How to Rope Climb for Strong Biceps and Thick Back

November 30, 2015 by VAHVA Fitness

Rope Climb is one of the best exercises to increase the strength and size of your biceps, back and forearms like nothing else. Rope climb is basically a moving dynamic pull up sequence. 

Doing rope climb will train the exact same muscles as a properly done pull up. The biggest difference is that the movement is dynamic and will as a result hit the central nervous system much harder. 

To get started on rope climbing, you should be able to perform at least one or two pull ups. The beginner versions of rope climb can be demanding even when you use the legs for assistance. 

4 Reasons why you should rope climb: 

  • Your biceps and back will strengthen and grow in size extremely well. 
  • Your forearms are developed like nothing else. Rope climb requires an immense amount of grip strength to be able to hold a thick rope. 
  • Your central nervous system (CNS) is heavily worked and this will translate into more strength. Rope climbing has the highest level of neuromuscular activity. 
  • Rope climb will transfer incredibly well to athletics due to the reasons listed above. 

There is a reason why soldiers have been doing rope climbing since the beginning of time: the strength developed from rope climb is extremely functional.

The transfer to sports is amazing and especially all the martial artists of grappling sports should be doing rope climbs, because both the overall upper body strength and grip strength will come beneficial in grappling. 

You can get a good quality rope from here. You can hang it anywhere: pull up bar, a branch of a tree and so on. 

Please watch our rope climbing video below for the best illustrations of rope climb:

Beginner Rope Climb Progressions

rope climb legs how to

Top and under way for legs.

how to legs rope climbing

The butterfly climb way for legs.

The way to start rope climbing is to first use your legs for assistance until you develop enough strength to perform rope climb without the use of legs.

There are a couple of ways to use the legs, but I'd recommend you to find the variation which you find the most comfortable with. There isn't a right way to use the legs for rope climbing - their sole purpose is assistance

The first variation (left picture) is to use the top and under way: you place your first leg on the top of the rope and the other leg under the rope This allows you to lock your legs around the rope. 

This requires a bit of practice, but will provide a very solid level of assistance.

The second variation (right picture) is to just squeeze the rope between your legs and look like a frog. This is also called the butterfly climb. 

This tends to be much easier to learn, but will provide less assistance, because the assistance is determined by how hard you can press your legs together.

Advanced Rope Climb Progressions

Climbing Rope Without Legs

advanced rope climb progression

The intermediate or advanced progression of rope climb is just to climb the rope without the assistance of your legs.

Many gymnasts often widen their legs (straddle), which makes it look more aesthetic, but doesn't make any difference for your upper body. 

In the beginning, merely practice hanging on the rope and see if you have enough grip strength to hold yourself up. Then progress with baby steps and see how far you can take it.

At first you will make very short and fast climbs with your hands, but eventually you should be able to widen the gap between your hands and climb up with more control.

Rope Climbing With 2 Ropes 

rope climb with two ropes

Using two ropes for rope climbing is another advanced variation which makes it almost impossible to use your legs for assistance anyway.

This variation will hit less the biceps than the standard rope climb, but will hit the lats, teres majors and other back muscles significantly more. 

How to Make Rope Climbing Even Harder

Eventually the rope climb without legs will get easy or you become strong enough to move onto the harder progressions. The easiest way to add difficulty is to just increase the distance traveled by doing longer sets. 

The hardest rope climb progressions

  • With the use of a weighted vest, a dipping belt or ankle weights you can add resistance to rope climb. You basically have no limit how far you can take the rope climbing. 
  • Rope climb cirques: climb up to the top but then lower yourself using just one arm at the time. You are basically doing one arm chin up negatives, which will require more strength and grip than you can imagine. 
  • Special rope climb variations: these include chameleon rope climb, behind the neck rope climb and reverse rope climb. We will demonstrate these once we are able to do them!

Rope climbing is a versatile way to train your biceps, back and grip. Moreover, there isn't any limits regarding how far you can take it.

Once you can do the hardest rope climb progressions, the strength should transfer incredibly well to pull ups, any bicep curl variation and all back exercises you can imagine. The reverse however, might not be the case. 

You should be able to get started with the instructions we provided in this article. 

The general rules apply: take 1-3 minutes of rest between sets and rope climb up and down between 1 to 5 rounds depending on your strength levels.

Train hard, stay safe.


samuli jyrkinen

About the author 

Samuli Jyrkinen

Samuli is the ninja behind the scenes (photography, videography, websites, program platforms and more). He has been training religiously for over a decade and has a firm grasp of physical and mental fitness. You will find our story here.

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