Battle Ropes Ain't All Bad
From their use in UFC highlight videos to instagram models’ reels, battle ropes have been getting quite a buzz in the fitness industry over the last few years. However, just like the bosu balls and kettlebells before them, they’ve been met with a fair bit of skepticism. So is this the waist trainer 2.0 (complete bullshit), or is it the best thing since machines were introduced in the 80’s?
In reality, it’s somewhere in the middle. While battle ropes aren’t the magic secret to “building muscle and burning fat at the same time” that you may have hoped, they are an awesome tool for cardiovascular and muscular endurance training.
I will note that battle ropes are not very beneficial for powerlifting training. This doesn’t mean they’re bad per say, but we have to keep in mind the one, simple goal of powerlifting: to get as strong as possible. This means that anything that doesn’t directly help the athlete build strength is not going to be beneficial and may even be slightly detrimental, as it directs caloric expenditure to systems other than those involved in the processes of gaining strength.
Essentially, cardio and/or muscular endurance training takes time and energy that could have gone towards hypertrophy or strength training, both of which will have much greater carryover to your total. While the battle ropes do have an effect on the muscular system, this will have little to no carryover to your barbell movements due to the size principle.
The size principle essentially states that muscle fibers will be recruited from smallest to largest, with larger muscle fibers only being recruited if the smaller fibers can’t handle the intensity on their own. Something like battle rope training that requires little force output for greater periods of time will likely only recruit the smaller, endurance-focused type I muscle fibers, having little to no effect on the larger, stronger type II muscle fibers that are more commonly associated with resistance training.
Additionally, it’s a concentric-only workout, meaning that there is no load placed on your muscle during the lengthening, or eccentric, phase of the rep. Eccentric loading provides the majority of the muscular damage that will later result in hypertrophy during the recovery phase. While the lack of this eccentric load will allow for better recovery than traditional resistance training, it also means we’ll see less strength or hypertrophic gains.
That said, battle ropes are far from useless. This isn’t your granddad’s fitness industry anymore. Powerlifters are jacked now (ask coach Tim). Many are looking to drop a weight class or maintain lower body fat levels year round. This often requires some form of high intensity interval training (HIIT), and rope work can be a great option for that.
Others may be powerlifters at their core but like to train with battle ropes every now and then to get the heart rate up. Essentially, they’re just another tool to add to your cardio arsenal of treadmills, stair climbers, sleds, etc.
One cool aspect of battle ropes is the lower level of impact that they allow. While traditional cardio implements result in tons of pounding on the knees, hips, and ankles, even a high-intensity battle rope workout will still have relatively low impact by comparison.
Great for Grip Strength
Another advantage battle ropes have over traditional cardio is their usefulness in building grip strength, a critical element in the bench press and deadlift.
Having an arms-focused cardio exercise also allows lifters to get some cardio without weakening their legs. Of course, while this makes them a great option before squat day, they may leave your triceps fried for bench or destroy your grip strength before the deadlift.
If you hate gimmicky workouts, this might be right up your alley. It’s basically just a giant shoelace. You don’t need an anchor strap (any sturdy pole will make a fine anchor point), and it’s easy to combine with lower-body movements for a full body workout.
Increasing the weight is as simple as grabbing a thicker or longer rope. While they are made from different materials, it won’t make much of a difference.
Choosing Battle Ropes
If your gym has battle ropes, take some time to try the different options available. They vary in thickness and length, and the thicker they are, the heavier. A well-stocked gym will usually have ropes anywhere between 1.5 and 2.5 inches thick, and the more heavy duty options tend to be longer.
Longer ropes are a good choice if you start experiencing a lot of recoil. If you’re really just whipping the hell out of them, you don’t want the wave in the rope to bounce back at you mid-set.
For Home Gym Peeps
Battle ropes may not be a great option for a home gym, unless you’ve got some serious space to spare. The shortest come in at about 30 feet long, which means you need a good 15 feet of open floor space. The long ones, meanwhile, can run all the way up to 50 feet.
Luckily, they’re relatively portable. If you’ve got a garage and a driveway, length doesn’t have to be a problem.
Programming Battle Rope Exercises
Battle rope routines tend to follow traditional HIIT programming schema, meaning it’s usually a series of sprints. But as usual, your sets and reps will vary depending on your goals.
For powerlifters, weight training itself can be pretty cardio intensive, so it’s unwise to work these in at the beginning of a workout. We often recommend athletes warm up with 5-10 minutes on a stationary bike, but you can’t really warm up with battle ropes. They’re kind of an “all or nothing” exercise. On a bike, you can set the resistance anywhere between running on air and slogging through mud. With the ropes, you’re either moving them or you’re not.
For most, they’re best suited for off days. Powerlifters benefit from having that time to recover.
For others, though, it might have a place in your lifting routine as well. But you need to make sure you get the right volume and intensity to keep your program optimized for your goals. If you’re looking for ways to incorporate battle rope training into your current routine, or just looking to optimize your routine altogether, be sure to reach out to us today.