Rope climbing is a skill required by most branches of the armed services. In the UK's Royal Marines, recruits must be able to climb a 30-foot rope while carrying over 30-pounds of kit. This is not only a test of strength and fitness but a test of confidence and bravery. 30-feet can feel very high when you are hanging from exhausted arms and waiting for the training instructor to give the order to descend!
Rope climbing might seem a somewhat antiquated skill, but it’s one that could save your life. Helicopters sometimes cannot land and have to hover over their intended passengers. Climbing up into a helo could save your life.
Cliff assaults may also involve rope climbing. Trained mountain leaders usually scale the face and then hang ropes for other team members to climb. Rope climbing is also a great way to develop confidence for working at heights and will strengthen your entire body – from your arms to your legs and everything in between.
Improve your rope climbing with these practical tips.
Whether you are climbing a 10-foot rope on an assault course or a 30-foot rope into a hovering helicopter, the lighter you are, the easier it will be. It's bad enough that you may have to climb a rope carrying kit but if some of that baggage you are hauling is fat, you are just making things harder than they need to be.
“You don’t need to have single-digit body fat to climb a rope, but the leaner you are, the easier it will be.”
If your abs are a distant memory, or your six-pack more closely resembles a beer barrel, it’s time to start paying attention to your diet and dropping those unwanted pounds. Imagine how much easier rope climbing will be if you weigh ten, 15, or even 20 pounds less.
GET BETTER AT PULL-UPS
No exercise will increase your rope climbing ability like pull-ups. Pull-ups work most of the same muscles and also get you used to lifting your body weight with just your arms. You might not have access to ropes for climbing, but you should never be too far away from somewhere you can do pull-ups.
Grease the groove by doing lots of short-but-sharp sets of pull-ups throughout your day. See how many reps you can clock up per day. Consider doing rope pull-ups to make your workouts even more specific to rope climbing.
IMPROVE YOUR GRIP
It doesn't matter how strong your arms or back are, if your grip is weak, you won't be able to bring that strength to bear. If your hands slip and you descend instead of ascending the rope, you’ll soon run out of energy and you’ll probably burn your palms and fingers too. Rope burns are NASTY!
Ensure that your hands are as strong as possible by training your grip. Towel pull-ups are a good option, as are heavy dumbbell farmer’s walks and deadlift static holds. Alternatively, just hang from a pull-up bar for as long as you can. Strong hands are a must for successful rope climbing.
MASTER YOUR TECHNIQUE
Rope climbing is as much a skill as it is a test of strength and endurance. Proper technique will ensure that your efforts get you to where you want to be as efficiently as possible – the top of the rope.
The proper rope climbing technique involves a coordinated leg and arm action. Using your legs takes a lot of weight off your arms and hands. Needless to say, your leg muscles are much bigger and stronger than your arms so the more you can use your lower body the better.
It's beyond the scope of this article to describe how to climb a rope but, if you are otherwise fit and strong but still find rope climbing a struggle, your technique is probably the problem. Get some expert instructions and then practice diligently to master the technique. When done correctly, rope climbing, even while carrying kit, should be very smooth, natural, and even easy!