Notes On Rope Climbing

When was the last time you climbed a rope?  I’m guessing that it happens very rarely, if ever at all.  For most, you’ll have memories of climbing the rope during elementary school physical education, either of the glory of reaching the top and touching the ceiling, or the uncomfortable heat of rope burn as you struggled to climb the rope.

Rope climbing isn’t very popular, but I think it’s a great exercise.  It requires both strength and skill; while you need enough relative strength to repetitively pull your body upwards, you also need to develop a strategy and technique to climb the ropes.  I’ve been teaching rope climbing as a segment of a gymnastics/movement skills unit at my student teaching placement, and encourage the students to use a leg wrap, with the rope passing inside the thigh, around the calve, and over the foot.  This allows them to use their feet for support, reducing some of the strength requirements of the upper body.  You can see that technique in this video:

Those two leg wrap techniques offer smoother rope climbing, and probably the easiest technique.  I’ve noticed that many of my ‘natural’ climbers who can just grab the rope and go use a leg pinch technique, similar to the one that you’ll see in Joe DeFranco’s video below:

As an elementary school student, I wasn’t a very good rope climber.  I was better at it when I was in 1st-3rd grade, and sucked after that.  My body weight increased, but my relative strength didn’t, so I was unable to climb.  In the past week, I’ve done more climbing than ever before, both to practice my climbing technique as well as to have a little fun.  It’s a lot easier to climb a rope and then talk to your students for a minute after you’ve climbed a few times.  My obsession with chin-ups has certainly come in handy, and I find the rope climbing to both relatively easy and insanely fun.  Perhaps my students don’t go to the Bronx Zoo as much as I did as a child, but I’m surprised that none of them have made this connection:

Get it? That’s a Gibbon ape.  My last name is Gibbons… Come on!!  Anyway, I’ve enjoyed some success with my rope climbing, but I’ll admit that I’ve also enjoyed experienced some awful elbow pain.  What the hell is that?!  If I estimate at least one climbing demonstration per period, one ‘race’ against students per period, and 5 or 6 climbs during prep periods to practice, that’s probably around 15 climbs per day for the past week.  I’ve been doing a ton of spotting on the ropes, essentially curling & pressing students ranging from 40lbs to 100lbs.  Oh, and I have to worry about all of those pesky pull-ups in the morning thanks to PLP-60.  Wonderful.

Despite that massive increase in volume that my elbows dealt with this week, I realized that I shouldn’t have elbow pain just from the rope climbing; I must be doing something wrong.  After doing some research (aka Googling “Elbow pain from rope climbing“)it seemed that most people experienced pain after the lowering portion of the exercise, and not from the climb itself.  It clicked in my head, because I had been coming down pretty damn quickly.  Quickly, as in I melted some of the instep of my Nike Free’s.  Whoops.

After taking a foam ball to my triceps and elbows for some massage, I practiced some more rope climbing on Friday which involved an all-arms climb going up, then wrapping the leg and coming down slowly.  That felt much better, and I’d definitely recommend using your legs to lower yourself if you’re ever playing around with rope climbs.  I took this video earlier in the week, and you can see where the lowering portion might beat up your elbows:


I’ll follow that with several other videos of people climbing ropes which I think are super cool:


Revolutionary Fitness client Eric Benedick climbing the 20 foot rope with a 40lb weight vest.


Bradford Cooke does an arms only rope climb and finished with pull ups off the rafters, at a bodyweight of 225lbs.



I like this video because it reminds me of the students I’ve been teaching to climb.  It’s a pretty natural movement, and I doubt these two were thinking of anything other than having some fun with their family.  You can bet I’ll have some monkey bars and ropes in my backyard in the future so that I can play my kids can play.

Finally, here’s the first WOD from the 2011 CrossFit games, which consisted of rope climbs and a clean and jerk.  Regardless of how you feel about CrossFit, this is an impressive display of strength and endurance.

  • 5x 15ft rope climb ascents (“RC”), 5x 145lb clean and jerk (“C&J”),
  • 4x RC, 4x 165lb C&J,
  • 3x RC, 3x 185lb C&J,
  • 2x RC, 2x 205lb C&J,
  • 1x RC, 1x 225lb C&J.

3 Replies to “Notes On Rope Climbing”

  1. Great topic! Thanks for adding the videos and excellent advice about the descent.

    And teaching a Gymnastics/Movement Skills class sounds like fun – especially when rope climbing is involved. I hope the students are having as much fun with it as you are. Sorry to hear about your Nike Frees, though! – Geoff

    1. Thank you, Geoff! The students are loving it, and I’m a little sad this is my last week with them. I was inspired by the MoveNat system from Erwin Le Corre, and I fully plan on implementing more movement skills in my own classes in the future. Ultimately, movement competency should begin as soon as possible; the little Gibbons, whenever I have them, will most definitely be in gymnastics and dance classes!

      As for the shoes, they’re not all that bad, but it’s a great reason to search for a new pair!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: