Guide to Thick Rope Training

by A Manly Guest Contributor on April 14, 2010 · 39 comments

in Health & Sports

Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Joe Hashey, CSCS.

In a previous article, Odd Object Training Primer, I mentioned that people can work out with just a length of thick rope. Rope training is nothing new but has been gaining popularity over the last few years. We have been using thick ropes for nearly two years with great benefits. If you had a bad experience with climbing the rope in middle school, maybe it’s time to revisit this classic fitness tool.

Benefits of Thick Rope Training

During most thick rope exercises, the muscles in the hands and forearms are engaged to a great extent, which is an area where many men lack sufficient strength. At Synergy Athletics, we use ropes during the accessory portion of our workouts. That means we perform our regular primary exercises (typically compound barbell lifts) and then incorporate the ropes into the program.

In addition to stronger hands and forearms, ropes can be used for a variety of climbing and pulling exercises to increase relative body strength. These movements are both fun and effective for general physical preparedness, specifically in younger athletes.

Where to Get Thick Rope

Unfortunately you won’t be able to run down to Home Depot and pick up the rope that I am talking about. Their rope is just too light and small in diameter. Depending on your abilities, you will want to purchase a rope that is between 1 ¼ to 3 inches in diameter and 40 to 60 feet in length. We have ropes that range from 1 ¼ in to 4 inch in diameter, but I personally prefer 2 inch rope. The 4 inch rarely makes it off the shelf.

Many websites sell thick rope; however, the most inexpensive ones I have come across are on Ebay and McMaster Carr. Just search for what you want on those sites, and it will save you money.

Four Effective Thick Rope Exercises

1. Supine Rows. Throw the rope over a fixed object. In the gym we use a power rack, at home a tree branch. Lie down on your back, reach up and grab the row, then pull your hands to your chest. The advanced variation involves elevating your feet.

2. Pull-Ups. Just throw the rope over a fixed object like with the supine row set up. Reach up, grab a hold and begin your pull-ups. You will be able to do far fewer with the rope than on a regular bar because of the added grip strength required. Do these FIRST then finish with regular pull-ups so you still train your back muscles, and your grip isn’t the weak link.

3. Hand Over Hand Rows. Attach the rope to a weighted object (outdoors). This object is usually a sled, but you could use anything that is heavy. Walk the rope out to the end then row the object all the way to you. Repeat for multiple sets.

4. Rope Battling. Up until this point, all the exercises have been pulling movements. Rope battling is for conditioning. Anchor your rope around a fixed object so the rope folds in half and you have both ends in your hands.

The easy instructions – whip it around for time.

Details – make waves in the rope. You can make big waves, small waves, or alternating waves. Then take both and try to make circles in the rope (grappler tosses). Complete this for a timed set.

Sample rope battling workout – apply the Tabata protocol to your movements. With high intensity, whip the rope around for 20 seconds and then rest for 10 seconds. Repeat for 8 consecutive sets of 20 on and 10 off.

These are just a few ways you can benefit from using ropes. Check out this rope training video with a few more ideas!

Pick up a length of rope and start incorporating it into your training ASAP!


Joe Hashey is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist through the NSCA. He is a former D1AA college football player and is giving away 3 BONUSES for joining the FREE Synergy Newsletter! Joe can be reached through his popular strength training blog –

{ 39 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Mauricio April 15, 2010 at 12:20 am

Great training article! I am always looking for inventive ways to keep me motivated about exercising. I really like how this program can relate to real life situations. Thanks Joe.

2 mike April 15, 2010 at 1:33 am

There is a guy in San Antonio teaching primitive skills and survival race workouts. His blog gives several other rope workout examples such as situps where, at the top of each situp, you shadow box against the rope’s pull.

3 Sam April 15, 2010 at 3:35 am

Great article. What would make it even better is if you could put down the muscle groups being targeted by the exercises.

4 Joe Hashey April 15, 2010 at 6:42 am

Thanks for the comments! Sam, that’s a good idea, sorry I didn’t include that. I will do it here for you. These are the primary muscles targeted in each movement:

Supine Rows: Upper back, Biceps, Grip

Pull Ups: Upper Back (lats), Biceps, Grip

Hand Over Hand Rows: Back, Core (everything that isn’t an arm or leg), Grip, and Legs

Rope battling: Almost Everything. It depends on how you move the rope, but expect to feel it in the hands, shoulders, back, biceps, triceps, legs, and core.

In general, ropes are used for pulling exercises, so the pulling muscles are the ones developed: back, hands, biceps primarily.

I hope that helps!


5 Richard | April 15, 2010 at 9:12 am

I’ve always thought that rope battling looked like an excellent exercise and would really give you strong arms all over. Thanks for this, it’s getting bookmarked.

6 Mike at The Big Stick April 15, 2010 at 9:33 am

I’ve seen a lot of MMA fighters using these in workouts in the last couple of years. The rope battling especially looks like great core training. These also seem like a relatively cheap way to augment my gym training at home.

7 Mark Konen April 15, 2010 at 12:19 pm

We will tie a 2″ manila rope to a weighted Prowler and pull it 75′, hand over hand and then push the prowler back to start. I will also take a 6′ length of 2″ and put it through the handle of a kettlebell and swing it. great for grip strength. McMaster-Carr is a great p-lace to get your rope, as you mentioned.

8 Mark Konen April 15, 2010 at 12:21 pm

And who could forget tug ‘o’ war with your buddies on weekend afternoon!

9 Rob April 15, 2010 at 12:33 pm

Excellent article. Clear and concise. Have been using towels for pull ups, but now that I see the other exercises, need to get some rope.

10 Joe Hashey April 15, 2010 at 1:04 pm

Mark – the prowler is awesome!

Rob – thanks for the comment! Towels can definitely be used for pull ups, kb or db swings, and some other great applications as well! Thanks for sharing.


11 Dan April 15, 2010 at 1:30 pm

What rope type and lengths are recommended?

12 Joe Hashey April 15, 2010 at 1:48 pm

Manilla works fine, but will shed some – a consideration if you are training indoors at a commercial facility.

Polyester ropes don’t shed, but are slightly more expensive.

I use both (mostly the poly in the video but the manilla at the end).

Size recommendations – here is what I wrote in the article:

“Depending on your abilities, you will want to purchase a rope that is between 1 ¼ to 3 inches in diameter and 40 to 60 feet in length. We have ropes that range from 1 ¼ in to 4 inch in diameter, but I personally prefer 2 inch rope. The 4 inch rarely makes it off the shelf.”

Someone of moderate strength should be able to use a 2 in x 50 ft rope with great success.


13 Bill Jones April 15, 2010 at 2:06 pm

Great article. Glad to know now where to get the ropes!!

14 David April 15, 2010 at 3:20 pm

Sick training article! Definitely going to add more of these with the rest of the team I coach. Thanks!

15 Nathan Wells April 15, 2010 at 6:43 pm

Excellent training article Joe!

Strongman training of old and the methodology has always fascinated me – great to see your making that information accessible to everyone.

Keep it coming and keep up the great work!!!


16 rhea morales April 15, 2010 at 7:15 pm

To be perfectly honest, I would never have commented if you hadn’t sent out that email with the PPS. on it due to the title of your page.
So then I went ahead and watched the video and it looks awesome. I met a guy doing rope training at the park once. He showed me rope battling and i said I could do this all day long and he said he had to get a heavier rope for me but most people find it tiring. It might be cause I sued to take those hour long bag hitting classes.

So heavy rope training has not been high on my list due to the fact that i only have two working fingers in my left hand. One is an opPosable thumb so there is nothing I can’t do but I do lack grip. I have the strongest wrist ever on my left hand ’cause I do pull-ups with my wrist. I did try a lot of the pull up work with a thinner rope and I think i want to get me one. I could do a lot more pull ups on the rope because it was easier than holding the bar. Sometimes you have to get creative when dealing with different types of people.

I’d subscribe, but it looks like you have your target audience already picked out. ;D

17 Joe Hashey April 15, 2010 at 7:44 pm

David – thanks! It is great for teams – especially one that has “bigger” athletes that aren’t built for long distance conditioning. Rope battling is perfect.

Nathan – I appreciate you coming over and commenting!

Rhea – I’m glad you read my newsletter and did me the favor of commenting. I truly appreciate it.


18 Daniel Ng April 15, 2010 at 7:53 pm

Great stuff, for sure. Thick ropes are expensive, but a staple for real world strength. Thanks Mr. Hashey.

19 Chris April 15, 2010 at 9:37 pm


Great article! I greatly enjoyed it, and would love to get involved. I do have a question for you, however.

I nearly ruptured my L4 and L5 discs last October. While I avoided surgery, I still have a quite weak core and would like to strengthen it. My doctor says I can do anything I want, “as long as it doesn’t hurt”. The amount of pain I was in for the 3 months following the injury has admittedly made me a little gunshy.

What sort of core and upper body exercises do you recommend for people that have previous back injuries?


– Chris

20 Songbai April 16, 2010 at 5:50 am

Fantastic article, clear and to the point as usual, Mr Hashey. What are some rough guidelines for how much weight/over what distance to pull hand-over-hand? for example, maybe if you could tell us at X bodyweight if you can do Y supine rows, a good starting weight for hand-over-hand would be around Z?

thanks again, hope im not putting you in a position wher you have to over-generalize!

21 Joe Hashey April 16, 2010 at 9:49 am


Of course it is tough to say without doing a needs assessment (and hopefully your doctor gave you some exercises, so this doesn’t replace his advice).

But I don’t want to leave you hanging with that generic answer, so I would recomment working on bracing movements (other than a plank) to regain stability in that area.

Also, if you are doing movement based exercises (bird dogs, knee circles, supermans – all on youtube), then I would suggest not weighting them until you are comfortable.

As for the upper body, you should be able to do anything that isn’t twisting or overly compressing. Anything on a bench (like bench press) should be fine, as well as anything with light traction (like a pull up).

Again, go with what your doctor recommends over anything else, these are just somethings that have worked in the past, and I wish you a speedy recovery.


22 Joe Hashey April 16, 2010 at 9:53 am


As for distance with the hand over hand rows, you should go nearly the full length of the rope (minus what you used for the knot), so around 50 feet.

Weight recommendations are not that easy because they are extremely related to what surface you are pulling on. Turf vs wet grass vs thick grass, vs pavement vs rough pavement vs hard ground etc etc all give different kinds of resistance.

If you want a minimum, I would say your bodyweight would be a good amount on a fairly tough surface.

Hope that helps,


23 Larry April 16, 2010 at 10:38 am

Thanks. Great vid. What type of rope (material) do you prefer to use?

24 Stephen April 16, 2010 at 12:17 pm

What’s the advantage of using rope to do pull ups than, say, just grabbing a bar? Is there something about how you grip onto a rope that makes the difference?

25 Zeke April 16, 2010 at 12:36 pm

Great article! I really wish I belonged to a gym like yours.

Geez, are people like Larry and Stephen for real? Larry, Joe already answered your question in another comment. And Stephen, it says right there in the post that using the rope taxes your grip strength more. Come on dudes, fight the meathead stereotype and try reading.

26 Stephen April 16, 2010 at 12:56 pm

Well no, that doesn’t help at all. You’re not not using your grip strength to do chin ups, what is it about a rope that’s so special?

27 Joe Hashey April 16, 2010 at 1:35 pm


I understand what you mean about using your grip for pull ups.

Along with increasing the width of the a pull up bar, there are a few things you can use to incorporate more grip strength.

As mentioned earlier, towel pull ups and rope pull ups are similar. It is not necassarily the material, but the angle of the hand when you grab on.

Picture your tightly clenched fist. It would be very difficult for someone to come over and pull your fingers our straight (like the resistance in a regular pull / chin up). Picture that same fist clenched with a pen sticking out of the top. It would be much more difficult for you to hold onto that pen if sometime tried pulling it out than pulling your fingers out.

It all comes down to angles and which muscles are recruited. I suggest giving a few towel pull ups a try (throw a towel over the bar and hold it by the ends and do pull ups). That will show you what I mean more than words.

I hope that makes sense, and thanks for the comment.


28 Don April 16, 2010 at 11:28 pm

In high school, the ropes were a weekly part of phys ed. Two 30′ ropes attached to the ceiling, 10′ apart. If you were brave (and the coach wasn’t looking), you would pull yourself up one (using only hands, no legs, please!), handwalk on the roof beam to the other, and lower yourself, hand over hand, not sliding down. Great for all upper body!

29 Brian April 18, 2010 at 1:15 am

This gave me some good ideas. I just got my rope monday and haven’t tied mine to a sled yet but the wave training is a killer. I do my wave training at the park and people give me some strange looks. Some people have said they have seen them on biggest loser. I had to paeuse the video to figure out how to tie it to my power rack It’s guna be strange trying to do that

30 Joe Hashey April 18, 2010 at 2:30 pm

Don – hands only is crazy hard! Nice work (and balance on the rafters!)

Brian – I know what you mean about the Biggest Loser. Rope battling has been around for years, but now that the biggest loser included them, maybe it will catch on more!


PS. Nothing fancy about the knots on the power rack, just a standard one.

31 Peter Fitzwell April 23, 2010 at 10:41 pm

Hi, when i order a rope (will probably get polyester so it won’t fray), is it possible to get the rope-ends ‘capped’ (my own terminology) , or do they come that way anyway …. so the ends don’t fray/split apart …… thanks

32 Joe Hashey April 24, 2010 at 6:01 pm

Peter, It depends on where you order it from. If you get it cheaper on ebay or mcmaster car…probably not. Don’t worry though, you have two options:

1. Wrap the last 6 inches tight with a good quality duct or athletic tape.

2. There are some homemade ends online..can’t seem to find one tight now, but basically you put a pipe tightly over the end and drill bolts through it.

I personally went with duct tape when I had to and have had no issues.

Good luck with the rope training!


33 Men's t-shirts April 28, 2010 at 4:01 pm

Haven’t had a go on the ropes since primary school! Haven’t seen them in the gym either, I’ll have to look out for them.

34 Charles Boston June 13, 2010 at 8:41 am

I found a great site for thick rope, Tel-305-636-3000. They even braided a loop in one end to my specs.

35 Joseph June 20, 2010 at 7:05 am

Unfortunately it is difficult to rope train at home.. but.. outdoor is cool!

36 Matt Lovato July 16, 2010 at 3:14 pm

Rope training is definitely gaining traction out there. Great functional training tool. Check this out:

They’re using a rope training machine to see who can pull the most rope in 60 seconds. It’s awesome!

37 Coach Bruce Pahl January 15, 2013 at 11:41 pm

Hey thanks so much for promoting different ways to training with the heavy ropes.
I personally train with Clubbells, Kettlebells, Sandbags and Heavy Training Ropes. You can’t beat the variety and it keeps you from over use injuries also.

38 Cat April 16, 2013 at 5:09 am

Will the Supine Rows be too hard for my back? I sort of have injured it (heavy lifting) before.

39 Bruna Freitas October 7, 2013 at 7:44 am

Hello, I’ve been very interested in battling ropes training and was thinking about doing it with a crossfit climbing rope that I bought which is seven meters tall and 52mm thick, so my question is: can I use it for battling ropes training or is it too short and/or too thin? Obs: I’m 5’1.

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