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Rope Climbing: Simple, basic
and brutally effective...

By John Wood

Back in grade school, I used to love gym class. The grade school I attended, Sands Montessori, was in a building that was over a hundred years old. What I really liked about our gym was that they hadn't changed much about it since the turn of the century. It had a beautiful hardwood floor, Swiss bars, parallel bars, ladders, adjustable rings, poles, balance beams and climbing ropes. (I never saw any Indian clubs or wooden dumbbells but would bet good money that they used to have em' at one point.)

It looked a lot like the gym in this picture:

An old Time Gymnasium
An Oldtime Gymnasium

Needless to say, everybody had a heck of a good time playing on this vintage equipment. Yes, I do mean playing as it never felt like we were training but looking back, that's exactly what we were doing. I believe that the time in that old gym had a lot to do with laying the foundation for my future athletic success.

One thing that was always one of my favorites during gym class was when we did rope climbing. Heck, that was an age when I didn't really know what "strong" was. I could climb that rope like nobody's business and not even think twice. Needless to say, when I did get older, and began researching some of the top grip exercises, rope climbing was always at the top of the list.

In fact, Karl Gotch, the "God of Wrestling" in Japan, always said that rope climbing and other "gymnastic" type exercises were the most valuable exercises for combat athletes.

I agree.

Unfortunately, I didn't realize this until it was too late... when I was in high school my grade school moved away from that building to a more "modern" location. There was no way I could go back to the old building to train .

All that great physical culture history...lost. Well, at least that's how it looked anyway.

Did you know that rope climbing is one of the oldest forms of physical training?

In 1569, Hieronymus Mercurialis (1530-1606) wrote De Arte Gymnastica which collected many classical Greek and Latin sources on ancient gymnastics and physical training.

Of all the exercises and training techniques that he discussed, Mercurialis concluded that "only rope climbing and wrestling were wholesome." As long as you can pull yourself up when you need to and can grapple like you mean it, there's not much else a physically fit individual needs to be able to do. I don't know if I would call other forms of exercise "unwholesome" but there is no doubt that rope climbing is one fastest ways to get very strong in a hurry. Regardless, it is clear that people have been using rope climbing for training purposes for thousands of years.

Rope climbing has always been a popular form of exercise for the training of soldiers ...and with good reason. It was (and is) an excellent method for developing strength and endurance in the entire body that would come in handy for a variety of military maneuvers. If you can't pull yourself up when you need to in a tough situation, you just might be dead meat.

At Fort Benning, for example, if you want to get into Ranger School, one of the skills you have to master is the Prusik Climb.

This event is a staple of the David E. Grange Jr. Best Ranger Competition. and is one of the fastest and most demanding events of the grueling 60-hour, 60-mile endurance contest.

For this contest Rangers are split into two-man teams. Each man has to climb a 90-foot rope to a narrow tower platform with gloved hands. Once they reach the top they must detach from the rope, run across the platform and rappel down the other side. Each team member's time is then added together for a final score. It will take a time of less than two minutes to even raise an eyebrow.
Did you know that rope climbing used to be an Olympic event? Unfortunately it was dropped after the 1932 Games. Competitive rope climbing could still be found on the collegiate level until the early 1960's though. It was originally sanctioned as a gymnastic event by the AAU and NCAA.

This was not a sport for the faint of heart. Why do I say this?

It's because in competitive climbing, the legs weren't involved at all. Yes, that's right, you had to climb a twenty foot rope holding a seated position with the legs held out in front the entire time. The record for a 20 foot climb in this manner was under 3 seconds!!

You couldn't use the legs coming down either. Needless to say, those who excelled at this event were some strong hombres.

I know of no other exercise that hits the entire body as hard as climbing does. If you want to develop some "Old School" strength with some \rope climbing might be just the ticket you have been looking for.

Train hard,
John Wood signature
John Wood

P.S. If you are looking to add rope climbing to your grip workout, Functional Hand Strength now carries the top quality climbing ropes. Click here to check em' out.

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