By Dr. Mercola
Battle ropes, sometimes called heavy ropes, are one of the newest fitness trends hitting gyms across the US, but working with ropes is hardly a new form of fitness. Long used as a training tool for football players, mixed martial artists (MMA), and other athletes, battle ropes can provide a high-intensity, whole-body workout that gets your muscles moving in new ways.
Unlike the relatively static movement of lifting and lowering a barbell, using battle ropes is a dynamic, ever-changing form of movement that has the added benefit of showing you whether you're doing the movements correctly.
The ropes can be whipped, slammed, or dragged, but among the most popular are undulating movements that cause the ropes to move in waves. A typical battle rope workout class might have teams of people competing to keep the waves going, or the ropes might be used as part of high-intensity circuit training.
Benefits of Battle Rope Training
Battle ropes are often thought of as a tool for your upper body, which they are. However, their benefits don't end there. Battle rope workouts work the muscles in your abs, back, and glutes, and you can incorporate movements, such as jumps, lunges, and squats, that work your legs, too.
Jonathan Ross, spokesperson for the American Council on Exercise (ACE) told Channel News Asia:1
"It's a little like running with the upper body… It's not just using different muscles but training muscles in different ways."
Donna Cyrus, senior vice president of programming at Crunch, continued:
"It's a great core training. The abs, back, and glutes (muscles of the buttocks) are all engaged… Obviously there's toning to the upper body and it burns a lot of calories."
Research published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research even found that a 10-minute bout of rope training resulted in high heart rates and energy expenditure that would increase cardiorespiratory fitness.2
Battle Ropes 101: What You Need to Know
Battle ropes are a simple workout tool that virtually anyone can use, so don't be intimidated if you're just starting out. The ropes come in various lengths and widths, which will impact the intensity of your workout.
The longer and thicker the rope, the more force you'll need to use to make the waves. The slack allowed in the rope will also determine intensity. The closer you move to the anchor point, the more resistance you'll be creating.
Three popular ways to use the ropes follow,3 but don't stop at these. Part of the allure of battle ropes is that they allow you to move in many directions. The more movements you incorporate (such as side to side, up and down, or in circles), the more you'll work different muscles and increase your shoulder mobility and range of motion.
- Waves: An alternating pattern with the primary direction of force toward the anchor.
- Slam: An aggressive movement with the primary direction of force down toward the ground.
- Whip: A symmetrical pattern with the primary direction of force toward the anchor.
There are two handgrips you can choose when working with battle ropes, either overhand (handshake) or underhand (microphone). The specific exercise and results desired will dictate which is best.
Battle Ropes Can Be a Form of High-Intensity Interval Training
High-intensity interval training (HIIT) has been shown to be one of the best forms of exercise in terms of both effectiveness and efficiency. In fact, the evidence shows that by focusing on endurance-type exercises, such as jogging on a treadmill, you actually forgo many of the most profound benefits of exercise.
HIIT provides health benefits you simply cannot get from regular aerobics, such as a tremendous boost in human growth hormone (HGH), aka the "fitness hormone." Perhaps best of all, HIIT requires only minutes, compared to hours, each week.
An HIIT workout using battle ropes might involve 30 seconds of the "double-whip" and "alternating whip" movements performed as intensely as you can followed by 60 seconds of recovery. The set would be repeated eight to 10 times and done two or three times a week.
When men and women engaged in this HIIT program for four weeks, they increased their VO2 max, which is the maximum amount of oxygen you can take in while exercising and is used as a measure of cardiovascular health. It was noted that battle ropes HIIT shows potential to improve both aerobic and anaerobic parameters in just four weeks time.4
Both the double wave and the alternating wave are beginner movements, so this is a simple and effective HIIT workout to start with if you're new to battle ropes. Greatist posted two clear descriptions of how to perform each:5
- Double Wave: "To start, stand facing the anchor with feet shoulder-width apart. Grasp one end of the rope in each hand so that your palms face each other. Bend knees slightly, brace your core, and move both arms up and down rapidly, creating waves in the rope."
- Alternating Wave: "Stand facing the anchor point with feet shoulder-width apart and knees slightly bent. Grab one end of the rope in each hand so that your palms face in. Raise one arm to shoulder level and then quickly lower back to start, raising the other arm to shoulder level as you do so. Continue alternating as rapidly as possible without losing form."
Total-Body Battle Ropes Workout With 9 Exercises
Fitness expert Jonathan Ross put together this full-body workout using battle ropes. It begins with a warm-up of stationary side lunges with alternative waves and rotating lunges with overhead rope arcs.6 The video above shows a demonstration. Once you're warmed up, the workout involves nine different exercises. You can watch them above as well as read them in the chart below, which was posted by ACE.7
If You Like Battle Ropes, You Might Want to Try Kettlebells…
If you enjoy simple workout tools that can be used in countless different ways like battle ropes, you'll probably enjoy using kettlebells. A kettlebell consist of a cast-iron ball and handle, and kettlebell exercises involve movements that throw off your center of gravity, forcing you to use multiple muscle groups, including your core, to maintain your balance.
Kettlebell workouts not only help improve your aerobic capacity, it's also an anaerobic workout, which is important for your cardiovascular system as well as for building strength, speed, and muscle mass. Like battle ropes, kettlebell exercises are dynamic, whole-body exercises that incorporate cardiovascular, resistance, and range-of-motion training into one workout. Using both in your regular routine will help you target different muscle groups while keeping your workouts interesting.
How to Round Out Your Fitness Program
For optimal health and fitness, I recommend incorporating a variety of exercises, paying careful attention to daily non-exercise movement along with exercise. Ideally, you want to stay active and on your feet for the majority of the day, with sitting interrupting your activity rather than the other way around. A well-rounded fitness program will typically involve a little bit of all of the following on a regular basis:
- Sit Down as Little as Possible. The research is quite clear on this point: the more you sit, the greater the risks to your health will be. And this applies even if you exercise regularly and are very fit! The key is to keep moving all day long. For ideas on how to incorporate more movement into your day, please see my interview with Dr. James Levine, author of the book Get Up!: Why Your Chair Is Killing You and What You Can Do About It.
In addition to limiting your sitting as much as you possibly can, I also recommend challenging yourself to walk 7,000-10,000 steps per day. This is over and above your regular fitness program and standing up during work. Consider one of the new fitness trackers that can monitor your steps and your sleep to help you keep track of your daily movement.
- High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT): As mentioned, this is when you alternate short bursts of high-intensity exercise with gentle recovery periods.
- Core Exercises: Your body has 29 core muscles located mostly in your back, abdomen, and pelvis. This group of muscles provides the foundation for movement throughout your entire body, and strengthening them can help protect and support your back, make your spine and body less prone to injury and help you gain greater balance and stability.
- Stretching: My favorite type of stretching is active isolated stretches developed by Aaron Mattes. With Active Isolated Stretching, you hold each stretch for only two seconds, which works with your body's natural physiological makeup to improve circulation and increase the elasticity of muscle joints. This technique also allows your body to repair itself and prepare for daily activity. You can also use devices like the Power Plate to help you stretch.
- Strength Training: Rounding out your exercise program with a one-set strength training routine will ensure that you're really optimizing the possible health benefits of a regular exercise program. You can also turn it into a high-intensity exercise by slowing it down. For more information about using super slow weight training as a form of high intensity interval exercise, please see my interview with Dr. Doug McGuff.