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Mark Plas

How to incorporate rope climbs in a BTGB program?

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Mark Plas

Hi everyone,

How can I incorporate rope climbs into my BTGB training program?

Until about a month ago, I did 4m legless rope climbs as part of my training program. I did them twice a week for about four months. After a while I started feeling some slight pain in my right elbow and, over the course of months, my entire body started feeling a bit tired/sore, like it was all too much. I also had some pain located at the front delts in my right shoulder when climbing upwards which caused me trouble while climbing but also with other exercises (I don't think the problem were the deltoids, but rather something underneath, perhaps a tendon).

So I stopped doing the exercise.

Things improved! The elbow pain went away, I had no more pain in the front deltoid area and the overall tiredness&soreness disappeared. On top of that, I started making better progress on the other exercises, so I'm thinking that rope climbs were a bit too much for me to handle in my program.

That being said, I feel I'm missing out on something and I would like to add the exercise again, but I don't know how (I want to avoid running into the same problems again).

The reason I would like to add them again is because it seems to be a totally different exercise compared to what I'm doing right now. In my experience, rope climbs are very explosive in nature, while my current exercises are all done in a controlled, slow way. And rope climbs also improve my grip strength!

This is my current training program:

I train 4 times a week and have an A/B schedule (a bit like a Killroy program) that I alternate on Mon/Tue/Thu/Sat.

Day A:

FSP

3 rounds of 3-7 reps:

- HeSPU

- Weighted pullups

- PPP

- FL Rows

- HLL

Day B:

FSP

3 rounds of 3-7 reps:

- Weighted Dips

- 360 pulls

- Diamond push ups (<--- I used to do rope climbs instead of this)

- SLS

- NLC

- Weighted Archups

The other days I do stretching and sometimes some light high rep exercises (like pushups, air squats or whatever comes to mind)

This program has given me very good progress in the six months that I've been doing it.

I used to do rope climbs on "Day B" instead of diamond push ups (I now do diamond pushups to strengthen the elbow a bit).

Given that rope climbs were too much about a month ago, I don't really see a way to add them, but maybe some of you have some good ideas? I could replace my weighted pullups with rope climbs, but I feel both exercises have their place. And as I said, rope climbs are a very explosive exercise, while weighted pullups are done in a controlled, slow way. I don't think one can replace the other...

I've been considering doing rope climbs on one of my resting days, but then that wouldn't really be a resting day anymore (although I can do them, legless rope climbs are still rather hard for me).

Or should I just try one or two climbs at the end of my normal program (on “Day B†for instance)? So, not 3 rounds, but just one or maybe two? Would they still be useful then?

Or shouldn’t I do rope climbs? Maybe doing what I currently do is enough?

How do others incorporate rope climbs? How often do you train them? Do you do them on resting days? Any ideas on how to put this exercise into my training program?

Thanks,

Mark

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Daniel Burnham

First of all have you worked through most of the vertical pulling exercises in the book? Rope climbs should come after you have mastered most of those.

You said you started out with 4 meters. Thats quite a bit of volume to start with. Think of how many pull-ups that would equal. You have to start slowly with the rope and only after you have good pulling strength.

The reason I would like to add them again is because it seems to be a totally different exercise compared to what I'm doing right now. In my experience, rope climbs are very explosive in nature, while my current exercises are all done in a controlled, slow way. And rope climbs also improve my grip strength!

You can do anything (besides statics) either explosively or slowly its just about how you perform the movement. Explosive movements should be reserved for after you have mastered the movement slowly. Think about what coach says. You crawl before you walk and walk before you run. Slow first then include dynamic. The scope of how to include dynamic is beyond what I can say here but It seems you are not ready for that on the rope.

Now to your original question on how to include them... Drop the weighted pull-ups and instead do rope pull-ups. There isn't much reason to move up the rope if you are just beginning. Just pull-up from the bottom. If you want to move up the rope be my guest but only do a few feet so that your volume is very low. Gradually build up this volume for the necessary preparation for real rope climbs. And definitely don't do them on your resting days.

I do rope climbs at least twice a week without ill effect. Gymnasts do a ton. Its pretty much standard practice for strength conditioning. I believe coaches athletes do a few rope climbs up and down for warmup.

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Mark Plas
First of all have you worked through most of the vertical pulling exercises in the book? Rope climbs should come after you have mastered most of those.

Yes, I’ve worked through all the vertical pull up exercises in the book, apart from OAC.

You said you started out with 4 meters.

I should clarify myself. I didn’t start off with 4 meters. Initially I climbed up 2 meters and then jumped down. After about month, I started doing this twice. A few weeks later, I climbed up and down 2 meters just once. Then I did that twice resulting in a total of 4m up&down. This has been spread over a period of 3-4 months. Maybe I should have given this a bit more time. Three to four months might have been too short to make such improvements.

Explosive movements should be reserved for after you have mastered the movement slowly.

I think my pulling strength is reasonable. I can do slow pullups on a rope with no problem, but it seems my elbows need some more time to adjust to the shocks when actually climbing. There's a bit of the problem I suppose: I don't see a way to first learn to climb "slowly" without shocks (without resorting to OAC's of course), and after that climb faster (with more shocks).

But I’ll try your suggestion of starting with (much) less volume and I’ll build up more slowly than what I’ve done before.

Thanks for the advice!

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Daniel Burnham
I think my pulling strength is reasonable. I can do slow pullups on a rope with no problem, but it seems my elbows need some more time to adjust to the shocks when actually climbing. There's a bit of the problem I suppose: I don't see a way to first learn to climb "slowly" without shocks (without resorting to OAC's of course), and after that climb faster (with more shocks).

I already mentioned how. Do rope pull-ups. Once you get very strong at rope climb you will be able to move up and more importantly down more slowly. OAC are harder than rope climbs. You don't have to do cirques to rope climb. In fact, I wouldn't do a one arm negative until climbs before very easy and pain free.

Also 3-4 months is a pretty good span of time. The issues that you might have are that you either started on too hard of a variation (most common one I see) or you aren't deloading properly. When you aren't doing a SSC be sure to reduce about once a month. Continually increasing your volume and intensity at the same time will lead to injury.

Happy Climbing!

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Joshua Naterman

I personally think that you did progress too quickly.

Assuming the same number of sets per workout, you quadrupled your rope climbing volume in 4 months (which is too much). If you added sets, well... that is even worse.

What do I mean by that?

At first you climbed 2m per week. That's 2m per week.

Next you climbed 2m twice per week. that's 4m per week. This was all concentric.

Next you added 2m of eccentrics to this, which is 4m but is still different than 4m of concentric work.

Then you added a second set. 8m of rope work.

Like you said, real rope climbing is a bit of a shock to the joints. When you get stronger it will be less of a shock because your movements will be smoother and that will protect you. I think you just did way too much way too soon, I mean it takes a long time for your connective tissue to remodel significantly. You didn't give it enough time.

Also, the fact that your anterior shoulders hurt from rope climbs means you had bad scapular movement that resulted in impingement of either the subacromial bursa or one of the tendons there (long head biceps tendon or supraspinatus, but probably biceps from where you feel it). You may need to pay closer attention to what your shoulderblades are doing as you climb.

I highly suggest learning the pull ups and learning to progressively do them faster with a full range of motion. This will help you prepare those joints while being able to learn correct scapular movement/stability at the same time. Focus on keeping them stuck to your rib cage. If you can't, you need to focus more on the movements that allow you to do this and build up to where you can do this with rope climbing as well.

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Quick Start Test Smith

Josh, if someone wants to improve their max pull up # from 5-7 to 15-20, then what kind of sets/rep/percent max effort range would you be thinking of? Is there a specific rep range where it's a good idea to switch from a bar (albeit a thick one) to ropes?

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Joshua Naterman

I don't think pull ups can be compared directly, simply because the demand on the forearm muscles is much greater with the rope.

By the time you've mastered all non-OAC pull up variations, basically the various L-varieties, you should be fine with rope climbs.

Having said that, climbing 10m of rope is going to take more than 5 reps unless you're a ropeclimbing champion. :)

I don't think it's a bad idea to build up higher rep pull up ability, and once you hit 15-ish there's a diminishing rate of return. Some will even say 10, but my preference is closer to 15.

Anyhow, you just add 1 rep at a time to one set. That's enough. Just do that each workout you feel like you can add a rep without crap quality, and don't add another rep until you get to where they are all very nice.

Any time you're going for higher reps, your food will become a bigger part of the equation. Anaerobic endurance = carbs.

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Quick Start Test Smith

Thanks, Josh. I wonder if the better way of reaching higher reps would be to do 5 hard reps + increase by one when possible or to do 10 less hard reps with band support... OR do 3x5 twice a week and a few sets of higher rep but lower %1rm.

Doesn't it seem like pull up reps are one of the hardest things to increase? They've always been my bane and yet, the thing I've always wanted to master. Push ups are easy to increase and I see a lot of people do them, but good high rep pull up ability seems to be pretty rare.

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Daniel Burnham

Doesn't it seem like pull up reps are one of the hardest things to increase? They've always been my bane and yet, the thing I've always wanted to master. Push ups are easy to increase and I see a lot of people do them, but good high rep pull up ability seems to be pretty rare.

Pushups are very easy so they can be increased faster.

Think about it this way, if you want to increase your reps at something then do that specific movement. Now if you gain additional strength you will also go up in reps but thats because its a lesser percent of your maximal strength.

To reiterate there are basically two components to increasing reps:

1. Increase maximal strength - works if you weren't very efficient at the movement before.

Ex. If you do 200 pushups everyday then drop them to do bench press. Your pushups will probably go down even though your maximal strength is higher. However if you are working through coaches progressions and you hit just a low rep range before moving on, the next progression will add reps to the previous one (depending on difference in movements).

2. Increase efficiency in a movement. Self explanatory I think.

So if you want to increase pull-ups (and it seems that everyone does..) You can:

GTG pullups making sure to not overtrain (only if they aren't very difficult)- this is my favorite so I don't waste time

Devise a high rep pullup routine that increases slowly (like josh said)

If you want to continue progressions and increase pull-ups just to a lesser extent,

Do pullups in warmup to get some practice and work on the appropriate progression for your strength level.

Honestly I don't see the draw of high rep pull-ups. I never did high rep and I can knock out about 20 now. If you are working on gymnastic strength then just move on. There is a point where pull-ups should be too easy to produce a training effect. Now you should always keep these things as part of your warmup.

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Daniel Burnham
Thanks, Josh. I wonder if the better way of reaching higher reps would be to do 5 hard reps + increase by one when possible or to do 10 less hard reps with band support... OR do 3x5 twice a week and a few sets of higher rep but lower %1rm.

So to answer your question directly, don't do banded pull-ups to try to get more reps of regular pull-ups it's just not the same. Its an ok progression if you cant get a pullup but should be dropped after you are able to work pullups directly. % max is hard to find on non-weighted movements. I like to think in terms of difficulty of progressions. If you are able to do the next higher progression then you could do 3x5 twice a week and warmup with a higher rep pullup session.

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Quick Start Test Smith

I will think of what you've said, Daniel. Thanks for the input!

Sorry for hijaking the thread a bit, Mark. :?

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Mark Plas
When you aren't doing a SSC be sure to reduce about once a month. Continually increasing your volume and intensity at the same time will lead to injury.

This is something I’m probably guilty of. Currently I reduce intensity only when I’m feeling in terrible shape, and this only happens one or two days every 2-3 months. I’ll have to force myself to do an easier week every 4 - 5 weeks.

You may need to pay closer attention to what your shoulderblades are doing as you climb.

…

Focus on keeping them stuck to your rib cage

Thanks for the tip!

Whenever I felt the pain, I tried to move my right shoulder in all kinds of positions to make the pain go away. Usually, when I pushed the right shoulder forward and turned it inside, it went away. Maybe by being in that position, my shoulder blades were “stuck to my ribcage� I don’t have the problem with the left shoulder, so I have some kind of reference point to compare what I’m doing wrong with the right shoulder.

One question perhaps: How do you know whether you keep your shoulder blades “stuck to your rib cage� should you feel them rubbing over the ribs?

I highly suggest learning the pull ups and learning to progressively do them faster with a full range of motion.

I’ll focus on that.

Happy Climbing!

Thanks! :)

Sorry for hijaking the thread a bit, Mark.

No problem Patrick :)

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Daniel Burnham

One question perhaps: How do you know whether you keep your shoulder blades “stuck to your rib cage”? should you feel them rubbing over the ribs?

You wont feel them rubbing. The best advice I can give you is to keep the inner part as close to you body as you can. Its difficult to explain over text. Maybe have someone press them into your body while hanging.

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Joshua Naterman

That is hard to explain. There's a bunch of muscle between your ribs and your scapula, so you won't feel any ribs. You should feel like you are gliding around the rib cage though. If you are standing with your back to a wall and your shoulders partially retracted so that you feel your spine AND the edges of your shoulder blades against the wall, you can try to press the shoulderblades AWAY from the wall by pressing them forward through your chest. You shouldn't have to protract at all. You'll feel them move forward away from the wall. It's kind of strange, but this is a good way to get used to the feeling.

This is very hard to explain online, that's the best I've got.

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Mark Plas

Thanks Daniel & Joshua.

You've given me enough information to restart my rope climbing training. This time hopefully without injury and without problems in the shoulder.

Bad news though: I injured my left index finger! Climbing will have to wait a while... :(

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