Sunday, March 16, 2008
My Portable Rope-Climbing System
My first rope climbing experience was in junior high school gym class--this was back in the 60's when kids were still encouraged to participate in strenuous activities. From the very first moment, I fell in love with rope climbing. I liked the way it worked my grip and upper arms. It was surprisingly cardio. Rope climbing has been a staple conditioning tool of wrestlers for over 2000 years. In a poll of North American wrestling champions, though they varied in choices of workout equipment, all agreed on rope climbing as invaluable conditioning training.
Throughout my high school and college wrestling career, I had access to ropes in the gym. In the military, there were ropes on base. As a junior high school Phys Ed teacher, I had the kids climb and I'd get my reps in as well. Once I got into the personal training field in commercial gyms, finding a decent rope to climb became more difficult. I missed climbing. Towel chins and pull-ups just weren't the same. The added excitement (and fear) of climbing high off the ground makes rope climbing unique.
I bought a rope from a tug boat supply company on the Delaware river in Philadelphia. I'd hang it off the sides of bridges and climb. When I had my own gym, Maxercise, I'd hang ropes off the second floor fire escape in the back alley. One of my jiu-jitsu students lost his grip one day and slid down the rope, taking the skin off the palms of both hands. My wife (at the time) then put the kibosh on all back-alley rope climbs for fear of losing our home in litigation. That's when I decided to build a rope-climbing tower in our back yard...
I ordered two 35' galvanized steel fence posts. They were joined by a cross beam of welded-on angle iron. I got a bunch of my jiu-jitsu guys to come over and help dig the holes and erect the apparatus. It was unwieldy and a nightmare to get up. We almost took out the telephone wires, and worse, we crashed it through a neighbor's window. This was a Philly Row home with a small back courtyard containing a lovely garden. Umm, my wife was out of town so it was the perfect time to get it done. I figured, what could she say once it was erected? Even my son, Zak, said, "She won't be mad forever..."
We hung a nice, synthetic outdoor rope I bought from John Wood's site, functionalhandstrength.com and Zak and I had some awesome rope climbing workouts.
After the divorce, I found myself living in an RV and traveling the country and I really missed my rope climbing sessions! I devised an ingenious portable rope climbing system. Once again, my friend, John Wood, provided one of his excellent manila climbing ropes. Mine is custom-made at 30' and beautifully finished. Manila affords the best gripping surface, but isn't good for outdoor ropes because it's prone to dry rot. Since I take mine down after climbing and store it in the RV, manila was my first choice.
What I came up with was to attach a life line to a rescue ball on one end and the climbing rope on the other. The life line has a 2000 lb. breaking point and is what actually holds me up. The rescue ball is a large rubber bell through which the life line threads. I find a suitable tree limb, do a couple under twirls, then throw the rescue line up and over. The weight of the ball pulls the rope down to where I can grab it and I double-check the knot connecting the climbing rope to the life line. Then I simply haul the climbing rope up the tree limb and tie off the lifeline by wrapping it around another nearby tree trunk. When I'm done, I unwrap the line and let it fall to the ground. I store my portable system in a large, zippered gym bag with zip-lock baggy containing a sock full of rosin to get the hands dry and sticky for maximal grip.
Last weekend, I found a redwood tree on a cliff overlooking San Francisco Bay. The sunlight broke through the evergreens above therhythmic sounds of the waves hitting the rocks below. The Golden Gate Bridge stood in the distance. I set up my portable climbing system and had at it, alternating sets of 20 Hindu push-ups with a 25' rope climb. After six sets, my arms became dysfunctional.
Next, I did 100 flat-foot Russian squats with my Bulgarian training bag. I finished with one hundred 20 lb. sledgehammer swings on an old stump--ten right, then ten left. I felt great! Here I was in paradise, climbing an ancient tree, working my body, breathing the fresh air and getting the workout of my life. I love working out in nature and find it difficult to go back to the gym after a day like this.