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Oct. 15 2010 12:00 AM

The battling ropes are a tool once used only for training MMA fighters and hard-core athletes. I went back and forth about whether I wanted to invest in one for my clients and for my own use, and I finally purchased one online. It was one of the single best investments I have made in terms of equipment. I also rent space at an MMA gym, and the guys go crazy for it.

Battling ropes were founded and developed by John Brookfield, but now you can find them for sale on sites such as Perform Better and EliteFTS. It can be tricky at first to decide which type of rope to buy, so here are the basics to get you started:

Manila Rope- This rope is typically for outdoor use only because it can shred a bit and leave a mess.

Polyester Rope- This is your best bet for indoor gym or studio training.
You can use this outdoors as well but it can get pretty beat up and dirty. There are two common lengths for the battling ropes, 50 and 100 feet. I recommend a 50-foot rope for most spaces; 100 is huge, but if you have the space, it makes the exercise that much harder.
Then, you have two different widths for the rope. There are the 1.5" and the 2" diameter rope. The 2" rope will provide a more difficult grip workout and may be a good option for athletes. Either will do the trick, though. A 50-foot long, 1.5" rope weighs 23 pounds and the 2" rope weighs 40 pounds.

You can wrap or anchor your rope around any solid object; I recommend a squat rack or the side of a boxing ring like we use. This will cut the rope in half because each side will be lying next to the other. This allows you to use half of the rope for beginner clients or have two people working at once. We generally have people use half of the rope on their first day or two, and then everyone graduates to working two-handed.
There are various ways to use the ropes, but we keep it pretty general so that clients can progress, have fun and learn the movements with correct form. We will either perform one movement for the set time, or clients will switch between two or three movements during each set.

The rope needs to ripple hard and fast down the line, rarely coming above shoulder height. The work is done through the core and legs, but more advanced clients can eliminate the leg drive and focus solely on the upper body. Many people ask why this is different than using staple implements such as dumbbells, barbells or medicine balls.

The battling ropes involve intense interval training that recruits the entire body. In order to be successful with the movement, velocity must be used and maintained. This is unlike many exercises where you can reload and generate power, or even continue with momentum. The ropes can be described as similar to kettlebell training where you are continuing a specific movement for a set of reps or time. The ropes also provide a bit of "unstable" training (although I hate that term); you are essentially working with a live object, and, unlike the dumbbells, you must work much harder to control the trajectory. The rope workout involves a full body movement that taxes the muscular system as well as the cardiovascular system in a very intense fashion, thus improving conditioning much more quickly and burning more calories.

Clients often have a "love/hate" relationship with the battling ropes. When they first get on the ropes, they feel that it’s kind of fun and they can take out some aggressions, but as they hit about 15 seconds on the set, they are completely gassed. We work in sets of 25-50 generally, depending on the client’s fitness level. Clients see marked improvement in overall conditioning, and with this metabolic, dynamic and high intensity movement they are burning a larger amount of calories, creating a serious "afterburn," the excess post-exercise consumption (EPOC). My clients generally lose anywhere from two to four percent body fat after their first five weeks, and then continue to see results, because we combine movements like the rope with kettlebells, dumbbells, slide board, boxing, sleds and a healthy nutrition plan. The ropes are an incredible tool that can spice up any workout or training program.

I see a clientele of generally women, ages 25-45, and they love these ropes. They love to get on there and take out any aggression from the day, they love the way it makes them feel when they finish, and it’s such a different kind of movement that they really benefit by taxing their entire body. A few tips that I like to use when coaching the rope: I always show the movement first because it’s very difficult for the client to visualize it. Then, I take them through each step after I show the movement.

I use several short cues while they are performing the set. The most effective ones are: tighten the core, snap the rope hard, stand up fast, use the legs and make the rope ripple.

I recommend using timed sets, that way clients can switch from a movement every 10 or 20 seconds. Also, they don’t have to focus on counting repetitions, which is more useful if you are working with a big group. As with every exercise and workout, we make it fun and I tell my clients to focus on their form but just beat the heck out of the rope at the same time.
Overall, I have found the ropes to be an amazing tool for fat loss and conditioning for my personal training clients. They love the movement and have fun while burning a ton of calories and boosting their metabolism.

Callie Durbrow, CSCS*D is a fitness professional, personal trainer and owner of Durbrow Performance Training in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Callie runs athletic-inspired training programs for busy women ages 25-45 who want to lose fat, boost energy levels and get toned and athletic. For more information visit her online at