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Battling the Python: Swinging Rope Training

Posted By Mark Sisson On September 16, 2009 @ 9:13 am In Fitness,Health,Lift Heavy Things,Videos | 26 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 [7], 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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