Since I was in grade school, Jump Rope for Heart has promoted fitness in schools while also raising money for heart health research and education. But the benefits of jumping rope go far beyond the school ground.
A few weeks ago Elizabeth sent me a message on Facebook saying, “Hello! Could you make a recommendation for a jump rope workout? I have one arriving today and don’t know where to start. I’m trying to incorporate higher intensity cardio into my workout. Thanks!”
I did, in fact, send Elizabeth a link to a jump rope workout that I really like but I did it with some hesitation. Jumping rope is pretty darn safe overall but, with any new workout modality, there are some risks involved, especially if you are just starting out or returning to it after a long hiatus.
Some common injuries that can occur with jumping rope are:
- Twisted ankle
- Ankle sprain
- Shin splints
- Calf strain
- Achilles tendon strain
- Plantar fasciopathy
- Patellar tendonitis
- Stress fractures
Now, I didn’t list those to scare you or put you off of jumping rope, I just wanted you to be aware that just because kids do this activity in the playground doesn’t mean it isn’t a killer workout that can certainly leave its mark.
The Jump Rope Basics
Start by selecting a rope that is the correct length for you by stepping on the center of the rope, with your feet together, and then pull the handles straight up. When you do this, the handles should reach roughly the height of your shoulders.
Start by standing with your feet hip width apart, torso tall and your elbows bent at about a 45-degree angle. To begin with, until you get into some fancier jumping moves, you’ll want your elbows close in near your body. Make sure to use your wrists to swing the rope instead of your arms. You’ll find that once the rope gets moving it is easy to keep it going with just a flick of the wrist.
To jump, simply push off from the balls of your feet and lift your feet just high enough to clear the rope and then land again with slightly bent knees to minimize the impact.
Beginners can start with about 30 seconds of consecutive jumping (or 50 repetitions) but limit yourself to three or four sets until you are certain your body can handle it. Rest for 30 to 60 seconds between each set and use that time to shake out your ankles and legs before you get yourself mentally focused for the next set.
After a while, you can increase the length of your sets to 60 to 90 seconds of jumping (or 100 to 150 repetitions). Alternately, you can shorten your rest periods to 15 to 30 seconds. Either way, you will be increasing the workout.
At first, I would suggest only doing two jump rope workouts per week but you can eventually increase that to three or four per week, just make sure they are on nonconsecutive days so you have adequate time to recover.
After a few weeks, you can work your way up to about 20 minutes of jumping during those three or four jump workouts per week. Those jump sets can last two to five minutes in duration (or 200 to 500 repetitions) where you complete four of five sets per workout, resting 15 to 60 seconds between sets. Once you can handle that the fun begins!
Intermediate Jump Rope Workout
Here is a fun and relatively easy-to-remember-and-master workout that you can try when you are confident your calves, shins, and ankles can handle it. Do each of these variations for one minute separated by one minute of rest.
Basic: Swing the rope over your head, jump as it passes under your feet, and then land evenly on both feet.
Alternating Foot: Shift your weight onto your right foot and swing the rope over your head. Jump off your right foot as the rope passes under your feet and land on your right foot. Then switch to land on your left foot. Keep doing this, alternating back and forth, left to right for one minute.
Combo: Do the alternating foot version for five jumps on each foot and then do ten basic jumps.
High Knee: Similar to the alternating foot variation but now you raise each knee, up towards your chest, to a 90-degree angle with each jump.
Go Long: This is the big finish. Do any combination of the above that allows you to do a continuous jump interval of five minutes. If you have to take a break, make it brief and get back at it. Once you hit five minutes, you are done. Go stretch and foam roll (especially your calves and shins) and hit the showers!
Advanced Jump Rope
Once you get comfortable with all these moves, doing this sequence can feel like dancing instead of a workout.
This is a fun one especially for those of us who like to jump rope to music. Once you get comfortable with all these moves, doing this sequence can start to feel like dancing instead of a workout and we all know how enjoying your workout (and using music) can actually lower your level of perceived exertion and make a workout feel like play.
After a good full body warmup, do these moves for 20 reps (or more) each before moving on to the next one.
- 20 Basic Jumps
- 20 Ski Jumps
- 20 Heel Taps
- 20 Scissors Jumps
The order is not important, so play around and have fun with it!
For some helpful how-to videos of these (and other) moves, check out Shana Brady’s Punk Rope videos on YouTube. It can be helpful to read about these exercises but seeing them can really drive it home.
Jumping rope is a great way to boost your heart rate, create some spring in your legs and of course burn some calories.
Combining Jump Rope and Body Weight Exercises
Ok, this is the ultimate in Jump Rope workouts. This is when we alternate between jumping rope and doing other types of exercises. All you need for this combination of toning and cardio is a jump rope, an open area, and some energy to burn.
Warm-up: start the way I outlined at the beginning of this article and then move on to one-to-two minutes of each of the following.
- Two Foot Jump
- Body Weight: Push Ups
- High Knee Jump (alternating)
- Body Weight: Russian Twists
- Alternating foot jump
- Body Weight: Sumo Squats
- Basic Jump
- Body Weight: Dips
- Two Foot Jump
- Body Weight: Bicycle Crunches
- High Knee jump (alternating)
- Body Weight: Walking lunges
- Basic Jump
Cool-down: Walk slowly until you catch your breath, then stretch out any tight areas, roll out all the affected muscle groups and hit the showers.
To take it up a notch: Keep your transitions as quick as possible so you don’t let your heart rate drop too much. If you have it in you, you can do this all again for a maximum of three times through.
Jump Rope Reminders
Whether you are new to jumping or a jump rope veteran, here are some basic rules to keep in mind:
- Keep your elbows tucked in close to your hips or ribs.
- Keep your hands around waist height. Don’t let them sag or creep up.
- Keep the handles loose and easy in your grip. Don’t crush them in your fists.
- Keep your knees, hips and ankles soft and let them bend and flex on each landing.
- Unless you are doing a specific variation, keep your jumps low.
- Use your wrists as much as possible to swing the rope instead of your arms.
To keep you safe and uninjured, here are some general guidelines for those of you who are new to jumping rope or for those of you who haven’t done it since you were in braces or pigtails.
Surface and Location Matter
Stick to softer surfaces (wood, dirt, or rubber) these will protect your body and also make your rope last longer.
Hard surfaces (like concrete and asphalt) put more stress on your bones and joints than the softer surfaces do. If you can stick to softer surfaces (wood, dirt, or rubber) these will protect your body and also give the added benefit of making your rope last longer.
If you have no choice but to jump on hard surfaces, keep your volume and impact low and consider investing in a jump rope mat (or use an old yoga mat).
You will also want to find at least a four-by-six-foot area with at least 10 inches of space above your head. For this reason, I prefer to do my jump rope outside or in a large gym setting.
Shoes Also Matter
Especially when you are just starting out, choose shoes that have good stability, good arch support, and perhaps even some ankle support. Again, if you are jumping on hard surfaces, find some shoes with extra cushioning in the midsole (where the majority of your jumping takes place).
Once you have been jumping for a while or if you have already spent the time to make your feet nice and strong , your footwear will not be as important but it is best to err on the side of caution until you know how your feet and legs will react.
Choose a Good Rope
Beginners may find a beaded jump rope handy because it holds its shape better and can be easier to control than a lightweight cloth or a vinyl rope. You can (and should) eventually move up to a weighted rope (which slows the swing motion down and gives you more time to power your jump) but start easy and progress at your own pace.
Warm Up First
Just like a rubber band, a muscle is more pliable when it is at a warmer temperature, so if you want to train your body to move through a greater range of motion, start with 5-10 minutes of light cardio and then move into a dynamic stretching warm-up routine.
Dynamic stretching (or ballistic stretching) is much more effective than static stretching in terms of adequately preparing your body for an exercise session. Studies have shown that dynamic stretching can also improve power, strength, and performance during a subsequent exercise session. So take some time and warm up thoroughly and correctly.
Increase Your Volume Slowly
Yes, I know I bring this up a lot but especially for beginners we often see that age-old issue of “too much, too soon.” Excitement often gets the best of us and we forget to pay attention to the volume (distance or duration) of our exercise. This can be a problem because it takes time for our bodies to adjust to new stresses, which includes the added load that all that jumping puts on our joints and muscles.
Pay attention to how long, how hard, and how often you are jumping and listen to your body. Just like a good running program or weight training regimen, you should start slowly and only increase your volume based on how your body adjusts, not on a prewritten plan or a momentarily excited whim.
Listen to Your Body
In any effective workout program, you will experience some pain (especially when you are making progress). That particular type of pain is actually a sign that your muscles are being challenged, which is necessary for growth.
Us exercise nerds use a term called “DOMS,” which is short for “Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness,” which means soreness that peaks about 24-48 hours post-workout. DOMS that manifests in light muscle tenderness and stiff joints is completely normal, but DOMS that results in muscles that are very painful to the touch or sharp pains in the joints is not normal. So, if it hurts to sneeze, laugh, or wash your own hair a couple of days after a workout, then you need to pay more attention and ease off on the volume or intensity (or both).
It’s very important to be aware of your body and how it feels so you will know what your own limits are.
It’s very important to be aware of your body and how it feels so you will know what your own limits are. You do want to push yourself, but only to a beneficial point.
Stretch and Roll
Stretching or better yet spending some time on your foam roller will help minimize DOMs, improve your speed of recovery from the workouts, and maybe even reduce your chances of injury. If nothing else, it’s a great way to end a hard workout.
The Bottom Line
Jumping rope is a great way to boost your heart rate, create some spring in your legs, and of course burn some calories. According to Peter Schulman, MD, associate professor, Cardiology/Pulmonary Medicine, you’d have to run an eight-minute mile to work off more calories than you burn while jumping rope.
It’s good for the heart, it strengthens both the upper and the lower body and it burns a lot of calories in a short amount of time. Sure, you are putting some very direct and heavy stress on your knees, ankles, and hips, but when done properly jumping rope is actually a lower-impact activity than running (and the force placed on the knees while running is as much as three times more than when walking).
The same as when you start any intense workout regime, you may want to check with your doctor especially if you have doubts about your body’s ability to handle the repeated impact. Like I mentioned earlier, shoes and surface are important to consider, and of course don’t forget that a good warm up, cool down, as well as stretching and foam rolling are also important. If you follow these guidelines and always listen to your body, you will be jumping your way to a fitter and springier you in no time.