Extreme fitness has long been linked to such intense workouts as mind-over-body triathlons and butt-kicking boot camps, but what about jump rope? And no, we're not kidding.
Buddy Lee, a U.S. Olympic wrestler, author of Jump Rope Training and founder of the Buddy Lee Jump Rope Institute, says jump rope is considered by many to be the perfect exercise. Portable, convenient, efficient and effective, jump rope can comply with the demands of your lifestyle while providing a low-impact, high-intensity workout.
"As a kid, I had visions of being the best athlete I could be, and after seeing a martial artist use this tool, and have it work for him, I knew it could work for me," says Lee. "It took five hours that one hot summer day to master the two basic techniques, and I never put it down."
Years later, after developing customized programs to train over 25 Olympic sports teams and developing a worldwide reputation as a jump rope expert, Lee is now the founder of an institute that aims to motivate and educate people to jump rope as a way of life through workshops and certifications. Over his years of training and conditioning athletes, Lee has seen impressive results, including drastically improved speed, balance and muscle condition. But getting such a top-level pay-off from jumping over a rope isn't going to come from the skipping you used to do in grade school.
"Jumping is a skill and there's a science behind it to do it the right way, to get the right benefits," says Lee. "It's not the same as when you were a kid."
The right moves
When learning to jump properly, the first old habit you have to toss away is driving your knees up, says Laurissa Manning, a Can-Fit-Pro certified Fitness Instructor Specialist and Buddy Lee Jump Rope Institute certified jump rope instructor. Instead, your feet barely come an inch off the ground - just enough to clear the rope. While your body remains in vertical alignment, you should also stay on the balls of the feet, landing lightly on the metatarsal and not allowing the heels to touch the floor. This low-impact version of jumping keeps injury and gradual wear and tear on the body at a minimum, says Lee, while still providing enough ground force to increase bone density and help fight osteoporosis.
Once you've learned how to jump correctly, the rope is added to the picture. Ensure your jump rope is adjusted to the proper length - when standing on the centre with one foot, the handles should reach chest or underarm height - and first spin it beside you in one hand as you jump. When you start to get the feel of the timing, put a handle in each hand and work at clearing the rope with the proper jumping stance. Et voilà, the double-foot bounce (referred to as the "Basic Bounce Step"), one of two basic steps. After mastering the first, you can move onto the alternating foot bounce (referred to as the "Alternate Foot Step"), the typical gate of the jump-roping boxer.
With those two moves tucked away in your tool box, the next goal is speed. The faster the rope spins and the faster you jump, the more effective the exercise becomes, both in terms of cardiovascular and muscle conditioning. Once the double-foot and alternating bounces are second nature, you can incorporate many more moves into your routine, says Manning, from crossing your legs to side-to-side ski jumps.
"I'll go into a fitness studio, if there's nobody in there, and I'll use the entire room to skip to music," she says. "You can really choreograph it."
The right gear
When jumping with fitness in mind, pulling out the beaded skipping rope that has been gathering dust in your garage won't do. Leather, beaded, braided and cable ropes are too heavy and clunky and won't give you the speed and mobility that the exercise requires. Instead, look for a rope with aerodynamic properties and no drag, such as lightweight speed ropes, which are created with a thin material and often equipped with swivel bearings in the handles that make fast spins possible. Even the fanciest ropes aren't going to burn a hole in your wallet: you're looking at forking over a maximum of $40 and as little as $15.
"A jump rope is not just a jump rope," says Lee, also co-inventor of a patented speed rope used by the U.S. Olympic teams. "You should have the right kind of equipment that responds to your needs and allows you to learn the skill safely."
Where you decide to start jumping is up to you. Since you only need about two to three feet overhead to skip effectively, and only about an arm's length in width around you, you can pull out your jump rope and start hopping just about anywhere. Manning recommends opting for surfaces softer than concrete and says the portability and minimal size of a jump rope means this exercise is the ultimate in convenience.
"If you're on the road, just take the jump rope with you," she says. "When I go anywhere, I can just throw it in the bag. You don't need a lot of space."
You can toss it in your purse, it inflicts minimal impact on your joints, and once you've mastered the basic techniques, it's just a matter of building speed - what more can a low-maintenance girl ask for from a high-intensity workout?
The right results
Research shows that 10 minutes of rope jumping, at about 120 turns per minute, produces the same cardiovascular fitness as 30 minutes of jogging, two sets of tennis, and 12 minutes of swimming, among other activities. Jump rope, if executed properly, can give you superb benefits in the least amount of time, compared to handfuls of other exercise options.
Since exercising with a jump rope creates both linear and circular motion - your body moves up and down as the rope spins around you - forces in all directions are causing your body to stabilize itself, says Lee, engaging your core to keep you balanced as your muscles work to jump and turn the rope. You'll see shaping and toning in all major muscle groups, both upper and lower, specifically targeting such areas as the waistline, abs, calves, hamstrings, quads, forearms, triceps and biceps.
What makes jump roping excel as a fitness option is its ability to provide you with practically whatever results you're looking for. Programs can be customized for your specific needs, be it weight loss or improving athletic performance with sport-specific moves.
All the core components of fitness are also targeted, including speed, agility, balance, coordination, explosive power and reaction time. And all this within a short workout that's available to potential jumpers of all fitness levels, an aspect of jump roping that Manning says opens the exercise up to everyone.
For more information about jump rope training and the Jump Rope Institute, visit www.jumpropeinstitute.com