Rope Climb Alternatives: 9 Substitutes For CrossFit Training

You love CrossFit but don’t have a rope to climb at home or at the gym. Rope climbing is an excellent upper body workout that improves physical and mental stamina. If you’re looking for the best rope climb alternative, we’ve rounded up 9 substitutes for you to try. You’ll still target the same muscles and achieve a similar workout.

If you don’t have access to a rope, there are plenty of other exercises you can do to work the same muscles. Any activity that works your upper body muscles will be a good rope climb alternative, but we've rounded up nine substitutes that will simulate rope climbing best.

1. Towel Climbs 

Towel climbs are a great way to simulate actual rope climbs without using a rope. All you need is a towel and a bar that is at least 7 feet above the ground. Although it's sometimes referred to as "towel pull-ups," it is distinctly different in its execution. Towel climbs are also the best legless rope climb alternative. 

Related Article - Best Wall-Mounted Pull Up Bars

How To Do Towel Climbs:

  • Roll up a gym towel and drape it over the bar.  
  • Hold each end of the towel and lift your legs off the ground. 
  • Using your upper body muscles, shift the towel on the bar (as if you were polishing it). 
  • Synchronize your arms and legs to move in an opposite pattern. This means when your right-hand shifts up, raise your left leg up with it. When your left arm shifts up, your right leg should raise with it.  
  • Do 15-16 towel climbs per 15’ rope climb. 
towel climbs

2. Towel Pull-Ups 

Towel pull-ups are similar to towel climbs in that they also require the use of a rolled-up towel and a horizontal bar. However, instead of a climbing motion, you’re going to be doing a pull-up. This exercise is a great variation that is the most recommended when wanting to simulate a rope climb without a rope.

Read Also - Pull Ups Vs Lat Pulldown

How To Do Towel Pull-Ups: 

  • Roll up a gym towel and drape it over the bar.  
  • Grip each end of the towel. Roll two towels together for a thicker 'rope.' 
  • Raise your feet off the ground and cross your legs. 
  • Perform a pull-up, bringing your shoulder up to the bar. 
  • Alternate left and right shoulders for an even workout. 
  • Do 10 to 15 towel pull-ups per 15’ rope climb. 
Towel Pull-Ups

3. Underhand Lat Pull Downs 

This rope climb alternative exercise is perfect for those who don’t have access to a horizontal bar but do have a lat pulldown machine. This seated exercise will target your biceps and back muscle. Additionally, you can adjust the weight to suit your strength level.

Further Reading - Lat Pulldown Grips Explained

How To Do Underhand Lat Pull Downs:

  • Grip the bar, shoulder-width apart, with your palms facing you. 
  • Still holding the bar, sit down and position your legs below the thigh pads. 
  • Lean back slightly. 
  • In a slow, controlled movement, bring the bar down to your collarbone. 
  • Slowly release the bar up again, maintaining tension along the way. 
  • Do 10 to 15 reps, depending on the weight you’re lifting. 
Underhand Lat Pull Downs

4. Regular Pull-Ups 

The regular pull-up exercise is an easy on-the-go option that also works your biceps and back muscles. While you don’t need anything else other than a bar to do this exercise, you can add weight to your ankles for a more challenging workout.

Related Article - Best Ceiling Mounted Pull Up Bars

How To Do Regular Pull-Ups:

  • Place your hands on the bar, shoulder-width apart. 
  • Bring your feet off the ground and cross your legs. 
  • Pull your body up, bringing your chin to the bar. 
  • Hold for 1 second, and then slowly lower yourself down.  
  • Do 15 pull-ups per 15’ rope climb. 
Regular Pull-Ups

5. Inverted Row 

Also called a body row, this exercise is perfect for beginners who don’t have enough strength to do a regular pull-up yet. There are a number of ways you can perform an inverted row, making it ideal for people who don’t have access to a lot of equipment. Inverted rows can be performed on a low bar, rings, or even your dining table.

How To Do An Inverted Row:

  • Regardless of what equipment you’re using, ensure that it is sturdy and secure. It must be able to bear the weight of your body.  
  • Next, it should be at a height that you are able to reach in a lying down position. 
  • Place your hands shoulder-width apart. 
  • Keeping your body straight and heels on the ground, lift your chest up to the bar/table and slowly release back down again. 
  • If you need to make it easier, bend your knees and bring your feet closer to your body. 
Inverted Row

6. Monkey Bars 

Monkey bars are a fun exercise you can do at the gym or if you live near a park. The motion of crossing the monkey bars is pretty similar to that of rope climbing, making it a great alternative! Additionally, this exercise will help improve your grip strength and assist you with other overhead exercises like pull-ups.

How To Do Monkey Bars: 

  • Using one hand, grip the first bar and pull yourself off the ground. 
  • Use this momentum to swing yourself forward. 
  • While in a swinging motion, use the other hand to grip the second bar.  
  • Maintain your momentum and alternate your hands as you progress along the monkey bars.  
monkey bars

7. Sled Pulls 

Sled pulls are a great alternative for rope climbs because they involve your legs as well. In addition, you can also add or remove weights, depending on your strength level. If you don’t have a power sled at home, you can achieve the same workout by attaching a resistance band to an anchor.

How To Do Sled Pulls: 

  • Place your desired weight onto the power sled and grip the hand straps. 
  • Step backward until you have full tension on the straps. 
  • Squat down nice and low, bracing your core.  
  • Squeeze your glutes to power up from the squat, while simultaneously driving your hands in toward your chest. 
  • Take a step back and repeat until you’ve pulled the sled all the way to the other side. 
Sled Pulls

8. Rock Climbing

If you’re looking for something challenging that will improve your grip strength, upper body, lower body, and core strength - rock climbing is the ideal option for you!

Rock climbing can be done both outdoors or indoors, with indoor climbing typically divided into three disciplines: bouldering, top rope, and lead climbing. Bouldering is great for beginners, while top rope climbing will require a partner. Lead climbing is slightly more advanced.

How To Do Rock Climbing:

  • If you’re top-rope climbing, always do your safety checks first to ensure you’re properly secured. Have your belay buddy check your knots too.  
  • Evaluate the route you’d like to take before beginning your climb. This will help you to know where to go when you’re on the climbing wall and can’t see your feet or available holds. 
  • Position one foot and each hand on a grip.  
  • Step up onto the foothold, bringing your other foot up to a higher foothold.  
  • Use your momentum to climb up, grabbing hold of the next available grip. 
  • Continue this motion, alternating between your left and right hands/feet until you reach the top. 
  • If you’re bouldering, you’ll traverse around the side of the “rock” until you reach the end. 
rock climbing

9. Ring Muscle Ups 

Ring muscle-ups are perhaps one of the most challenging exercises that require a lot of baseline strength to do. They’re an excellent upper body exercise, targeting your lats, biceps, triceps, traps, and pectoral muscles. Ring muscle-ups also help with improving your shoulder mobility. If you’re not able to do a standard ring muscle-up, you can start with an assisted variation.

Related Article - Best WOD & Gymnastics Grips To Help With Muscle Ups

How To Do Ring Muscle Ups: 

  • Set the ring height to where you can just grab hold of them while standing on the ground with your arms raised.  
  • Grip the rings and let your body hang with your feet off the ground. If you’re doing a strict ring muscle-up, you’ll want to ensure you have a false grip. Whereas for a kipping ring muscle-up, having a standard grip will be better. 
  • Do a pull-up movement until the rings are in line with your armpits. It’s also important to keep the rings close to your body. 
  • From there, you’ll bring your shoulders forward while simultaneously pushing your elbows back. This movement will bring you into the bottom of a dip position. 
  • Next, raise your body up while pushing your hands down to your hips.  
  • Slowly lower yourself back down, doing each movement in reverse until your feet are back on the ground. 
  • Do 10-15 ring muscle-ups per 15’ rope climb. 
Ring Muscle Ups

Muscles Worked With Rope Climb Alternatives 


While many people think grip strength comes from the hands and fingers, the muscles used to grip actually originate in your forearms. These muscles, the flexor carpi ulnaris, flexor digitorum superficialis, flexor carpi radialis, flexor pollicis longus, and flexor digitorum profundus, all work together to help you grip an object.

Further Reading - 20 Dumbbell Forearm Exercises

Upper Arms 

The front of your upper arm consists of three muscles and is where most of your strength will come from when rope climbing. These muscles include the biceps brachii, which is often referred to as "your biceps." Next, we have the brachialis (which lies underneath the biceps) and the coracobrachialis.  

Upper Back 

The latisimus dorsi muscle (often called “lats”) is the primary muscle used when pulling your body up the rope. This muscle is found on the sides of your upper back. Other muscles that are worked include the lower trapezius muscles, as well as the serratus anterior muscles.

Lower Body 

Using your legs as much as possible when rope climbing will reduce the load on your arms. This is true for rope climbing alternatives like rock climbing too. These muscles include your adductor muscles (magnus, brevis, and longus), as well as your gluteus maximus and hamstring muscles.

Frequently Asked Rope Climbing Questions

How many pull-ups equals a rope climb? 

For a standard 15' rope climb, aim for 15 towel pull-ups. For a more specific calculation, divide 15 by the length of your arm. This will give you the total number of single-arm pull-ups you will need to do to simulate a 15’ rope climb.

What is a legless rope climb? 

There are two methods of legless rope climb: Hand-over-hand and Kipping. Hand-over-hand is the fastest way to climb a rope but is most tiresome. Kipping involves swinging the legs back and forth. It is a slower method but places far less strain on the biceps.

Are rope climbs better than pull-ups? 

Yes, rope climbing targets the brachialis muscle more than a pull-up does. Additionally, your hands are positioned in such a way that your biceps can exert more force than they can in pull-ups.


That wraps up our comprehensive guide to rope climb alternatives. Now that you have nine substitutes for CrossFit training, you’ll be able to achieve your goals and build your strength without needing a rope.

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Last Updated on February 23, 2023