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Military Muscle: Roped in

Simple equipment targets shoulders and upper back

Jun. 6, 2013 - 04:06PM   |  
Battle ropes
Army Sgt. Thomas Plummer uses ropes at Iron Horse Sports and Fitness Center at Fort Carson, Colo. (Staff Sgt. Andrew Porch/Army)
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As a trainer, you’ll have moments while designing a workout or program when you discover a piece of equipment that provides much more of a return than expected.

One exercise leads to another, progressions become clear and combinations are limited only by your imagination. The icing on the cake is when the fitness apparatus is old school: relatively inexpensive, goes anywhere and can be used to improve functional capability.

My personal epiphany came when I got my hands on the thick ropes known as battle ropes. These are 50-foot ropes with a 1˝- to 2-inch diameter that cost $100 to $300, depending on the material (from manila to poly-blend). You can find them at fitness equipment stores and online.

Rope training targets the shoulders and upper back and will also hit the core and boost hand strength. These drills also work as great cardio.

Overall, I prefer time over repetitions; 30 seconds is a good initial goal.

To start, loop the rope around any sturdy, pole-type object so both ends are together (a 50-foot rope would create a 25-foot loop). A round pole will cut down on abrasion to the rope. Looping the rope through 45-pound weight plates also will work.

The following is just a glimpse into what can be done with this unlimited tool.

Alternating wave

Start by facing the anchor point. Take an athletic stance — knees bent and core tight — and grasp each rope end with your palms facing in. Create an alternating wave in the rope by rapidly moving your arms up and down.

Single wave. Put rope ends together and grasp with both hands. Both arms move rapidly up and down together, creating a single wave.

Core focused. Execute alternating or single waves in a kneeling position. The rope will try to pull you forward.

Combination. Add reverse lunges or squats while executing either variation.

Warrior. Execute the combination while wearing a weighted vest or Integrated Body Armor.

Partner. Each person holds an end and executes the wave using one or both arms. You can also do this with the core-focused, combination and warrior variations.

Rope pull

The alternatives for this one are endless. Attach the rope to a tire, sled or any amount of weight. Walk the rope out away from the weight, then pull the weight toward you using a hand-over-hand motion.

Core-focused. Execute the weight pull from a seated position.

Variation. Execute the core-focused weight pull with a lean forward, lean back two-handed pull. It’s not as fast, but it gets the entire trunk involved.

Rope-only pull

Loop the rope twice around a pole, leaving about a 5-foot length on one side and the remainder of the rope on the other. Grasp the short end and using the hand-over-hand method pull the rope until the long end is down to 5 feet. Increase resistance by adding additional loops around the pole.

Other rope variations

You can execute side-to-side waves and circles. Facing perpendicular with the rope and executing the two-hand waves will test the obliques.

Bob Thomas is director of the Navy Wellness Center in Pensacola, Fla. Email him at

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