Battle Ropes: MORE Than Just A Brutal Conditioning Tool
Most people and coaches think, “It is just a battle rope. All you do is use it for upper body cardio finishers. Alternating waves until you’re dead, and that is that!” While it is true that you can use it for upper body cardio finishers, there are so many other applications, it will make your head spin.
I remember only using it as an upper body cardio finisher when I first started using this incredibly versatile tool. I would do a few sets of alternating waves to help increase my aerobic capacity and lactic threshold, and then hang em’ up until next time.
But that was before I discovered the wave physics involved, almost mirrored the mechanical physics we all use and love with barbells, dumbbells, body weight, and kettlebell exercises. And next thing you know, I’ve dedicated my career to exploring the infinite possibilities and applications to training with battle ropes for power, strength, endurance and beyond.
But before we get started, there are certain misconceptions and mistakes that are often made in regards to training with battle ropes. By now, I’ve heard it all. Lets set the record straight with the 3 most common mistakes made with battle ropes, then blow your mind (along with your physical capacities) up with the top 30 variations.
The 3 Most Common Mistakes with Battle Ropes
Like ANY training tool, getting the most out of battle ropes is about pristine execution and mindful programming. But these 3 mistakes need to be addressed before you make them to set you up for some instant success with ropes.
We create too much tension between the mover and the anchor, eliminating the ability to produce increasing amounts of output and the ability to move through our full range of motion. Take a step or two towards the anchor, and free yourself to move (as well as add a bit more power output to your movements).
We are forced to grip too tight (because of the above mistake, or because we are so strong). Think about the ropes like your favorite hamster. Don’t kill the hamster, but don’t let the hamster escape.
We bend over like Instagram is going to automatically improve our likes and follows. Don’t go to the position of fear and death (bent-over and curled up). Establish a strong, tall, wide position of power, and feel your abs get just as much of a workout as your shoulders, arms, and grip.
If this is you. That’s okay. It was me too. Until I realized how much this hurt the performance of my body, and the ability of the ropes to evoke more power output and proper movement mechanics. You are now informed, and can begin a new life journey with the battle ropes.
Top 30 Battle Rope Exercises
Now that we’ve set a foundation of what NOT to do with battle ropes, lets get into what exercises to do to get started with this unconventional tool. Plus, how to execute every exercise to perfection with video tutorials and coaching notes. Lets go.
#1 Alternating Waves in Every Position But The One You See Everywhere
Just like there is more than one way to swing a kettlebell, there is more than one way to battle ropes. Take the alternating wave, a great exercise to work on contralateral (cross) patterning, a movement pattern we do in all forms of locomotion like walking, running, sprinting, crawling, swimming, etc. We can perform the alternating waves in new and engaging positions that can entertain, and work on specific kinetic chains. Grease the contralateral groove in a kneeling position, and engage more upper body musculature into the movement, or have your athlete shuffle laterally, to work on separating upper body from lower body, which is a crucial skill in most sports. Say it with me, “I am not a lemming. I will think about what my client needs, and give them a form of alternating waves, that fits their specific needs.”
#2 Vertical Waves
The vertical wave, just like all waves with the battle rope, are concentric only exercises. Concentric only exercise is great for in-season athletes, tapering as you get closer to a competition or event, and to help your beginners not get so sore… all while still helping them adapt with progressive overload. It isn’t every day that I can get increases in power output, without doing the damage that comes with eccentric work. This vertical wave can be produced from a powerful hip hinge, an explosive squatting-like movement, back and chest, or shoulders, biceps, triceps. And all of it is paying into improving vertical core integration and strengthening the core musculature.
#3 Lateral Waves
Lateral waves are my favorite exercise for working the sequencing and timing of throwing, punching, and kicking movements. Each of these movements starts with the ground-foot-ankle connection, and then uses sequenced rotation from the floor up through the hips, torso, and shoulder to create incredible amounts of power out the arm. Lateral waves can also build up strong lateral engagement through the feet, legs, and hips to generate strength in rotation through the core, shoulders, and arms. If you are looking for a way to level up power and strength in all three planes of motion, generate some powerful lateral waves.
#4 Outside Circles
Outside circles are the ANTI couch, car, computer, and cell phone. These detrimental C’s are plaguing our society today with kyphotic posture, upper-cross syndrome, and/or rounded shoulders. All of which hurt our ability to move, feel, and look our best. The outside circle will build strength, stability, and endurance in the shoulders, traps, interscapular muscles, and lats. Try to generate force throughout the entire circular movement for the entire work set.
#5 In-Out Waves
Eat your heart out pec deck flys, a new pec-smoker is in town. This movement done right, will smoke-check your chest faster than you can say “Country BBQ!” It also continues to engage and develop your vertical core strength, and shoulders. Watch that you don’t cross your hands, and think about engaging your core, pecs, and back, to keep your shoulders from too much fatigue.
#6 V-Wave Slams
V is for victory. When performing these waves you can choose to use your lower body more or your upper body more. I generally use the vertical waves to practice lower body hinging or squatting power output. The V-waves are perfect for developing massive upper back strength. Massive back strength helps me look good and feel good all summer long. But seriously, the front delt, trap, rhomboid, and teres combo is incredible for posture and size additions.
#7 A-Wave Slams
A-wave is the opposite of the V-wave, and it works the mid back much more than the upper back. I use the A-wave to improve lat and rear delt engagements. Another exercise to improve posture and back strength for improved movement, feel, and looks.
#8 Seated T-Waves
This is a very advanced shoulder and scapular movement to build indestructible shoulders. If you are ready to level up your scapular engagement and vertical core engagement, while systematically putting your shoulders on blast, T-waves are your move. This seated position forces the vertical core to engage far more than a standing position, and the scapular musculature most engage just as much in order for the shoulders to hold this extremely challenging position. I can’t think of a better exercise to create massive stability and strength for the shoulders, but it is definitely something you need to earn.
#9 Alternating Kneeling Arcs
This full body tri-planar movement is explosive and powerful… and it just looks really really cool for the mover and the spectator. I started doing this movement as a way for MMA fighters to build incredible power output for their cage matches, but now, I progressively overload all clients toward this massive improvement for full body coordination and power. When we incorporate more muscles and joints in your power output, we speed the adaptation process. Give this one a try for some more likes on IG or to accelerate the power output adaptation for your metabolic system, musculoskeletal system, and nervous system.
#10 Seated In-Out Arcs Over Feet
Looking for a way to build massive strength in your vertical core, and coordination for your upper body? The Seated In-Out Arcs over the feet forces massive engagement in your anterior and posterior kinetic chains throughout the whole torso, and it also creates a need for calculated movement patterning for your shoulder, scapula, and arms. This is a perfect finisher for abdominals and core, and also a perfect movement preparation exercise for vertical or horizontal pushing and pulling exercises. You can also use it as a stand alone strength building exercise.
#11 Seated Rainbows
Most vertical core and abdominal exercises are performed in the sagittal plane, yet when we do life and perform in activities/athletics we primarily engage the vertical core in the transverse plane. This exercise is a great way to incorporate progressive overload and core strengthening in precisely the transverse plane. The closer you move toward the anchor the more power output you need to generate to get the waves to the end. Try 20 to 40 seconds of this exercise to realize the immediate benefits of using the rope to help train the way we live and move.
#12 Rope Jacks
It looks as simple as a jumping jack, but it is not simple, jack. The force needed to generate an arc-style wave down the rope toward the anchor, places far more engagement through the shoulders and upper back, and this added engagement and force generates more engagement throughout the whole vertical core, hips, and legs. If you are looking to level up your warm up or cardio at the end this exercise will do just that. This rope jack movement can also be a stand-alone strength-building exercise for the shoulders and traps.
#13 Plank Vertical Waves
Holding a plank has proved to be an amazing exercise for strengthening the vertical core, including and especially the abdominals. Adding the battle rope vertical waves, activates the engagement of the vertical core strength, abdominals, and the shoulders, scapula, and hips. There is a ton of anti-rotation happening for the hips in a contralateral or cross-patterned engagement through the anterior and posterior core musculature when performing this movement. The shoulder and scapular stabilization for the hand and arm that is planted is firing far more through this dynamic movement than just a static hold. The dynamic arm, shoulder, scapula, chest, and shoulder is also tremendously more engaged than just holding a static position. This is a perfect way to level-up your planks, or train your athletes that are looking for improvements in the stability and dynamic power of their upper body.
#14 Side Plank Vertical Waves
Much like the above plank with vertical waves, the side plank vertical waves is just progressing the original position through dynamic power output coupled with a stabilizing and strengthening position for our lateral and midline musculature. This movement is also an incredible coordination challenge. We are so accustomed to creating movement in the sagittal plane, that the movement forces a cerebral influx. Improvements in variability and connection for our central nervous system and peripheral nervous system will improve general and global coordination for life and athletics.
#15 Half-Kneeling Rainbows
Rainbows are an incredible movement to produce power output through all three planes of motion, which can help tissue adaptations for improved dynamics of our independent joints and interdependence of joints, such as shoulder and scapula, as well as the connection of the shoulder and scapula. Creating this movement in the half-kneeling position sets up the mover in a way to produce power from one glute through the vertical core, and also forces more power output from the upper body (as we tend to produce more power than we think through our lower body).
#16 Half-Kneeling Smiles
You will notice the same benefits from this exercise, as with the last exercise- half kneeling rainbows. Except rainbows tend to incorporate more lat and rear delt, and smiles tend to incorporate more pec and front delt. I also like using the rainbow or the smile to generate specificity of movement for particular athletes. For instance, if they are a pitcher, I will have them perform rainbows, as that posterior deltoid and lat tend to be underdeveloped in comparison with the anterior deltoid and pec. Or if they are a fighter, I will have them perform both, equally because they will need to produce high levels of power output in both patterns, as well as build strength and endurance in both patterns.
#17 Figure 8’s
An all-around great exercise for stability, strength, and power for the scapular/upper back, chest, and shoulder girdle musculature. Because you are using these muscles in all directions of movements, and all three planes of motion, it can really improve movement efficiency and effectiveness, while reducing the chance of injury. Think about all of the movement mapping you are creating for the PNS and CNS, as well as the amount of size and strength you can build for these kinetic chains of muscles. Use this exercise to contribute to your work toward massive chest, shoulders, and back, and improve your movement effectiveness along the way.
#18 Side Facing Vertical Waves in Kneeling Position
I wanted a fun and dynamic way to build strength in my internal and external obliques, as well as improve their connection to the rest of my vertical core, and this is one of the exercises I came up with. It will definitely improve your stability, strength, and power for sagittal, frontal, and transverse plane movements by contributing to the effectiveness and efficiency of your internal obliques, external obliques, serratus, trapezius, latissimus dorsi, and I had better not begin the anatomy list, because then this will read like a boring textbook…but, just go look up muscles involved in the core, and know that you will be contracting each one in a big or small way with this exercise.
#19 Cossack Squat Vertical Waves
This is one of the most challenging exercises on this entire list of top 30 exercises. It is challenging to produce a quality cossack squat with no external load and no additional dynamic output for the upper body, so why? Partially because you can, and mainly because this is fundamental to human movement and movement complexities we experience in activities and sport. Take climbing, child-rearing, construction, or cricket… each activity bears with it moments where we stress mobility, stability, and power output in weird body positions. Also, this movement will create great lower body mobility and power output, while also stimulating incredible strength, stability, and power output for the upper body.
#20 Unilateral Side Facing Lateral Waves
Because we are conditioned with bilateral and symmetrical movements in the sagittal plane in all of the gyms around the world, we forget that we can make a huge change in kinetic chain engagements, just by adjust our position relative to the battle rope and anchor. I love the vertical core engagement and shoulder/scapula work that this unilateral movement develops.
#21 Alternating Waves Forward and Backward Shuffle
I love running (I also understand most people don’t). I sometimes like cardio and/or aerobic capacity work. That being said, there are only a few cardio/aerobic capacity exercises that are on the level with this exercise. Versaclimbers, airdynes, assault bikes, and sprinting provide that special kind of love/hate challenge that will steal your soul in a minute, but create incredible results. Alternating waves with forward and backward shuffle with the battle ropes is also (and maybe more) of that special kind of cardio/aerobic work. Enjoy.
#22 Vertical Waves Side Shuffle
This is another special kind of torture… see #21 for my comparisons and view. However, this is moving through the frontal plane, while producing upper body forces through the sagittal plane, so there is an added bit of complexity to give the CNS and PNS a little treat…or make you feel like you are new.
#23 Kneeling-to-Standing Outside Circles
Something I like to call a hemispheric workout, because you are incorporating output in the upper body and a separate but equal output in the lower body. The undulating of power outputs in the two different positions will become quite obvious as well, making for an entertaining way to undulate your sets, just like you might undulate your programming. This can help you add some more volume to your sets, without experiencing early failure due to lactic thresholds.
#24 Plank Pulls Backward
This is one of my favorite ways to build rock solid abs while simultaneously building a rock solid upper back. I also am really attracted to the primitiveness of this exercise. You are pulling something toward you, much in the same way I imagine humans of the hunter-gatherer tribes of the stone ages and agrarian societies of antiquity doing everyday. I need that water, animals, vegetation, human over here, so I will tie a rope around it and pull it toward me. Now that you know I have weird thoughts flying through my mind, you can do it for aesthetic or performance reasons, instead of my early human identity reasons.
#25 Plank Pulls Forward
I have really enjoyed using this exercise to help train strong and powerful triple extension, while doubling down on strength and stability throughout the vertical core, scapula, and shoulder. This movement is safer and easier to coach and cue through, than jumping or olympic lifting, yet the carry-over is incredible.
#26 Plank Pulls Lateral (Threading The Needle)
Another incredible quadruped position that will improve strength, stability and power output in yet another angle. If you need a safe environment and tool to build effective movement patterns and progressively overload strength and stability. Quadruped battle rope pulls are perfect. If the person cannot handle that much load through their wrist, elbow, shoulder, or scapula, they can drop to a knee, both knees, or seated kneeling positions.
#27 Plank Pulls Toward Midline
Wow! Pecs are on fire just thinking about this one. Oh, and the abs are on fire as well. This movement is not for the faint of heart, but will develop an insane amount of stability and strength for the vertical core…especially the chest and abs.
#28 Endless Triceps
As we are finishing up, I figured I would show a true finisher! Take the battle rope off of the anchor, and do an endless amount of tricep extensions. If you want more load, you can wrap the rope once or twice around a horizontal bar or anchor. Or you can tie load on to it, and use tricep extensions to lift it up and lower it down. These will pump your triceps up so much, you won’t be able to shop at Baby Gap anymore.
#29 Endless Biceps
Another true finisher for the biceps. See all the good ways to produce a prodigious pump for your biceps by reading the endless triceps method above. These are not my go to exercises with the rope, but it hopefully opens your mind to the many more ways that the battle rope can be used instead of just alternating waves in a taco position with too much tension and grip in slow motion for the Gram.
#30 Static Engagement with Scapular Protraction and Retraction
Static engagement or isometrics can be used to prepare movement, improve mobility, increase nervous connection, and establish strength in particular ranges (sticking points of your lifts/movements). I love using the battle rope to help targets specific ranges and specific angles, because they are static yet fluid/moveable tools. This exercise is just one example of an infinite amount of body positions and angles that the battle rope can be used to create biofeedback in a static engagement/isometric to do prior to a lift, or as part of your mobility routine, or to improve the sticking points of your lifts.
Roping All The Exercises Together
These top 30 exercises and the 3 biggest mistakes provide an incredible starting point to begin incorporating one of the most versatile tools in any gym- the battle rope. It is great for beginners, youth, and elderly, because it only delivers as much force as you can generate. And it is awesome for elite athletes, because it delivers as much force as you can generate.
Whether you are looking to produce top-end power, muscle-pumping fatigue, or limitless endurance, the battle rope can be a tool to provide it, and it can provide it at every range of motion in all three planes. And as I’ve discovered, this tool is MUCH more than just a way to make you tired and fatigued. When used intelligently, the possibilities are truly endless.
About The Author
Aaron Guyett is a devoted husband, father, Living.Fit Education Director, Battle Ropes Master Coach, Marine Corps Staff Sergeant & Combat Instructor. He teaches people to move better, feel better, and look better through his Battle Ropes Certifications. He was the founder of Innovative Results (sold 2017), Battle Ropes Education (sold 2019), and Leaders of Leaders. He specializes in helping people develop physical, mental, and spiritual strength that they never thought possible.