They’re called battling ropes, heavy ropes or rope undulation workouts. You create wavelike patterns with ropes of a diameter you can handle, either 1, 1 1/2 or 2 inches. Yes, you can anticipate your arms and especially your forearms feeling challenged by this all-hands-on-deck, sailor-type exercise, and perhaps popping a bit like Popeye’s. But the ropes work many other muscles as well.
Hands, Grip Strength and Forearms
One basic move, perhaps the one most commonly associated with heavy ropes, is the slam. This exercise improves your forearms, a muscle group with limited strength-training alternatives, as well as your grip strength. You need a heavy rope about 50 feet long and looped at its halfway point around a post or some kind of anchor. For this drill, you grasp the taped ends, one in each hand. Explosively drive the ropes up using your entire body and then slam the ropes onto the floor, repeating for 20 or 30 seconds as your fitness level permits.
Shoulders and Back
Rope pulls can help you work your back muscles and, as with the slam, your grip. You simply assume a quarter-squat stance and pull the rope around the anchor point toward you, hand over hand. Rope slams also work your arms, shoulders and back, as well as abs and legs. Or try jumping jacks with a rope end in each hand to work those shoulders. For a sailor-strength back workout, stand or sit on the floor and pull the rope vertically, hand over hand, over a horizontal, elevated bar.
You can work on your core, upper body and endurance with rope circles. Instead of slamming the ropes to the floor in waves, you swing your arms to create a circular motion with the ropes. Variations include performing circles with both hands; reversing the direction of the circles; and creating circles with one hand at a time. Or try situps with your back to the anchor point and one rope over each shoulder. Add shadow boxing at the top of each situp to “smoke your abs in about five minutes,” recommends Sam Coffman, who teaches outdoor fitness in San Antonio, Texas.
A single wrap of the rope around your lower leg can increase the challenge of knee lifts and similar exercises, Coffman notes. To hit legs, core and shoulders in one go, place the end of the rope on the floor and perform a plank above it. Pull the heavy rope toward you, reaching one hand at a time to pull the rope while the remaining hand supports your body weight as you maintain the plank. To develop your hamstrings, stick with the rope slams.
An award-winning writer and editor, Rogue Parrish has worked at the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun and at newspapers from England to Alaska. This world adventurer and travel book author, who graduates summa cum laude in journalism from the University of Maryland, specializes in travel and food -- as well as sports and fitness. She's also a property manager and writes on DIY projects.