Battling Ropes; Surprising: More Demanding Than Squats, Lunges and Deadlifts

Count me surprised, but after thinking about it, and counting my own navy experience as a deck officer, it made a lot of sense.

But first, the science. Adel Moussa posted this on his amazing SuppVersity blog, yesterday: Want to Get Ripped & Strong? “Battling the Rope” Could be THE Exercise to Do! The “Battle” is More Demanding Than Squats, Lunges and Deadlifts – Only Burpees Come Close. I’d never really heard of it.

Now, the SuppVersity is not the place where “anyone’s” assessments are posted. What we are interested in are hard facts. Hard facts as they are produced by scientific studies like the one Nicholas A. Ratamess, Joseph G. Rosenberg, SamanthaKlei, Brian M. Dougherty, Jie Kang, Charles Smith, Ryan E. Ross, and Avery D.Faigenbaum conducted (Ratamess. 2014).

The corresponding paper is about to be published in one of the upcoming issues of the Journal of Strength and Conditioning one of the few go-to journals for everyone interested in the irongame. […]

As you can see the energy expenditure and thus the oxygen consumption in the subjects’ mitochondria was by far the greatest during the battling rope (24.6 ± 2.6 ml ·kg -1 ·min -1) and burpee (22.9 ± 2.1 ml ·kg -1 ·min -1 ) protocols.

The free weight exercises, on the other hand, were rather disappointing. Outside of the squat (19.6 ± 1.8 ml · kg -1 · min -1 ), deadlift (18.9 ± 3.0 ml ·kg -1 ·min -1 ), and lunge (17.3 ± 2.6 ml ·kg -1 ·min -1 ), the energy expenditure was rather mediocre. The same could be said for push-ups and push-ups on the “bogus ball” (aka BOSU® ball) which turned out to be similarly ineffective as means of getting rid of yesterday’s cream cake.

As he always does, he charted it nicely (click to open the larger version).

Source: SuppVersity

Bottom line: Whenever your goal is to get ripped and buffed like the guy on the Men’s Fitness cover, physical play is key. Those exercises that involve the whole body and activate maximal amount of muscles are true “burners”. As a SuppVersity reader you’re well aware that it does not really matter whether it’s fat or glucose you’re burning and that exercise alone is not going to cut it.

I got to thinking about it and how back in the day, serving as a deck officer on one US and then two French ships, ranging from 7,000 to 11,000 tons displacement, we used 3″ diameter lines (calling them “ropes” is a no-no) for mooring operations. These lines are stowed below deck, fore & aft, and have to be hauled up for each operation.

Now, consider this.

DLs With Chains

What’s going on is that as he pulls, each link of chain that comes off the mat adds weight to the lift. And so it was hauling up 100-200 ft lengths of 3″ line from below deck at about 300 pounds per 100′. Each foot adds to the weight, it’s dragging across nonskid for more resistance, and then it has to get from ship to bollard on the pier, wound around the capstan, and then back again and re-stowed upon departure. It’s grueling, exhausting work. You’ll often need 6 guys or more on a single line.

Line Handling
Line Handling

So, now imagine that you use all these principles, and then some, to create a grueling but pretty short exercise routine with minimal impact and and risk of injury.

Make sure to see to towards the end where leg conditioning comes in.

[easyazon_image add_to_cart=”default” align=”left” asin=”B007NSKX7M” cloaking=”default” height=”107″ localization=”default” locale=”US” nofollow=”default” new_window=”default” src=”” tag=”fretheani-20″ width=”160″] So [easyazon_link asin=”B007NSKX7M” locale=”US” new_window=”default” nofollow=”default” tag=”fretheani-20″ add_to_cart=”default” cloaking=”default” localization=”default” popups=”default”]that’s the one I ordered from Amazon[/easyazon_link]. Got the 1.5″ diameter, 50 foot length, and packaged it with [easyazon_link asin=”B00BWVMFX6″ locale=”US” new_window=”default” nofollow=”default” tag=”fretheani-20″ add_to_cart=”default” cloaking=”default” localization=”default” popups=”default”]the Anchor Strap Kit[/easyazon_link].

The reason I jumped right on it is that I soon won’t have regular access to a gym. Come end of July, Beatrice and I are moving out of our San Jose house. I’ll be occupying our Arnold, CA vacation rental cabin in the pines, at 4,000 ft., when it’s not rented out. During most weekends and holidays when it’s rented out, I’ll be in my trailer, which I’m staging at my brother’s place in Placerville, CA, about an hour and a half away.

In either case, I’ll be rural. Yesterday, I must have wasted 30 minutes of my life sitting at traffic lights. Arnold has none. Placerville maybe has two. Bea is not yet ready to call it a retirement after 31 years, so she’s rented an apartment near the school, but will be spending as much time as she can up at the cabin, and I’ll be blocking off weekend time now & then. I’ll be doing some landscaping work I’ve always wanted to do, finishing off the last half of the basement into a workshop of sorts, writing, blogging, managing my vacation rentals—and playing around with my kettlebells, battling the rope, and messing around on the deck and trees for other creative activities.

6a00d8341d0fcc53ef0115703362fe970c pi
Endless Possibilities

Yesterday when I shared the linked article on Facebook, personal trainer and coach Clifton Harski commented.

Maximal muscle recruitment going hard, in self limiting exercise-that’s how you go hard and fast with Minimal risk of injury. Plus ropes are great grip work.

I’ll take that endorsement.

Since Covid killed my Cabo San Lucas vacation-rental business in 2021, this is my day job. I can't do it without you. Memberships are $10 monthly, $20 quarterly, or $65 annually. Two premium coffees per month. Every membership helps finance this work I do, and if you like what I do, please chip in. No grandiose pitches.


  1. Evolutionarily on June 22, 2014 at 02:54

    Richard now that you’re out living in the woods don’t forget that study that came out not long ago showing non-competitive/non-exercise activity of chopping wood had huge health benefits for men in terms of increased testosterone:

    “Scientists have known for a while that competitive exercise, like sports, tend to increase how much testosterone the body releases. The study, published in Evolution & Human Behavior, sought to determine how non-competitive exercise — like food production — compared. In order to do so, researchers tested the testosterone levels of the indigenous Tsimane people in central Bolivia before and after they cut down trees. Their results showed a 46.8 percent increase in testosterone levels following the wood cutting, a full 17 percent higher than the testosterone bump caused by playing soccer.”

  2. Goodstuff on June 21, 2014 at 15:52

    Dude, you’ve got some good muscle structure under your skin. My opinion? Keep up the strength work but spend more time/effort leaning out a bit. You’re in better shape than 95% of guys your age already IMHO.

  3. Mycroft Jones on June 21, 2014 at 17:19

    Thanks to your post today, I am now ordering “Beyond Brawn”, by Stuart McRoberts, via a recommendation from Martin Berkhan. If Berkhan recommends it, it must be good, no? Those rope exercises look amazing. I’ll have to work my way up to them. The thick ropes also remind me of someo f the hanging towel exercises in Convict Conditioning 2.

    • Wilbur on July 2, 2014 at 14:23

      I had never heard of Convict Conditioning until reading your post. I just want to thank you. I am having a delightful time working with it. I’m not sure if the convict backstory is fiction, but the progressions are quite nice.

  4. Reid on June 22, 2014 at 20:32

    Is leaving the San Jose house the first step of your life off the grid?

  5. doogiehowsermd on June 23, 2014 at 01:01

    Boost your brown fat percentage while you’re up in the cold mountains Richard. Exposure to cold helps regrow brown fat and and brown fat boosts metabolism. Link:

  6. Per Nissilä on June 23, 2014 at 07:16

    I wounder if a jute rope would work for this…
    Like this one:

    It is about 50 feet and about 1.2″ diameter. Is it to weak? Too stiff?

  7. Richard Nikoley on June 23, 2014 at 13:55

    I agree, Joe. Even if you think you’re big and strong and can handle the extra 25% of weight. The grip is going to be the weak link.

  8. Wilbur on June 23, 2014 at 14:34

    Circles are funny. The diameter of the smaller rope is 25% less. But the area of a circle with diameter 1.5 inches is 1.77 inches squared. The are for a 2 inch rope is 3.14 inches squared. If I am thinking correctly, this means the heaving rope should be 77% heavier (3.14/1.77-1).

    For fun, a 3 inch rope should be nearly double the weight of the 2 incher.

    This comes up all the time in resizing recipes cooked in round skillets. Moving from an 8 inch to a 12 inch is nearly double the recipe.

  9. Wilbur on June 23, 2014 at 14:41

    Autocorrect mangled that a bit.

    And the recipe needs to be more than doubled moving from 8 to 12 inch skillets (113 vs 50).

  10. Richard Nikoley on June 23, 2014 at 14:54


    You are exactly right, or minimally, far more right than I was.


  11. Richard Nikoley on June 23, 2014 at 14:56

    Of course, what we’re talking about is long cylinders, but I’m sure the cross section of a cylinder multiplies linearly.

  12. Cory on June 23, 2014 at 15:09

    I wish they had included Sprints in that handy little metric. I was always under the impression that sprinting 50-100 yards trumps all in the hormone dept., not just testosterone but HGH and IGF-1. Short max effort anything probably has this response.

  13. Wilbur on June 23, 2014 at 15:16

    That is correct. I should’ve mentioned that. The circle is the interesting part because it’s the radius squared in the formula.

  14. kxmoore on June 23, 2014 at 20:39

    i use the weight machine rope and strap attachments at my gym to simulate tug of war, hauling large game, pulling up a sail, etc. A full body workout indeed.

  15. Skyler Tanner on June 24, 2014 at 05:57

    Why is this news?

    It’s like saying “Planes better at flying than cars.” No shit.

    The measure (RER) is always going to favor high repetition (lots of reps in 30 seconds of battle ropes) activities.

    Makes for a great headline though.

  16. steve W on June 24, 2014 at 10:17

    “more demanding than” – sure. But that video is of a guy doing shoulder exercises. Deads, squats and Oly lifts produce more GH and T than does a burning shoulder workout.

    Have you ever addressed how you reconcile your anarchist views with the fact that your lifestyle is heavily subsidized via your wife’s govment job; what with salary, benefits and retirement that are absurd when compared to the value of her skills in a non-government salary/retirement environment.

    • Richard Nikoley on June 24, 2014 at 10:53

      Yes, it’s perfectly reconciled. Bea is not me.

      What’s your stupid point?

      BTW, if you actually watch the whole video, the back end is of doing it while squatting, half squat holds, side squats, lunges, etc.

      And anyway, who said this would be the only exercise one does?

    • Goodstuff on June 24, 2014 at 13:38

      @ Steve, when you consider that Richard’s private company was effectively shut down by government (plus all the taxes he would have paid) it kinda seems fair to me that Bea should “get something back” from government. The government robs Richard to pay Bea is the way I see it.

    • Richard Nikoley on June 24, 2014 at 13:42

      …And not that it’s anyone’s business, but Bea and I have always maintained separate finances and split everything. We’ve never had joint bank accounts or credit cards.

      Should we ever part, she takes what’s hers, including 100% of her retirement, and I take what’s mine.

  17. Steve on June 24, 2014 at 17:17

    Just curious: when you do make it into a gym, what kind of stuff are you doing these days?

    • Richard Nikoley on June 24, 2014 at 20:24

      It’s been rare lately, as I walk a LOT, play with kettlebells and go on hikes with good climbs involved.

      But, when I do, it’s the BBS Big 5, sometimes with some DLs thrown in at a comfortable, safe 250#.

  18. […] additional exercise, like the dip machine; or today, the peck deck. And I also play around with the Battle Ropes and a Medicine Ball in the yard, […]

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