The rope taps a beat on the wooden boards as it whips beneath my feet. It slaps a rhythm like a metronome, providing an audible cue to time my jumps. Tap, tap, tap, tap.
My feet land lightly, providing a counter beat to the slap of the rope on wood, like a bass drum to a snare. Tap, boom, tap, boom, tap, boom, tap.
Perhaps it is because I’m a lifelong crappy drummer with a love of rhythm that I enjoy jumping rope. It’s an exercise that supplies its own beat.
It had been a few years since I’d picked up my jump rope, but the coronavirus pandemic has led me to get more creative with my home workouts. Are you looking for a new home exercise to keep you sane and strong?
Jumping rope is highly time-efficient, burning a huge number of calories in a short amount of time. It works both your upper and lower body simultaneously. And it improves your timing and coordination.
Jumping rope is an activity and exercise that I’ve used at various stages of my adult life to maintain my fitness.
It was as a college freshman, during my first winter in the dorms at the University of New Hampshire, that I discovered jumping, which became my main form of exercise when it was too cold to go outside and run. In the evenings, I would jump in the community recreation room in the dorm, or at the basketball court, where I could alternate jumping and shooting hoops.
Riding stationary bikes or running on treadmills is fine for those who can afford the equipment. Jumping, by contrast, is cheap. My current rope cost maybe $10. Jumping is also way more fun and dynamic than suffering the private butt-numbing pain of a spin bike or the monotony of running endlessly to nowhere on a treadmill. And you can jump rope virtually anywhere, indoors or out.
Jumping is also a real-life skill, an essential ability, like running or walking, that we should seek to enhance and retain as we age. Will spinning help you jump out of the way of a speeding bus?
With that in mind, here are some Tips and Advice from a Veteran Jumper:
Ropes: If you don’t own a rope, order a cheap one online. Get whatever is in your budget. The most important thing is that it be long enough. You don’t want to whack yourself in the back of the head. A basic rule of thumb is that the bottoms of the jump-rope handles should come up to your armpits when standing on the rope. Beginners can get away with a longer rope; advanced jumpers who are going for speed will want a shorter rope. Consult the many sizing guides online. Rope lengths can often be shortened as well by pushing the rope through the handle and cutting off excess. Getting a rope with bearings in the handles that allow the rope to rotate with less resistance is also beneficial. Beginners can start with what is often called a licorice, or freestyle rope, typically made of nylon or PVC with foam padded handles. Speed ropes for more advanced jumpers will often have thin metal cords coated in PVC. The weight of the rope, or cord, and handles makes a difference in terms of comfort and speed. Weighted or heavy ropes are good for those who want to do shorter, more intense workouts that are focused on building arm strength rather than speed or quickness.
Surface and location: Avoid concrete. I prefer jumping on wooden floors or some type of padded flooring, which puts less strain on your knees and ankles. I jump on the porch or deck outside our house, but over the years I’ve jumped on YMCA basketball courts, on firm mats at fitness centers, on wrestling mats and on pavement at outdoor basketball courts.
Technique: Start with single jumps with your feet side by side. Warm up and find your rhythm and try to set a pace that you can do continuously, stopping briefly to catch your breath after you flub up, for 20 or 30 minutes. They call it jumping rope, but it would be more accurate to call it hopping rope, because you want to keep your jumps small, getting just high enough for the rope to pass beneath your feet.
Once you’ve mastered the two-foot hop, try running in place, whipping the rope around between foot strikes. You will snag a foot and mess up. No worries. Just start over, keep at it, and the number of jumps between flubs will increase. Add in one-legged repeats, jumping on each foot five or 10 times and then switching to the other foot.
When I was a teenager, I recall watching a documentary about the boxer Muhammad Ali, who like many boxers jumped rope with style and speed as a primary form of exercise. Which brings me to what I call the boxer jump. Instead of landing with both feet simultaneously, land one foot a fraction of a second after the other, creating a syncopated beat. Instead of tap, boom, tap, boom, the rhythm is tap, ba-boom, tap, ba-boom, tap, ba-boom.
When you are ready, try some doubles, whipping the rope around twice for each jump. You need to jump higher and rapidly accelerate the rope with a double flick of your wrists. Doubles are hard, but the sound of the rope whistling through the air as you do a set of 10 or 20 successive doubles is highly satisfying, and people will turn their heads.
Should I even mention the elusive triple?
Jumping rope pairs well with music, so bust out your favorite tunes, but if you’re like me, you don’t need any. Jumping rope is music, rhythm and patterns.