Cardio, speed, agility, explosiveness—all key elements to athleticism. And all things that jumping rope can improve.
The Sharpest Tool in an Athlete’s Toolbox
In a world of increasingly extravagant gyms and fancy machines, there are some things you simply cannot replace or improve upon: barbells, dumbbells, a bench, a squat rack. For an athlete, there is no question that the jump rope belongs up there too.
Indeed, if I had but one weapon with which to arm a starting athlete, I would choose the jump rope. Why? Well, it’s incredibly cheap. And it’s amazingly versatile—you can use one in a relatively small space, inside or outside, on many different surfaces. And just like a dumbbell, there is no shortage of exercises you can perform with it.
Eight Benefits of Jumping Rope
Jumping rope does wonders for your fitness and can make cardio surprisingly enjoyable. Below are some of the myriad benefits one can experience from including this equipment in their training.
- Increases the strength and conditioning of the calf muscles.
- Improves athletic coordination between eyes, feet, and hands.
- Boosts cognitive function through learning new motor patterns.
- Offers variable intensities of cardio at relatively low impact.
- Requires only one (affordable and portable) piece of equipment.
- Increases stabilizers around ankle joint, reducing injury.
- Burns more calories than many popular exercises, including jogging.
- Improves bone density and muscular endurance.
The Five Best Jump Rope Movements
You can do pretty much anything with a jump rope. Here are a few classic moves to get you started.
- The Standard Jump. Jumping with both feet in sync, this original movement is a great warmup or cool down at a lower cadence but can still offer a challenge as you pick up speed. For style points, alternate feet—this constant, subtle shifting of your weight channels the swagger of many iconic boxers.
- The Scissor Jump. Land with one foot just in front of you and one behind. Switch on the next bounce. Utilizing the sagittal plane adds a level of coordination while firing up the calves. Also known as the split jump. A variation for the frontal plane: the in-and-out, or wide-to-narow, which sees the feet alternate landing close together and then further apart. You can even tap into the transverse plane by rotating at the ankle: bounce once with your toes pointed inward, and then with both toes pointed outward.
- Single Leg Jump. Bouncing on one leg only for several bounces or a set period of time is a great way to build unilateral leg strength and balance. This slow burn always becomes challenging sooner than you think.
- The Double-Under. This simple but challenging effort is great for high-intensity intervals, for building explosive power through the legs, and for developing focus inside what feels like a storm of physical energy. Start with single double-unders—that’s two revolutions of the rope during a single bounce—and work your way up to doing 10, 20, even 50 consecutive double-unders. Your heart rate will skyrocket and your calves will be feeling it the next day.
How to Choose a Jump Rope
A rope is just a rope, right?
In many ways, yes. But finding one that’s perfect for you will make a big difference in your training, particularly when you become more advanced.
- Find the right length. A properly fitting rope is the most important factor; something that is too short or too long will noticeably affect your ability to perform effective jump rope workouts (especially one that is too short). Standing up straight with your feet together and the rope under your feet, the rope handles should nearly reach your armpits. However, it’s not an exact science, so play around with adjustable-length ropes until you find a length that feels right from the first revolution.
- Weighted or speed? There are several styles of jump rope, but most can be boiled down to one of two: weighted ropes and speed ropes. The former has small amounts of weight added to each handle—and often thicker, heavier rope materials—to make the workout more challenging (especially for the shoulders and forearms). The latter is designed to be as light as possible, allowing for more volume and rope tricks. Most trainers prefer speed ropes; the difficulty of the workout should come from the rope exercises performed, not the weight of the rope and handles. Again, try both options to identify your personal preference.
- Pick your price. Overall, jump ropes are pretty affordable compared to a lot of fitness equipment. Certainly much cheaper than, say, a treadmill or stationary bike—while being just as effective. Still, you get what you pay for. Avoid ropes in the $5-10 range, as these will typically made from cheap materials. Such a rope will wear through quickly on rougher surfaces and the handles may break within a couple months. (At $5 a rope, though, this isn’t a huge deal.) I recommend looking at ropes in the range of $10-20. Here, you’ll get materials and construction of a lasting quality without breaking the bank. You can spend more—some ropes cost $50 or even $100—but you won’t get a proportionate improvement in feel or performance. A rope is still just a rope.
Four Jump Rope Workout Examples
Okay, so you’ve acquired the perfect jump rope. Now what? Like any form of cardio, jumping rope is primarily about elevating your heart rate for a sustained period of time, though—again, like most cardio exercises—there is a secondary effect, which is improving athletic skills such as balance, coordination, and agility.
Here, we look at workouts that target different training zones.
Endurance or Active Recovery
This workout is excellent for building cardiovascular endurance or recovering from a hard workout the day prior. To achieve this zone, perform jumps at a leisurely pace for 3 to 5 minutes at a time, resting no more than 1 minute between rounds. Do a minimumof five rounds before, during, or after another form of cardio (such as cycling or circuit training). The total workout should last at least an hour, not including your warmup and cooldown. On an endurance day, aim to have an average heart rate of up to 70% of your maximum; on an active recovery day, try to stay at or below 60%.
Tempo runs are a classic weapon in any runner’s arsenal. These runs, described as “comfortably difficult,” are designed to push athletes out of their comfort zone, but only just—a tempo workout should never break you. It’s about marginal gains in speed and or distance. In the case of jump rope, that’s operating at a higher cadence or for longer periods of time before needing rest. For example, if you know you can comfortably jump rope for 10 minutes straight at an average revolutions per minute of 100, try jumping rope for that length of time at a 105 to 115 RPM. Or, if you know you can jump rope for 10 minutes straight before hitting a wall, try adding 1 minute at your standard cadence.
Perhaps the most effective way to workout with jump ropes is high-intensity interval training. Perform maximum-speed, one-minute rounds, then rest up to 1 minute. Or, do 15 to 30 seconds of double-unders, then rest up to 1 minute before going again. Perform at least 10 rounds of either, or alternate between the two. Remember, HIIT only works if you truly give the working sets absolutely everything you can—anything less than 100% effort is going to diminish the quality of your results.
If you’re not skilled enough to do full minutes of single leg work or connect consecutive double-unders with transitions to regular bouncing, set time aside each week to work on your technical abilities. Do not count this toward your cardio—the only goal of this session should be to address technical weaknesses. Play around with cadences, attempt double-unders without shame, try moving through space (moving forward, backward, or side to side while still bouncing with the rope) in different and random ways. The more styles and tricks of jump rope attempted, the more the mind adapts to the activity and recruits the motor units required to perform complex movements without losing your rhythm.
For HIIT days, I recommend taking a rest day for the legs after. Otherwise, it’s fine to jump rope every day if you desire.
Oh, and one final thing: never skip rope day. (Get it?)