How to do a Rope Climb in Denver

Awaken Denver athletes practice rope climb drills to build strength in class.

Here at Awaken Denver, we’re a little addicted to heights and are obsessed with the rope climb. You might say we’re wired for it, since Awaken gymnastics bodyweight training is so close to the foothills of the Rocky Mountains in Denver, CO. But on days we can’t go scaling 14ers, we find ways to get higher in the mile-high city (no—not that kind of high). What’s our favorite way to go up? The rope climb.

Colorado climbers know that you use every muscle in rock climbing. The same can be said for gymnastics. However, when you develop your rope climbing form in gymnastics bodyweight training, you will target your lats, biceps, forearms, abs, hips, and legs in completely new ways. Some athletes may need to develop additional upper-body strength, while others may need to practice hip mobility to ascend smoothly.

Trust us, this isn’t the rope climb your grandparents did in Eisenhower’s Presidential Fitness Test. (Though we’re sure they’d love to tell you stories!)

Warm ups for Kick Ass Rope Climb

To prep for a gymnastics bodyweight training rope climb, we recommend starting with a series of pull-ups which we implement at Awaken Denver. We will never ask you to swing your body or jerk yourself up. Instead, aim for a fluid, controlled motion, with a regular grip. Get a friend or chair to spot you if you need it—no shame.

The goal in a gymnastics bodyweight training pull-up is to activate the full range of shoulder mobility, and gymnastics bodyweight training athletes do NOT rely on momentum to get them to the stop of their pull-up, so work slowly and focus on range of motion. Start each rep with a dead hang and protracted shoulders, cresting at the top with depressed scapula and retracted shoulders.

Three sets of five checks on the rope should be an excellent warm up. For a challenge on your last rep, pause at the highest point of your pull-up for 15 seconds; then descend slightly and pause another 15 seconds when your arms reach 45° from the pull-bar; finally, pause for another 15 seconds when your arms are at 90° from the bar (Look at those guns!).

Beginner Tip: If your pull-up strength isn’t there: focus on the negative! Use a chair or friend to get you to the top of your pull up and descend slooooooowly as possible. By repeating this exercise, you’re giving your body a chance to learn what you’ll ask from it later on.

The second warm up to prepare for rope climb is ring rows. We love busting out a full set of rings for a large Foundations class at Awaken Denver. If you can’t visit Denver’s best gym, however, you can still do this exercise at home with a set of rings.

The basic action of a ring row is accomplished by gripping the rings with your wrists facing outward and extending your arms. Your body should end up at a 45° from the ground. Then, with a legs together, tucked pelvis, and tight core, you gradually pull your body up and rotate your hands so your wrists are facing away from you. Do three sets of 15 on this exercise. Note that you can make it easier by moving back from the rings and more difficult by moving closer to the rings.

Ready for Rope Climb

Now that you have activated your shoulders, lats, and forearms, you should be ready for the rope climb. In gymnastics bodyweight training, we don’t use our legs to shimmy up the rope. You’ll extend your legs out in straddle position, toes pointed, glutes and quads tight—this is for balance as much as it is for strength.

Note: Your hips may scream a little at first in this position, and as you get tired, your legs will tend to flag. If either is the case, sign up for our hip prehab and flexibility classes to improve your range of motion.

If you’re a beginner, sit in a straddle with the rope between your legs, and grip the rope with both hands. You’re going to lay back and lift yourself up, similar to how you did with ring rows. Your feet will stay on the ground and your upper body will straighten out. Pull yourself up like this five times with one hand on top; then, switch your grip and perform the exercise another five times. Three sets total—you got this!

If you’re ready for the full gymnastics bodyweight training rope climb, you’ll start seated in a straddle position with the rope between your legs. Wrap your hands around the rope and pull until your top hand is close to your chest, then lift with the lower hand and repeat. The higher you reach, the faster the climb goes, but remember the goal is NOT speed, but control. Take it slowly up the rope, ensuring that your legs are engaged and parallel to the floor. As you go down, allow your arms to extend fully so that you experience the full range of motion. (It’s tempting to swap hands quickly).

And let it be said—again!—that a spotter is your friend. They can help you achieve greater control and better form, which will set you up for long term success.

Final Thoughts

Even if you’ve been weightlifting or training in Denver for a long time, you will likely find a gymnastics-style rope climb difficult. But this isn’t our first rodeo at Awaken, Denver's best fitness facility. Our expert coaches will help you develop strength and flexibility from wherever you’re at, using your body and body weight as the tool.

Who knows? Once you start flying in our classes on our ropes, rings, and bars at Awaken Fitness (Denver's Best gym), you may never come back down.

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