When I signed up for my first OCR, the Spartan Sprint, the one obstacle I didn’t want to default to burpees with, was the rope climb.
From watching Lassie as a kid, when Timmy would fall in that ever forsaken well, and he had to
depend on his
loyal K9 companion for a rescue, to watching Indiana Jones scramble to get out of a snake pit, I decided it was a good skill to acquire…Just not for avoiding burpees at a race, but a life skill, too, ha!
I first started messing around with the rope at the gym. Laying on my back, I would pull myself upright to standing , hand over hand, then lower myself back down. This helped me get a feeling of what level of grip strength I needed to hold on and just get comfortable with it. Next, came lots and lots of YouTube videos. From Spanish Twist to J Hook techniques, to the ever so longed for, legless. As I studied these videos, I realized it is more technique than strength. Now, don’t get me wrong, you need to be kind of fit, but if your technique isn’t there, you wear yourself out in a hurry! What I’m saying is, any normal person like myself can do this, you don’t need to be muscle bound!
Later, came my rope climbing station…at home. I didn’t always have it in me after a session at the gym to play on the ropes there. So, one of the perks of having a man who is a contractor is….he can build just about anything! He had me order the rope, and he gathered the lumber (which was way more involved than I thought). I should have known when he told me to cancel the 16′ rope, and order the 20 footer. The treated posts were 24ft tall, and that is no easy feat to get them upright! But once it was completed, it was a game changer. Having access to a rope, Wi-Fi and privacy, accelerated my goal accomplishment.
I quickly realized the J Hook technique was the best for me. Efficient and fast, both up and down. There are less points of contact in this technique, and considered not as safe for beginners. I am very comfortable with heights, climbing and my grip strength, so that doesn’t affect me, much. Plus, the leg and foot placement for the Spanish Twist takes me too much time, I just can’t get coordinated quickly enough before my upper body/grip tires. The J Hook for me is grip, core and leg strength, not eye and leg coordination. Another downside to the Spanish Twist is those extra points of contact can get rope burned/bruised. Even with the tall socks you see crossfitters and OCRacers wear.
The rope climb really does need more strength from the legs than anywhere else. My trainer would always bust me, when he saw me pulling more than pushing. “USE YOUR LEGS, MORE LEGS!” Unless you are a super athlete, you can burn yourself up real fast using all upper body. Just watch the older shows on Stone Cold Steve Austin’s Broken Skull Challenge. Many hot shot guys, with amazing bis & tris never made it up the rope at the end of the “Skull Buster”, because they chose not to use legs or a technique. Though climbing ropes in OCRs are far different than climbing in your backyard or gym. They are crowded. They are muddy, wet, and usually not the competition/Crossfit regulation diameter of 1-1/2″. Keep this in mind. Nothing like a crowd of people waiting for you to get up and down a muddy, wet rope, while people struggle on each side of you and your rope.
My advice is, climb a rope at least once a day. When you’re tired, when you’re refreshed, if it’s outside, when it’s raining. At the gym, do it a couple times, too. Watch YouTube, find which technique fits you better. Need to feel more secure? Use the Spanish Twist, wanna go fast, use the J Hook. Either one of those techniques can be practiced by sitting on a jump box, under a rope, and practice those foot/leg positions, safely on the ground. To me, coming down is harder than going up. Once you get confident enough, do a lot of short climbs, practicing your descent slowly. Learning how to relieve your foot pinch, to SLOWLY lower yourself down without tearing the skin from your palms is very important. Hand over hand is what you want, not a fireman pole slide!
Lastly, it will only take a a couple rope burns on your ankle/legs, for you to get why I wear ridiculous looking, tall socks. The ropes are full of bacteria and chemicals, and I have 2, yes, 2 scars, from two seperate rope descents that were well cared for, and still got infected and scarred.
There really isn’t a greater feeling than getting to the top of the rope for the first time!
Please note, video posted is from this past Spring. Speed and efficiency has improved and as soon as this nasty weather breaks, I will have more up to date clips!