Busy holiday schedules, travel, or cold weather can easily disrupt an exercise routine. But jumping rope can keep you on track, and every member of the family can do it.
“If you’ve really got a time crunch in your life, 12 to 15 minutes with a jump rope can be a great workout,” says Pete McCall, a leading San Diego-based fitness trainer, educator, and spokesperson for the American Council on Exercise.
A long-time favorite of kids and boxers, jumping rope burns about the same number of calories as running, but with less impact and stress on joints. “It’s really portable and there’s a lot of versatility with it,” says McCall.
Plenty of Benefits
Even if you’re doing regular cardio workouts, jumping rope is a different way of moving, so it offers a new physical and mental challenge. In addition to working the heart and lungs, it:
- Increases elasticity in the tendons and muscles in the lower leg, reducing the risk of foot or ankle injuries.
- Improves balance and helps to prevent falls.
- Increases grip and wrist strength, and works the shoulders.
- Helps to stabilize knee muscles and joints.
- Works the upper leg and hips, especially when landing on one foot or doing more explosive jumps.
- Improves bone density.
- Is mentally engaging, which helps to reduce stress and, for older adults, may help to ward off dementia.
Where to Start
At first, McCall recommends jumping without a rope for 20 to 30 seconds, to make sure weight is distributed correctly. Use the balls of your feet, not the toes, to push off and land, letting your heels come down to the ground between jumps. Keep knees slightly bent and bounce lightly.
Picking a Rope
When you were a kid, someone handed you a rope and off you skipped. But it’s more complicated for grown-ups—ropes come in different lengths, types, and prices. Here’s what you need to know:
Choose the right length:In your workout shoes, stand with one foot on the middle of the rope and hold the ends straight up in front of you. The ends of the rope (not the handles) should be around armpit height. If you’re in between two lengths, buy an adjustable version of the longer one and customize it.
Types and prices: Prices range from under $10 to around $40 and, as McCall puts it, “You get what you pay for.” The length of ropes under $10 is not usually adjustable. In the $15 range, length can generally be customized. Ropes that cost $30 or more are adjustable and have ball bearings where they attach to the handles, enabling smoother, faster turning.
Jump Rope Workouts
Cardio: McCall recommends jumping rope for 2 to 3 minutes, then walking around for 30 to 60 seconds, to give calf muscles a rest. Do a series of these, for a total of 5 to 10 minutes, each day or a few times a week. As you progress, increase the total time by 2 to 3 minutes each week, gradually building up to a total of 30 minutes per workout.
When starting, do basic jumps landing on both feet. As you progress, try these:
- Land on one foot, and then the other, as though you were running in place.
- Do 30 seconds of landing on one foot, then 30 seconds on the other foot.
- Land on both feet pointing to 10 o’clock, then 2 o’clock, as though you were slalom skiing.
Total body: With any strength training workout, 2 minutes of jumping rope, in between every two or three exercises, builds in cardio fitness. Or, try a total-body workout without any other equipment:
- 30 seconds: jump rope
- 30 seconds: do squats
- 30 seconds: do push-ups
- 30 seconds: hold a plank position
“If you do that 10 times, which takes about 20 minutes,” says McCall, “that’s a good little workout.”
Got Achy Joints?
If you have arthritis or other joint problems, McCall recommends checking with your doctor before starting to jump rope. However, he points out, “Arthritis is inflammation, and if you don’t use a joint, then the inflammation becomes worse.” If your doctor approves, jumping rope may be somewhat uncomfortable at first, but will make joints healthier and more mobile. “If you don’t use the range of motion in the joint,” says McCall, “then there’s a risk of losing that mobility.”