My high school gymnasium was so big it spanned three time zones and two climate systems.
All right, perhaps that’s an exaggeration, but the place really was huge and it was filled with all sorts of old timey equipment like trampolines, pommel horses, and, hanging over by the windows, that dreaded piece of apparatus—the climbing ropes.
I hardly used any of this stuff because back then I wasn’t the least bit interested in anything athletic.
I hated team sports and I think I associated exercise with football and baseball, which still don’t interest me worth a damn. (And yes, I know it's Super Bowl Sunday.)
I climbed the ropes exactly once in my four years of high school and that was only because we were being tested.
I still remember how terrified I was as I raced up the rope, touched the metal support beam and climbed the hell back down, vowing never to go near those goddamn things for as long I lived.
I had no way of knowing that some 40-odd years later I would not only enjoy exercise, but I'd also get a thrill out of rope-climbing.
My rope-a-dope started horizontally with the battle ropes. This is nothing more than a thick rope evenly looped around any available post. You grab an end in each hand and start beating out a rhythm and making that rope come alive like an albino cobra.
Your arms get a great pump with the battle ropes and it's a tremendous workout for your core, which is vital to me as I am forbidden to do crunches due to my back misery.
I found a video on YouTube where a young man demonstrates no less than 23 different exercises with the battle ropes—and you never have to leave the ground.
I find it funny that even though my gym has all these exercise machines, I get a great workout from a simple rope. It’s even more fun than slamming the medicine ball.
Hand Over Hand
Now the gym at Reade Street where I do my morning workouts also happens to have a climbing rope hooked up in the exercise room. I had a high school flashback the first time I saw the thing dangling there and made every effort to avoid it.
But after a while I thought, what the hell? It’s nowhere near as high as the ropes in Brooklyn Tech and since I’m more athletic now, it shouldn’t be a problem.
It turned out to be a huge problem. Rope climbing is a son-of-a-bitch, to be perfectly honest, and I struggled to maintain my grip and control my terror of heights. Maybe climbing wasn’t for me.
But I didn’t want to give in to the fear or miss out on what I was sure was a fantastic workout. So I reined in my anxiety and started climbing.
There were a few rough spots. I was climbing one morning when I felt the rope swinging out of control. Desperate to right myself, I began singing to drive away the panic.
“George, George, George of the Jungle, friend to you and me!” I wailed as I swung through the air.
Then one morning a young woman in my boxing class saw me make my second ascent.
Now she had removed her t-shirt and was standing next to me wearing just a sports bra and, as I tried not to gawk, she said nonchalantly. “Do that again.”
Boom! I ninja-climbed that rope like I was being chased by a herd of rabid crocodiles. One of the guys in the class saw me streak toward heaven and started laughing, knowing full well that there’s no motivation for a middle-aged gym rat like a scantily clad young woman.
Who says you can’t teach an old horn dog new tricks?
And this woman did show me that I had more in the tank than I realized. And now I make three climbs per session with an eye on doing even more.
I really psyche myself up as I climb, shoving back the dread and the doubt as I go toward the top, so there’s a nice mental boost going on as well.
Be advised: rope climbing is an old school exercise and comes with its share of risks. I usually work to muscle fatigue, but if your muscles get fatigued on the ropes you’re liable to have a serious disagreement with gravity.
But if you have an inner Tarzan just itching to break free, I encourage you to tie one on.