Battle ropes, like exercise sleds, are just as effective as they are Instagram-worthy. The latest fitness fan to show off her rope skills is model Naomi Campbell, who worked the ropes this week with her trainer, Joe Holder.
Similar to box jumps or burpees, battle rope exercises are a type of plyometric exercise, which means they involve fast, dynamic movements that requires you to use a ton of power and energy. In its simplest form, a battle rope exercise involves pounding the ropes against the ground as quickly as possible. Between the weight of the ropes and the resistance you generate with fast swings, this exercise is really demanding. Campbell even drops her ropes with five seconds left on her trainer’s count.
You can see her hitting the ropes hard here:
Certified-personal trainer Kelvin Gary, owner and head coach at Body Space Fitness, tells SELF that using battle ropes gives you a great cardiovascular challenge and get your heart rate up. “[This exercise] uses all the muscle groups in your upper body: shoulders, biceps, triceps, and lats, and pecs as you whip the ropes down.” It’s also one of those sneaky core moves—you have to keep your midsection engaged to stabilize your body as you move your arms. What makes this exercise even more effective is the fast-paced movement, which increases heart rate all while you’re working on strength.
Battle ropes are also versatile, which makes them a great exercise to have in your fitness toolbox, says Gary. For example, if someone has a lower-body injury, they may be able to do battle ropes on their knees and still reap the cardio and upper-body benefits, he says. “Their heart rate goes through the roof because they’re using a lot of muscles, and they’re using them quickly.” (If you have any sort of injury, always make sure to talk with your doctor or physical therapist before trying a new exercise.)
For beginners, Gary recommends starting with a basic ropes workout. Stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, knees bent in a half-squat, and hold one rope in each hand. Next, alternate arms in a wave motion for 20 seconds. Newbies should start with single-arm waves, instead of using both hands at once like Campbell. “If you do both hands at the same time, it’s a higher volume of work, and beginners may get burned out before the 20 seconds are up,” says Gary. Whenever you are engaging more muscles at the same time, you’re putting more stress on your body all at once—which gets your heart rate higher, but may be too difficult when you’re just starting out.
Eventually, work your way up to 25 seconds, then 30 seconds. “Don’t worry about too many sets and tons of reps,” says Gary. “Doing it for time is good enough. First, just get used to how the ropes feel and how your body reacts to them.” Gary suggests beginners incorporate 2 to 3 sets of 20 seconds into a larger workout. After a week or two, as you feel stronger, increase the time you spend on the ropes.
Remember to keep your core stable, knees bent, and elbows flexed throughout. “One of the big mistakes I see is people keep their arms straight and are just whipping the ropes with their shoulders, which can potentially overwork the shoulders,” says Gary. Instead, your elbows and shoulders should flex and extend as you whip the ropes.
As you get comfortable with battle ropes, there are plenty of variations to try, like lunges and twists, all of which add an extra challenge to the exercise. But, as Campbell shows us, even sticking to the basics will give you quite the workout.