Ah, the battle rope: a staple in “metabolic conditioning” workouts across the country and the world. There are hundreds of ways in which you can swing the rope up and down, side to side, and slam it to the ground in an effort to raise your body temperature high enough that you start sweating.
Here’s a quick alternative: try eating extra spicy garlic beef jerky and slicing an onion at the same time. You’ll sweat way faster (and cry, too).
Large enough to tie up a yacht with, these ropes come in all sorts of colors and sizes. Different lengths mean different weights and different levels of challenge.
They’re usually associated with calorie-burning, fat-torching, butt & gut workouts designed to counteract those seventeen glasses of wine that you downed last week.
But if you ask many strength coaches, they’ll call them the dumbest thing in the gym. They’ll call them useless and ineffective at burning fat, building strength, or developing cardiovascular capacity.
So here we go again with another blogisode (that’s a blog episode) of Fitness Purity.
Here’s the truth: for most people, battle ropes are useless. They are ineffective at building any qualities except the one where you pick up something and slam it on the ground.
Let’s address the three qualities that I alluded to earlier: fat-burning, strength, and cardiovascular capacity.
First up: fat-burning.
Let’s just remind ourselves that there is no such thing as a fat-burning exercise, exercise tool/implement, workout, or program. Everything you do burns fat and thus, nothing you do burns fat. Make sense?
If you spend all your days trying to burn fat with different programs & exercises, you’re very likely to find yourself in one year’s time with the same amount of body fat (or more), unless you sleep more, stress less, and eat better.
Fat is constantly being used to various degrees throughout the day to generate energy for the human body. The ultimate equation is energy out versus energy in. So we recommend being more active during the day (i.e. taking more steps) and eating less crap. The idea that a few workouts each week will add up to any additional calorie burn beyond that of a Snickers bar is unfounded.
Use your exercise to preserve your lean mass, resilience, & overall body integrity, not to burn fat.
As far as strength goes, the battle rope is ineffective because it’s not heavy enough. And there’s barely any eccentric motion to battle rope movements and thus, no muscle damage.
And as far as cardiovascular capacity goes, the battle rope is too intense to elicit any real cardiovascular benefit unless you’re profoundly strong & conditioned and able to slam the battle rope for 30 minutes at a time.
The fact of the matter is that, for most people, battle roping is altogether too intense to sustain for any length of time. And it doesn’t really allow for any venous return, a hallmark of good cardiovascular training.
So then, what is the battle rope good for?
Well I’d love if I could paint this picture black and white and say “nothing,” but it’s not that simple.
As I described in this post, nobody receives any benefit from trainers & coaches being what I like to call “fitness purists.” There isn’t (for the most part) one set of golden rules that works across all people forever and all the time.
This is because people are exposed to way more fitness information than just what you tell them.
Sure, I’d be wiling to do nothing but the basics. We would squat, deadlift, and single-leg squat. We’d bench, overhead press, and perform a bunch of chin-ups and rows. Then we’d throw in some abs, explosive work, and carries. And everyone would be super strong, lean, and feeling great.
But I know and you know that every time you see Women’s Health in the grocery store line and the cover says Get Shredded With These Five Movements, you’re going to pick it up, read it, and then wonder why we aren’t doing those movements instead.
Here’s a real quick story: I once worked with a trainer that tried to abide by what we might call the “big, basic movements”. All of her clients performed five sets of five reps in exercises like the bench press and deadlift. It was super effective, but exactly 0% engaging. And she doesn’t train anymore – because nobody wanted to train with her.
The real answer is that you can’t be a fitness purist. You need to be a fitness maverick; you need to think outside the box to deliver the very best to each individual person.
So here’s what the battle rope is actually good for.
- Explosive work: it’s just like slamming a medicine ball if you do it hard enough. Don’t try to repeat it seventeen times in 10 seconds. Reset every time and slam it as hard as you can. Especially for those of us that aren’t athletes, the battle rope provides a low-impact explosive option to help keep you both strong and quick.
- Variation & confirmation: if your members and clients want to sweat, you need to make them sweat occasionally. If the magazine says “you should be using the battle rope” and the glistening, ab-riddled person in the photos is using the battle rope, they probably want to use it. This doesn’t mean you should replace your deadlifts with the battle rope. No, these means that the battle rope can be thrown into conditioning sets without too much compromise. Adherence and consistency are more important than quality, so you should be making small sacrifices to keep yourself (or your clients) coming back.
No, the battle rope is not the quickest way to the end that you seek (which is most likely strength, relative painlessness, work capacity, capability, and a butt that looks good on the beach).
The quickest way is through the big, basic movements, sound nutrition, sleep, and stress reduction.
But the best answer is always consistency. If shaking those battle ropes for a few minutes helps you do all those things better and more often, I’m all for it.