5 Best Rope Climb Alternatives (with Pictures!)

published by: Debbie Luna
Last Updated:
September 21, 2022

In the sub-field of athletic training and functional fitness, the rope climb is considered a staple due to its capacity to develop muscular endurance and strength in much of the upper body - all the while being uniquely suited to a variety of different training needs.

However, the rope climb is not quite a perfect exercise, and several issues relating to its performance or the exerciser themselves can create the need for a suitable alternative exercise.

Unfortunately, there are few exercises that can actually replicate the various benefits of the rope climb, and the small number that come close are still situational in their capacity to act as an alternative. 

As such, it is up to the exerciser to decide on which alternative is most suitable for their circumstances.

Why Should the Rope Climb be Substituted with an Alternative?

The most common complaint made about the rope climb exercise is simply that the majority of exercisers do not have access to a rope - especially those who are members of public gyms, which will usually only feature battle ropes that are not attached to a vertical point.

rope climb

Furthermore, many exercisers may find the rope cimb to be uncomfortable or even painful as it can cause large amounts of friction in the hands, inner thighs and even more sensitive areas.

These reasons, alongside a number of others, can all be remedied by simply choosing an alternative exercise that may substitute the sort of training stimulus provided by the rope climb.

How to Alternate Out the Rope Climb

In order to properly alternate out the rope climb, we must first identify what particular purpose it served within an exerciser’s training program. 

In the event that the rope climb was originally intended to increase heart rate and therefore induce caloric expenditure, substituting it with a type of exercise that causes similar physiological responses such as rock climbing or monkey bar climbing should be sufficient.

If the rope climb was present within your workout program because of its ability to build the muscles of the arms and back, substituting it with pull-ups or other exercises that place hypertrophy-inducing stimulus on these muscle groups.

Furthermore, considering the fact that the rope climb is rarely ever measured in terms of sets and repetitions, it will be up to the exerciser or their coach to determine whether the relative intensity of an exercise is sufficient enough to substitute the rope climb as well.

What Makes a Good Rope Climb Alternative?

Apart from meeting the same intended purpose as the rope climb, the alternative exercise should also work the same muscles as well. These are the biceps brachii, triceps brachii, latissimus dorsi and rhomboid muscle groups.

rope climb muscles

Though other muscles are also involved in the rope climb - mainly the core and deltoids - they act in more of a stabilizing capacity and as such are not quite a requirement in the muscular recruitment of the alternative exercise.

In addition, the alternative exercise should feature similar mechanics and kinetics as the rope climb itself, with elbow contraction, shoulder rotation and scapular movement all being featured in these potential substitutes.

1. Rope Pull-Ups

Rope pull-ups are the ideal alternative to the rope climb, as they not only replicate much the same muscle group activation - but are practically interchangeable with the rope climb, with the sole difference being that rope pull-ups feature somewhat more intense recruitment of the latissimus dorsi muscle group.

When substituting the rope climb with the rope pull-up, the only equipment needed is a short rope or similar object that can be affixed overhead, usually to a pull-up bar or dip ring. This allows for a greater freedom of equipment than the rope climb’s need for a rope fixed vertically overhead.

Who Should Substitute Rope Climbs with Rope Pull-Ups?

Rope pull-ups are the ideal substitute for people that are simply trying to change up their usual workout routine, or those that otherwise have no issue with the usage of a rope or the motion of rope climbs itself.

Individuals with a history of injuries that are aggravated by the rope climb, those who find the usage of ropes uncomfortable or simply those that do not have access to any ropes whatsoever will find that rope pull-ups are unsuitable, however.

Advantages Over the Rope Climb

The rope pull-up’s main advantage over the rope climb is in its far greater contraction of the back and biceps muscles. Because of the fact that the legs are not involved and do not hold the exerciser’s body aloft, it is in these muscle groups that the body must maintain stability and thereby support itself.

This will easily result in more effective muscular hypertrophy, though many will notice that the total volume they are capable of will be reduced.

Additionally, the rope pull-up does not require as much space or as complicated a set-up as the rope climb, allowing individuals with even a small amount of equipment to retain the benefits of the rope climb.

How to Perform

To begin performing the rope climb, the exerciser simply grips both ends of the rope in both hands and pulls their body upwards by their lats and biceps. The ascent should be performed in a slow and controlled manner, and only ends once the bar or ring has reached a parallel level with the chin of the exerciser.

Having completed the concentric portion of the movement, the exerciser simply needs to return to their original position in a similarly slow manner so as to finish the entire rope pull-up repetition.

2. Monkey Bars

Surprisingly, one of the fixtures of an ordinary children’s playground may also be used as an excellent substitute exercise to the rope climb. 

monkey bars

Monkey bars are a set of affixed overhead bars several feet apart that require the exerciser to utilize grip strength, upper body musculature, athleticism and muscular endurance to move from one end to the other. Conveniently, these are also all the characteristics needed in a good rope climb alternative exercise.

Much like the rope climb, monkey bars are not measured in sets and repetitions and as such can be directly translated in terms of workout programming, making them one of the most easy substitutions to the former exercise.

Who Should Substitute Rope Climbs with Monkey bars?

Monkey bars are most suitable as a rope climb alternative for athletes or CrossFit practitioners seeking a similar calorie-burning and endurance-demanding exercise without the use of a rope or the lower body. 

In fact, monkey bars do not need to be performed within a gym at all, since most parks and playgrounds have them.

In terms of muscle group recruitment, monkey bars recruit the exact same areas of the body as the rope climb - though with the added benefit of greater core muscle stimulation due to the fact that the legs are not aiding in supporting the body.

Advantages Over the Rope Climb

Apart from being far more lenient in terms of equipment required, monkey bars are arguably more dynamic as they involve a momentum-based explosive movement between each bar, something that has considerable carry-over to other sports related activities.

Furthermore, unlike the rope climb, exercisers are capable of adding additional resistance to the monkey bars exercise by utilizing wearable weighted equipment or by gripping a dumbbell between their ankles, though this may alter the physics of the exercise somewhat.

How to Perform

Gripping the initial bar in both hands, the exerciser will swing their lower body and reach out one arm towards the next bar, only releasing the first bar once they have secured their grip on the following one. 

This is all that is required to perform the exercise, though one may increase its complexity or resistance through additional weighted equipment or by performing a pull-up with every bar they grip.

3. Muscle Ups

The big brother of the rope climb exercise, muscle ups may be considered less of an alternative and more of a direct progression from the former exercise - with significantly higher resistance, difficulty and complexity, though also returning just as effective training stimulus.

muscle ups movement

Who Should Substitute Rope Climbs with Muscle Ups?

Muscle ups are for experienced athletes who have surpassed the rope climb in terms of deriving progression from the exercise; with the muscle up allowing them to continue developing their body in an efficient and intense manner.

Advantages Over the Rope Climb

The muscle up’s primary advantage over the rope climb is its considerably more complex difficulty and higher level of resistance - both of which allow for progressive overload to be achieved despite an athlete’s advanced training level.

Furthermore, muscle ups may also be performed with any ordinary pull up bar or similar implement, requiring no rope or other sort of equipment one wouldn’t find in a conventional public gym.

How to Perform

To begin performing a repetition of the muscle up, the exerciser will perform a standard pull-up prior to transitioning to a muscle up by pulling oneself above the pull-up bar, pushing through their arms and pectoral muscles once reaching the upper rotation point above the bar.

Once they have reached a position where their elbows are fully extended as they stabilize themselves above the pull-up bar, the repetition has been completed, and they may return to the starting position.

4. Pull-Ups

Simply the standard pull-up, this particular alternative to the rope climb is for exercisers that find the nature of the rope climb exercise to be too laissez-faire and difficult to track over time. 

pull up

In this particular case, the pull-up may be used so as to improve the exerciser’s adherence to their training program and provide a more rigid exercise with which to structure.

Additionally, pull-ups train the exact same muscle groups that the rope climb does, making it also a convenient alternative for those without access to a rope.

Who Should Substitute Rope Climbs with Pull-Ups?

As previously mentioned, pull-ups are a suitable alternative to the rope climb for lifters seeking greater structure to their training, or those that wish to retain the muscular recruitment of the rope climb even without the usage of an actual rope.

Advantages Over the Rope Climb

Apart from being easier to track and progress with, the conventional pull-up is otherwise practically the same exercise as the rope climb and as such does not provide very many distinct advantages.

How to Perform

To perform a repetition of the standard pull-up, the exerciser will grip a pull-up bar in both hands shoulder-width apart. Then, they will draw themselves upwards entirely with their lats and arms, stopping once the bar has reached parallel with their chin.

After completing the concentric portion of the repetition, the exerciser will then allow themselves to return to the ground in a slow and controlled manner, thereby performing a repetition of the pull-up.

5. An Honorable Mention: Inverted Rows

Finally, there is the inverted or reverse row - one possible alternative to the rope climb that shares only its muscular activation pattern, and nothing else.

The inverted row is a suitable alternative in the event that the exerciser quite literally has no access to any sort of training equipment, or has otherwise sustained an injury that limits their ability to perform other alternatives in this article.

inverted row

It should be noted that the inverted row provides both less intense training stimulus and a different form of such, making it one of the last choices among many other alternative exercises.

To perform an inverted row, the lifter will simply suspend themselves from a racked barbell or similar object - their hands shoulder width apart - prior to literally rowing their own bodyweight beneath the bar, their legs extended in front of them.

In Conclusion

As you can see, though there are a number of possible alternatives to the rope climb, none truly recreate the essence of the exercise. 

It is up to you, your circumstances, and your training program to decide how best to go about substituting the rope climb exercise.

No matter what alternative exercise you pick, it is important to ensure that proper programming is implemented, and that correct form is always adhered to.

References

1. Dhahbi, Wissem & Chaouachi, Anis & Padulo, Johnny & Behm, David & Chamari, Karim. (2015). Five-Meter Rope-Climbing: A Commando-Specific Power Test of the Upper Limbs. International journal of sports physiology and performance. 10.1123/ijspp.2014-0334.

2. Youdas, James & Amundson, Collier & Cicero, Kyle & Hahn, Justin & Harezlak, David & Hollman, John. (2010). Surface Electromyographic Activation Patterns and Elbow Joint Motion During a Pull-Up, Chin-Up, or Perfect-Pullup™ Rotational Exercise. Journal of strength and conditioning research / National Strength & Conditioning Association. 24. 3404-14. 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181f1598c.

Debbie (Deb) started powerlifting and Olympic lifting in High School as part of her track team's programming; She continues to train in order to remain athletic. Inspire US allows Deb to share information related to training, lifting, biomechanics, and more.
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