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Movement Shapes pt. 16/Rope Climb FYI

The rope climb, like the burpee, can be served in three main ways: pulling strength, task-oriented and skill-transfer.

Pulling strength

The goal for this style of rope climb is to develop strength in pulling by increasing range of motion in the shoulder and wrist while taking away connection. We are used to gripping something with our wrists in a neutral position and hands either facing towards or away from us. With the rope, we change this angle. The wrists get bent sideways and palms end up facing each other. That, along with the instability of the flimsy rope, challenge our grip (and midline strength in pulling) in a way that few other things in the gym can. A strict rope climb accomplishes this the best.


The task-oriented version is simple: the goal is to get up the rope any way you can. This usually comes in the form of a "Junkin Jump" to get you halfway up and do some half-assed foot hold to assist you the rest of the way. An example can be seen here.

As usual, the problem I have with this version is it's a dead-end movement, meaning that it does not relate to anything other than climbing a 15-foot rope. This is where the next version comes into play.

Skill transfer

The base of the way we teach movement is called skill-transfer. This means that we don't do a movement for the sake of doing a movement, instead we do it to challenge and reinforce a general movement principle that will lend itself useful in a bunch of other things we do. The way we teach a rope climb started when Carl Paoli came to visit.

When done the right way, this technique for the rope climb is a near-exact replication of the movement pattern used to perform a muscle-up. This is the reasoning I used at first when explaining it to people. But lately, with the help of Hermione's Law, I've realized it helps with two of our most important movement principles: hips over shoulders and unweighting.

Any time we are dealing with a complex movement, the hips must move before the shoulders (more on this in a post coming soon). As Jackie Banet climbs up the rope, notice how her hips extend all the way and then, and only then, do her arms follow through (not pull)...

... which is eerily similar to how a clean is supposed to be done. Hips move first. Arms follow through.

So practicing a rope climb with the technique we teach (which comes from Hot Carl) helps your brain time the movement of your hips coming before anything with the arms. If you pull with your arms early on cleans or snatches, doing rope climbs will help with that only if you treat them that way.

Secondly, bodyweight perception/unweighting comes into play here. In the rope climb, our hands support a good amount of our bodyweight. We have two options: move our hands while they still hold our bodyweight (aka pull), or move them when they are weightless (unweighting). The second option is the point of emphasis, as it carries the most skill-transfer.

In the rope climb, we have to be aware of exactly when the bodyweight comes off our hands. This type of coordination can take some time to get used to, but developing it will translate into kipping pull-ups, cleans, snatches, and muscle-ups. Watch how long Elizabeth waits to release her hands. You can see by the 5th frame her hands begin to move (only after all of the weight is taken off - which can be also seen very well on Jackie's descent of the rope in the video above). *sidenote, when the hips start below the feet, there is not as much bodyweight resting on the place where the rope touhes your leg - meaning you don't get rope burn

The timing of this is perfect, and is the same timing needed in the clean, only done with the feet instead of the hands.

As with everything, the best technique for doing rope climbs depends on your purpose for doing them. Most of he time during a session, I just tell you one way to do it because I have decided what purpose it will serve. I could pause and explain this whole post to you in the middle of a workout, but I doubt that would go over so well. Best advice is roll with it and ask questions after the workout.

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Reader Comments (2)

I really enjoyed reading this post, and it does relate to a lot of things and I think the release of the hands definitely does help with practicing unweighting and focusing on the feet instead of the hands..

May 14, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJacqueline

hopefully everyone wears long pants tomorrow. It's gonna be a leg burner.

May 14, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJacob

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