The rope climb is a common sight in obstacle course racing, and features in the majority of races. It's certainly possible to brute force your way up, but when you're muddy, wet, and exhausted from already running 10km+, it can be a tough ask.
Fortunately, a little bit of technique on the rope climb goes a long way. With some know-how and a small amount of practice, the rope climb quickly changes from a soul destroying tough obstacle, to something you look forward to and can fly up with ease.
Tips & Techniques
1. Don't brute force it
Even if you can brute force your way up the rope using only your upper body, I wouldn't advise it. You'll waste a lot of energy and zap precious grip and upper body strength.
You also don't know when a rope climb is going to come up during a race. It could be when you are utterly exhausted, and barely have the strength to lift your arms, nevermind haul yourself up a rope. Don't risk it, and spend some time learning the proper technique.
2. Use your feet
In general, the key to efficiently getting up the rope climb is to utilise your lower body. There are a few different specific techniques to do this, but generally speaking the objective is to learn how to leverage your legs in order to remove the strain and reliance on your upper body and grip.
3. The "J Hook" technique
The "J Hook" (sometimes called "L Hook") is one of the most common techniques for conquering the rope climb. The basic premise is explained in the following diagram:
It completely removes the strain from your upper body. You can even confidently let go with one hand, and be assured that the grip with your feet will still hold you in place.
For descending, simply loosen the grip with your feet slightly, and walk your hands down the rope. At any point if you feel you're going too quick, just tighten your feet and lock the rope again.
The "J Hook" is definitely my preferred technique, simply because it's quick and easy to perform, and intuitive to learn.
4. The "S Wrap" (alternative technique)
An alternative rope climb technique is the "S Wrap" (or "S Hook"). The basic principle is similar to the "J Hook", in that you are utilising your feet in order to lock the rope in place, but the execution of it is quite different:
Again, it removes the strain from your upper body, and the lock of the rope with your feet is actually slightly more secure than the "J Hook". However, due to the fact that you have to unwrap then re-wrap the rope each time, it takes a longer time to execute than the "J Hook". It's also arguably less intuitive to learn.
Exercises & Training
The best training is obviously to try and practice these techniques out on a rope. However, I appreciate a climbing rope might not be easily accessible for most people.
As an alternative:
- Find a long piece of either a rope, string, skipping rope, towel, etc
- Sit at the edge of a chair, and hold the rope out in front of you so that it drapes down between your feet
- Then simply practice the "J Hook" or "S Wrap" movements with your feet
- If you've got it right, when you pull the rope gently your feet should stay in place and stop it from moving
- Practice until you don't need to look at the placement of your feet at all.
(Hopefully these techniques help to remove any reliance on upper body grip strength. However, if you still find yourself lacking in this department then check out this post on how to improve your grip strength)