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Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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September 16, 2009

Battling the Python: Swinging Rope Training

By Mark Sisson
27 Comments

If you’re interested in a low-cost, no-hassle piece of homemade training equipment, look no further than a heavy rope. Not a jump rope (although that’s a worthy ally, too); just a thick, unwieldy rope, a confederation of fibers woven together to form a cordon to be used for strange and unconventional workouts (my favorite kind). Your rope should be around fifty feet long and two inches thick. It should be a manila rope, which is a hardy, durable variety typically used in boating. Manila rope is also especially heavy – a distinct advantage when you’re trying to get the best workout possible. Hardware stores should carry manila rope in various lengths and widths. If two inches in diameter is too much, go for 1.5” instead.

You’ll also need a post, a pole, or a willing compatriot: something you can use to anchor the rope. If it’s a post or a pole, loop the rope around to give you two 25-foot lengths. If it’s a person, have him or her get a good grip on the midpoint (a really good grip; it’ll be a workout on their end, too). Either way, you should be holding roughly 25 feet of rope in each hand.

Once you’re in position, it’s time to begin. Create waves in the rope by swinging your arms up and down. Keep the momentum going and maintain the motion of the rope. It starts out easy enough – you may have done this as a kid with a garden hose – but after about thirty seconds, it becomes a true test of strength, endurance, and sheer will. The dynamic, constant motion of the waves offers little respite, especially to your hands. There’s no momentum except for what you generate with your own body. If you’ve ever wondered about the legitimacy of your grip strength, swinging rope training gives you a frank assessment of your abilities.

And that’s the general gist of it. Just be sure to switch up the motions and always maintain the waves. Try swinging up and down, with alternating arms, from left to right (and right to left), in figure eights, or with both arms together. It’s actually quite difficult to mess this one up, or get injured while swinging, because the weight is never so great that you dislodge a joint or throw a shoulder out of place and your movements are totally natural. In fact, swinging rope training is incredibly Primal – I call it battling the python. It’s not quite the same as wrestling with a 20-foot scaly tube of pure muscle, but it’s the safest substitute. To get the most out of your rope, maintain the wave at all costs. Keep the waves flowing, and never let them falter. You can still get a workout otherwise, but forcing yourself to maintain the wave forces you to maintain peak intensity. The longer you can maintain peak intensity, the more you’ll stimulate the central nervous system. Much like all out sprinting, peak intensity rope swinging can really help generate growth hormone secretion.

Battle the python for time. In your first session, keep a close watch on the height and length of the waves. Once they fail to reach the end of the cord, that’s a set. Record your time and work to surpass it each time.

What Else?

Okay. You’ve got this massive rope sitting in your house. Battling an imaginary snake is great and all, but what other exercises are possible with a 50-foot, 2-inch diameter manila rope?

Tug of War

Get a friend of comparable size or strength (or round up a gang of neighborhood kids) and play some good old-fashioned tug of war. Mud pit optional.

Rope Climb

Find a suitable tree branch, a low hanging pipe, or any overhead protrusion that can handle your weight and toss the rope over it. If you’re truly committed, you can climb up and secure it with an expert knot, but I prefer the lazy man’s way. Just grab the two dangling ends and climb. The alternated grip, 2-inch diameter, and distinct lack of foot support make this rope climb especially grueling.

Find a Wide Open Space, Attach a Weight to the End and Swing the Rope Around Your Head

I couldn’t come up with a clever term for this, so it’s all right there in the title. This is like the around-the-head mace workout, only on a bigger scale. It can be very dangerous, though, so be extra cautious and only attempt it if you’re able.

Sled Pull

Instead of securing your rope to a stationary object, secure it to a weighted, movable object (sled, kettlebell, etc.). This is a great total body, reasonably low impact workout, especially for those who can’t squat or deadlift due to injury. And what’s more Primal than dragging something heavy around?

Mix and match a swinging rope session with any of the following workouts for an intense full-body routine:

Anyone else have any alternate recommendations for rope work? Let everyone know in the comments!

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27 Comments on "Battling the Python: Swinging Rope Training"

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Aaron Blaisdell
7 years 14 days ago

Excellent! I’ll have to make a trip to Home Depot in the near future for some rope! I’d call the rope swing exercise the “Swing the Lion” (and would imagine I’ve just overpowered the ferocious beast and was hurling him outathere).

Daniel Merk
7 years 14 days ago

Love the towing exercises. My Jeep has front and back hitches. MY wife could sit in the drivers seat and keep things safe as I pull the car. I also use some climbing ropes and swing my 1 pood kettle bell around my head by looping the rope through the bell handle. That way you do not have to be a boyscout and tie great knots and be safe. Anyone know where I can get rope 2″ thick? I’ve been looking all over for that and those poly sand bags everywhere…

dragonmamma
dragonmamma
7 years 14 days ago

Looks fun, but I’m not sure I’d call it inexpensive. Doing a quick google search, it looks like appropriate rope is more than 3 bucks a foot. Times 50 feet= more than $150, plus the hardware needed to secure it.

I sure wish my gym would get something like this.

davide
davide
4 years 4 months ago

Not so. Check out Miami Fitness Rope for best prices – 50′ $127 includes shipping, $109 for 40′, a good length for most people. miamifitnessrope.com

Chris
Chris
7 years 14 days ago

At least around me, and online, 1.5″ or 2″ manila rope ain’t cheap.

tuscoyote
tuscoyote
7 years 14 days ago

@daniel
try a military surplus store. a good one will have rope sandbags duffles webbing chain …. all sorts of goodies for a “primal” workout

Rodney
Rodney
7 years 14 days ago

Careful searching on EBay turned up a few options. Note that prices vary a lot, even from the same dealer so look around. 2″ manila rope, $2.29/ft, plus $12.50 shipping means under $130 for 50 feet. I didn’t want to spend so much for one piece of equipment, so I can’t guarantee shipping isn’t more once you try to buy it, but it is at least a reasonable option. 1.5″ rope was almost half as much if that works for you.

Mikeythehealthycaveman
7 years 14 days ago

You could also join a local Crossfit… Most of the gyms have at least one rope on hand, plus usually a climbing rope too… Sure it’s more expensive than a rope, but it’s well worth the money to join a community of fellow Grokkers!
Check out my latest article to see why Crossfit is worth over $1000 dollars a month (and no I don’t work for Crossfit, just a bit ocd about it!)

Jason
Jason
7 years 14 days ago

I’ve purchased equipment from both http://www.functionalhandstrength.com and http://www.punchgym.com. I’ve not bought ropes from either, but their other stuff is good quality. But, after today’s post, I might start saving up for some ropes.

davide
davide
4 years 4 months ago

miamifitnessrope.com has better prices than punch gym. Since last year after buying 6 kettlebells from them, their prices have gone up 20%. Miami fitness Rope specializes in rope and afte much research they also have the best prices.

Bob Tracey
Bob Tracey
7 years 14 days ago

I have been looking into ropes. They aint cheap! 50 feet of 1.5″ nylon rope will run upwards of $150. Anyway, I just purchased 2 bundles of 100′ of 5/16″ nylon rope from home depot for $42 (including tax). I intend to fold them together so they will be about 1.75″ thick and 50′ long. I do not know how this alternative will ‘wave.’, but hey if you don’t try …
BTW I chose nylon over manila because as much as I prefer the natural material I am concerned that as the manila rope gets damp it may become mildewy.

Henry Miller
Henry Miller
7 years 13 days ago

You should buy 3 ropes, and twist them together – just like they make big ropes.

You are right to prefer something other than natural. Manila rots from the inside out, so an unsafe rope will look practically new (unless you know what to look for when inspecting it). I don’t know if nylon is best though. If you are climbing rope, make sure you find out how to inspect it before you install it, and then do the inspection.

I don’t know how to inspect rope for safety. I just know it is important.

davide
davide
4 years 4 months ago
Miami Fitness Rope also has PolyDac fitness ropes manufactured from a blend of polyester and polypropylene fibers, are great for indoor use because they won’t shed like manila, are softer on your hands and they will not stretch like nylon rope. All poly-dac fitness ropes come standard with heavy duty vinyl handles on both ends that are stitched to the rope to ensure that they won’t slip off. We also include a heavy duty nylon center friction guard to protect your rope from fray and will increase its longevity. Their poly-dac fitness ropes also feature high abrasion resistance and an… Read more »
Grok
7 years 14 days ago

Oh man this is awesome I have a piece of Coastguard tow rope just sitting there!

Tee
Tee
7 years 14 days ago

Check ebay they have some good prices.

Eric
Eric
7 years 14 days ago

Contact your local middle or high school, especially if they are older buildings. Chances are they have ropes lying around that were used back in the day. I picked up two used, 15 foot ropes, complete with mounting brackets, for free. The school was happy to be rid of them. I kept one and mailed a fellow CrossFitter the other. It’s worth a shot.

John
John
7 years 14 days ago

I see the rope wave used by many MMA fighters nowadays. It looks weird and I was curious about it. I’ve already made some home-made medicine balls and would love to add some more do-it-yourself equipment. A rope and a big dirty old type would be great. Tug of war sounds fun, if only my son was older than 5 we would have a laugh. Great ideas, keep em coming.

Bob Tracey
Bob Tracey
7 years 14 days ago

YouTube has several good videos on this subject. That was how I learned about it. As far as the son goes, how about a sled that he can sit on and you can pull? I bet he’d love the ride.

Graeme
Graeme
7 years 14 days ago

I got a 2 inch thick manilla rope off ebay.co.uk for a good price

Alex
Alex
7 years 13 days ago

Ebay is the cheapest I’ve found. I got 50 feet of 1.5 inch rope for about $65. I use it about once a week for various workouts. Trust me, if you’ve never played with thick rope, 1.5 inch is plenty to get you started.

Laurel
Laurel
5 years 4 months ago

I don’t have any flat ground at my house, so hardly any place to whip ropes.

What I do as a substitute is grab the corners of my queen size down comforter/duvet and I “fluff” it mercilessly. It’s good for the up/down motions at least.

Laura H
Laura H
4 years 8 months ago

Can anyone recommend a heavy rope size for a 26 year old athletic female, in good physical shape, weight 115lbs? I want a good hard workout but dont want the rope to be so heavy I’m exhausted after 5 minutes- want to be able to get good cardio in with them as well. Maybe 1 inch instead of the typical 2 inchers? Or would that size be too easy?

Angela
Angela
3 years 9 months ago

Hi Laura,

I am a bit older (I’m 33), but about your same size with the same goals. I’m wondering if you ended up getting a rope what size you chose? Does it work?

Trent G
Trent G
4 years 6 months ago

Dude awesome post! This covers a lot and there are already good ideas of where to get the ropes from the comments section (which I clearly have to do soon because these workouts are clearly, absurdly awesome!). I found this other site that has videos of hockey players doing battle rope routines, and if those guys get tired, you can bet this will kick your butt too! http://aoskettlebells.com/

davide
davide
4 years 3 months ago

miamifitnessrope.com has better prices than punch gym. Since last year after buying 6 kettlebells from them, their prices have gone up 20%. Miami fitness Rope specializes in rope and afte much research they also have the best prices.

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