Jumping rope is a low cost, relatively high-skill activity that’s been leveraged to build fitness for ages. It’s not new, not even close. In some circles, the jump rope vanished but has since emerged to become a mainstay in public gyms and homes across America.
Right now, jumping rope is very popular because of the growing popularity of “metabolic fitness”.
I can remember jumping rope way back in elementary school as a kid. We had a yearly event called “Jump Rope for Heart”, which was a great fundraiser for a great cause. All the kids brought their jump ropes down to the gym, they pumped some music, and we jumped for hours.
To come clean, I was never the best rope skipper in the gym, but I could hold my own. Showcasing classy moves like crossovers, single and alternate leg hops, and even surviving in the infamous Double Dutch vortex.
As a kid, you don’t over-analyze the value of jumping rope. You jump because it’s fun, not because you want to improve your cardio or drop pounds. Jumping rope provides an outlet for kids to burn off extra energy while
But then we grow up and become adults.
We enter high school, college and eventually start careers, sitting for 8+ hours a day. We start sitting more and moving less overall. When you’re a kid, you move for the fun of it, when you’re an adult, any movement beyond what’s necessary becomes a chore.
Less and less is demanded from our bodies.
The “fun” part of jumping rope doesn’t seem like any fun once you’re an adult. Exertion in general becomes a depressive thought.
High school athletics fulfill daily activity requirements for most and in college, most students forget that exercise even exists. We go to class, chase girls/guys and drink beer, rinse and repeat.
As for when we enter the real world, exercise moves further and further from our thoughts. Jumping rope becomes an activity that “we used to do as kids”. We trade jumping rope for sitting at a desk for our careers, sitting to eat at the dinner table, followed by a nice little session of sitting on the sofa to watch T.V.
There is plenty of sitting to go around. Plenty.
Our bodies become desensitized to the demands from physical activity from all of our inactivity. We start viewing stairs and 10 minute walks as being “intense” physical activity. We lower our standards and watch our threshold for exercise go even lower.
The activities that we once participated in as kids now seem unmanageable as adults.
But when mainstream media picks up on old trends, such as jumping rope, it causes quite a stir amongst those of us who are seeking to restore physical fitness. We view it as the magic pill. Our savior. The latest and greatest activity that can promise to deliver results so quick it will make our heads spin.
So, we head to the sporting good store and buy a jump rope. We are determined to turn that jump rope every single day and get back into pre-college shape.
But this is where we have got to be aware of some of the potential negatives of jumping rope especially if you’re a de-conditioned adult.
The undeniable negatives of jumping rope:
1) Repetitive ground impact and overuse injuries.
Any activity overdone is going to put you at risk for overuse injuries.
Too much of a good thing is generally a bad thing. Drink too much water, bad thing. Eat too much broccoli, bad thing. Exercise too much, bad thing.
Overuse injuries certainly aren’t a jumping rope problem per say. Overuse injuries can be traced back to excess volume or intensity (or both combined) beyond what the body is acclimated to in its current state.
Too much of highly repetitive activity (running, jumping rope, kettlebell swings, rowing, etc) can result in injury.
As for jumping rope, it’s the ground impact forces that do the damage. Each jump places strain on the legs, particularly the calves and ankles.
How much strain? Roughly 300lbs of impact is directed toward the foot and ankle while jumping rope, as measured by lab tests.
300lbs multiplied by thousands of jumps per session can create a recipe for injury if your body is not acclimated properly.
Broken down further, if a person is spinning a jump rope at an average of 100-120 revolutions per minute, a 10-minute workout can add up to about 1,000-1,200 jumps.
Jumping rope for 10 minutes is nothing like running for 10 minutes. These are two completely different stresses. Time seems to stand still when you jump rope. 10 minutes can feel like 30 minutes.
Many websites recommend “20-minute jump rope workouts for toning”, but I am extremely hesitant to encourage anyone to jump for 20 minutes as a starting point.
Start with 1 minute unbroken, then 2 minutes… 5 minutes… 10 minute, etc.
10 full minutes of jumping rope without stopping for breaks is a commendable feat. Once you hit 10 minutes, it’s time to go harder or increase the difficulty of the jumps (1-foot, side-to-side, running).
Now I do know that the impact forces of jumping rope are far less than that of running. However, impact, is impact. If you haven’t jumped 1,000+ times in a while, or you’re a de-conditioned individual who hasn’t engaged in moderate to high physical activity in some time, you’re going to cripple yourself after even the shortest of jump rope workouts. I view jumping rope like mini-plyometrics, and I always advocated keeping plyometrics to reasonable volumes during a workout. Much lower than many novel workout trends are suggesting. Your knees will let you know when you’ve overdone it, or the skin that you leave on the platform that you’re jumping on.
Introduce jumping slowly and progress even slower.
2) Learning curve versus training stimulus.
Depending on your fitness level, it might take a while to get your heart rate up to a level that will deliver some meaningful benefit to your body. One of the biggest problems of jumping rope is that it can take some time to learn or re-learn the rhythmic action of turning the rope and jumping to dodge it. Because in the beginning, that’s what you essentially doing… twirling a rope and dodging it, then repeating that again and again and again. If your goal is to get into shape ASAP, struggling for 15-20 minutes a day to turn a rope 3 consecutive turns without stepping on it might not be the best course of action for achieving your goals. In fact, I think that jumping rope should be low on your list of activities to learn early on.
Jumping rope is a skill. Like most skills, it takes practice and patience to improve that skill.
Treat jumping rope like a skill. Dedicate a small amount of time before or after your main workout to improving your jump proficiency. Don’t make the mistake of putting all of your eggs in the jump rope basket, only to find out you can only manage 10 seconds of continuous movement before you smash your toes.
This tip will save you a lot of frustration.
3) Cardio benefits blown way out of proportion.
Jumping rope burns calories, improves cardiovascular function and help reinforce posture during exertion. The vertical posture maintained while jumping combined with the motion of turning the rope requires relaxed-tension that I have touched on in prior posts. The shoulders are pulled down. Breathing remains rhythmic and controlled against a braced core.
But compared to other methods like running, cycling, kettlebell swings or simple bodyweight circuits, jumping rope delivers less benefit to your conditioning, especially with regard to intensity. If you don’t believe me, head out to your local hill or pick up your heaviest kettlebell and swing away. Do your own testing.
At some point, you’re going to experience diminishing returns on your efforts. Your skill level and turns per minute (TPM) may plateau below what’s required to push on to the next level of conditioning.
In other words, you’re going to adapt. Adaptation happens with anything that you commit to doing diligently, it’s just a matter of time. When you reach this adaptation point, it is important to remember that jumping rope is no different from any other form of exercise. You have to re-adjust the variables in order to continue progressing and break out of your adaptation, moving forward to the next level of adaptation.
I recently touched on the concept of adapting to physical activity in my book. Adaptation isn’t bad, we just have to be smart enough to know that it’s happened and what course of action will help us blow past it.
So what are the variables that can be tweaked?
- Time spent jumping (duration)
- Jumps or rope turns per minute (intensity/cadence)
- Rope weight
- Jump progressions (double-unders, intervals, lateral hops, 1/2 rotations, etc)
Adjusting any one of these variables will progress the training stimulus and keep you away from unwanted adaptations.
Boxers (and more recently MMA fighters) have jumped rope as a cardio enhancer but in my experience, if you’re serious about improving your cardio, invest your time in learning how to run properly, put in some time on the Schwinn Airdyne or leverage other forms of low load cardio-strength like circuits or complexes. Remember, your body is barbell that is open 24/7 for business. Leverage it.
You’ll notice that this post is more of a cautionary tale than anything. Jumping rope is not bad, but it can be bad if you overdo it and aren’t careful. Just like you wouldn’t run a marathon without building up with shorter distances first, you won’t want to
Keeping perspective on how to build fitness is important.
Nearly every method works (for a little while until you adapt), but all of our bodies are different in what they are able to execute and tolerate performance-wise. Some of you will be able to pick up a jump rope and get after it aggressively from the start. Others won’t make it 3 consecutive turns without tying a noose around your ankles or blooding up your toes.
Get to know yourself and your physical situation and figure out if jumping rope is right for you. If it is, figure out what you’re able to tolerate. If it isn’t, figure out what you need to do to put yourself in a position where it is right for you.
Cheers to a fun kids activity and leveraging it intelligently!