When is the last time you have been skipping rope? In your childhood? At school? When I was told to pick up a rope to warm up at the gym I joined about 9 months ago, I was surprised and scared. Surprised because I had not even thought about skipping rope for a very long time (since 3rd grade maybe?), and scared because I had no idea if I could actually still do it!
But, eager student that I am, I did as told and picked up a rope. But, indeed, it was hard. I found it hard to find a rhythm at all, and it definitely felt very hard to actually “jump”, with both feet simultaneously off the ground. Even worse, after a few jumps the rope would inevitably hit my toes, which really hurt.
In my defence I have to say though, that these ropes were proper Thai-style jump ropes. They have very heavy PVC cables that build stamina and strength. They get their name from the traditional jump ropes that are found in every Muay Thai gym in Thailand. And if that rope hits your toes, believe me, it hurts!
I ended up not jumping much at all, it was more like a galloping movement and I’m sure the trainers watching me thought I was the most uncoordinated and unfit participant they have ever seen. However, skipping rope is pretty much the standard warm-up and is also often used as “stations” in the circuit style training that I do at the gym.
To be honest, it took me a while to get better at it. I was quite proud when I finally managed to skip for a full minute, properly and not in my awkward galloping style, without hitting my toes once. And, as is almost always the case, the more you do something, the better you get at it and the more enjoyable it becomes. Over a few months I managed to build stamina and coordination. Now I manage to skip easily for 15 minutes and in all different kinds of style. However, I’m using a speed rope with a light cable and I’m still working on the double-unders. The next challenge would be using a Thai-style rope I guess (sorry, toes!).
The benefits of skipping rope are undeniable and enhance athletic performance. That is why it is so popular with athletes that require footwork, coordination, quickness and agility. Like boxers do – if you check out what Muhammad Ali, Mike Tyson, Manny Pacquiao, Floyd Mayweather Jr. or even Rocky can do with a rope, it’s amazing. Here is an example of Muhammad Ali on youtube:
Have a look at this great compilation of boxers jumping rope (check out Sugar Ray Robinson, his skipping is crazy!!! But apparently he was also a tap dancer, which would explain a lot!).
Here I compiled a long (but not complete) list of benefits of skipping rope:
- Cardiovascular exercise
If you are skipping rope for longer sessions it can burn a lot of calories. Or, just as in my gym classes, you can add the skipping rope to a circuit and thereby increase the intensity of the overall workout.
As you get better at skipping rope, you can increase the speed. With speed you can increase the intensity, which makes you stronger and burns more calories. With improving coordination and balance you are able to increase speed and you become lighter on your feet. Lightness of the feet is what boxers and fighters are looking for. As you can see in above’s video, Muhammad Ali lands his feet softly and not hard on the ground.
Timing and rhythm are most important if you want to become good at skipping rope. You have to be aware (while jumping!) of the direction, the speed and the position of the rope and this forces your body to balance constantly. Balance is also crucial in boxing and martial arts. Keeping the balance when being hit or keeping balance if a punch or kick misses the target is crucial.
As I experienced myself, skipping rope requires a lot of coordination! Rhythm and timing have to come together and arms and feet have to move in harmony. The cadence needs to be steady to improve the coordination between eyes, hands and feet. This takes quite a bit of focus and only if all parts work together will you be able to increase speed.
Skipping can improve endurance. It’s just like running – you can do sprints or long distance and anything in between. And you can add fancy stuff! Double-unders are impressive for example. Even jumping jacks or side to side jumping can mix things up, but beware, it looks much easier than it actually is!
- Strength and Elasticity
Skipping rope is not only a cardiovascular exercise strengthening your heart, it also is a full body workout as it is training calves, hamstrings, shoulders and arms. It improves the elasticity of the surrounding tendons and fascia. As with all weight bearing activities, skipping rope puts stress on the bones, which helps develop bone mass. Therefore, it helps minimizing bone loss and protects against osteoporosis. As I always say, ladies: lift weights – and start skipping!
Agility is the ability to move quickly and easily. This is very much enhanced with regular skipping and is one of the reasons skipping is so popular with athletes as in many sports the ability to change direction, decelerate and accelerate is so important (think basketball, soccer, rugby).
Proprioception is the sense of knowing where one’s body and its parts are positioned. For example, you know if you are standing straight or leaning to one side or you can touch your nose with your eyes closed. With good proprioception balance and coordination are improved.
- Portability and Cost
A skipping rope is light (a speed rope weights close to nothing!), it fits in every bag and suitcase and it doesn’t have to cost much. It does depend a bit, obviously better quality ropes are more expensive. The cheap plastic ropes with a knot in the handle might be enough at the beginning. I am hooked on the Crossrope as the handles can be attached to ropes of various weight. And all you need is about 4 sqm of space. You can do it at home, at the park, at the gym and just about anywhere you like.
Here are some ideas of how to mix up your skipping rope exercise once you have mastered basic jumping:
Single leg jumping
Split leg jumping
If you have watched the video of boxers past and present skipping rope above, you have plenty of inspiration for your next skipping session and ideas of what to try. I mean, seriously, Roberto Duran does like a double-under from squat position! Let me know how you are going!
As always after every workout – don’t forget to stretch and do a proper cool down after all this jumping (unless it is just your warm-up of course, then keep going!).