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Why Battling Ropes? Original Creator Answers All Questions. Interview with John Brookfield

John Brookfield Bio Photo

Dragon Door: As the original creator of the Battling Ropes System—which has been around for quite a while now—what inspired you to offer an instructor certification?

John Brookfield: About twelve years ago, I created the Battling Ropes System in my backyard. I had been looking for a way to train myself to sustain strength, speed, power, and also mental endurance over time, instead of just interval training. I developed and did the training myself for about a year, and the results were just phenomenal. After I did more testing, I realized that I needed to get this out to athletes and the military, since it's so transferrable to everything they do.

Dragon Door: Battling Ropes are inevitably compared with kettlebells. What are the advantages and benefits of using Battling Ropes as opposed to kettlebells?

John Brookfield: The Battling Ropes System is completely different from any other type of training that's ever been out there. Battling Ropes can be a complete, stand alone training system—in the same way that kettlebells can be—but they also mingle very well with other types of training. With the ropes we're actually creating velocity—strength and speed at the same time.

Unlike kettlebells, weightlifting, or other types of training, there’s no lull in the action with the ropes. If you picture fast moving water in a river, it's very relaxed, but it's relentless. There's no lull, no stop, it's just a constant shove of water. With the ropes, your body is constantly working, unlike with kettlebells or anything else. Your mind and body are engaged at all times.

Dragon Door: That makes sense. I'm thinking about a kettlebell swing, and the split second at the top of the swing when the kettlebell floats, or the pause at the top of a kettlebell snatch...

John Brookfield: Exactly. Obviously, gravity takes over with just about anything. But, with the ropes you're creating power very quickly—then in the twinkling of an eye you're stopping that power and throwing it in a different direction, over and over and over. The rope never just goes to the ground like a kettlebell or barbell. When a kettlebell snatch or swing starts coming back towards the ground there’s a little bit of time—even though your core is engaged—for the mind and body to relax just slightly. But with the ropes, if you're doing it correctly, you're constantly engaged while generating a lot of output.

Dragon Door: Many people seem to think the Battling Ropes System is very simple and doesn't require a lot of specialized instruction to learn or teach to others. Clearly, you think otherwise. Could you elaborate on that?

John Brookfield: I certainly can understand how people might think it's very simplistic. But, my training system teaches people how to sustain over time. When most people use Battling Ropes, it’s only for 20-30-40 second intervals. And honestly, not to throw stones, but if somebody can't go non-stop for at least twenty minutes pretty hard with the Battling Ropes, then they don't even remotely understand how the system works.

Once you get to the point where you can actually sustain over time, that's when there’s a huge transfer into any other sport or activity. Athletes will be a lot faster and have a lot more endurance over time if they've been using Battling Ropes.

I've trained a lot of interesting people. I won't mention names, but when training a world class fighter, they might try to go for 40 seconds as hard as they can with the ropes. Of course that's still very good. But, after I teach them the system, they can do so much more than 40 seconds. I can teach them to go even faster, and for 10-15-20 minutes.

That’s huge when it transfers for a fighter or any other kind of athlete. They can go to their event with the confidence that they can go full blast physically and mentally without wearing out. Even world class wrestlers—if they’re honest—will tell you that they hold back a little bit because they're afraid they'll wear out during a match. If they really follow the system I teach (and most people don't) then they'll be able to have the total confidence to go full blast for the whole fight or wrestling match.

Another thing I try to teach is how to get people to relax under stress. If you watch most athletes—even world class athletes—almost all of them get into panic breathing. So, if we can teach our minds and bodies to relax under stress, it will transfer to anything—the business world, relationships, sports. We can go full blast, but we don't want to let our mind move too fast because that creates a lot of stress in the body. I’ve learned how to teach people to go full blast while still staying fully relaxed.

Dragon Door: That's really intriguing. It seems like that would also be of benefit to military and tactical situations as well... which brings me to the next question. What organizations and people have you taught your Battling Ropes system to, and what kind of results have they been getting?

John Brookfield: I started teaching the system about twelve years ago, after I’d used it myself for about a year. I live fairly close to Ft. Bragg, North Carolina, so my very first groups were some of our top military Special Forces units. I was friends with some of the commanders and told them about the special training methods I'd developed. Because I didn't want them to get pre-conceived ideas about it, I asked them to not ask me too many questions about the training at first. They agreed to let me try it out with some of their guys.

After training hundreds of people, maybe over a thousand athletes and military personnel, I noticed that at first when I started them on a drill with the ropes, almost every one of them would really struggle to last a minute going very hard. It amazed me that all these world class professionals would struggle to last a minute. This was how I found out that velocity—strength and speed together—was a missing link in their training. As fit and mentally tough as they were, their bodies were just not used to sustaining velocity. After they became accustomed to sustaining velocity, they could go much much harder with anything.

The first three groups I taught were our top military Special Forces groups. Then I trained the Cincinnati Bengals very early. They actually let me train all their different players at the time. Then I trained the Olympic wrestling team. From there, I "guinea pigged" some NFL teams, more military groups, and Olympic wrestlers. Everybody absolutely loved it, they were amazed at how specific it was—and how hard it was to manipulate a 24 pound rope.

Dragon Door: What kind of results were they getting after using the system for a while?

John Brookfield: A lot of them I never saw after the training, but the ones who actually kept up with it and used the training properly were getting huge results. They had much better endurance and could go harder on the field or whatever they were trying to do.

For example, one gentleman I trained years ago at Ft. Bragg in depth with the different concepts of the Battling Rope System went back and actually easily beat his old push-up record. He wasn't even training push-ups, but after using what I’d taught him, he blew his old record away. He didn't get the lactic acid build up or the fatigue.

A few doctors of kinesiology, including Dr. Mike Martino have studied the Battling Ropes System in the past 5-6 years. They found out that when training velocity—strength and speed together, very fast—your blood flow and circulation is much faster compared to any other type of training. Going back to the idea of the fast moving river—a fast moving river pushes out debris. A slower moving river, or in this case, bloodstream, will basically allow lactic acid to build up. The ropes actually move out debris so to speak since the circulation moves much better. The muscles don’t fatigue as much. It flew over my head, but they've actually proven that in their studies.

Dragon Door: So, your training techniques can decrease the lactic acid buildup?

John Brookfield: Exactly. And with the ropes, you have complete freedom with your hands for striking, swimming strokes, or you could even spell your name if you have the coordination. Anything you can do with your hands, you can do with the ropes, and that's really huge.

Dragon Door: How could a Battling Ropes certification help a personal trainer or coach in their career as a fitness professional?

John Brookfield: There’s three basic things. Battling Ropes produce tremendous results including fast fat loss, and sports-specific performance. The basic techniques are fairly simplistic to learn. And very importantly, to date we have not had one person injured from working with the ropes. It's extremely safe. Unlike a stone, a kettlebell or a barbell, it can’t impose its will on you. When using the ropes, you’re "piloting your own plane." You can only put as much force on that rope as your body is capable of producing. The rope cannot put force back on you.

I'm not a physical therapist, but many, including Gray Cook and other famous physical therapists can use the ropes even with somebody who has a rotator cuff injury. They will only be able to use as much force as their shoulder can use. Since the rope cannot put the force back on them, the chance of getting hurt is nearly impossible.

Dragon Door: That's really cool, and sounds like something personal trainers and coaches need in their toolkit.

John Brookfield: And there’s a huge transfer effect, no matter the fitness or sports goal. Since the basic techniques are simple to learn, a trainer doesn't have to worry about taking six months to teach a move that might ruin someone's shoulders or knees in the process.

Dragon Door: What kind of role can Battling Ropes play in a fat loss program?

John Brookfield: Since anybody can use the ropes, someone in their 50s who might have these little injuries in their shoulders for example, can actually train very hard without hurting their joints. Children like the ropes, they almost see it as playing. The handicapped can use the ropes. So unlike Olympic lifting, or even kettlebells, almost everyone can use the ropes in some way for exercise and fat loss.

Dragon Door: Can Battling Ropes be used at home? Because of their length and bulk, some people might think that they would need to go to a gym to use them.

John Brookfield: There are certain techniques that do require some room, but many techniques don't actually require a lot of space. For example, there’s a technique I call pile manipulation or rope fighting, where we just throw the rope right on the floor. People are always used to seeing a Battling Rope hooked to a rack, a kettlebell, or a stand and we certainly teach those techniques as a mainstay. But, we can also take the rope and basically just throw it on the ground. Many of the techniques and concepts can be used in very confined spaces.

During the Battling Ropes Certification, we will also cover how to use them with partner training, and ways to train whole boot camps or teams. In today's world, many trainers and coaches are not just training individuals, they might be working with entire rugby teams, football teams, or military units. We will be teaching a turnkey system to easily implement the training with groups of as many as 30 to 40 people.

Another interesting thing is that while we do use different ropes with the system, we usually use a 50' 1.5" rope. I would start an NFL lineman on the exact same rope that I would start an eleven year old female soccer player. There’s countless increments of intensity that you can use with that one rope.

For example, when our eleven year old soccer player begins with that rope, most likely she won't be able to get the waves to flow all the way down to the anchor point. But, she might get it 60% there, and that's visual motivation. She will fight harder and harder to get the wave all the way down to the end of the rope. Next week she'll get the wave a little way further. There’s a full set of increments of intensity to work with. Now, the NFL lineman won't have any trouble getting the waves to flow all the way to the end of the rope. But, there are many ways I can make the ropes so difficult for him that he'll struggle to get the waves flowing to the end. You can take that same rope and train pretty much any individual in the world.

Dragon Door: Hardstyle kettlebell enthusiasts point to the kettlebell’s "What The Hell" effect on multiple types of sports activities—principally because of the hip snap and the explosive power it generates and teaches. What would a Battling Ropes enthusiast point to in this respect?

John Brookfield: Well, they carry over to anything, but I'll give you a very specific example that applies to kettlebell training. A few years ago, I remembered speaking to John Du Cane and a couple kettlebell trainers about the Secret Service Snatch Test (SSST) which is ten minutes of snatches with a 53lb kettlebell. I asked him if he thought anyone could do 300 reps in 10 minutes. John said that he thought that someone with my conditioning could do it. While I'd never done a snatch with a kettlebell at that time, I had done a lot of heavy juggling with kettlebells.

The seventh time I tried the SSST, I did 302 reps. I can tell you beyond a shadow of a doubt that the reason I was able to do it was the transfer of the velocity training from the ropes to the kettlebell. I was able to sustain a much higher threshold of power, strength, and endurance. And when that transferred from the ropes, the kettlebell felt very slow! Compared to working with the ropes, those 302 reps felt like they were in slow motion. All boasting aside, I felt like my endurance on that last rep was as good as when I started.

Dragon Door: Earlier in our call, you'd mentioned training athletes in wrestling, football, rugby, along with military groups. What other applications or sports would also benefit from training with your Battling Ropes System?

John Brookfield: Really, almost anybody. They'll be able to sustain high levels of intensity over longer durations of time. And, while people are used to staying in one place when using the ropes, once someone has learned the basics there’s a lot of footwork, agility, and mobility training we can do. In a lot of the training we're actually moving our feet forward, backward, laterally, and in different positions. When they’re starting out, I teach people to stay in one place so they can learn to sustain velocity before they start moving. But once they advance, we can do a lot of footwork.

Once someone can move their arms and legs at the same time with the Battling Ropes, the effect on the cardiovascular threshold is absolutely amazing. Starting from your current anaerobic threshold, I can take that level and make it aerobic—and in a relatively short period of time.

Dr. Mike Martino learned that the velocity training taps into the nervous system in a very different way. This is why Battling Ropes can affect the cardiovascular threshold.

Dragon Door: Some people seem to dismiss Battling Ropes as rather simple, yet at the other end of that spectrum other people shy away because the ropes appear too challenging. What are your thoughts on these objections?

John Brookfield: You're right. Nobody seems to be in the middle. They either think it’s silly and simplistic, or that it’s too challenging. But, my answer to both opinions is that they do not really understand the Battling Ropes system. Many people try to use the ropes with way too much body tension. They’ll tense up as if they’re lifting a lot of weight. Instead, you want to move like the flow of water or like a whip would move. You want to be very explosive but you want your whole body to be quite relaxed. Learning to do this doesn't happen overnight, but that’s part of what I teach. Many people who find the ropes too challenging are often using a lot more body tension than they need to use.

Here's something else that I think is extremely interesting with the ropes: no one has equal speed, strength, dexterity, and endurance on both sides. Someone’s right arm might be stronger, but their left arm might be quicker. Or they may have a lot of dexterity in their right side but not their left. So when we're doing a drill like alternating waves, one arm might be moving well and the other might be just flailing. Very quickly, we will see the weak side. But, as you do the training, you'll actually make both sides of the body work the same over a period of time. This has a huge benefit for sports, and especially for injury prevention.

When I first started, I thought that professional football players or top athletes would be pretty well balanced. But, they didn't seem to be any more balanced than someone on the street. It seems like every human being, whether they're a carpenter, an athlete, or a soccer mom will have imbalances in their body. Battling Ropes can correct these imbalances.

For example, we do the tsunami drill with a fifty foot long, two inch diameter rope completely stretched out. The rope is anchored on one side, and you’re on the opposite side holding the rope with both hands. You have to create a wave all the way down to the other end. With kettlebell swings or snatches, you have to thrust up, but with this drill, you thrust up very quickly, but then slam the rope down—then immediately back up again. Unlike simply slamming down a sledgehammer, you have to continue slamming up and down. If the athlete is really strong but not fast, they won’t do well. But, if somebody is really fast but not strong, they also won’t do well. You’ve got to become very quick and explosive in all directions.

Dragon Door: I’m really looking forward to the Battling Ropes certification workshop. What else attendees can expect?

John Brookfield: At the workshop we will cover all the different aspects of the Battling Ropes system. So, I think people will walk away with countless drills and ideas that will be really good for their toolbox. Along with injury prevention, we're going to teach people how to sustain higher levels of intensity over longer durations of time no matter their background.

John BrookfieldJohn Brookfield is the creator of the Battling Ropes System. Register here for the upcoming Battling Ropes Instructor Certification Workshop in February, 2018 in North Carolina.