Ever seen someone going to town on battle ropes? They're those super thick and heavy ropes you crouch over and use your arms to send waves down.
It's a stellar cardio exercise that also builds strength. But what if you don't have battle ropes handy or prefer a different workout that day?
Our favorite battle rope alternative exercises that work your entire body are:
- Barbell Thrusters
- Mountain Climbers
- Kettlebell Swings
- Box Jumps
- Medicine Ball Slams
- Barbell Cleans
- Rowing Machine
- Push-Ups to Squat Holds
So strap in and gear up!
What Are Battle Rope Exercises?
Battle ropes are a great way to build upper body strength (more on the muscles worked later), and you can change what muscles you target by doing different exercises.
In general, battle ropes work both your upper and lower body.
If you swing both ropes simultaneously, you'll target more of your erector spinae muscles (the muscles along your spine), and if you alternate arms, you'll target more of your external obliques.
A few sample exercises to try are:
- Bilateral waves (swinging both ropes at the same time)
- Unilateral waves (alternating arms as you swing)
- Rope slams (swinging both ropes at once, but with bigger waves to "slam" the ropes down)
- Alternating wide circles (swing each rope outward in big arm circles)
- Jumping slams (rope slams but with a jump added at the lift)
As you can see, battle ropes are a versatile piece of workout equipment that lend themselves to various movements and major targeted muscles.
It may look "easy" to just wave some ropes around but don't be fooled — it's an intense workout.
TL;DR: Battle ropes can provide cardio exercise and strength training in one incredible workout.
What Muscles Do Battle Ropes Work?
Battle ropes work a lot of major muscle groups.
This particular piece of exercise equipment is a great way to build upper body muscle mass, increase muscle endurance, and even boost lower body strength. So really, it's a fantastic total body workout.
Specifically, the muscles worked are:
- Scapula and clavicle (upper back/shoulders)
- Main shoulders
- Spinal muscles
- Elbows, wrists, forearms
To target more of your leg muscles, lower into a half squat position. But really, this fantastic cardio exercise targets multiple muscle groups all on its own.
TL;DR: Battle ropes are an amazing workout for upper body but can also hit your lower extremities in a super-challenging workout.
What Makes a Great Battle Rope Alternative?
An effective substitute for battle ropes will work the same muscles as a regular battle rope: meaning your arms, shoulders, core, and even some legs.
Each alternative exercise in this list will hit one — or usually multiple — of these muscles.
Our Pick of the 11 Best Battle Rope Alternative Exercises
Without further ado, check out our go-to selection of battle rope alternatives.
1. Barbell Thrusters
Barbell thrusters are a staple in CrossFit and for good reason.
They mimic the movement for a snatch, so if you're training for that, it's a great idea to include them. Plus, barbell thrusters make a great alternative exercise to battle ropes, especially if you have access to a gym setup.
- Begin with your feet shoulder-width apart. Grip the bar just wider than shoulder-width. The bar should rest on your upper chest in a front-raked position like you're doing a front squat (because you sort of are) with your elbows forward.
- Descend into a squat with your hips back and down. Maintain a gentle lumbar curve in your spine, keep your knees pointing forward and in line with your toes, and sink into your squat past parallel if you can.
- Rapidly extend your hips and legs as you press the bar overhead (like you're doing an overhead press). Your heels should stay firmly planted until the extension/lift. You're done at full knee, hip, and arm extension.
Begin with a light pre-loaded barbell at first — this move requires balance, coordination, and strength, so until you're proficient, lift with care.
2. Mountain Climbers
While it's primarily thought of as a core exercise when done rapidly (and with good form), mountain climbers are an excellent cardio workout that can hit your entire body.
- None, but you can use an exercise mat or sliders if on bare floor
- Get on the floor in a standard plank position. Your hands should be directly below your shoulders, legs fully extended behind you, and body lifted off the ground. Your hips and spine must stay neutral. (Make sure to perfect your plank position before attempting climbers.)
- Use your core to pull one knee toward your chest. Make sure to stay stable and don't lose your neutral spine. Swap knees and repeat.
If you struggle with a neutral spine, lay a broomstick along your back. It should only touch in three places: the back of your head, upper back, and tailbone. Have a friend hold it in position as you practice climbers slowly, and then add speed once you can maintain form.
3. Kettlebell Swings
Kettlebell swings... is there a better whole-body exercise? Maybe, but we're a fan of the swings, personally.
Kettlebell swings are a stellar workout both for cardio and strength building. Plus, if you include variations like single-arm kettlebell swings, you can really up your workout game.
- Set the kettlebell out in front of you, so it's below your eyes when you hinge at your hips. You'll have to reach a bit to grab the kettlebell handle.
- Keep your feet hip distance apart and maintain a gentle bend in your knees. Hinge at the hips and reach for the bell handle. Maintain a slight curve in your lumbar spine. "Screw" your hands into the handle (tighten your lats).
- Inhale and "hike" the weight behind you, then use your legs to "throw" the kettlebell forward and in front of you. Important: don't use momentum. Instead, use your muscles to control the movement. Exhale at the top.
- Allow the weight to fall back between your legs and repeat.
Start with regular kettlebell swings before attempting a single-arm kettlebell swing so you can perfect your form before turning it unilateral (one-sided).
4. Box Jumps
Want a move that kicks your butt like battle ropes? Enter box jumps.
This battle rope substitute is killer for your cardio and lower body both. Plus, they can make a great addition to your interval training.
- A box or something sturdy to jump up onto
- Start with arms above your head and balanced lightly on your toes. Then, snap your arms and feet down into your preparation stance — weight evenly distributed between your feet, arms behind you, legs bent, ready to jump. Pause here for a moment.
- Explosively leap upward onto the box, lifting your arms up as you go.
- When you land, do so with a generous bend in your knees, so you land softly. You should be hinged at your hips with your arms out slightly behind you, similar to your preparation stance.
Imagine a hurtle or other obstacle just in front of the box that you're trying to clear. This will help you land softly on the box.
5. Medicine Ball Slams
A medicine ball is a versatile piece of equipment that can easily take the place of battle ropes.
If you're not familiar with them, a medicine ball is a weighted ball that you can carry, throw, do core work with, and, yes, slam.
In fact, medicine ball slams (also called dead ball slams) are similar to box jumps in terms of your form.
- Start with feet shoulder-width apart or a little narrower. Pick the medicine ball off the ground and lift it overhead. Keep your ribs down and pelvis slightly tucked.
- Send your hips backward and hinge at the waist as you throw the ball at the ground with as much force as possible.
- End with your hands out to the side and behind you slightly, spine neutral, hips hinged (similar to how you land in a box jump).
Ensure the floor you're throwing the ball toward is durable and hopefully not above your downstairs neighbors.
6. Barbell Cleans
Next up on our battle rope alternatives are barbell cleans. They're similar to barbell thrusters, except you're not extended the barbell overhead.
Instead, you're "cleaning" it into a front racked position.
- A barbell
- Stand with feet hip width apart or slightly wider. Grip the barbell with hands slightly wider than your hips and in a "hook grip" (thumbs underneath your fingers, this allows you to pull more weight off the floor more quickly).
- Initiate the first pull from the ground to your mid-thigh (sort of like doing a deadlift). Then, with your shoulders pulled back and down, use your glutes to initiate the second pull and lift the barbell up to about nipple height, chest lifted. Use your arms to "float" the bar and guide it, so it stays close to your body the entire time.
- Initiate the third pull where you "pull" yourself below the bar and secure that front racked position. Drop into a slight squat as you whip your elbows forward.
This is a highly technical move, so be sure to practice with a broomstick or light pipe first to really nail your form, then progress to an unloaded barbell, then with load.
Love 'em or hate 'em, burpees make an excellent alternative exercise to battle ropes. Burpees can help you lose weight, burn calories, and be a challenging move in your HIIT cardio routine.
- Begin in a standing position. Drop to your hands and shoot your feet back into a solid plank, core tight and spine neutral. Do a push-up.
- Jump your feet back toward your hands, stand up, and jump into the air, all in one motion. Land softly and repeat.
If burpees are too hard, there are a few modifications: you can skip the push-up (so you just jump your feet out and back in), you can step your feet out and in instead of jumping, and/or you can simply lift up on your toes instead of jumping into the air.
8. Rowing Machine
If you don't have battle ropes but still want a solid full-body workout, try a rowing machine. This piece of equipment uses your legs and arms both to mimic rowing in a boat. If you have access to a rowing machine and haven't used one before, give it a try.
- Sit in the machine and place your feet on the pedals. Strap your feet in so they're pretty tight. Grasp the machine's handles and ensure your back is not rounded (chest up, core tight, arms straight).
- Push into the pedals to explode backward, using your legs. Your arms don't bend until the handle passes your knees. Only then do you row the handles toward your midsection, squeezing your shoulder blades and keeping your elbows in and down.
- Straight your arms and release the handles (keep your chest up). Once the bar passes your knees again, then bend your legs to return to start.
If the motion is difficult for you, try remembering: legs - arms - arms - legs to keep the pattern down.
9. Push-Ups to Squat Holds
Talk about a killer bodyweight move! In this one, you do a push-up and then immediately explode into a deep squat. In terms of battle rope alternatives, this one's intense.
- Get into plank position, hands slightly wider than shoulders, all muscles tight, spine neutral.
- Drop into a push-up, then before you push back up, jump your legs into a deep squat.
- Hold this deep squat for at least two seconds before repeating the move.
Once you get the form down, you can add speed to make this a cardio move to rival box jumps.
This move requires two particular pieces of equipment you might not have access to: a sledgehammer and a giant tire. But if you've got it, sledgehammers are great battle rope substitutes.
- Stand beside the tire in a staggered stance. With your dominant hand, choke up on the sledgehammer and keep the other hand toward the bottom.
- Swing the sledgehammer back and forth a few times before swinging it back and overhead in a circular motion. Bring the sledgehammer down onto the tire, sliding your top hand down as you do so and maintaining a slight bend in the knees.
- Keep a fluid motion through each rep.
Be very careful during the slam part of this move, so the sledgehammer doesn't jump back toward you.
Last on our list for alternative exercises to battle ropes is using airbikes. These bikes are great additions to a home gym as they're low-impact cardio machines.
- Sit on your airbike with feet firmly planted and gripping the handles. Keep your chest up (don't round your back or lean forward).
To make this an effective replacement for battle ropes, try doing a HIIT cardio workout instead of steady-state.
There you have it! Whether you DIY battle ropes (like garden hose battle ropes or fire hose battle ropes), don't have battle ropes handy at all or just want to shake things up, these moves have your back.
They're effective cardio, work your whole body, and use a variety of bodyweight and equipment, so they're accessible to most people. So break out the dead ball slams or barbells and get to work!