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When it comes to accessible, easy-to-pick-up cardio workouts, jumping rope and running are both no-brainers. They require minimal (if any) equipment, won't cost you a ton of money, and are travel-friendly. But with so many similarities, it can be tough to decide which one you'll want to incorporate into your fitness routine if you're mostly after a solid heart-rate boost and sweaty workout.
There's nothing wrong with sprinkling both activities into your regimen, but if you're interested in further leaning into one modality, this guide will help you pick your poison. Here, fitness experts break down everything you'd want to know about jump rope vs. running, including each workout's major health benefits, impact on joints (you're likely wondering), muscles worked, and more.
Jump Rope vs. Running: Cardiovascular Benefits
If you've ever tried jumping rope for a minute straight or racing to the end of the block, you could probably tell that both activities are killer cardiovascular workouts. Reminder: Cardio exercise (aka aerobic exercise) involves the body's large muscles moving in a rhythmic manner for an extended period of time, causing a person to breathe harder than normal and their heart rate to quicken, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Incorporate this heart- and lung-strengthening style of exercise into your routine regularly (think: 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity every week), and you'll become more physically fit and able to tackle more activity without feeling winded, Melissa Kendter, an ACE-certified trainer, functional training specialist, and Tone & Sculpt coach, previously told Shape.
And this improvement to cardiovascular health is the biggest benefit running has to offer, says April Gatlin, C.P.T., a run coach with STRIDE. "The healthiest body contains a strong heart — that's the most important muscle group in the body — and we can get that heart really strong by way of this particular cardiovascular exercise," she says. "We've all been the person who goes up the stairs and we're out of breath, or we're out of breath when we play with our kids...and the biggest thing is just a strong heart provides the endurance to really live life and enjoy it." (Running haters can still get those perks with this at-home cardio workout.)
Similarly, skipping rope is an incredible cardio exercise, says Tommy Duquette, a co-founder of FightCamp and a former U.S. National Boxing Team Member. "Jumping rope really helps you build that cardiovascular endurance," he says. "And if you jump rope in a rhythmic, aerobic style, which is what a lot of fighters do, it really helps you warm up your body to prepare for the higher-impact stress of doing a boxing workout." (Of course, a bit of blood-pumping hopping can get you warmed up for HIIT workouts and plyometric exercises, too.)
Jump Rope vs. Running: Calorie Burn
The number of calories you burn during a particular training style shouldn't be the sole reason you decide to add it to your routine, but it will factor in depending on your goal (say, if you're aiming for weight loss or body recomposition). If you're curious about how much energy skipping rope and running require, know that both exercises are considered to be vigorous-intensity aerobic activities, meaning they raise your heart rate substantially and cause you to breathe too hard and fast to hold a conversation, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As such, they're also major calorie burners; jogging at 5 mph for half an hour may use approximately 295 calories in a 154 lb person, per the CDC, while jumping rope at a moderate pace for half an hour may use roughly 352 calories in a 155 lb person, according to Wisconsin's Department of Health Services. (Related: How Many Calories Do You Burn Lifting Weights?)
Jump Rope vs. Running: Anaerobic Exercise
Though jumping rope and running are primarily known as aerobic exercises — meaning your body will use oxygen to turn its stores of glycogen, fat, and protein into adenosine triphosphate (aka ATP, or energy) to perform for long periods — both workouts can be a form of anaerobic exercise, too. During anaerobic exercise, which is typically fast-paced and high-intensity, your body doesn't rely on oxygen to power through an activity and instead uses energy from stored glycogen that's already available in your muscles. As a result, you'll be able to perform at this high level only for a short amount of time, according to Piedmont Healthcare.
Jumping rope, in particular, can be a mixture of aerobic and anaerobic training depending on the speed you're skipping, says Duquette. "It's what you make of it," he says. "It's kind of like running in the sense that it can be amazing aerobic cardio exercise at a very light pace, or it can be super hard, sweat-dripping anaerobic exercise if you go hard." (This HIIT jump rope workout is a perfect example of how intense the activity can be.)
The same goes for running, says Gatlin. If you're jogging at a steady state for a prolonged period of time, you'll be keeping your heart rate stable, working your aerobic energy system, and improving your endurance, she explains. But if you instead sprint to make a mad dash to the end of the street, your heart rate will quickly spike and your body will call upon your anaerobic energy system for energy ASAP, she says.
By working both energy systems with either activity, you'll also score some muscle-building benefits. Aerobic exercise helps strengthen your slow-twitch muscle fibers, which contract slower and enable you to train for long periods of time before you start to feel fatigued, while anaerobic exercise boosts the size and quantity of fast-twitch muscle fibers, which increases your muscle's power and strength, according to the International Sports Sciences Association. Translation: You can improve your body's endurance and power just by regularly switching up your running pace or jumping speed. (Try this treadmill sprint workout to spice up your routine and put those fast-twitch muscle fibers to work.)
Jump Rope vs. Running: Muscles Worked
Though running gets your heart working hard, it's not the only muscle utilized throughout your workout. "The biggest misconception with running is that most people think lungs and legs, but it's actually a total body movement," says Gatlin. "You work everything from your feet to your legs, your core — which is not just abs but the entire trunk — to your upper body." More specifically, your core helps stabilize your entire body while you pound the pavement, and your lats, biceps, and triceps are used to pump your arms back and forth, she explains. (Related: 13 Benefits of Running That Make You Healthier and Happier)
On the flip side, jumping rope largely relies on your lower body, particularly the calves, as they help you explode off the ground and hop over the rope, says Duquette. "When you jump rope, you're not supposed to use a lot of your body," he explains. "Your knees aren't supposed to be bending, your arms aren't supposed to be going wild while you're trying to move the rope." Instead, your hands should stay by your side and, once you get into the rhythm, will just barely move to get the rope underneath your body, he says. You'll recruit your forearms and shoulders to get the rope swinging (and keep it that way), as well your core to keep yourself stable while you hop, but overall, the activity isn't as taxing on the upper body as running. (To seriously strengthen your forearms while you jump, you'll want to use a weighted rope instead, says Duquette.)
Jump Rope vs. Running: Joint Impact
For both jumping rope and running, the joint impact depends primarily on the surface you're on. Hard concrete, for example, will have the most negative impact on your joints, whether you're jogging or hopping. "It's always best to jump rope on some sort of surface that has some give, rather than a concrete floor," explains Duquette. "A lot of fighters will do it in the ring so it has minimal impact on their bones and joints...but even a hardwood floor [will work because it] has some give." Similarly, Gatlin recommends opting for an asphalt surface rather than a concrete sidewalk or running on a treadmill specifically designed to reduce the impact on your joints.
The impact level of your jump rope workout can also vary based on your experience level and intensity. In the beginning, it really comes down to form: "When you're brand new and you're a beginner, one of the mistakes I see is people jump too high and too hard," says Duquette. "It's probably a higher impact at that point in time until you kind of get that rhythm of it down." Once you're skipping at a moderate pace, on a soft surface, and with perfect form (think: small hops, arms at sides, no "double jumping"), the workout will be "very, very low impact," he explains. But if you then amp up the speed and intensity, working your anaerobic energy system, the impact will increase again, he says. (Related: This Low-Impact Cardio Workout Will Get Your Blood Pumping Without Killing Your Joints)
If you're pounding the pavement with running routes, you'll also want to wear proper shoes to reduce as much of the impact as possible, says Gatlin. She suggests visiting a specialty running shop to receive shoe recommendations based on your stride and foot's path of motion, which will ensure your body gets the support and shock absorption it needs.
The Final Verdict On Jump Rope vs. Running
TL;DR: Jumping rope and running offer similar cardiovascular health and muscle-building benefits, with comparable levels of impact, though running has a small leg up on its counterpart in terms of the number of muscles worked. So at the end of the day, the best workout for you is the one you actually enjoy and, of course, don't feel any pain performing. "If you have an injury that you're actively recovering from, then absolutely talk to your doctor [first], but it's okay to test the waters a little bit," says Duquette. "If there's nothing very obviously wrong with you, you don't have a ton of pain, and you're not recovering from an injury, just give it a try. If something hurts, then listen to your body and stop."