Mastering The Rope Climb

If you’ve been around the sport of CrossFit for a while, then you’ve probably been exposed to the infamous YouTube video of Rich Froning during the 2010 CrossFit Games falling from a rope during one of his last workouts. This unfortunate occurrence actually led to his taking second place at the Games for the first and last time. If you re-watch the clip on YouTube, you will see that the main reason why Froning ended up falling off the rope was because he didn’t know how to properly wrap his feet.

The rope climb has become a staple gymnastics movement programmed in most CrossFit gyms. It has been seen numerous times in local competitions, at the regional level, and at the CrossFit Games. Because of the ever-evolving nature of the sport, it is important to develop the skill of climbing a rope.

First of all, how do you know if you have the strength to actually do a rope climb? Well, if done correctly, the rope climb is actually more of a squatting exercise than a pulling exercise (unless, of course, you are doing legless). Even with this in mind, you do have to have a certain amount of upper body and grip strength to safely perform a rope climb. 

One way to determine if you’re ready to tackle a rope climb is by performing the following drill: set up a box under a bar on the pull-up rig. To start, set your feet on the box and hang from the rig with your arms. Your hips should be closed (almost like you’re sitting at the bottom of a squat). See image below.

Then, by opening your hips, you are just going to stand yourself up on the box. See image below.

Finally, once you are in this standing position, you are going to use one arm to reach up as high as you can. This drill mimics the motion of using your legs and hips to stand up and move yourself up the rope. Once you have mastered the technique of opening your hips and then reaching with your arm, you are ready to start practicing your feet positioning.

Learning how to wrap your feet is essential for being able to perform a rope climb. If you can’t get a good clamp with your feet, then you will lose the power that comes from your legs and hips and have to revert to using mostly your arms to pull yourself up the rope. This is what you want to avoid. 

There are two different types of feet-wrapping techniques that are commonly taught in CrossFit gyms. The first is the Spanish Wrap, which is the most secure method of climbing a rope. For this technique, the rope goes through your legs and then you wrap one leg around the rope. See image below.

Once you have wrapped your leg around the rope, you will then take your opposite foot (using the example of the image above, the left foot) and stand on top of the rope that’s wrapped around the ankle. This locks the rope in close to your leg so that it stays secure. However, with this particular technique, it takes more pulls to get to the top of the rope and is more taxing on your grip. 

The second method of climbing a rope is called the J-Hook. This technique is much quicker and more efficient than the Spanish Wrap. With this method, the rope sits on the outside of your foot; you feed it on top of your foot and then use your other foot to squeeze the rope. See image below.

This method takes a little time to practice the correct positioning of the feet, but once you’ve mastered it, you’ll be able to climb the rope like a pro.

Watch this video for a tutorial on different drills to practice before attempting your first rope climb:

Watch this video for a full tutorial on how to do the Spanish Wrap and J-Hook techniques: