TYPE OF EXERCISE
Battle rope conditioning is a series of dynamic, low-impact, multijoint exercises of the upper and lower body designed to increase strength, power, and muscular endurance in the chest, back, arms, shoulders, and trunk. Furthermore, battle rope training may aid in inducing cardiovascular adaptations, while improving sports performance and general fitness.
Previously examined musculature involved in the following exercises may include deltoids, biceps brachii, triceps brachii, erector spinae group (iliocostalis, longissimus, and spinalis), multifidus, rectus abdominis, external obliques, vastus medialis, vastus lateralis, gluteus medius, and gastrocnemius medialis (1,6).
Battle rope training may incorporate the following musculature based on the biomechanical demands of the movements:
Bilateral and unilateral waves:
- Shoulder flexion: anterior deltoid, pectoralis major, and coracobrachialis
- Shoulder extension: latissimus dorsi, teres major, and posterior deltoid
- Shoulder abduction: posterior deltoid, infraspinatus, and teres minor
- Shoulder adduction: pectoralis major, anterior deltoid, latissimus dorsi, and teres major
- This variation incorporates circumduction of the glenohumeral joint and involves the musculature stated above for shoulder flexion, extension, adduction, and abduction.
Although most battle rope variations emphasize the musculature and conditioning of the upper body, proper exercise techniques often require the individual to maintain an isometric quarter or half-squat position. In addition, the suggested advanced variations (detailed below) incorporate plyometrics, thereby further engaging the musculature of the core and lower body.
BENEFITS OF THE EXERCISE
Recently, battle ropes have emerged as a nontraditional form of high-intensity upper-body conditioning. Battle ropes can be used in a variety of unique ways to engage the entire body. However, circuit training for the upper body and core is the most common. Although literature on the topic is limited, few novel studies have reported that battle rope conditioning is considered a high-intensity exercise with a substantial metabolic demand (2,4,10). For example, a 10-minute battle rope protocol, consisting of 15 seconds of double-arm waves followed by 45 seconds of rest, demonstrated an average caloric expenditure of 467.3 ± 161 kJ (i.e., 111 ± 38 kcals; 1 kJ = 4.184 kcals) (4). Similarly, battle rope protocols using 30 seconds of work (i.e., 10 seconds bouts of single-arm waves, double-arm waves, and rope slams) with 2 minutes of rest found a mean kcal·min−1 of 10.3 ± 1.4, which is consistent with the previous study at 41.3 ± 14.1 kJ·min−1 (i.e., 9.9 ± 3.4 kcal·min−1) (4,10). These caloric expenditure values are in agreement with various other modalities, such as moderate- to high-intensity resistance training (3–9 kcal·min−1), moderate-intensity cycling (10–15 kcal·min−1), and step aerobics (10–15 kcal·min−1). Furthermore, battle rope conditioning uses more muscle mass and requires greater energy expenditure when directly compared with other free-weight and body-weight types of resistance training (10). These results suggest that training with battle ropes may be a useful tool for individuals attempting to lose weight and improve overall fitness.
Aside from general conditioning purposes, battle rope training may be beneficial to athletes of various sports and tactical clients. The fluidity of battle rope training may mimic the dynamic resistance observed in a variety of sports, as well as various essential job tasks associated with tactical professions (e.g., hose drag and victim rescue) better than fixed-resistance training (7). For instance, after 8 weeks of battle rope training, collegiate basketball players demonstrated significant improvements in shooting accuracy (14% increase), chest pass speed (4.8% decrease), jump height (2.6% increase), as well as significant adaptations in cardiovascular endurance, upper- and lower-body power, and core muscular endurance (2). Although it is possible that these improvements may be attributed to other confounding factors (e.g., skill training, sport-specific drills, etc.), a second group of players who participated in a similar shuttle run protocol improved solely in aerobic capacity and upper-body power (2). In addition, significant improvements in arm strength and muscular endurance were observed in collegiate male volleyball players after 8 weeks of battle rope training (9). Moreover, college-aged individuals after a kettlebell and battle rope training program significantly increased grip strength after 5 weeks (8). In addition to serving as a predictor for overall strength (14), improved grip strength may be particularly beneficial for athletes who engage in sports requiring racquets, barbells, or climbing (8) or among tactical athletes, in which grip strength is a strong component of job performance.
Although there is an endless supply of exercises that can be performed while using the battle ropes, the authors have chosen 4 basic movements from which to build a workout regimen. The proper exercise technique, along with beginning and advanced variations, for several battle rope exercises is described as follows.
In preparation for the following exercises, anchor the rope to a secure, immovable object. The anchor should be situated around the middle of the rope allowing for even lengths on both sides with minimal slack. Based on previous research (4), the athlete should be positioned accordingly before starting each of the following battle rope exercise variations (Figure 1):
- Feet should be placed in a shoulder width or wider than shoulder-width stance.
- Legs in either a quarter or half-squat position.
- The hips should be flexed at a 45° angle while keeping the spine and head in natural lordosis.
- Each hand should be grasping one end of the battle ropes and positioned either between the knees or arms relaxed by their sides.
- ○ Placement of the hands will depend on stance-width. For those with a shoulder-width stance, the arms will be along the sides of the body.
- ○ If the athlete chooses a wider stance, then the arms will be placed in between the knees.
- The hands can be either held together or in close proximity to each other.
EXERCISE VARIATION 1: BILATERAL WAVES/ROPE SLAMS
- Before beginning, the athlete should assume the starting position (Figure 1).
- Initiate the movement by rapidly flexing the shoulders to raise the arms to approximately shoulder height.
- ○ Shoulder and elbow flexion should occur in unison
- Once the arms reach the desired height (i.e., slightly parallel to the shoulders), forcefully slam the ropes toward the ground while fully extending both the shoulders and elbows (Figure 2A and 2B, see Video, Supplemental Digital Content 1, https://links.lww.com/SCJ/A254).
- Be sure to instruct the athlete to minimize lower-body and trunk movement during the movement as to emphasize engagement of the shoulders and upper-body musculature.
- Repeat this process to create a wave-like pattern and continue until the desired number of repetitions or programmed time is met.
- Throughout this motion, the athlete may be cued to maintain “packed” scapulae and avoid excessive rounding of the shoulders.
EXERCISE VARIATION 2: ALTERNATING WAVES
The alternating wave variation follows a similar technique to the bilateral wave exercise; however, shoulder flexion should be alternated unilaterally.
- Before beginning this movement, the athlete should assume the starting position (Figure 1).
- Initiate the exercise with explosive unilateral shoulder flexion by raising the one arm to slightly below parallel to shoulder height.
- ○ Hands should have a neutral grip on the end of the ropes for this variation.
- ○ Be sure to maintain a slight bend in the elbows throughout.
- ○ The contralateral, nonengaged arm should remain straight and in a lowered position.
- ○ The athlete may be cued during this exercise variation to avoid excessive rotation of the torso by bracing the core musculature.
- To create a wave-like pattern, repeat the alternating shoulder flexion and extension movements (Figure 3A and 3B, see Video, Supplemental Digital Content 2, https://links.lww.com/SCJ/A255).
- Continue until the desired number of repetitions or time is met.
EXERCISE VARIATION 3: ALTERNATING SCISSORS
- For this variation, the goal is for the athlete to concentrate on horizontal adduction and abduction of the shoulder joint.
- To begin this movement, the athlete should assume the starting position (Figure 1).
- Next, rapidly, while under control, perform bilateral shoulder diagonal abduction by moving the arms back-and-forth in the diagonal plane (Figure 4A–C, see Video, Supplemental Digital Content 3, https://links.lww.com/SCJ/A256).
- ○ The athlete may be told to concentrate on 2 motions during this movement:
- 1. Crossing the ropes over one another for the adduction portion; and
- 2. Pulling the ropes apart during the shoulder abduction portion.
- Continue this action until the desired number of repetitions or time is met.
- It is advised for beginners new to this variation to use a lighter rope because this movement pattern emphasizes smaller musculature of the rotator cuff as compared to the bilateral and unilateral rope slams.
EXERCISE VARIATION 4: ALTERNATING CIRCLES
- The goal for this variation is to concentrate on circumduction patterns of the shoulder joint.
- While in the starting position (Figure 1), perform alternating circular patterns with the arms in an explosive, controlled manner (Figure 5A–F, see Video, Supplemental Digital Content 4, https://links.lww.com/SCJ/A257).
- ○ As circumduction of one shoulder ends, the contralateral shoulder should simultaneously begin.
- ○ Be sure to maintain natural lordosis throughout the movement.
- ○ Avoid keeping the trapezius musculature in a “shrugged” position during the exercise.
- To achieve overlapping circular motions, circumduction movements should be repeated.
- This movement can be initiated with circumduction patterns toward the center of the body or away from the body creating 2 variations.
PROGRAMMING AND EXERCISE MODIFICATIONS
Although previous research has touted battle ropes as high- to vigorous-intensity exercise while using heart rate (4,11), modifications can be made to allow for individuals of all skill levels to benefit from battle rope conditioning. Therefore, when incorporating these types of exercises into an exercise regimen, it is appropriate to consider the goals or sport specificity of the individual. Although multiple exercises of varying difficulty exist, several alternative variables can also affect the intensity of battle rope training. These include work-to-rest ratios, rope length, diameter, and weight, speed/velocity of the movement, as well as single- versus dual-limb variations (4,9,11). In addition, if battle rope exercises are performed as a standalone session or if incorporated into a routine with other resistance-training exercises, this may affect exercise prescription. For example, if battle rope training is performed during a separate session, 8–12 working sets, of 3–4 exercises, with work-to-rest ratios of 1:3, may be a starting point for beginners (5,13). However, if performed alongside traditional resistance exercise, the volume of battle rope training may be initially reduced. Several limitations exist with battle rope training (e.g., limited range of motion and large space required), and that battle ropes should therefore be incorporated as a complementary exercise to traditional training.
As an athlete progresses throughout battle rope conditioning, modifications in the intensity of the workout can be achieved using the following:
Athletes can increase the intensity of battle rope sessions by manipulating the work-to-rest ratio. For added difficulty, an individual can increase the duration of active periods or decrease the duration of rest. For instance, the previous literature has reported cardiometabolic responses of 81–86% of maximal heart rate and 50–52% of V̇o2max for periods of rest <1 minute (11). However, when longer rest periods were taken (i.e., ∼2 minutes), responses were reduced to 72–77% maximal heart rate and 38–40 %V̇o2max (11). For this reason, exercise prescription for beginners should incorporate longer rest periods of 2 minutes; whereas intermediate and advanced athletes may potentially benefit ≤ 1:3 work-to-rest interval (i.e., 30:90 seconds).
ROPE LENGTH AND DIAMETER
The rope itself can also substantially influence exercise intensity. The previous literature has reported that traditional battle ropes range between 9 and 16 kg in mass, length between 12 and 15 m, and diameters of 3–5 cm (2,4,13). For beginners, a shorter length rope and a smaller diameter may be more beneficial; however, as the athlete progresses, they can continually increase the length or diameter of the rope to add difficulty.
Battle rope training can be a highly versatile method of sports conditioning, in that there are a multitude of variations available for athletes of all skill levels. Exercises using battle ropes can be modified from simple isolated positions (e.g., standing, kneeling, or sitting) into more compound movements (e.g., jumps, lunges, or shuffling) with differing planes of motion (e.g., frontal, lateral, or diagonal). Furthermore, simply increasing the velocity or speed at which the individual moves the battle ropes allows for more repetitions within the time constraint, thereby increasing the intensity of the exercise.
To increase difficulty, some athletes may consider incorporating plyometrics into battle rope exercises. For example, the double swing slam, which is an advanced variation of the bilateral waves, requires triple joint extension as the athlete jumps up while slamming the ropes toward the ground (Figure 6A and 6B, see Video, Supplemental Digital Content 5, https://links.lww.com/SCJ/A258). When performing this movement, the athlete should land in a squat position and repeat until they complete the active interval. Implementing this form of exercise may benefit athletes engaged in movements where the triple joint extension is commonly used (e.g., clean and jerk, snatch, or vertical jump) (3). It is imperative that a beginner or untrained athlete abstains from advanced variations to avoid excessive stress on the body that could lead to injury.
In addition, an alternative method of increasing difficulty and increasing core musculature activation is bilateral versus unilateral training. Previous research has demonstrated that performing unilateral resistance exercise (i.e., standing chest press) increases motor unit recruitment of the spinal and torso stabilization musculature as compared to their bilateral counterparts (12). Furthermore, untrained individuals may exhibit large bilateral deficits resulting in impaired force production (5). Therefore, unilateral variations of battle rope conditioning (e.g., alternating waves) may be particularly beneficial among this population and modified accordingly as the individual progresses. For those not exhibiting bilateral deficits, increases in strength and power may be observed from performing coordinated bilateral variations (e.g., bilateral waves, alternating scissors, and alternating circles) due to a greater shift in bilateral facilitation.
Battle rope exercises are highly versatile and of low impact, which are suitable for athletes of all skill levels. These exercises provide a powerful stimulus capable of improving cardiorespiratory endurance, muscular strength, muscular endurance, and power. Training with battle ropes requires a greater energy expenditure and uses larger amounts of muscle mass, and the fluidity of battle ropes may provide a stimulus more applicable to various sports or tactical professions than fixed resistance (e.g., free weights or bodyweight). In addition, modifications to battle rope training can be best fit to athletes' goals as they progress throughout a season. Therefore, individuals looking to improve overall health or athletes attempting to increase sports performance should consider implementing battle rope conditioning into a training regimen.
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