How to Climb a Rope Like a Navy SEAL

by A Manly Guest Contributor on January 11, 2012 · 43 comments

in Manly Skills, Tactical Skills

Editor’s note: This post was written by Bryan Black and originally ran on ITS Tactical.

So why should you climb rope? First of all, if you’re not including rope climbing in your workout routines, you’re missing out on one of the best forearm and grip workouts around.

Climbing rope is also a core component of building functional strength. Every man should be able to physically save himself, and rope climbing trains many of the same muscles you’d need to pull or lift yourself to safety.

Sourcing a Rope to Climb

If you’ve never attempted to climb a rope before, don’t worry; I’ll address that below. The first step in progressing into rope climbing is an obvious one. Get yourself a rope! There are a couple of options I’ll recommend here.

Manila Rope

The first option is to purchase a good natural fiber Manila rope that’s at least 1 1/2″  to 2″ in diameter and 20 ft. long. I found a fairly good deal on Amazon for a 30 ft. 2″ diameter Manila rope for $150. The only issue I see with buying something like this is the attachment method, for which I’d recommend cutting one end off and creating an eye splice.

Eye Splice

Creating an eye splice in one end will allow you to climb a tree in a park or your backyard and girth hitch it over a branch to start climbing. The downside to using a Manila rope is that it will fray over time, as you can see in the picture of the climbing SEALs above!

Fast Rope

The second option, which I highly recommend, is to make your own Fast Rope. By making your own Fast Rope, you’ll not only gain the practice of tying a multitude of knots, save money, and build something awesome, you’ll end up with a climbing rope that will last much longer than a natural fiber rope.

There are sometimes auctions on eBay too for used Military Fast Ropes, but they’re usually very worn, and you won’t know the history behind the rope or how stable it is.

Climbing Techniques

There are three different techniques I’m going to address today, and below you can watch a video of each of these being used and see why I prefer to climb with the brake-and-squat technique I was taught in BUD/s. You should also climb in pants and boots to save your shoes and legs from rope abuse.

While any of the techniques I’ll explain below will allow you to climb a rope, there’s only one I’m going to recommend based on speed, fast reacquisition of the rope, and energy savings.

Gym Class Technique

The first technique I’ll address is the typical way I see people climb rope that have never been properly taught how to climb. I call it the “gym class technique,” because if you’re like me and went to elementary school before schools were afraid of being sued, you probably used this technique to get up the rope.

Gym class technique is where you pinch the rope between your feet, reach up with your hands to pull up on the rope, and then repeat. While you can manage to get up a rope using this method, you’re working twice as hard. With any technique, the goal should be to use your legs to get up the rope without depending on upper body strength.

That’s not to say upper body strength isn’t important or needed to climb, it’s just to say that your legs should contribute and not just hold the rope.

Brake and Squat (Marine Style)

Marine-style brake and squat is what the Marines teach in boot camp; while effective, it’s not a very quick technique, and it can create extra work by forcing you to reacquire the rope if you lose the wrap. With any brake and squat technique, the goal is to work your way up the rope by using your feet to put the brakes on the rope in a squatted position, and simply standing up, reaching as far up as you can, and repeating.

The technique for the Marine-style brake and squat is as follows: First you jump up with your arms extended, letting the rope either fall between your thighs or to the outside (I’ve seen both). From there you single wrap the rope around one of your legs and across the top of your boot. The boot of the unwrapped leg clamps down on the other boot, trapping the rope. You can now support your weight without using the power of your arms and hands.

I don’t personally care for this method, because as mentioned above, you have to re-wrap the rope around your leg if it’s not feeding through your legs as you climb up. This can lead to extra work and getting beat when racing a buddy.

Brake and Squat (BUD/s Style)

During BUD/s I was taught to use a very simple brake and squat technique that’s extremely fast, makes it easy to reacquire the rope, and will beat any other technique for speed. We’d have team rope climbing races all the time, and it would always be the guys using the Marine-style brake and squat technique (despite being taught otherwise) that would slow a team down and cause them to hit the surf. It pays to be a winner!

All there is to the BUD/s style technique is to jump up to grab the rope high, letting the rope fall on the outside of a leg. Using the leg that the rope falls to, simply step on it by using the opposite foot to help. The combination of the rope falling across the top of the opposite foot and stepping on the rope with the other foot will lock the rope in place.

The idea here is to always reach up as high as you can before you “squat” your feet back up the rope and stand up to gain more height. The quickest guy I ever saw climb rope at BUD/s seriously looked like his feet would reach all the way to his chest before he’d stand up. It was truly amazing to watch.

You can stand in this position all day and take some of the work off your arms. Coming down from the rope is super simple as well–just relax the tension with your feet as you descend and the rope will flow through your feet easily.

Beginner’s Tips

If any of these techniques are more than you can physically master, start slow. You can work on the upper body strength needed to climb rope by using your rope to do pull-ups or even throwing a towel over a pull-up bar and doing towel pull-ups, as this will work the same muscles. For technique work, simply get on the rope and practice locking it in with your feet.

Advanced Techniques

A few other techniques you can use to climb a rope are climbing without your legs, climbing without your legs from a L-Sit position at the bottom of the rope, and even climbing two ropes side by side without your feet. I find that I have the hardest time with the L-Sit technique, as I figure my core is weak in that area or my technique just sucks!

Climbing without your legs is an intense forearm, bicep, and back workout. It requires excellent grip strength and not being afraid of heights! I’ve successfully climbed two ropes without using my feet, one in each hand. Let me tell you though, it’s not an easy thing to do! I had a few close calls trying to climb like this and nearly fell twenty or so feet attempting it. Be careful if you decide to attempt the advanced techniques!

Workouts

While pretty self-explanatory, in terms of workouts, the best thing to do is to incorporate a number of rope climbs into your workout routine. When I have access to a rope, I’ll usually throw push-ups, sit-ups, dips, air squats and a rope climb or two into 3-5 sets. Doing other thick rope and grip exercises can build your climbing muscles as well.

On days where you don’t have a rope available, you can also figure on subbing in 15 pull-ups for every rope climb; it’s definitely not the same movement as a rope climb, but it’s the closest movement and repetition count to climbing a 20 to 30 foot rope.

Video

Disclaimer

Climbing ropes is inherently dangerous should your grip give out while you’re on the rope. Use caution and know your limitations before you get too high and can’t hold on any longer!

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ITS Tactical (Imminent Threat Solutions) is an awesome website run by Military Veterans and those serving in the Special Operations community that covers skill-set information, tactical gear reviews, and DIY projects that can help you live better and survive any scenario. Check ‘em out and become a member! Since AoM and ITS admire each other’s work we’ve agreed to swap one article each month to share with our respective readers.

{ 43 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Derek January 11, 2012 at 11:07 pm

There’s a rope at my climbing gym. I like to watch the cocky guys fail, and then climb to the top when they’re done trying.

2 Dane January 11, 2012 at 11:11 pm

What if you can easily pull yourself up a rope, with weight, using just your arms?

3 Charles January 11, 2012 at 11:13 pm

This is awesome, It’s basically Indiana Jones!

4 Alex January 11, 2012 at 11:24 pm

I always remember a gym class we had, taken outside with an ex-marine (Royal) to learn to climb a rope.

His instructions
1) Jump and grab
2) Lock it between your feet
3) Pull yourself up.

So, he jumped and grabbed. That got it about 10 feet up the rope. Then he pulled his body up until he was upside down and still just holding on with hands.

Then he locked his feet above his head, and pulled himself up. I think it took only two iterations to get up 20ft of rope.

Still remember it 20 years on.

5 Nick January 11, 2012 at 11:49 pm

Good article, though things may have changed. The technique you describe as the BUDS technique, was taught to me in Marine Corps bootcamp at MCRD San Diego in 1997. The technique described as the Marine Corps technique may have been used at an earlier time.

6 Adam January 11, 2012 at 11:56 pm

Dane: Do it over and over again. Or race against other guys.

Honestly, there’s not much to “proper rope technique” unless you’re just starting out or if you need your arms to be fresh enough at the end to hold a weapon steady. Just like there’s no reason to rappel Aussie-style if you don’t have to shoot at someone on your way down.

7 Jameel January 12, 2012 at 12:16 am

I never had to do this in gym class. Perhaps another example of today’s “men” being softer than previous generations?

8 John U. January 12, 2012 at 1:17 am

Great website and articles. Thanks for the info

9 Zak G January 12, 2012 at 1:28 am

Very very glad to see an article from ITS Tactical on this blog, I hope you guys do more collaborations. Between AoM and ITS I don’t have to read any other blogs.

10 graf January 12, 2012 at 3:02 am

I was always taught to use gym class method, but I “invented” marine style myself, because as a kid I had weak arms. It turned out that I had no problems with climbing no matter the height :)

11 David January 12, 2012 at 7:17 am

I would put that disclaimer at the top. No one reads all the way down. Particularly some guy who just fell 20 ft.

12 Euan January 12, 2012 at 7:59 am

@Alex I’ve recently started an aerialist class, which includes rope work, and what he was doing sounds like a straddle climb.

It takes a fair amount of strength to get to the point that you can do it, but once mastered you can gain a huge amount of height very quickly (and it looks pretty cool, too)!

13 mike January 12, 2012 at 8:33 am

Oh the glory days at y1… Why is it still that seals are still what every man still strives to be like? Such a great marketing tool it is now. Be LIKE a seal and you will be happy with yourself! …well probably, but there are easier and healthier ways.
Regardless, great rope climbing advice! Many excellent techniques! Never quit!

14 Davelli0331 January 12, 2012 at 9:02 am

Nice article. When I went through USMC boot in ’02 at Parris Island, we were actually taught both styles above, along with arms-only techniques for the PT studs.

15 Cori January 12, 2012 at 12:11 pm

I was taught that if your hands start overlapping each other, you are too tired and need to head back down, before you fall.

16 Adam M January 12, 2012 at 1:19 pm

Join a Crossfit gym…they’ll teach you how to climb a gym. When you have to do 20 in a workout…form is everything. Your arms couldn’t handle 20 rope climbs without using your legs.

17 Adam M January 12, 2012 at 1:20 pm

climb a rope*

18 Jonnie January 12, 2012 at 2:32 pm

So this guy is a Navy SEAL? Or is he a poseur?

19 Leo January 12, 2012 at 8:10 pm

Ex-navy Seal. Definitely not a poser.

20 John January 12, 2012 at 11:19 pm

Great layout of the different styles for climbing rope. Navy guy here. I can attest to the effectiveness of the BUDS method. Did some VBSS (vessel boarding, search and seizure) classes that touched upon some rope climbing and out in Great Lakes, right next to the football field, there is a a rope assembly that is used for the new Sailors that are here waiting to ship to Coronado. Don’t think it’s been used ever since it got cold and snowy. I know I wouldn’t want to try right now.

21 Scott January 13, 2012 at 5:07 am

Never saw his “Marine” technique in my 20 years in the Corps. The technique we were taught and I saw the most he started to do; rope between the legs…. Wrap one leg & clamp with foot.

Was very fast for us, as you don’t have to “chase” the rope everytime you want to ‘re-clamp’. The rope stays between your legs. Hold, knees up, twirl calf, clamp, standup….

22 Tomislav January 13, 2012 at 6:58 am

When i was started to do exercise, i couldn’t do a single push up, after only 1 year i was able to do 12 pullups, and after 2 years i was able to climb. Today i can climb rope with hands only.

I m saying this to encourage all those people who think that are weak and will stay weak forewer.
As in any other aspect of life if u want to achieve something u have to put some hard work into it.

But most important then any thing else is WATCH YOUR HEALTH, and always think about future. How this will affect my health in 10 or 20 years.

Always, but always ask your self, what this exercise do to my body, is it good or bad?, Am i doing it right ? Can my body repair it self after this stress ?

It is some practical wisdom that i learn’d from older bodybuilders, and strongmans that are in good shape even with 65+ years :) :)

23 Gwen January 13, 2012 at 8:56 am

I never was able to climb the rope at all when I was in gym class… I’d love to try this, but can’t think where I could put a rope. Will have to look into it!

24 Andy January 13, 2012 at 11:33 am

I can attest that the BUD/s style is much easier (especially for newbies when you lose your rope). When I went through USMC basic they taught us, of course :), their style. After a few tries going up the rope though I naturally just started the BUD/s way. They always had us do the rope climbs at the end of the obstacle course.

25 Evan January 13, 2012 at 12:57 pm

To Nick, in regards to MCRD:

You’ve got it backwards. Marines USED to teach the “S” method, here called the BUD/S method. Due to safety concerns, they’ve now changed to the wrap method, here called the “Marine method”. The slower, safer one is what was taught to officer candidates this summer in Quantico, and the “S” method is forbidden until TBS.

26 S. Rassiwalla January 14, 2012 at 3:53 am

Hi,

I found your blog on GenJuice and really enjoyed this post.

Instead of getting burns from rough manila fibers or scrounging amazon for used Fast Ropes, may I suggest you please check out http://www.gjropes.com/ropes.gjr

We are an India-based manufacturer of high quality Cotton Rope designed especially for rope climbing exercises by local wrestlers in Maharashtra as well as international CrossFit athletes.

We also provide custom-made rope pieces with in-built eye splices, available in both steel and MS which are ready to use so feel free to touch base if you need anything. Thank you and happy climbing!

GJR- Serving the nation since 1912.

27 Kathy S January 14, 2012 at 9:36 pm

20 yrs ago I could do it w/o legs but I’m older and over my ideal weight :) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lg9BQtT3rjg

28 Brian January 15, 2012 at 12:12 am

Loving the AOM/ITS crossover. These two blogs are creating some of the best new content in the dudely genre.

29 Carl January 17, 2012 at 3:07 pm

ITS and AOM are my go to BLOGS, so you guys just saved me some time with the cross over. Thanks!

30 Ismael January 20, 2012 at 10:44 am

Great Post. Also I purchased 50ft 2″ Manila Rope on E#@y for $85.00 shipping included.

31 Alexis January 21, 2012 at 5:17 pm

thank you so much for sharing this! I failed miserably at climbing ropes at the Spartan race last fall and felt that I just was doing it wrong. According to you I WAS doing it wrong! Sadly the cost of rope is too high to buy some to practice, but at least I’ll have an idea of how I should be doing it ;)

32 Gryphon January 21, 2012 at 6:33 pm

SEALS win because they’re like most sailors. If given the opportunity they’ll take the easiest route to a goal even if it involves “cheating”. They’re just a bit smarter than your average squid and WILL come up with their own cheats.

33 Robert February 4, 2012 at 9:44 am

Ditto with Nick. When I went to boot camp for the Marines, we were taught the BUD/s method. Made it quick and simple to climb up the rope. I thought i was bada$$ until my DI climbed two ropes at the same time without using his feet. Show off….

34 Jan July 18, 2013 at 1:00 pm

Interesting. We used to this “BUD/s” style and the two ropes techniques at high school.
I liked it and since I’m a light guy I was always fast. This article made want to find some ropes and have some fun.
Cheers from Europe ;)

35 marc October 6, 2013 at 2:33 am

Brilliant. Used it today in the Spartan. Last time I couldn’t climb it, using this technique I was surprised how easy it was . Brilliant!

36 Jasper January 14, 2014 at 1:32 pm

When I went to MCRD in 1992 the method taught for climbing a rope depended on which DI you had teach you. What you call Marine style we called Boy Scout style. I fortunately couldn’t make it work. I had another DI teach me what you call the BUD’s style. We called it the “S” method….It is by far the superior method…Cheers

37 Pauly January 14, 2014 at 4:31 pm

The way I was taught was reach as high as you can with your arms then let the rope hang inside your right knee and outside your right foot. Then lean back kicking that leg up and curl your left foot over onto your right dragging the rope with it so it’s locked into position (slightly better grip than the Marines) then just walk your hands up and repeat.

38 Richard C. January 15, 2014 at 8:11 am

I wish I could do this one day!

39 Zach January 15, 2014 at 3:04 pm

Marines are taught all ways to climb the rope. You use the one that suits you best.

40 Mick January 15, 2014 at 10:43 pm

Great rope climbing article. Inspiring for a weak old bugger like myself, who’s slowly getting back into peak condition again. I just watched the other part about making a fast rope; The man goes about round plaiting the hard way. He may not have had as much practice at making stock-whips as I have though ;).

41 Christophe T January 16, 2014 at 5:03 am

It’s funny to see these techniques and compare them to the circus techniques I use when climbing rope, fabric, and other materials while doing aerial acrobatics. We call your BUD/brake and squat the russian climb and the marine one the french climb (or just the basic climb). There are several other methods we use in acrobatics, like the bicycle climb and hip climb which are a bit less useful with such a thick rope.

42 Chris P January 22, 2014 at 2:43 pm

As a disclaimer, I’m not an expert…

But from what I can tell, the guy in the video is doing the ‘Marine Climb’ incorrectly. When done correctly it allows you to clamp the rope between the top of your lower boot and the sole of your upper boot. When you pull your feet up, the rope slides easily between your boots and can be instantly clamped again with a slight amount of pressure. With proper form I was able to stand halfway up the rope with my arms out horizontally and not holding on to the rope at all. With proper form you can also get up a 20 ft rope in a matter of seconds. Search around youtube for some examples! It’s pretty cool stuff :)

43 Matthew Woodbury March 29, 2014 at 12:13 pm

A good source of high quality manila rope: http://rwrope.com/prem-manila.html. 2″ diameter is $3.81/ft, or $115 for 30′. R&W Rope is a family owned cordage business in very salty New Bedford, MA.

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