Whether you want to master the rope climb for a Spartan race, a CrossFit WOD, or just want to learn a new feat of strength, it's a great training tool, both for body and mind. "It helps you become stronger, and get over any fear of going vertical," says Kenny Kane, owner and head coach at CrossFit LA in Santa Monica. And it's a terrific full-body workout. To climb up, you have to use your legs to perform a squat-leg maneuver, your core to stabilize and twist, and your upper body to pull. "It's inclusive of so many skills," says Kane. "And once you get the foundational pieces, it's fun." Here, a basic primer:
A rope climb may look simple enough, but it forces you to control your bodyweight vertically along your midline, a skill that's hard to practice, says Kane. You can do it, and get used to the feel of the rope in your hands, with plank pulls: Sit on your butt with your legs straight, rope to your side. Grab onto the rope, relax your hands and lift yourself off the floor hand-over-hand, keeping arms straight with the rope away from your body, until you're at a 45 degree angle; hold for three seconds and lower yourself down to the ground, slowly and controlled. Pro-tips: wear full-length pants, and chalk your hands for grip.
You'll know you're strong enough to climb if you can nail these two movements: First, try a tuck hold. Keeping arms straight and with a comfortable handhold (not a death grip), grab onto the rope above you and bring knees into your chest, holding a tuck for 10 seconds; repeat five times. This approximates the position you'll be in as you ascend. Once you're comfortable with the tuck-hold, move onto the can-can drill. Repeat the tuck position, and this time slowly kick one leg out, then switch, for 10 seconds. This is a coordination move that preps your limbs for working together climbing the rope. It acts as strength work for your arms, abs, and legs, plus will make you comfortable on the rope so you don't panic when you get to the top and have to get yourself down.
Train the Technique
Your feet act as an anchor during the rope climb. On the way up, you can rest your weight on your feet, giving your arms reprieve — you can even shake them out one at a time. On the way down, how tightly you grip the rope between your feet dictates the speed of your descent.
Use an L-hook (sometimes called a J-hook) to grip the rope with your feet. The rope falls on the inside of your leg, crosses over your shin, and wraps under your foot. Sweep your non-dominant foot under the other foot to pull the rope up and then clamp the rope between them.
To ascend, grip the rope overhead with straight arms. Keeping your feet hooked on the rope, tuck your legs and pull knees toward elbows. Clamp your feet around the rope with the L-hook, press through the glutes like you're coming up from a squat, and pull your upper body toward the rope, hand-over-hand. Repeat until you get to the top. The more exaggerated your tuck at the beginning of each pull, the faster you'll climb — but this requires more strength. You can start with smaller tucks, drawing your feet about six inches up each time, until you get comfortable catching the rope between your legs. To come down, slack your feet, moving hand-under-hand. To descend quickly, loosen the rope more between your feet, and slow it down by pressing your feet harder into the rope. Land with soft knees.