How to Climb a Rope

by Morris “Mo” Brossette |

It is one of the main obstacles that strikes fear in many OCR athletes, and is one of the primary obstacles athletes ask to work on when they come to one of my clinics or classes. The rope climb…  Usually placed near the end of a race and likely just before or after a grip dominant obstacle like a rig, the rope climb sends many athletes on a one-way trip to burpeeville or losing your band depending on which race you’re competing in.

I learned the technique to climb a rope early in my OCR career, but not before failing it in my very first Spartan race.  A week or so after my failed attempt I expressed my concern and frustration to a good friend who at the time was a top 10 ranked elite female.  I told her I didn’t understand why I couldn’t get up the rope. I could do pull-ups, monkey bars, and rings all with no problem, so what gives with the rope? She said, “It’s not about strength, its all technique”.  She demonstrated, I gave it a try, zipped up to the top and never looked back! Since then I have had the privilege to share my knowledge and help other athletes build the grip strength and technique needed to do the same.

I mentioned above that climbing the rope isn’t all about strength, but you do need grip strength to hold your body still while maneuvering your feet.  You also need to develop strength in your Lats (back muscles) to assist your climb However, the most important piece to the puzzle is how you wrap the rope around your leg, as this is the key to your rope climb. So let’s get to it!

Mastering the S-Wrap

1. The S-wrap technique is the one I use and the one I teach my athletes. I like this technique because the rope wraps around your leg creating more contact points and therefore you stay on much easier.  I have found that this technique requires the least amount of upper body strength.


2. The easiest way I have taught athletes this technique is to have them sit on the edge of a chair or plyo box, wrap the rope around their leg, step on the rope with their opposite foot, and then slide off the chair/box suspending themselves on the rope. The key to this technique is making sure you kick your legs straight out in front of your hips like in an “L-Sit”, then walk your hands up the rope. A common mistake here is extending your legs/feet straight towards the ground. When you do this you reduce the rope/calf friction and will slide straight back to the ground. You need to stay in the L-sit position.


3. Keep your eyes on your feet. Often athletes are too focused on their grip and once they are on the rope, totally forget about what’s going on with their lower body (reminder your feet/legs are what’s keeping you on the rope) .  Remember, your feet move you and your hands hold you.


4. The key to a successful rope climb is 85% about your foothold.   You still, however, need to have the upper body strength and shoulder mobility to hold yourself in a static position for 5-6 seconds while getting your foot hold locked  in place. To practice rope specific grip strength I recommend the following.


Seated Rope Pull “Sit to Stand to Sit – Bent Knee”

For this drill you will sit on the ground with your knees bent and feet close to your body. Brace your abs keeping your spine straight and pull yourself to the standing position.  Then slowly and with control, lower yourself back down to the ground keeping your arms at a 90-degree angle with your hands right in front of your face. Repeat for 4-5 repetitions. This is a great technique for beginners because you can use your legs to assist as needed.


5. Don’t forget to wear long socks and/or leggings to protect your ankle & calf from rope burn.  A rope burn is a painful experience and one that can set you back several days or more. Be smart and ANY time you plan to practice the rope climb be sure to wear the appropriate gear. This is one of the reasons I love MUDGEAR’s compression socks. They actually have an extra “panel” of protection on the back of the calf to ease the friction of any rope.

So there you have it.  I know there are other ways to climb a rope out there, but those are the techniques and drills that I have personally used to conquer the rope and have taught to other OCR athletes with great success.  Whatever technique you choose, practice it often, practice it with a smile, and I guarantee you will be victorious. Hope to see you at the races!

~Coach Mo

Morris Brossette is the co-owner and founder of Link Endurance – a holistic and integrative training system designed to make sure every “link” in YOUR chain is just as strong as the next. Mo is a Certified Spartan SGX, SOS Coach, Certified Holistic Nutritionist and Health Coach, and Licensed Sports Nutritionist.  He is host of the Link Endurance Podcast and provides personal nutrition, fitness, and obstacle training.

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