Self-limiting Exercise: Jumping Rope

by Gray Cook

Excerpted from Athletic Body in Balance, pages 125-129

My goal is to make the tests and exercises in this book practical and efficient. Therefore, I’ll incorporate as many collateral benefits as possible into the interval program. Collateral benefits complement the musculoskeletal system, improve posture, and simulate the reactions and speed of any chosen sport. Jumping rope fits the bill perfectly. Many have dismissed jumping rope as too simple to be considered a viable exercise option, probably due to today’s flashy fitness and conditioning equipment market.

I know that even if I make an extremely strong case for jumping rope, many of you will skip over (pardon the pun) this section and go to a more glamorous plyometrics routine or, even worse, move directly into speed and agility work, thinking that jumping rope is a waste of time. People who never learned to jump rope or have a tough time with the technique are embarrassed because of their poor form and constant mistakes while jumping. This is precisely what makes jumping rope great.

Jumping rope is barely possible with poor form or poor technique. Everyone will make consistent mistakes and be interrupted by a rope that catches on a foot. The rope is the coach. Jumping rope is what I call a self-limiting exercise. Participants are limited in their ability to perform the exercise by lack of technique. In other words, truly poor technique will prevent the participant from performing the exercise, so bad movement patterns cannot be reinforced. This is the most important reason for jumping rope. It is possible to perform sprints, shuttles, and agility work with poor form as long as times are adequate. Other forms of popular endurance work such as jogging, cycling, and rowing can also allow poor form without supervision and coaching. Poor form can be reinforced without the athlete ever realizing it.

Jumping rope allows many athletes to self-train effectively, whereas self-training or training with a partner using running or sprints sometimes has too many uncontrollable variables. The jump rope is extremely portable and allows for position variations. Running, wind sprints, cycling, and rowing can provide a workout, burn calories, and improve stamina, but possibly by sacrificing technique, hurting reaction times, and altering ready position . Jumping rope, on the other hand, reinforces three basic movement patterns from the movement screen in chapter 5— the squat, hurdle step, and lunge—while providing a workout, burning calories, and improving stamina.

Variations can be performed to work on left-right differences. This is not possible in running or sprinting because both sides must work equally to propel the body forward. It is easy to focus on a weak side while skipping rope.

The three basic movement patterns used in a weight-training program will be used in a jump rope program:

  • Squat stance: Both feet placed side by side or slightly apart
  • Hurdle step stance: Single-leg stance in a stride position with one leg held at 90 degrees at both the hip and knee
  • Lunge stance: Also called the scissors stance; one foot in front and one foot behind, narrowing the base of support

These three key foot positions are used in most field and court sports. Regardless of skill level in any field or court sport, I recommend jumping rope as an excellent training tool that is both efficient and effective for reinforcing good movement patterns. Jumping rope will also help to develop great speed and agility and a power foundation for sports performance.

For swimmers and cyclists and other athletes who may feel jumping rope is not sport specific or functional, I still recommend rope work because it is an excellent tool to cross-train. Athletes in sports such as ice hockey, cross-country running, Olympic-style weight lifting, and alpine skiing also benefit from the quick footwork involved in jumping rope. The stamina displayed by elite boxers and wrestlers h as long stood as a testament to the effectiveness of jumping rope.

Distance runners, dancers, martial artists, and athletes in paddle sports may feel that jumping rope is not the best choice for improving stamina, but I disagree. Although jumping rope may not seem sport specific, it is extremely posture specific. It improves the ability to maintain a long spine and actually h as far less impact than sprinting or jogging. I encourage endurance athletes who are not involved in field or court sports to study the literature and continue to explore the added benefits of interval training to complement sport-specific training.
Much of the impact of jumping rope is taken through the leg muscles. The erect posture and long spine forces the abdominal muscles to hold the midsection tight and work in perfect coordination with the back muscles to form the same kind of intern al pressure as a weight belt.

Many athletes heel strike when running; heel striking jars the joints, and only a select few runners can do it correctly. At low mileage, jogging with heavy heel striking will not adversely affect the body. But working on endurance, performing intense intervals, and improving stamina requires a lot of work. Only a prototypical runner with a lean frame and exceptional technique would be able to run enough to benefit the legs and cardiovascular system without exposing the body to greater risk from musculoskeletal breakdown. Jumping rope combats this by forcing the athlete to land on the toes and use the untapped power in the calves and the combined power of the quads, hamstrings, glutes, and core.

The agility and quick direction changes needed in many sports require quick reactions and excellent footwork. This is not possible if the heel is planted on the ground. Major knee injuries are often noncontact injuries, caused by a twisting of the knee without any outside force. This is a result of sloppy training, poor body awareness, or unnecessary fatigue during competition, which reduces body awareness and forces greater stress on the knees. Although the knee is often the victim of injury, it rarely is the culprit. If the foot is planted and the ankle and hip are stiff, there is only one place for rotation to occur- the knee. Unfortunately, the knee ,vas not designed to rotate as primary motion . Jumping rope teaches the athlete to stay on the toes and keep the calf ready for action, increasing his chance of pivoting on a good strong foot with most of his weight on the toe.
Consider one last fact about jumping rope. It takes less training time to jump rope than to run for the same benefits. Because jumping rope requires greater technique, it incorporates more muscles, both the muscles that move and those that hold the body stable. Jumping rope requires a greater expenditure of energy. Turning the rope increases the level of intensity. Periodic rest breaks are incorporated into the routine. Total time jumping rope is far less than total time in a continuous running or jogging workout. This results in greater workout intensity and reduced mechanical stress from impact at the same time.

Jumping rope is a natural choice for interval work. It provides an opportunity to practice breathing techniques that allow quicker recovery, which will help during a time-out situation or other rest break during competition . Experiment with your breathing and see which type (slow and deep, smooth and relaxed, and so on ) will get you ready to jump again in the shortest amount of time.

Jumping rope toughens the body. It proves that quickness comes from staying relaxed in the extremities while keeping the spine erect and the abdominals drawn in and reinforces this pattern in your body. Pulling in the abs does not require holding the breath or tightening the stomach as if anticipating a blow to the gut. However, the more the trunk is held in the appropriate position and the more the extremities are relaxed, the quicker and more powerful movements will become.

Jump rope 1

First, measure the jump rope. Stand on the rope with the left foot in the center of the body directly under the body and pull the handles of the rope up to your armpits. The handles should just graze the inside of the top of the armpits and go no higher than the top of your shoulders. Adjust the rope accordingly.

A novice should purchase a beaded rope that can be adjusted. The extra weight of the beaded rope provides more feedback for beginners. As proficiency with jumping rope increases, move to a lighter rope, which forces improvements in technique and allows the rope to be turned with greater speed.

Any surface that will not damage the rope and is free of obstacles is adequate as long as it is flat and fairly hard. Wooden floors, tile floors, asphalt surfaces, and concrete surfaces have all been u sed. Asphalt and concrete are rough on the texture of the rope and will break down the rope at a quicker rate. Another solution is to cut a small piece of plywood, 3 or 4 feet square, and lay it over grass that h as been closely mowed. The grass will hold the board slightly above the ground, providing a forgiving surface while still allowing the rope to turn,without catching on grass or other obstacles. This is a great alternative for the athlete on turf who wants to cross-train at practice.

Jumping rope can be used in conjunction with other activities. If running road work is deemed necessary, take the rope along. Create a personal interval routine, using a light jogging rest break as one interval and a vigorous bout of rope jumping as another. Use jumping rope as a complementary cross-training tool with cycling, swimming, exercise machines, and the slide board.

For all three foot positions, train in intervals. Experiment by going for 15, 20, or 30 seconds as fast as you can turn the rope. Rest for twice the amount of time you jumped, then try to jump the same amount in the same time to keep the intensity of each set near maximum. Find an exercise-to-rest ratio that you can use for 4 sets or more. Interval training is not just about timed exercise and timed rest. If you do not perform at a maximum level of intensity you will not push the anaerobic system to a higher level, which you must do to increase endurance. The aerobic system performance depends on the condition of the anaerobic system. Train this system and endurance will take care of itself.

Squat Stance

With feet slightly less than shoulder-width apart and the rope hanging behind the heels, swing the rope overhead and skip rope with equal weight on each foot. Do not tighten the stomach muscles, but hold them in . Hold the spine tall, keep the shoulders back, and look forward with the head up straight and eyes forward. Keep your knees slightly bent and land on the toes, but not in an exaggerated way. Jump only high enough to d ear the rope. If you find yourself double jumping (two skips to every rope turn), turn the rope faster.

If you cannot d ear the rope for more than 10 repetitions, hold both handles in your dominant h and. Turn the rope with one hand and jump when you hear the rope strike the floor. This way you do not have to d ear the rope but you learn to match the rhythm of the rope. Once you can complete at least 30 to 40 repetitions, switch the rope to your nondominant hand.

The motion of the arm or wrist is not what turns the rope. Once the rope starts turning (it’s OK to use your wrist to get started), the up-and-down movement of the body keeps it in motion . Therefore, once the rope is spinning the wrist can relax by the side with very little circular motion . The momentum of the body going up and down should turn the rope. Keep it going fast enough with a little boost from your wrist action as needed.
The squat stance is the fundamental position for rope jumping. All other movements and foot positions will spring from your ability to perform this move. Even if mobility and stability testing did not reveal a problem with the squat, this is a good movement to start with if you have never jumped rope before. Learn to jump rope from the easiest position before working on a difficult position .

Hurdle Step Stance

Jump rope image 2

Put all of your weight on one leg, slightly bending the knee. Shift most of the weight to the toes. Keep the spine tall and erect. Lift the other leg, bending it 90 degrees at the hip and knee. Swing the rope and skip over it, keeping the lifted leg as still as possible. If this is difficult, start with a double-leg jump and then lift your leg.

If you still have difficulty clearing the rope as you jump, try both handles in one hand until you gain your rhythm. Take particular note of the lifted leg. Pretend you are balancing a flat rock on top of your lifted thigh . Keep the body rigid enough so that you can jump on one leg while holding the other leg in a position that would not cause the rock to fall. This improves core stability and helps improve stride by teaching you to relax one leg and stabilize the core while pushing off the other leg.

Work both legs equally unless you have greater difficulty on one side. Perform more sets on the weaker or slower side until both sides are equal.

Lunge Stance

The last position involves a modified lunge stance. Because a wide stance would not allow you to d ear the rope, bring your feet closer together in a lunge position (one foot in front and one behind). The stance looks like someone water skiing on a slalom ski. Hold the spine erect and tall. The weight should be evenly distributed on both toes. Swing the rope and skip over it, lifting the front foot first, then the back foot.

Jump rope image 3

Work both stances equally unless you have greater difficulty on one side. Perform more sets on the weaker or slower side until both sides are equal.

The hurdle step and lunge stances provide a good chance to compare left-right abilities. Count repetitions for each set of exercises and note whether the move is more difficult to perform on one side.

Lack of coordination and stamina within a particular movement pattern may cause inefficient movement by increasing fatigue and hurting technique. During the rest interval, try stretching or mobility and stability exercises to reinforce the difficult movement pattern . For example, if you have difficulty jumping rope while standing on the left leg in a hurdle step position, perform the stride stretch on the left side between jumping sets.

Excerpted from Athletic Body in Balance, pages 125-129