Remember when you were a girl and you spent endless hours on the playground jumping rope? You probably got so good that you could jump with three or four of your friends at the same time and do tricks that amazed the kids in the neighborhood. Better yet, you didn’t think of it as exercise – it was play and just plain fun. You loved jumping rope and just thinking about it reminds you of your childhood.
Why not jump rope for exercise? Sure, you’re grown and haven’t been on the playground for years. Rope jumping is just as much fun as it was when you were 9 years old, and it’s good for you, too. It is an incredibly versatile form of exercise that builds endurance, burns calories, develops strength and power, and fortifies bones. You can do it almost anywhere – in the gym, at home, or on the field. The equipment costs are minimal. For a small investment, you can buy a championship quality jump rope that will build shapely legs and cut fat at the same time.
Build Strong Bones, Burn Fat
Jumping rope is a high-intensity exercise that builds aerobic and anaerobic capacity like sprinting on the track.7 You can easily push your heart rate to its maximum if you turn the rope as fast as you can.1,3,5,8 If you go slower, you will still push yourself harder than when you jog with a friend.4 So, you will get into shape faster than you ever could running, swimming or cycling. Scientists have found that you push yourself harder jumping rope than you do jumping in place or jogging because you’re concentrating on a skill – you don’t notice the pain.4
Jumping rope is a particularly good form of exercise for teenagers and young adult women because it helps build strong bones. Women achieve peak bone mass when they reach 20-25 years of age. After that, they lose a little bone each year. Your exercise program should help you bank (build) as much bone as possible when you’re young and maintain it as you age. Research shows that there are few forms of exercise better for building and preserving bone than jumping rope.2,6,11 Rope jumping strengthens bones in the spine and lower leg that are easily fractured when you get older. Jumping rope regularly develops strong bones that will serve you well for the rest of your life.
Russian scientists and coaches developed a training technique called plyometrics in the 1950s and ‘60s that helped the Soviet Union become a world-class athletic power. The technique uses the stretch-shortening cycle – or bounce training – in muscle to develop strength and power. The method involves sudden loading and stretching of the muscles, followed by a sudden muscle contraction. Plyometrics makes the muscles strong and fast and prepares them for other sports, such as tennis, skiing, snowboarding, or walking up stairs with more power. There is no better plyometric exercise than rope jumping. It will make your legs strong, powerful and shapely.
Rope jumping is a potent fat burner, too. Canadian studies showed that exercising intensely helps people cut fat better than exercising slowly.9,10,12 Rope skipping turns on your sympathetic nervous system – the fight or flight system – which makes you burn extra calories during the day. Add to these benefits improved coordination, better timing and rhythm, and improved balance and agility, and you have a terrific well-rounded form of exercise.
Getting Started: Jump Into It
Jumping rope is a simple, low-maintenance activity. All you need is a good pair of shoes, a rope and a place to jump. Choose shoes that absorb shock, such as cross-trainers or aerobic shoes, that provide stability and cushioning under the balls of your feet. Running shoes are not appropriate because they have poor lateral support.
Buy a rope that fits you – one that can move easily around your head and body. A rope that’s too long or too short will prevent fluid movements. The rope is the right length when you can stand in the middle of it and lift both ends up to your armpits. The rope should turn easily in your hands and not bunch up around the handles.
You can jump rope almost anywhere. Choose a well-lit area and a flat surface that isn’t too hard. Avoid hard concrete surfaces. Instead, choose a springy wooden floor (gymnasium), artificial turf, or carpeted surface. Do not jump on a mat that can slip or you might get hurt badly.
Jumping rope is a high-impact activity, so you must maintain a good posture to protect your knees, hips, back and neck. Look straight ahead and keep your waist and back straight. Hold your elbows low and bent at 90-degree angles. Swing the rope using your wrists and skip on the balls of your feet rhythmically. Keep your knees bent so that you don’t shock your knee joints when you jump.
Warm up before jumping rope. The best way to warm up is to do whole body movements at low-intensities, such as running in place, jumping jacks, and hopping. Most experts do not recommend using stretching as a pre-exercise warm-up because it decreases muscle strength and makes the muscle over sensitive to stretch.
Beginners should start with a single side swing. Hold both handles in your right hand and swing the rope around. Jump off the ground slightly as the rope hits the ground at your side during each swing. After you get the rhythm – or get your muscle memory back from when you were a girl on the playground— grasp a handle in each hand and swing the rope over your head and jump as the rope strikes the ground. Keep your feet close together and practice this basic technique until you can do at least 30-50 turns without a miss.
After you develop some consistency, try more advanced techniques. Cross the rope in front of you just before you jump. Make sure to cross your arms enough so that you have plenty of room to jump between the ropes. A more difficult technique is to cross the rope in back of you. The next basic technique is the double spin – turn the rope twice for one jump.
After you master the basics, work on your footwork. First, move your feet so that they open and close. Then, jump using one foot and then the other. More advanced foot movements involve twisting to the right and then to the left. High-stepping is an excellent technique that will develop the muscles in your thighs and hips. Use a running motion while jumping rope – lifting your knees as high as possible in between turns of the rope.
If you have rope jumping friends, you can skip rope like you did on the playground – two or three at a time. For double jumping, hold one handle with your right hand while your partner holds the rope with her left hand. Start off slowly and then progress to more advanced techniques.
Interval Training for Rope Jumping
Interval training involves short bouts of high-intensity exercise followed by rest. Turn on some music with a good rhythm that inspires you. Begin by jumping rope for 15-30 seconds and then rest for 30 seconds. Turn the rope slowly at first – about 120 turns per minute. As you become more skilled and fit, build up to 140-160 turns per minute and extend the time of each interval. A good workout to shoot for is 20 sets of one-minute rope jumping with one-minute rest between sets. Start off slowly and build up.
You can also use a heart rate monitor to gauge exercise intensity. Try to push your heart rate to about 70 percent of your maximum heart rate. You can get a rough estimate of your maximum heart rate by subtracting your age from 220.
So, go back to your youth and resurrect an exercise you should never have stopped doing. It will improve fitness, give you more shapely legs, cut fat, and build bone.
1. Andrews K. We’re jumping rope for heart…from the American Heart Association. Health Educ 13: 23, 1982.
2. Arnett MG and Lutz B. Effects of rope-jump training on the os calcis stiffness index of postpubescent girls. Med Sci Sports Exerc 34: 1913-1919, 2002.
3. Baker JA. Comparison of rope skipping and jogging as methods of improving cardiovascular efficiency of college men. Res Q 39: 240-243, 1968.
4. Bloch MW, Smith DA and Nelson DL. Heart rate, activity, duration, and affect in added-purpose versus single-purpose jumping activities. Am J Occup Ther 43: 25-30, 1989.
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