When most people do HIIT workouts, they focus on full-body exercises like burpees and hill sprints, or lower-body movements like cycling intervals or jump squats.
Heavy battle ropes are a great strength training tool for building power and strength in the upper body while giving you all of the benefits of a full-body HIIT workout.
Doing battle rope waves is challenging and you might not last as long as you might think—even if you’re in great shape!
When putting together your HIIT workouts you may ask, how many battle rope waves should I do? And, is it better to do heavy battle rope exercises for reps or time?
In this workout guide, we discuss how to perform battle rope waves, list the muscles worked by battle rope waves, and answer your question, how many battle rope waves should I do based on my fitness goals and fitness level?
Let’s jump in!
What Are Battle Rope Waves?
Unlike many strength training exercises and perhaps even pieces of fitness equipment, battle rope waves (or even battle rope exercises in general!) are less mainstream and often unfamiliar to even experienced athletes.
Heavy battle ropes can also be called exercise ropes or strength training ropes.
They are implements used for CrossFit workouts, metabolic conditioning workouts, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts, power and strength workouts, and general fitness conditioning
Exercise battle ropes are thick (1.5-2.5 inches or so) braided ropes that can weigh upwards of 15 to 30 pounds or more, depending on the length and girth of the battle rope that you use.The exercise battle rope is typically folded in half and anchored at the midpoint around a stationary object like the leg of a dumbbell rack, squat rack, or power cage.
Then, you pull the battle rope relatively taut and stand away from the anchor point, holding the ends of the battle ropes to perform different upper-body or total-body cardio, metabolic, power, and strengthening battle rope exercises.
You can perform different patterns of rapid yet powerful undulations of the exercise rope.
Some battle rope workouts use really fast, alternating shallow waves with each rope end, while others require moving both hands together and squatting up and down as you thrust your arms.
These dynamic battle rope wave exercises cause a dramatic arcing of the ropes up and down as you squat and slam the battle rope into the floor and then lift them back up over and over.
How Do You Do Battle Rope Waves?
Before we look at how many battle rope waves you should do based on your fitness goals, let’s cover how to perform this battle rope exercise.
Battle Rope Waves
- Stand with an athletic stance or full squat position, keeping your chest up, core and glutes tight, and shoulders down.
- Hold one end of the battle rope in each hand with a tight neutral grip.
- Staying in your squat position, thrust both arms up towards the ceiling, pulling the rope up into a big wave.
- Then, in one smooth movement, slam your arms down towards the ground, driving the heavy rope into the floor.
- Try to remain in the squat position and make sure to keep your back straight, chest up, and core engaged throughout the whole set.
- Keep raising and lowering your arms with power and vigor, creating double battle rope waves with both arms moving in tandem.
- Thrust the battle ropes up with your arms and then slam them down into the floor.
You can also perform battle rope waves with alternating arms so that it is a single-arm battle rope wave ripple.
Here are the steps for how to perform alternating battle rope waves:
Single-Arm Battle Rope Wave Ripple
- Assume your same athletic stance or a full squat position, depending on your fitness level. Make sure that your core and glutes are engaged and your back is straight.
- Gripping one end of the heavy rope in each hand, alternating waving each arm up and down to create undulations that ripple back and forth along the length of the battle rope between one hand and then the other hand.
- To make the exercise more varied, you can do tiny, fast, rapid little ripple battle rope waves or large, powerful, dramatic battle rope waves with a larger range of motion.
With fast little waves, you will only move your arms through a smaller arc as you alternate them, or you can do large, giant swings of each arm.
The same applies to double battle rope waves where you move both arms together.
You can throw your arms all the way up toward the ceiling and all the way down to the floor for big, dynamic battle rope wave exercises.
Or you can target speed with smaller super fast yet strong battle rope waves by just moving your arms up and down about the distance of your torso.
Muscles Worked By Battle Rope Waves
Battle rope wave workouts lend themselves well to HIIT workouts because the ropes are heavy, and the battle rope exercises rapidly increase your heart rate.
Battle ropes utilize numerous muscle groups including your:
- Traps and rhomboids in your upper back
- Erector spinae
- Rectus abdominis
Internal and external obliques
- Deep transversus abdominis core muscle
- Serratus anterior
- All grip strength muscles such as the brachioradialis
- Smaller muscles in the forearm, wrist, hands, and fingers
The key to maximizing the benefit of battle rope waves for power, explosive strength, and metabolic conditioning is to keep the intensity as high as possible.
For this reason, you should worry less about increasing the number of reps or time for battle rope waves and instead focus on maximizing how vigorously you are performing the exercise.
How Many Battle Rope Waves Should I Do In My Workouts?
I generally recommend using battle rope waves as part of a HIIT workout.
HIIT, which stands for high-intensity interval training, is a style of exercise training that involves alternating between performing bouts of vigorous exercise with easier recovery intervals.
Battle rope HIIT workouts are super time-efficient,1Wewege, M., van den Berg, R., Ward, R. E., & Keech, A. (2017). The effects of high-intensity interval training vs. moderate-intensity continuous training on body composition in overweight and obese adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Obesity Reviews, 18(6), 635–646. https://doi.org/10.1111/obr.12532 and are a great way to burn fat2Viana, R. B., Naves, J. P. A., Coswig, V. S., de Lira, C. A. B., Steele, J., Fisher, J. P., & Gentil, P. (2019). Is interval training the magic bullet for fat loss? A systematic review and meta-analysis comparing moderate-intensity continuous training with high-intensity interval training (HIIT). British Journal of Sports Medicine, 53(10), bjsports-2018-099928. https://doi.org/10.1136/bjsports-2018-099928 and increase metabolic rate.3KNAB, A. M., SHANELY, R. A., CORBIN, K. D., JIN, F., SHA, W., & NIEMAN, D. C. (2011). A 45-Minute Vigorous Exercise Bout Increases Metabolic Rate for 14 Hours. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 43(9), 1643–1648. https://doi.org/10.1249/mss.0b013e3182118891
Your fitness level, the overall duration of the workout, the length of the recoveries, and the type of battle rope exercise you are doing will influence how long your HIIT battle rope exercise intervals need to be.
The vigorous intervals of battle rope waves usually last anywhere from 10-60 seconds, with the goal of getting your heart rate up to at least 85% of your maximum during the burst.
Recovery intervals are intended to be short enough that your heart rate doesn’t drop too low (usually not below 70% of your maximum heart rate) but long enough that you can recover enough to fully hit the next hard interval with intensity.
A good guideline for the work-to-recovery interval ratio for battle rope HIIT workouts for beginners is 1:2 for beginners, 1:1 for intermediate athletes, and 2:1 for advanced athletes.
When the goal is increasing power and explosive strength, you should perform battle rope waves at maximum intensity for 20-45 seconds per interval.
You can do a super challenging upper-body HIIT Tabata-style workout with battle ropes. This involves performing all-out exercise for 20 seconds and then taking a 10-second rest before going again.4Emberts, T., Porcari, J., Dobers-tein, S., Steffen, J., & Foster, C. (2013). Exercise Intensity and Energy Expenditure of a Tabata Workout. Journal of Sports Science & Medicine, 12(3), 612–613. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3772611/
A traditional Tabata includes eight rounds using this format, but you can increase the overall duration as your fitness level improves for an even more challenging workout.
Here’s an example:
Battle Rope Waves Tabata
Complete 8 rounds of the following:
- 20 seconds of max effort double battle rope waves with both arms together, staying in an isometric squat hold for the full 20 seconds
- 10 seconds rest (stand up straight).
Then, if you’re up for a second Tabata, move immediately into 8 rounds of the following:
- 20 seconds of max effort alternating battle rope waves using the fastest flutters you can do, trying to get as many reps as possible in each 20-second interval
- 10 seconds rest
Even if you don’t want to do battle rope Tabata workouts, you should focus on short, high-intensity sets.
It tends to be easiest to do timed intervals rather than count battle rope wave reps.
Gradually increase the number of sets you can do and cut down the rest in between each set.
If you still want to know, how many battle rope waves should I do:
Time-based battle rope waves is a better approach to increasing the power and strength component of battle rope workouts rather than endurance, but if you do want to increase muscular endurance, work up two sets of two minutes per battle rope exercise.
Learn more about HIIT training here.
- 1Wewege, M., van den Berg, R., Ward, R. E., & Keech, A. (2017). The effects of high-intensity interval training vs. moderate-intensity continuous training on body composition in overweight and obese adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Obesity Reviews, 18(6), 635–646. https://doi.org/10.1111/obr.12532
- 2Viana, R. B., Naves, J. P. A., Coswig, V. S., de Lira, C. A. B., Steele, J., Fisher, J. P., & Gentil, P. (2019). Is interval training the magic bullet for fat loss? A systematic review and meta-analysis comparing moderate-intensity continuous training with high-intensity interval training (HIIT). British Journal of Sports Medicine, 53(10), bjsports-2018-099928. https://doi.org/10.1136/bjsports-2018-099928
- 3KNAB, A. M., SHANELY, R. A., CORBIN, K. D., JIN, F., SHA, W., & NIEMAN, D. C. (2011). A 45-Minute Vigorous Exercise Bout Increases Metabolic Rate for 14 Hours. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 43(9), 1643–1648. https://doi.org/10.1249/mss.0b013e3182118891
- 4Emberts, T., Porcari, J., Dobers-tein, S., Steffen, J., & Foster, C. (2013). Exercise Intensity and Energy Expenditure of a Tabata Workout. Journal of Sports Science & Medicine, 12(3), 612–613. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3772611/