My Beef with CrossFit Rope Climb Substitution

CrossFit Rope Climb Substitution

If you are looking for a substitution for rope climbs, crossfit will point you HERE, and it will say the following:

  • “Towel pullups is the consensus best substitute. For more realism, alternate one hand high, one hand low on the towel. Some folks do towel pulldowns, as well. Standard rope length is 15′, and standard substitution is 15 towel pulls.”

What it doesn’t take into account:

  • The use of your legs
  • The fact that you don’t actually climb all 15ft. of rope

Now I love crossfit and the fact that they give all this info for free but…Does anyone have a problem with this?? I know I do. I did the Hero Workout Tommy V today, which if you are unfamiliar it is, For Time:

  • 115 pound Thruster, 21 repscrossfit rope climb
  • 15 ft Rope Climb, 12 ascents
  • 115 pound Thruster, 15 reps
  • 15 ft Rope Climb, 9 ascents
  • 115 pound Thruster, 9 reps
  • 15 ft Rope Climb, 6 ascents


405 Towel Pull-Ups??

IF I have this right, to follow the crossfit rope climb substitution you will end up doing 405 strict towel pull-ups(27 total ascents x 15 towel pulls per ascent = 405). That could be a hero workout alone. Not to mention strict pull-ups are pretty rare in crossfit so I don’t know many who could actually accomplish this.

The thing about the rope climb is it involves a lot of legs. Yea it is freaking badass to see someone climb a rope without the use of their legs, but it just isn’t practical. I have and can ascend to the top of a 15ft. rope and I do not feel it is equivalent to 15 strict towel pull-ups. I actually think it is a lot easier to climb the rope.

Watch this video of rope climbs (just the first few seconds):

Does it look like they are doing 15 pull-ups on every ascent?? No it doesn’t.

My suggested CrossFit Rope Climb Substitution:

  • 4 Alternating Strict Towel-Pull Ups
  • 4 Squats

I know this seems a bit weaker than the sub, but I feel it is more accurate. It uses the arms about as much as you actually will and it takes into account the legs

What do you think? Have a different suggestion??


  • Slider


    For the “alternating” aspect of the towel pu’s, do you put your feet on the ground after every rep and switch hands or attempt to do that whilst still holding onto the towel? Also, for the squats, are you doing actual back squats with weight on the bar (if so, how much?) or are these bodyweight squats? Thanks.

    • Jerred

      I attempt to switch without touching the ground, but it can prove to be very challenging. Putting your feet on the ground is not a deal breaker though.And they are body weight squats. If you want to use weight I would go with the bar.

  • Tony McGurk

    Thanks for this Jerred. I was wondering about the amount as rope climbs are in todays WOD & I don’t have a rope… Yet. By CF’s figuring that’s an horrific lot of towel pullups so by looking at the video 4 seems more reasonable..

    • Jerred

      No problem Tony! Yea this is more reasonable and accurate in my opinion.

  • Justin

    I did this today, but found squats too easy. Did pistols instead, 5 reps each leg.

  • David

    I know this is an old post but the sub used at my box is rope pulls. Lay down on the ground with the rope positioned somewhere in between the shoulders ad chest, then while keeping your legs straight the whole time, pull yourself up the rope wth your arms until you are standing up. Then lower yourself back down in reverse. 3 of those = 1 15ft ascent. It still doesn’t incorporate legs but it’s definitely more realistic than towel pull-ups. And it gets your hands used to gripping the rope.

    • Jake McCoy

      I think the point of the sub is if you don’t have no rope but do have a pull-up bar and a towel. Most people can find a playground and towel, but access to a rope is more difficult.

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  • Alex

    These crossfitters need to start getting their damn legs off the rope and climb.