You love CrossFit training but don’t have a rope to climb up at home or in 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, I have the best 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, the good news is there are plenty of other exercises you can do to work similar muscles.

Any activity that strengthens your upper body muscles will be a good rope climb alternative. Let's dive straight into my 9 favorite rope climbing variations.

1. Towel Climbs 

woman doing towel climb exercises

Towel climbs are a great substitute for rope climbs at home that doesn't require a rope but you do need a pull up bar.

If you have a pull up bar then all that is required is a towel, making it a very cheap and easy rope climb modification.  

Although it's sometimes referred to as "towel pull-ups," it is distinctly different in its execution as you are alternating pulling with each arm rather than pulling together. 

Towel climbs are also the best legless rope climb alternative. 


  • Challenges every muscle in your upper body.
  • Builds grip strength.
  • Challenges coordination and timing. 

How To Do Towel climbs:

  1. Roll up a gym towel and drape it over a pull up bar. 
  2. Hold each end of the towel and lift your legs off the ground. 
  3. Using your upper body muscles, shift the towel on the bar (as if you were polishing it). 
  4. 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. 
  5. Do 15-16 towel climbs per 15’ rope climb.

Tips From A Trainer!

If this is a bit too difficult at the start, try lightly placing your feet on a box trying to place as little body weight into the movement as possible. From here you can build into doing this without needing the extra support.

2. Towel Pull-Ups 

Man Doing 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 pull up bar.

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.


  • Challenges every muscle in your upper body.
  • Trains very similar muscles as rope climbs.
  • An added to challenge for those with great upper body strength who have mastered pull ups.

How To Do Towel Pull-Ups: 

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

Tips From A Trainer!

You can perform this using just one towel but if you want to be able to change the grip width then you'll need two towels.  

Related Article: Pull Ups Vs Lat Pulldown

3. Underhand Lat Pull Downs 

Woman Doing Underhand Lat Pull Downs At The Gym

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 upper back muscle. Additionally, you can adjust the weight to suit your strength level.


  • Utilised more bicep strength, great for building up to chin ups.
  • The underhand grip allows for greater range of motion and targets the lats more.
  • Great exercise for beginners who need to build more back strength of for those who sit at a desk a lot.

How To Do Underhand Lat Pull Downs:

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

Tips From A Trainer!

To increase the difficulty, add time under tension. You can do this by adding in tempo reps, paused reps and 1 1/4 reps. 

4. Regular Pull-Ups 

Woman Doing Regular Pull-Ups At The Gym

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 pull up bar to do this exercise, you can add weight to your ankles for a more challenging workout.


  • One of the most effective full body strength exercises.
  • Builds strong grip.
  • Improves posture.

How To Do It Pull Ups:

  1. Place your hands on the bar, shoulder-width apart. 
  2. Bring your feet off the ground and cross your legs. 
  3. Pull your body up, bringing your chin to the bar. 
  4. Hold for 1 second, and then slowly lower yourself down and repeat. 

Tips From A Trainer!

If you can't do a full body weight pull up yet, don't think this exercise isn't for you. Build your strength by doing eccentric reps. 

5. Inverted Row 

Man Doing Inverted Rows

Also called a body row, inverted rows are 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.

If you are unable to perform the inverted row exercise, whether due to limited equipment or physical constraints, there are inverted row alternative exercises that can target similar muscle groups. 


  • Great option for beginners as it uses your own bodyweight.
  • Enables you to work towards pull ups.
  • Works the biceps and forearms and improves grip strength. 

How To Do Inverted Rows:

  1. 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. 
  2. Next, it should be at a height that you are able to reach in a lying down position. 
  3. Place your hands shoulder-width apart. 
  4. From this starting position, keep your body straight and heels on the ground and lift your chest up to the bar/table, squeeze your shoulder blades then slowly release back down and repeat.
  5. If you need to make it easier, bend your knees and bring your feet closer to your body.

Tips From A Trainer!

Inverted rows are easier when your body is positioned at a bigger angle. The closer you are to parallel to the floor, the harder is it.

6. Monkey Bars 

man doing monkey bars exercise at the gym

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.


  • Improves you agility and improves functional strength.
  • Enjoyable way to challenge yourself.
  • Works your shoulders, back, arms and core muscles.

How To Do Money Bars: 

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

Tips From A Trainer!

If you're new to this, try gripping the bar with both hands before moving onto the next bar. This will help you feel more stable before moving on to alternating your hands. 

7. Sled Pulls 

Man Doing Sled Pulls At The Gym

Sled pulls are one of my favorite exercises that offers full body strengthening and conditioning in one effective exercise.

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.


  • Great for building power.
  • Full body workout.
  • Elevates your heart rate and burns a lot of calories, perfect for adding to the end of your sessions or as part of a HIIT workout. 

How To Do Sled Pulls: 

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

Tips From A Trainer!

Keep a neutral spine throughout the movement and focus on knee drive when pushing the sled.  

8. Rock Climbing

woman rock climbing outdoors

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.


  • Rock climbing is both an effective strength workout and a form of cardio.
  • Increases forearm and grip strength.
  • Improves balance and coordination. 

How To Do Rock Climbing:

  1. 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. 
  2. 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. 
  3. Position one foot and each hand on a grip. 
  4. Step up onto the foothold, bringing your other foot up to a higher foothold. 
  5. Use your momentum to climb up, grabbing hold of the next available grip. 
  6. Continue this motion, alternating between your left and right hands/feet until you reach the top. 
  7. If you’re bouldering, you’ll traverse around the side of the “rock” until you reach the end.

Tips From A Trainer!

Whilst rock climbing is highly demanding on the upper body, your lower body needs to be utilised too. Don't forget to climb with your feet, turning this into a full body workout. 

9. Ring Muscle Ups 

Man Doing Ring Muscle Up Exercise

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.


  • Requires full body strength and coordination between upper and lower body. 
  • Improves shoulder mobility.
  • Increases grip strength.

How To Do Ring Muscle Ups: 

  1. Set the ring height to where you can just grab hold of them while standing on the ground with your arms raised. 
  2. 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. 
  3. 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. 
  4. 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. 
  5. Next, raise your body up while pushing your hands down to your hips. 
  6. Slowly lower yourself back down, doing each movement in reverse until your feet are back on the ground. 
  7. Do 10-15 ring muscle-ups per 15’ rope climb.

Tips From A Trainer!

You must learn how to get comfortable with false grip in order to do a ring muscle up. Practice false grip by simply hanging then trying to do pull ups using this grip.  

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.[1]

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.

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.[2]

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.[3]

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.


Rope climbs are a great upper body exercise that is used often in Crossfit.

Not everyone has access to an actual rope so these are the best rope climb alternatives you can try to build some serious upper body strength and back muscles that look shredded. 





Jo Taylor

Jo Taylor

Hi, I’m Jo. I love sunrise swims, cold water immersion and cats. I have been dedicated to strength training for the past 14 years. I became a qualified Personal Trainer in 2020, and am passionate about helping my clients get stronger. Visit Jo Taylors Website