8 Great Rope Climb Alternatives for CrossFit

The CrossFit rope climb is a great way to ramp up your heart rate and get a full workout all at once. It is a one-of-a-kind workout that targets multiple muscle groups.

Not everyone has a rope always available to climb. Try these alternatives to target the same muscles and achieve a similar workout.

CrossFit Rope Climb Alternatives

  • Rope or Towel Pull-ups
  • Regular Pull-ups
  • Sled Pulls
  • Monkey Bars
  • Rock Climbing
  • Body Row
  • Ring Muscle Up
  • Underhand Lat Pulldown

Each of these alternatives will work your arms and back muscles the way the rope climb would. While they are not exact, they are similar enough to achieve your goals of targeting your arms and back muscles.

What Makes A Good CrossFit Rope Climb Alternative?

The best alternatives for the CrossFit rope climb will be anything that:

  • Involve you using your back and arms
  • Increases your heart rate

You want to be sure that you are using your back with your arms with these exercises. If you only use your arms, you may strain yourself and cause an injury.

Many people start their fitness journey and don’t understand that you need to use your body as a machine. Everything works together to achieve the final result.

As you work, your body’s heart rate will increase. It is a good thing, you want your body to feel the intensity. A high heart rate means your blood is pumping.

When your heart rate increases, it sends more oxygen to your muscles. Your heart is your largest muscle and needs the extra oxygen during exertion.

To avoid injury, always be sure to warm up before doing any strenuous exercises. Warming up before working out is just as important as the workout itself.

Best CrossFit Rope Climb Alternatives

Rope or Towel Pull-Ups

Towel pull-ups are a go-to workout for those who don’t have a lot of equipment. With this variation, you don’t need to go to the gym. You only need a horizontal bar that is at least 7 feet above the ground.

What Do You Need

You will need two towels and a bar.

How Do You Do It

  • Drape the towels over the bar.
  • Grab the end of the towels with each hand and grip the ends of the towels.
  • Adjust your body so that your legs are off of the ground and your legs are crossed.
  • Begin to pull your body up, try to touch your chin to the bar.
  • Repeat 10 to 15 times.

Optional Addition

Use thicker towels for a harder workout. The thicker the towel, the harder you will work to grip it.

Muscles Groups Used

Forearms, Biceps, Lats, and Rear Deltoids

Regular Pull-Ups

Regular pull-ups are great for people who are on the go. There is no prep involved or cleaning up after. You can easily perform a few pull-ups on your break at work or in between classes.

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What Do You Need

You will need a pull-up bar or equivalent.

How Do You Do It

  • Start with placing your hands on the bar about shoulder-width apart.
  • Lift your body and cross your legs.
  • Pull your body up towards the bar until your chin is at or above it.
  • Pause briefly, then lower yourself back down.
  • Repeat with a slow and controlled motion.

Optional Addition

Place weights on your ankles for a better workout.

Go at a faster pace to a more intense workout.

Muscles Groups Used

Back and Biceps

Sled Pulls

Sled pulls are great at the gym or home if you have the right equipment. Unlike pull-ups, they get your legs involved in the workout which is great for ramping up the intensity.

What Do You Need

You will need a 15-foot rope, a fitness Sled, and heavy-weight plates.

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How Do You Do It

  • Attach your rope to the fitness sled or weight plates securely.
  • While at the other end of the rope, stand with your knees slightly bent and legs apart.
  • Use your hands to grip the end of the rope firmly.
  • Pull the weights toward yourself.
  • Repeat until there is no more rope to pull.

Optional Addition

Add more weight to make this workout more challenging.

If no sled is available, try using a large truck tire.

Muscles Groups Used

Back, Biceps, Shoulders, Forearms, Legs

Monkey Bars

Monkey bars are ideal for parents who love to take their kids to the park. No gym is required. There is no sense in letting the little ones have all the fun!

What Do You Need

You will need a set of monkey bars.

How Do You Do It

  • Using your hands, grip the first bar.
  • With a tight grip and loose body, swing one arm toward the next bar.
  • Release your grip with one hand and grab onto the bar.
  • Use your momentum to swing to the next bar.
  • Repeat this motion until you reach the end.

Optional Addition

Do a pull-up at each bar in between swings. The pull-up will add intensity to your workout.

Wear a weighted vest to increase muscle mass.

Muscles Groups Used

Lats, Shoulders, Biceps, Abdominals

Rock Climbing

Rock climbing can be done in nature or at an indoor rock climbing wall. Either option is fun and gives you a great workout. It is a nice alternative if you want an activity that you can do with other people.

Rock Climbing as Rope Climb Substitute

What Do You Need

You will need rock climbing equipment, a rock-climbing wall, or a cliffside.

How Do You Do It

  • Always be sure to properly put on your rock climbing harness.
  • Use your hands to find something to grip and hold onto.
  • Begin to pull yourself upwards.
  • Climb as high as you can using both your arms and legs.
  • Once at the top, begin to climb down.

Optional Addition

Add a weighted vest or ankle weights while climbing. The extra weight will make the climb harder.

Try skipping a rock. Reaching out further will make your muscles work harder.

Muscles Groups Used

Arms, back, legs

Body Row

The body row is great for beginners. It targets the same muscles as the rope climb but doesn’t require as much strength. This alternative is great if you still need to build up your muscles.

What Do You Need

You will need a bar that is about as high as your waist.

How Do You Do It

  • Grip the bar or rings with your feet on the ground.
  • Pull yourself up to the bar while squeezing together your shoulders.
  • Be sure that your body stays straight and bend your knees if you are a beginner.
  • Repeat 10 to 15 times.

Optional Addition

If a bar is not available, you can use a set of rings.

Try laying horizontal, this will intensify your workout.

Muscles Groups Used

Biceps and Back

Ring Muscle Up

CrossFit Rope Climb Alternative - Ring Muscle Up

The ring muscle-up is somewhat harder and requires immense strength and ability. But if you are at a level of fitness that allows you to try it, you won’t be disappointed.

What Do You Need

You will need a set of fitness rings.

How Do You Do It

  • Begin by holding the rings with a firm grip.
  • Pull your body into the rings.
  • Transition your body to pull yourself up above the rings.
  • Adjust your shoulders to be over your hands.
  • Use your elbows to raise your body.
  • Lower your body into a support position.
  • Repeat 10 to 15 times.

Optional Addition

Wear a weighted vest for a tougher workout.

Muscles Groups Used

Back, Biceps, Shoulders

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Underhand Lat Pull Downs

The last alternative we will look at is the underhand lat pull down. It is a great exercise for your upper body. And it allows you to be in a seated position. This is a great alternative if you can’t use your legs or lower body.

What Do You Need

You will need a lat pulldown machine.

How Do You Do It

  • Grip the bar with your palms facing you.
  • With your hands shoulder-width apart, begin to pull the bar to your chin.
  • With a controlled hold, ease the bar back up above your head.
  • Repeat 10 to 15 times, less if using heavier weights.

Optional Addition

Use more weight to make the workout more intense.

Switch your hand positions to target different muscles

Muscles Groups Used

Biceps and Back


You want an alternative that will work your arms and back muscles equally. In these exercise alternatives, you will be able to choose the best one for you depending on your ability.

Not all alternatives will give you the exact workout that the CrossFit rope climb will. But with variations and doing multiple exercises, you can achieve similar results by using the same muscle group as the rope climb.

And remember, not all workouts need the gym or gym equipment. You can be as creative as you want with exercise. Parks are a great place to find things to use to work out. Don’t limit yourself to the gym. If you can find other ways to work out, try them all!

Tim Rollins, Editor

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