Ever walked into a gym and seen a massive rope coiled up in the corner? Maybe you’ve kept a subtle eye on it until some burly human unravels it and starts slamming it around. Figuring out how to actually integrate battle rope exercises into your own routine might feel intimidating, to say the least. But they’ve been around the gym for nearly a couple decades now, and it might be time to figure out how to use them.
Around 2006, strongman John Brookfield — an acclaimed fitness inventor and record-holder in wild fitness feats like nail bending and semi-truck pulling for distance — saw the potential of heavy long ropes as more than just a tool for hauling things around. He turned them into what he called battle ropes to improve lifters’ power and conditioning. He has since taught his battle rope system to athletes, professional sports teams, and fitness summits. If your gym has these snake-like training creatures, you’ve probably seen offshoots of that work.
Battle ropes provide a high-intensity, low-impact workout that will challenge your endurance, conditioning, and grip strength in a joint-friendly fashion. Here, we’ll go into the best battle rope exercises, the benefits of using battle ropes in your workouts, and programming suggestions to teach you the literal ropes.
Best Battle Rope Exercises
- Alternating Wave
- Bilateral Wave
- Power Slam
- Sled Pull
- Lateral Raise Slam
- Side-to-Side Slam
- Alternating Wave With Get-Up
- Russian Twist
- Wide Circle
- In and Out Wave
- Tall Kneeling Alternating Wave
The battle rope bilateral wave is a classic rope exercise — probably the one you’ve seen most often in your gym. This move forms the basis of a lot of other battle rope exercises, so you need to feel comfortable with this before moving on to other rope moves.
You’ll be forming waves by holding an end of the rope in each hand and alternating bringing your arms up and down. When one side of the rope hits the ground, you’ll be raising the other — and on and on. Usually done for time, you’ll be ramping up your heart rate and challenging your arm and grip strength.
Benefits of the Alternating Wave
- This move helps you get comfortable with the demanding nature of battle rope exercises.
- You’ll challenge yourself to maintain a strong grip on the ropes for prolonged periods of time.
- Alternating waves give you an excellent low-impact cardio workout.
How to Do the Alternating Wave
Stand in an athletic stance with your knees slightly bent and your core braced. Keep your shoulders back and down. Hold one end of the rope in each hand. With softly bent elbows, move your arms rapidly up and down one after the other. Create waves with the rope. Make sure the movement is primarily coming from your shoulders. Repeat smooth waves for the prescribed amount of time.
With bilateral waves, you’ll essentially perform the same movement as with alternating waves. But this time, you’ll be moving both hands and arms in tandem instead of one at a time.
Perform multiple sets for time as a finisher after lifting weights. You’ll skyrocket your heart rate and conditioning goals.
Benefits of the Bilateral Wave
- Bilateral waves improve your conditioning and grip strength at the same time.
- This battle rope variation can be relatively easy to learn.
- Bilateral waves make for excellent workout finishers.
How to Do the Bilateral Wave
With the rope at your feet, bend down and pick it up with a neutral grip. Hold one end in each hang at arm’s length. Hinge back with your chest up and shoulders down and back. Bring your arms to shoulder height and down again, creating simultaneous waves with the rope. Perform quickly for time or reps.
The battle rope power slam is similar to the medicine ball slam. It’s all about the power. Because you’re looking to produce as much force as possible, you’ll use shorter sets here.
You’re looking to build explosive power rather than muscular endurance. Every muscle from head to toe is working here to slam the ropes to the ground.
Benefits of the Power Slam
- The power slam is a full-body exercise that trains your upper and lower body in a coordinated fashion.
- It improves total body power and helps to improve your conditioning.
- This is a joint-friendly power exercise that lets you train for explosivity without slamming your joints around.
How to Do the Power Slam
You can hold the rope two ways — either with a hammer grip or a neutral grip. Hinge back at your hips with your chest up and shoulders back and down. Bring your arms up to around head level. Slam the rope down as hard as you can. Repeat continuously for reps.
Combining battle ropes with a sled is a match made in exercise heaven. The thickness of the rope strengthens your grip while pulling a heavy sled hand-over-hand will improve your anaerobic and aerobic conditioning.
You’ll also add muscle and strength to your upper back, forearms, and biceps. Due to the concentric nature of this exercise, you’ll be able to perform more reps with less soreness. That’s a win-win for your gains.
Benefits of the Sled Pull
- This move adds size and strength to your upper back, biceps, and forearms.
- Pulling hand-over-hand improves your conditioning and grip strength.
- The concentric nature of the sled pull allows you to do more reps to improve your muscle-building potential.
How to Do the Sled Pull
Load the sled with the appropriate weight and properly secure a battle rope to the sled. Grip the opposite end of the battle rope with a hand-over-hand grip. Face the sled and grip tightly with your knees bent slightly. Pull the sled toward you with a hand-over-hand action at speed, until you’re out of rope. Reset and repeat.
With the lateral raise slam, you’ll be working your lateral deltoids while training lateral power. Training power from all angles is beneficial because your body moves in three dimensions — it stands to reason that you should train like it.
Benefits of the Lateral Raise Slam
- This battle rope variation trains your lateral deltoids.
- The lateral raise slam trains power in the frontal (side-to-side) plan, which is often neglected.
- You’ll work to even out strength imbalances and train anti-rotational core strength.
How to Do the Lateral Raise Slam
Stand to the side of the rope. Hold the rope in one hand at arm’s length. Bring your hand up to shoulder level. Slam the rope down powerfully to the ground. Repeat continually for reps or time.
The battle rope side-to-side slam is a great variation to train power in the transverse plane. Like the frontal plane, this across-the-body type of movement often doesn’t get its fair shake in training programs.
This move is a step up from the power slams — which are more straightforward to perform — so make sure you feel comfortable with them before moving to this one.
Benefits of the Side-to-Side Slam
- This move is a full-body exercise that trains power in the transverse plane.
- You’ll raise your heart rate in a joint-friendly way.
- The side-to-side motion helps to improve lateral core strength.
How to Do the Side-to-Side Slam
Grab the battle rope with your preferred grip. Position yourself so there is little slack in the rope. Get into an athletic stance with your feet hip-width apart and in a quarter squat position. With your arms extended, slam the ropes to your right side. Then, forcefully slam the ropes to your left side. Repeat back and forth for reps.
Here, you’ll be doing half-kneeling get-ups (alternating sides) as you do the alternating waves. This will drive your heart rate up while improving your ability to get up and down from the ground.
Benefits of the Alternating Wave With Get-Up
- This exercise improves your hip mobility and core stability because you’re in the half and tall kneeling position.
- You’ll work on your ability to do two things at once, helping to improve your coordination.
- If you struggle with regular Turkish get-ups, this can be a fun, challenging confidence-booster.
How to Do the Alternating Wave With Get-Up
Grab the rope in both hands. Get into a tall-kneeling position with your knees directly under your hips. Start doing the alternating waves. Go from a tall-kneeling position to a half-kneeling position. Stand up while still performing waves. Reverse into a half-kneeling, back to tall-kneeling. Repeat on the other side. Alternate sides for even reps.
The battle rope Russian twist takes this classic core exercise to a new level. The shifting center of gravity combined with the undulating rope as you go from side-to-side will challenge you.
Benefits of the Russian Twist
- This exercise strengthens your obliques and lower back.
- You’ll boost your core stability with this rotational move.
- Because of the shifting center of gravity, this variation improves your balance.
How to Do the Russian Twist
Sit upright with your knees slightly bent and your heels to the ground. Grip the rope with a hammer grip. Bring your hands close together. Lean your upper body back slightly. Engage your core as you lift both ropes up and over your legs to the other side. Repeat to the other opposite. Alternate sides for even reps
Once you’ve mastered your basic slams and waves, you can move onto even more exciting moves — like the wide circle.
Benefits of the Wide Circle
- This move strengthens your shoulder’s stabilizer muscles for better shoulder stability.
- You’ll train all three deltoid muscles at once.
- Wide circles will help strengthen and stabilize your shoulders across a wide range of motion.
How to Do the Wide Circle
Grip the battle ropes with a neutral grip. Position yourself so there is some slack in the rope. Get into an athletic stance with your arms slightly out in front of you and your hands close together. Perform an inward circle motion. Bring your arms out wide in a counterclockwise motion. Continue this motion for a set number of reps or time.
If you always wanted to lasso a horse friend, this one’s for you. The in-and-out wave is unlike the slam, circle, or slam in that it has a propeller motion.
Benefits of the In-and-Out Wave
- You’ll train your shoulders, chest, and upper back muscles in a unique way.
- This move improves your cardiovascular conditioning in a joint-friendly fashion.
- By moving in a pattern that’s unusual for the gym, you’ll be training newer ranges of motion and movement patterns.
How to Do the In-and-Out Wave
Grip the battle rope with a neutral grip. Create a little slack in the rope. Get into an athletic stance. Whip the ropes away from each other and then towards each other while keeping your elbows fixed. Repeat for reps or time.
The tall-kneeling alternating wave lowers your center of gravity and takes your legs out of the equation as to focus on your arms more.
Benefits of the Tall-Kneeling Alternating Wave
- The tall-kneeling position acts as a form check because any unnecessary movement will result in a loss of balance.
- You’ll train hip mobility and core stability at the same time.
- This move improves the focus on the upper body muscles of your chest, shoulders, and upper back.
How to Do the Tall-Kneeling Alternating Wave
Get into a tall-kneeling position with your knees underneath your hips. Keep your upper body upright. Grip the rope in a neutral grip. Perform alternating waves by flicking your left and right wrist up and down while keeping your upper body still. Repeat for reps or time.
Benefits of Battle Ropes
Battle ropes offer a wide variety of benefits for lifters of all fitness levels. They are easy to set up, require minimal instruction, and will raise your heart rate in a hurry. Here are other important benefits of incorporating battle ropes into your workouts.
Improved Grip Strength
Like adding fat grips to barbell and dumbbell exercises, gripping the thick battle rope for time will improve your grip strength and endurance. There are smaller ropes out there, but even the littler versions are still relatively thick.
The width of the grip forces your forearms and hands to work harder to hold onto the rope. Especially when you’re performing your exercises for time, the endurance and grip strength factor will really come into play.
Low Impact, High Intensity
Battle ropes are a different cardiovascular tool than the treadmill because your feet will be in the same place the entire time for the overwhelming majority of these moves. The rhythmic nature of these battle rope exercises will raise your heart rate without the constant pounding that comes with running and other cardiovascular activities.
Battle ropes are a great mix of cardio and resistance training. Performing heavy rope exercises for time with appropriate rest between sets will keep your heart rate elevated for the length of your workout.
This is great in-season training for athletes because the intensity is high and the impact on the joints is low, saving you for game day.
Although battle rope exercises are mainly focused on the upper body, they train your entire body powerfully and explosively. Your upper and lower body work in a coordinated fashion to improve your endurance, power, and cardiovascular fitness.
Improved Balance and Stability
As your arms are working unilaterally, your core, glutes, legs, and upper and lower back are working overtime to stabilize you to keep both your feet on the ground. If you don’t stabilize and keep a firm stance, the ropes will control you instead of the other way around.
Programming Battle Ropes
Battle ropes are perfect for workout finishers to improve your conditioning after lifting weights, incorporating into a high-intensity interval training circuit, or a quick stand-alone workout when you’re short on time. The lower impact and the concentric nature of the battle ropes helps keep muscle soreness to a minimum, making them a great tool to improve conditioning without cutting into your recovery.
Which battle ropes exercises you choose depends on your goals. When you want to improve your power, using exercises like power slams, side-to-side slams, or lateral raise slams work best. If you’re looking to boost your conditioning, opt for exercises like a bilateral wave, alternating waves with get-up, or in-and-out waves.
Sets and Reps
Due to the quick and rhythmic nature of many battle rope exercises, performing them for time often works best. It’s hard to count reps when you’re pumping so hard. But it’s a matter of personal choice.
- For Muscle Growth: Do two to three sets of 15 to 30 second rounds using heavy battle ropes.
- For Endurance/Conditioning: Using a lighter battle rope, do four to six sets of between 15 to 30 seconds using a 1:1 or 1:2 work-to-rest ratio.
If you need complete rest between sets, let go of the rope and rest as needed. If you want to give your grip strength a torturous challenge, hang on for dear life while completing two or more sets.
Battle Rope Training Tips
There are two main movements with battle ropes — the slam and the wave. Make sure you have these basic moves down before progressing to more difficult variations. Here are some other tips to get the most out of your battle rope training.
- Overhand Grip: Palms facing the ground.
- Neutral Grip: Palms facing each other, thumbs pointing forward.
- Hammer Grip: Palms facing each other, thumbs pointing up.
- Underhand Grip: Palms facing up.
The grip you use is a matter of comfort and personal preference.
Battle ropes tend to pull you forward during movement. On the opposite end, you might overbalance and fall a bit back. To prevent tipping either way, make sure to keep a neutral spine. Keep your shoulders back and down. Sit back into your hips and engage your anterior core.
Before you unravel them and take them for a ride, make sure the rope is properly anchored around or through a secure anchor point. You don’t want the rope to get away from you.
Keep it Short and Sweet
Due to the high-intensity nature of battle ropes, it’s best to keep your workouts on the short side. Whether you’re using the ropes as a finisher or as part of a high-intensity interval circuit, five to 15 minutes will be all the intensity you need.
Battle it Out
Battle ropes are a unique tool to improve your grip strength, conditioning, and increase your power. The setup is simple and most moves require minimal instruction. This makes battle ropes a tool almost all gymgoers can use. These 11 moves will challenge your lungs and muscles at the same time. What are you waiting for? Get ready to battle.
Featured Image: Jacob Lund / Shutterstock