Harder Than It Looks
"I got this bro". These are typically the last words before a rope climbing newbie jumps up onto the rope, flails around with his feet for a bit and then drops to the ground with an equal mix of confusion, fear and shame. This is where a man (or woman!) learns a simple truth - there are no bro reps in rope climbing. You can either safely get yourself up and down the rope or you can't. The good news? This is one of those skills that can seem next to impossible one day and really freaking simple the next. "But Coach DBJ, how can that be?" you ask. Simple.
It's All In Your Feet
You've probably heard coaches or friends tell you some derivation of this, but I can't stress it enough. The key to getting your first rope climb and then being able to get up and down the rope safely in a metcon or Spartan Race is having a good strong base with your feet. If you're trying to climb a rope using mostly your arms to pull instead of your legs to push, it's going to be a long day. Actually it will be a short day because you won't be climbing the rope that much.
Lots of people try the whole "foot lock" thing a few times, get frustrated and then are conveniently "busy" every time rope climbs appear in a WOD. That's a shame - luckily LR put together a little photo montage of how to start off on a box, lock your feet onto the rope and then dead hang. Here's the fun part - if you can get to the point where you can comfortably hang from the rope like LR is doing in the last slide, you're 80% of the way towards your first rope climb.
"Oh Hey Guys, Click The Arrow To Cycle Through The Pictures!"
Foot Lock Fever
The key thing to watch in the sequence above is the placement of LR's feet. She loops the rope underneath her dominant foot and above the non dominant one. By applying pressure with her top foot, LR is able to trap the rope between her top and bottom feet creating a secure connection to the rope. As you get more comfortable with this, your feet will be less on top of each other and more side by side like in the demonstration. In the demo LR has basically created a hammock for her right foot to rest in. Just a note - LR is demonstrating a common rope placement, but there are other ways of doing it (I loop the rope around my heel for instance). You'll know that you've established a solid connection when you can hang comfortably with one hand off the rope.
No Boxes While Climbing
What LR is doing in the pictures above is mostly skill work. This should be done in open gym or if the coaches give you time to work on your rope climbs before a metcon. Having a box around the rope area during a metcon or while actually climbing the rope is a big no no. I imagine that falling fifteen feet onto a wooden box isn't a pleasant experience and I'm sure your friends wouldn't be happy if you helped them confirm that.
Time To Make Some Progress
In the video below, LR demonstrates three rope climb progressions that you can use during a metcon or if you're doing some extra work in open gym.
First Progression: Start yourself lying down on the ground with the rope between your legs. Keeping your legs as straight as possible, pull yourself hand over hand up the rope until you are standing. Reverse the process until you are lying flat on the ground again.
This is how most beginners scale rope climbs until they feel confident in their foot lock and can get themselves at least halfway up the rope. Typically the rule is that you do three of these for every rope climb in the WOD.
Second Progression: This is it! In this progression you actually climb the rope, but you only go halfway. You should only progress to this step once you feel confident in your foot lock and dead hang from open gym. The movement is pretty simple - pull your knees up to your chest, re-establish a firm grip on the rope with your feet and push up with your legs and you pull yourself hand over hand up the rope.
It will probably take a few sessions of working on your foot grip and progression 1 before you feel comfortable even going one or two pulls up the rope. Don't rush this - make sure you feel confident before you move forward.
Third Progression: Little Mikey is all growed up! This is the final progression in leg assisted rope climbs. It is performed exactly the same as the second progression, except in this one you go all the way to the top.
One key performance point for the third progression - make sure you are comfortable coming down before you go up too high. I ripped a huge chunk of my hand off during one of my first successful rope climbs because I tried to treat it like the fire pole in ghostbusters on the way down. Not fun. When it's time to come down loosen your grip on the rope with your feet and lower yourself HAND OVER HAND. Make sure your descent is perfect in the second progression before you move on to the third progression.
Look Mom, No Legs!
I'm sure there are a few of you who have been reading this post and are like "dude, seriously? I've been able to climb a rope for years. What should I be doing now?" All right tough guy (girl?), have you ever tried a legless rope climb? Sadly there is no real trick to the legless rope climb other than bicycling your legs a bit on the way up to generate some momentum. For the most part you'll just have build up your upper body strength until you're strong enough to do it. Here is a video of me doing a legless rope climb for your viewing pleasure. Yes, we've used this footage in a bunch of other posts before, but only because it's kind of awesome. Special Bonus - we'll send a free Fitness Cult Chronicles t-shirt to the first person who correctly identifies all the other posts that we've used this video. Post your answers to the comments section.
More American Ninja Warrior Rope Tricks From Timi
Some of you are probably in awe of my legless rope climbs and some of you still think this post is just for beginners. For those of you reading this who are super advanced, we have another awesome example of rope skill from Timi. We filmed him doing his best Tarzan impression across all the ropes in our gym. He's no Kacy Catanzaro but this is still pretty cool. Much like Timi's King Kong impersonation in our American Ninja Warrior post, this is a terrible idea that we don't recommend anyone trying. We just can't talk any sense into this Timi character though...
This might be stating the obvious, but rope climbing can be dangerous. When you fail a clean & jerk, a bunch of weights come crashing to the ground. When you fail a rope climb, you come crashing to the ground. Only move yourself through the above progressions when you feel comfortable doing so. Also, once you can get rope climbs watch out for fatigue during metcons. I never start up the rope until I'm positive that I can get all the way up and down.
Learning to rope climb correctly takes time, persistence and patience just like any other skill. Tell us where you are in your rope climb journey. Are you still working on ringing that bell at the top for the first time or are you the next coming of Spiderman? Let us know in the comments!
Extra: Still struggling with double unders? Check out our skill progression post here.