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When you think about jumping rope, one of two images probably comes to mind: Little kids doing Double Dutch in the schoolyard, or Rocky Balboa in his headband training for the big fight. But jumping rope is also a great way for anyone of any age to ramp up their workout and lose some weight while having fun. “The best thing about jump rope is its versatility,” says Tim Haft, an ACE-certified personal trainer and the founder of the Punk Rope workout. “The fitness benefits are wide-ranging, it improves your cardiovascular health, coordination, and agility.”
It’s also an impactful way to burn calories in a short amount of time, which can help with your weight-loss goals, says Bethany Keepman, a NASM- and ACE-certified personal trainer and group fitness instructor at Life Time fitness club. “The great thing about jumping rope is that you can do it almost anywhere and it’s an inexpensive piece of equipment,” she adds. Here, what you need to know to jump in:
What are the benefits of jumping rope?
You can burn calories quickly
As an exercise that gets your heart pumping right away, jumping rope is an effective way to burn calories, either on its own or as one part of a workout. “Jump rope is right up there with running, cycling, and swimming for calorie burn,” says Haft. “An adult who weighs 150 pounds and is jumping at what we would consider an average pace would burn roughly 12 calories per minute, which is a pretty nice burn, and comparable to running at a pace of an 8½-minute mile.” Combined with a healthy eating plan, these high-intensity bursts of cardio can be a potent part of your weight loss journey.
It’s the perfect level of impact
The very act of leaping off the ground (whether playing hopscotch, jumping rope, or simply jumping up and down) is good for your bones: Research has shown that exercises involving jumping can increase bone-mineral density in premenopausal and postmenopausal women, which can reduce the risk for osteoporosis. But at the same time, jumping rope provides less of a harsh impact on your knees and ankles than running, says Haft: “With good form, the body is only leaving the ground for an inch or two; also, when you land on both feet the force is dispersed, whereas a runner is essentially lunging, landing on one side and leaving the ground with significantly more height,” he says.
It’s a full-body workout
While jumping rope is particularly excellent for legs, the entire body gets a good workout, says Keepman. “All the ligaments, tendons, and muscles in the feet and ankles are utilized as well as the quadriceps and calves,” she explains. “Additionally, the wrists and forearms control the movement of the rope. The whole body needs to stay aligned so the core, back, and shoulders need to be turned on.” According to the American Council on Exercise, jumping rope is particularly beneficial for strengthening the calf muscles and improving elasticity of the surrounding tendons and fascia, which in turn decreases your risk of lower leg injuries.
It improves balance and agility
Though you may feel a bit clumsy when you first try jumping, you’ll eventually, ahem, get the swing of it, and the benefits will be big, especially as you age. “Coordination is so important, the ability to arms and legs in different ways stimulates the brain, and it also improves agility, which is the ability to change direction easily,” says Haft. He adds that these are skills that translate well to real life, whether you’re racing down a city street, or running after your dog. “With older people, increased agility and balance can also prevent falls,” he points out.
How to get started
What you’ll need for the most effective jump rope workout:
✔️ The right rope: The most important thing you need to jump rope is, obviously, a jump rope. There are many inexpensive models on the market, but Haft recommends you look for one with free spinning handles and an adjustable length. The weight of the rope should also be substantial enough so that you feel it when it goes over your head and under your feet, he says. Punk Rope sells a variety of colorful ropes for $9.99; or try one of Prevention’s other favorite ropes.
✔️ Lightweight shoes: You’ll also need a comfortable pair of lightweight shoes. You’ll be jumping on the balls of your feet, so make sure the front part of the shoe is comfortable (too much cushioning in the heel can throw you off balance, Haft says). A simple pair of Converse can work, as well as running or cross-training shoes.
✔️ A level surface: Finally, you need a space to jump rope, which may be slightly trickier than you think. “If you have access to a rubberized track, that’s ideal,” says Haft. A wooden floor with a little give also works well, or you can jump on asphalt or invest in a jumping mat (like this one, for $33.99). “Avoid jumping on cement or on grass or sand or any other surface that's uneven,” he adds.
A basic beginner workout
Both trainers want to make it clear that no one expects a beginner to jump rope for more than a few minutes at a time. In fact, jumping rope is best as part of an interval workout, says Haft. “We would never encourage a beginner to get out there and try to jump for ten minutes because they're going to fatigue very quickly and there’s a risk of injury.” Instead, he recommends alternating it with other moves, such as squats, push-ups, and planks.
Haft also recommends that you learn some recovery moves before you get started. The most effective is the side swing, in which you keep your elbows tight to your side, hold the handles, and swing the rope in a loop to each side, creating a figure eight (watch a video of the move). This allows you to catch your breath and smoothly transition from jumping to recovery mode without having to put your rope down.
There are dozens of variations to eventually try in jump rope, but here are some basics to get you started. Haft recommends you try each move for about 30 seconds, then rest with 30 seconds of the side swing before doing the next move. Add about 10 percent more time to each set each week, he says. Both trainers recommend practicing without the rope first.
Move 1: The basic bounce
Keeping knees, hips, and ankles soft, with elbows in to the ribs and hands slightly forward of hips, use your wrists to swing the rope over your head and bounce lightly up and down on the balls of your feet, jumping only high enough (just an inch or so) to clear the rope.
Move 2: The skier
This move is similar to the basic bounce, but you add a lateral hop to the side on each jump. “Continue to jump with both feet at the same time, but instead of jumping straight up, jump a few inches to the left on one jump, and then to the right on the next, back and forth, so you look a little like a skier slaloming down a hill,” says Haft.
Move 3: The bell
This time, instead of jumping side to side, you’ll jump a couple of inches forward, then back, which, from above, looks a little like a church bell swinging back and forth, says Haft.
Move 4: The staggered stance
You’re still jumping off both feet at the same time, but in this variation, place the left foot about six inches in front of the right.
Move 5: The staggered stance, part 2
Now, switch feet so the right is in front, and left is in back, and jump. Once you master this, you’re ready to start learning more complicated moves in which the feet move separately from each other, Haft explains.
As you become more comfortable and proficient at these basic steps, you can increase the intensity of the workout by increasing the speed, says Keepman. “You can also work up to hopscotch jumping, jogging, high-knee jumping, double jumps, and criss-cross jumping,” she adds.
The best thing about jump rope is that there is almost no barrier to get started—you don’t need to join a gym, pay for expensive equipment, or travel any further than your yard. You can get your kids involved and make it a family activity. Just put on that soundtrack from Rocky and you’re good to go.
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