Conditioning Ropes (also known as battle ropes) have emerged on the training scene over the past ten years in large part thanks to the pioneering programming work of John Brookfield with Ingrid Marcum. While conditioning ropes still remain on the fringe of the mainstream, this style of training continues to gather momentum and popularity.
There are a number of different ways to utilize Conditioning Ropes (generally a rope that is 1.5” in diameter and 40’ to 50’ long) but for the purpose of this article we will be looking at the most common use for them dubbed the velocity / wave principle by Brookfield and Marcum. This involves using an upper body movement to send a wave or series of waves down the length of the rope toward it’s anchor point.
I began integrating the modality into my own training about 8 years ago and like many, I utilized them primarily for short duration, high intensity interval bouts, experiencing good success and activating a type of training that previously had not been possible.
This was until I had the opportunity to talk with my friend, the aforementioned Ingrid Marcum about how much fun I was having involving conditioning ropes in my workouts and she offered the following input.
The conversation went a little like this…
Ingrid: “… Well if you’re using them at all you really should be able to do them for 20 minutes.”
Me: (incredulously) “IN A ROW?!”
Ingrid: (casually) “Yup”
Me: (in disbelief) “Surely you’re using different arm patterns and stances?!”
Ingrid: (still casually) “No… alternating waves, hip to shoulder amplitude, about 120 waves per minute and each wave has to hit the anchor point”
Me: “Oh…” (read - “You must be out of your DAMN MIND!!”)
Ingrid: “If you can do it continuously for 4 min you can do it for 20”
Ingrid: “Seriously… you should try it! It’s a fun challenge!”…
At that point I excused myself from the conversation and essentially ran away. I honestly thought that she was properly pulling my leg but still… What if?…
Two weeks later toward the end of March, there I was - out in the melting snow on a field near my home in the Canadian Rockies with the intent on giving it a try.
So while I was dumb enough to try it, I was smart enough to set my timer to a series of 20 intervals consisting of 40 sec work with 20 seconds rest. My plan was to go for as long as I could continuously and then fall back to the :40 on / :20 off intervals when the wheels inevitably fell off the wagon so that I could finish out the 20 min.
So how did it go?…
Let’s say it wasn’t long before I retreated to the intervals and it didn’t get much better from there. While I was able to make the 20 minutes using the intervals, to call it “U-G-L-Y” would have been kind.
In retrospect while I had been near haughty about my “retreat to the timer” strategy I was too obtuse to realize that using a battle rope on a field of melting snow would result in the rope getting wet… which, as it turns out, means HEAVY. Oh yes… and grass is a high friction surface!
It would be weeks before this realization would come to me, as at the time I was directing all blame squarely toward Ingrid and her “stupid challenge.”
Fast forward about 6 weeks, on May 11th (my birthday) I received the following public Facebook message from Ingrid…
“Happy Birthday!…Finished that challenge yet? ;-)” Nice. Calling me out on my birthday… some friend she is!
OK - so it worked. And not only did her motivational strategy work, in that I re-engaged with the challenge, but I also had some amazing learnings:
1) 20 minutes of continuous battle rope is not only possible, but actually reasonable.
2) If you can do 4 minutes consecutively you actually CAN do 20 minutes.
3) It is a tremendously effective cardiovascular and muscular endurance based functional and athletic workout, with added benefits of core strength and mental tenacity.
4) You cannot understand the nuances and movement efficiencies of this type of training without marching through the hard miles of continuous work.
This last point is an incredibly important one! I found that after completing the challenge of sustained battling rope work, my ability to perform high intensity rope based intervals was significantly elevated due to all of the movement efficiencies that I had learned during my continuous efforts. I was more efficient in my moment and therefore more effective when it came time for high output efforts.
Now having completed the challenge I often perform the 20 minutes as a component of my regular workouts, modifying it at times to include alternate upper and lower body motor patterns to create the waves or layer intense intervals within the continuous work.
I also often use shorter sustained efforts of 5 to 10 minutes as a method for movement prep and maintain that it is one of the best modalities to improve shoulder and rotator cuff health.
I firmly believe that it is some of the best athletic and coordinative training available that has exceptional carry over to many common activities. The benefits of this training style truly go on and on!
So how does one bite off such an initially daunting challenge?
Step 1: Make a kick ass playlist to keep you motivated and help you mark the time.
Note: If you select music that adheres to about a 120 bpm count you will be able to utilize it as an intensity meter as well
Step 2: Use one of the many timer apps (I use “Seconds Pro”) to help you progress to the full continuous 20 minutes
Step 3: Follow the following training progression where you successfully complete each stage with high movement quality before leveling up to the next.
Perform these workouts ideally twice per week and not more than 3 times and you will be amazed how quickly your abilities improve and you achieve the challenge.
This internationally renowned expert is a founding member of the revolutionary training company TRX® and an award winning presenter who’s been featured at conferences and events all over the world including an appearance on the TEDx stage. Fraser combines an animated, entertaining style with his knowledge and gift to motivate and inspire. His provocative writing and presentations have been known to stretch the minds of his audiences and provide relevant and effective training solutions in a practical setting.