Whether you're climbing up them, jumping over them, or throwing them around, training with ropes helps tighten and tone nearly every muscle in your body. What's more, experts say it can improve your coordination and reaction time by fine-tuning the way messages travel between your muscles and your brain. That can translate to anything from a faster return on the tennis court to a quick-action catch of a glass before it hits the kitchen floor.
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CLIMBING ROPESThe expert: Phil Black, former Navy SEAL and founder and CEO of FitDeck exercise playing cards
It's no wonder this is a staple in military fitness tests: There are few better assessments of total-body strength and endurance. "No muscle gets a free pass," says Black. You'll strengthen your hands, arms, back, shoulders, core, inner thighs—even the same pelvic-floor muscles you target with Kegels. "Everything is working together as you climb," he says. Plus, you can score the body-toning benefits straight out of the gate—even if you're not quite ready to race straight to the top.
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Do It Right1. Test your strength. There are a number of ways to simulate the movement until you gain enough strength to pull yourself all the way up. First, sit on the ground with the rope between your legs. Grab the rope above your head, then try to pull yourself up to standing. Repeat that five times. Too hard? Follow the same pattern, but starting in a low-squat position. Too easy? Hold the rope on one side of your body and lean back about 45 degrees with your legs straight. Then pull yourself up to standing.
2. Start climbing. Grab the rope as high as you can, then bend your knees up toward your chest; bring your feet together and create an S-shaped lock with the rope (it should go under one foot, then over the other), which will allow you to transfer the force so you can use your legs to support your body weight. Then think about "standing up," pulling yourself hand over hand until your arms are reaching overhead. Keep repeating that motion—knees to chest, lock in with your feet, pull up hand over hand.
3. Descend. Climb down the way you climbed up: Lock the rope between your feet and lower your body hand under hand until your knees are bent about 90 degrees; straighten your legs and relock your feet. Continue until you touch the ground.
Can't get your hands on a climbing rope? Tie a weight to the end of a battle rope and get into a plank position on your forearms; keeping your body in a straight line. Reach forward and pull the rope toward you with alternating hands.