Rope climbs are a fun way to get in extra movement but it is not available to everyone. What are some alternatives to rope climbs with similar benefits?
Besides the typical exercise benefits this movement offers, rope climbs can help you grow and strengthen your biceps and upper back muscles like your latissimus dorsi.
Additionally, you engage leg muscles like your glutes, quadriceps, and hamstrings.
Whether you don’t enjoy rope climbs, you don’t have a rope available at your gym or at home, or you want an alternative for any other reason, these rope climb substitutes can offer you similar benefits and improve your performance.
The pull-up is a classic compound back exercise that can be a great substitute for rope climbs. This exercise will target very similar upper body muscles.
It is true that you need something to do the pull-up on but even if you currently don’t have something like this, a doorway pull-up bar is relatively inexpensive.
Take the following steps to do a pull-up:
- Hang from the pull-up bar with your hands at about shoulder-width with your hand palms facing forward.
- Pull your body up slowly until your shoulders are the height of the bar.
- Lower your body again into starting position in a controlled motion.
To make pull-ups even more similar to rope climbs you could hang a towel or rope on the pull-up bar and do the exercise while holding these.
One thing to keep in mind is that pull-ups are more challenging than regular rope climbs since your legs are not lifting any weight.
Exactly how many pull-ups equal a rope climb depends on how you distribute your weight while doing them and what you want to be “equal”.
Let’s say you put about 2/3 of your weight on your legs during rope climbs, in that case, 3 rope climb “repetitions” would equal one bodyweight pull-up in terms of total weight lifted.
In terms of muscle growth and strengthening this won’t be the same.
One deadlift with 330 pounds (150 kg) can cause more muscle growth and strengthening than 100 deadlifts with 3.3 pounds (1.5 kg) even though the total weight lifted is the same.
2. Lat pulldowns
The lat pulldown exercise often has its own back machine setup in the gym. This is basically a seat with pads to brace your upper thighs against in front of a cable machine.
The pads are there so you don’t pull yourself up during the exercise.
If you have resistance bands and a good anchor somewhere high you may also be able to do this rope climb alternative with these equipment options.
Take the following steps to do a lat pulldown with the machine:
- Take place the seat with your legs anchored behind the thigh pads. Select the desired weight.
- Grab the handle with an overhanded grip, this means hand palms facing forward/downward, with your hands at about shoulder width. Lean back slightly with your upper body.
- Slowly pull down the bar by folding your elbows and squeezing your shoulder blades together until the bar reaches your chest.
- Lower the bar back into the position of step 2 in a controlled motion.
As the name implies this exercise mainly focuses on your latissimus dorsi also known as your lats. Even so, it also engages a few other muscles similar to rope climbs like deltoids, forearms, biceps, and trapezius.
Similar to pull-ups you could wrap a towel around the lat pulldown handle to simulate the upper body engagement of a rope climb even more.
A cable machine attachment like the double D grip also resembles the grip of rope climbs just a little more than straight bar attachments.
Something that many people forget is that climbing a rope with good technique actually focuses a lot on your leg muscles. To engage these muscles an exercise like deadlifts can be a good option.
You do still need a barbell and weight plates for this exercise but these are relatively standard in (home) gyms. Take the following steps to do a deadlift:
- Stand up straight with your feet at more or less shoulder width in front of a weighted barbell.
- Slightly fold your legs at the knees and tilt your upper body forward to grab the barbell on the ground.
- Tilt back your upper body and stretch your legs in one continuous motion until your upper body and legs are stretched in one straight line. When doing a deadlift it is very important to keep your back in a straight line during the exercise.
- Slowly move back into the position of step 2 by first tilting your upper body forward (with a straight back) and then folding your knees.
Similar to rope climbs, deadlifts work your glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, forearm, and upper back muscles. Additionally, deadlifts work your lower back, erector spinae, and calves a lot.
To simulate the load these muscles would go through when climbing a rope, you would use relatively low weights. You can also try to strengthen these muscles to improve your rope climb performance. In that case you would use higher weights.
4. Bent-over rows
You can do this next rope climb substitute at home or in the gym with back exercise equipment like a weighted barbell, dumbbells, kettlebells, resistance bands, etc.
Even if you don’t have more traditional fitness equipment you can use a backpack with heavy books. Take the following steps to do a bent-over row with a barbell:
- Load the desired number of weight plates on the barbell and stand in front of it.
- Put your feet at about shoulder width, grab the barbell with an overhanded grip, and lift up the barbell with your legs until you stand up straight. Keep your spine straight throughout the exercise.
- Slightly fold your knees and tilt your upper body forward until it is at about a 45-degree angle with the ground. Let your arms hang down to the ground for now but hold the barbell tightly.
- Bend your elbows until your hands reach your body. The goal is to mainly make your back muscles support this movement. Keep your arms close to your body, your spine in a straight line, and your feet in the same position during the movement.
- Lower your hands again to the position of step 3 in a controlled motion.
Bent-over rows will work similar upper body muscles as rope climbs. One thing to keep in mind is that bent-over rows are more challenging for your lower back muscles.
Again, how much weight you want to use for this exercise depends on what your goals are with these rope climb alternatives.
Squats are one of the, if not the most, popular leg exercises, and for a good reason. They are a great alternative to rope climbs if you are interested in working your leg muscles in a similar way.
Take the following steps to do a squat:
- Stand up straight with your feet at more or less shoulder width.
- Slowly lower your hips by bending your knees. How far depends on different factors like knee health but at your lowest point you want your hips to be at or lower than your knee height. You will likely have to bend forward for balance but keep your back in a straight line throughout the movement.
- Push yourself up again into starting position by stretching your legs.
When using a good rope climbing technique, you engage muscles like your glutes, quadriceps, and hamstrings a nice amount. These are also (for the most part) the targets of the squat exercise.
To simulate the load your legs would go through during rope pulls, bodyweight squats at home are more than enough. You can also choose to grow and strengthen these muscles by using extra weight.
6. Sled pulls
There is a piece of gym equipment called a weighted prowler sled on which you can put weights. For this next rope climb alternative, you will need this piece of equipment and a suited surface to pull the sled on.
Once you have these, take the following steps to do sled pulls:
- Load the sled with whatever weight you want to use.
- Hold the sled with your two hands and face toward it. Tilt your upper body backward a bit but keep your back straight throughout the exercise.
- Pull the sled by walking backward.
By pulling the sled instead of pushing you work your forearm and quadricep muscles more and glute muscles less. Pushing the sled is also definitely an option depending on your training goals.
Sled pulls will generally be more of a cardiovascular workout than rope climbing. However, you can also load the sled heavier to focus on growing and strengthening your muscles.
7. Inverted rows
For inverted rows, you can use a sturdy barbell rack with a bar, sturdy table, dip bars, gymnastic rings, or trx bands.
As an example, take the following steps to do an inverted row with a barbell rack:
- Sit or lie down with your back on the ground under the barbell.
- Put your hand in an overhanded position on the barbell at about shoulder width.
- Move your body so your arms are stretched, your knees are at about a 90-degree angle, and the rest of your body is in a straight line.
- Raise your body by slightly bending your elbows until your body reaches the bar. The goal is to mainly make your back muscles support this movement. Keep your arms close to your body, your body in a straight line, and your feet in the same position during the movement.
- Slowly lower yourself again until you are back in the position of the third step.
The muscles you work with inverted rows are very similar to rope climbs.
However, due to the different pulling angle of this substitute, inverted rows will focus slightly less on the latissimus dorsi and more on other upper back muscles.
Inverted rows are similar to climbing a rope in terms of how hard these muscles will have to work. For growing and strengthing these muscles you will likely need more resistance.