The caving ladder and rope climb are two very different obstacles, but they both require full body control with an emphasis on upper body and can be made drastically easier through the use of proper technique.
Here are the key training tips:
Have a Technique Ready
For both of these obstacles you need to have your technique down ahead of time. Just winging it on the spot may lead you to have to retry the obstacle with tired arms. With the number of obstacles at Adventurey events like NORAM and OCRWC, you want avoid retry attempts if possible.
For the rope climb I recommend the S wrap. The S wrap is hard to explain in words so I recommend looking for an instructional video or image to best explain it. Basically, the rope runs between your legs, you wrap a leg around it and using the other foot step on the rope which is now on top of your foot. This will create a nice foot lock on your Graphene Grip inov-8 shoes. This is a more secure lock than the J hook, which involves the rope running by the outside of your body and it going under the near foot and over the outer foot.
The Caving Ladder
The caving ladder is also technique based, although much less complicated. If you climb it like a normal ladder you will find your feet are pushed away from you and you need to use your arms to climb. Instead, put one foot through the ladder like normal and wrap the other foot to the far side putting your heel through the backside of the ladder first. It helps to do the same with your arms. These opposing forces will make the ladder hang straighter than a normal climb.
Practice Makes Perfect
You can get away with not practicing the caving ladder. If you can find one, I would definitely give it a couple of tries though because it will make you more efficient. Rope climbs on the other hand need to be practiced. Luckily for you, many of NORAM and OCRWC qualifiers have rope climbs as part of the race.
If you can’t find a gym, just head to one of the qualifier races, complete the course and then head back out for additional practice. Whether that be Spartan Race, Conquer The Gauntlet or one of the other 100+ events listed in Mud Run Guide’s Ultimate OCR Bucket List book (which includes every NORAM/OCRWC qualifier in the USA).
While some people attempt to rest mid-climb, I recommend continually moving. Depending on how you are hanging you are most likely still burning energy and tiring your arms. Hanging on the obstacle longer will only make it harder. Rest after you finish the obstacle and you’re walking/running to the next obstacle. Also, keep pushing. Many people give up when 50-75% through the obstacle, and re-attempt. You’re far more likely to succeed on your first attempt. If you have the energy to reattempt, you have the energy to continue.
Push through with your Legs
Instead of pulling your body up the rope with your arms, try to think powering through with your legs. It’s easier to stand up on the rope than to do a pull-up. When done effectively, it looks like you are inch worming your way up the rope. Make a conscious effort to save your arms for future obstacles.
This requires practice (“practice makes perfect”), so try it on in your local OCR gym or race course first. Often I see this problem with men, who try to muscle their way through every obstacle instead of using technique to create efficiency.
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Evan Perperis, NSCA-CPT, is an athlete on the Conquer The Gauntlet Pro Team and author of three books on Obstacle Course Racing. Included in his 39 podium finishes is a 2nd place Pro Coed Team at the 2018 North American OCR Championships and 1st Place Team at 2018 World’s Toughest Mudder. Find more of his content at www.teamstrengthspeed.com. Looking for more great tips from the same author? Pick up a copy of Strength & Speed’s Guide to Elite OCR and if you are planning on racing long at Enduro, Mud Run Guide’s Ultra-OCR Bible.
**Editors note: This post was originally released in May of 2019 and has since been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.