Eric Cressey put out a great post a few months ago regarding the possible risk of doing excessive amounts of heavy pull-ups/chin-ups. Eric also made a good point that perhaps for some individuals, we should be doing a cost-benefit analysis regarding whether they should even be doing the exercise. Since then, I have seen a number of individuals post their concerns regarding excessive chinning/pull-ups. Along with many of these posts came the suggestion of complimenting, supplementing, or possibly replacing pull-ups/chins with rowing and other pulling techniques. Although this isn’t exactly a new idea, many coaches are attempting to balance between the two motions, it just hasn’t had as wide of recognition as it should have because so many people hold the pull-up/chin as a sacred cow which cannot be degraded or changed in any shape or form. Needless to say, I still love pull-ups/chins, but I have found myself drifting more towards doing variations of heavy rope climbing as my primary grip, arm, and back strengthening exercises. For this post, I put together video of my favorite rope climbing progressions as a supplement to, or replacement for pull-ups/chin-ups.
This is a basic rope climbing progression toward climbing single and double ropes without leg assistance. Rope climbing is an excellent grip, arm, and back challenge that demands strong functional muscle synergies in order to complete each pull. This progression is designed for rope lengths between 7-10 feet, such as those attached to a power rack/squat rack or a low ceiling. At this distance, climbing up and back down equals 1 rep. As each unweighted progression becomes easy (3 sets of 10 reps easy), you progress to the next technique, or skip around as you see fit. Treat the “no leg” climbs like a heavy lift, aiming for sets of 5. If you can get to the point of doing 5 sets of 5 reps with the no leg technique, you are solid and should either strap on some weight or find a place to use a decent height rope (20+ feet).
**Caution: Although I really enjoy the suspension strap assisted climbs, there is a risk of getting yourself tangled up and coming down without your legs to protect you. If you can’t safely bail out with just your arms at this height, don’t use this technique.