but until recently the specific amount of work being done was unknown. In a recent study (Fountaine et al., 2013)1, individuals performed a rope workout that consisted of:
  • 10 minutes total time
  • 10 intervals of 15 seconds work and 45 seconds rest
  • Double Arm Wave Exercise
In the study, peak oxygen consumption was reported at just over 35 ml/kg/min, or about 10 METS. One MET is equivalent to the amount of energy expended when sitting at rest. The exercise being performed during those 15 second intervals would therefore result in burning ten times as much energy as sitting at rest. Peak heart rate at these times was 91% of age predicted heart rate maximum. This study demonstrated that a 10 minute session of rope training can be classified as vigorous intensity exercise comparable to interval training.

Using one’s own imagination, there are a number of other common movements that can be done with the ropes. Other exercises, such as jumping jacks or figure 8 circles, can become intervals in a rope exercise workout as long as proper safety principles and biomechanics are utilized. One important biomechanical principle to monitor when using battle ropes is alignment of the spine as it is easy for the momentum of the rope to pull the body forward out of alignment.

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1Fountaine, C.J. and Schmidt, B.J. (2013). Metabolic cost of rope training. J Strength Cond Res. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3182a35da8