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This $10 Tool Will Change Your Fitness

A jump rope helps you get faster times with fewer miles.

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Forget any association you have with jump ropes and elementary school recess—the jump rope is an incredibly efficient way to boost your fitness.

“For triathletes, a jump rope is an inexpensive, lightweight, and efficient tool they can toss in their gym bag,” said Tim Haft, founder and president of Punk Rope. “Rope jumping is an ideal cross-training activity for triathletes, because it helps to maintain and even improve cardiovascular conditioning, build bone density, and strengthen lower-body musculature.”

Indeed, the benefits are plentiful. In one study, it was found to be one of the most efficient cardiovascular exercises, with 10 minutes of jumping delivering the same workout benefits as 30 minutes of jogging. As a form of plyometric exercise, jump roping can help runners to get faster times with fewer miles. This makes it a great supplement to run training, said Haft, especially since it is relatively gentle on the joints when done with proper form.

Jumping up and down also builds stronger bones and muscles; researchers have confirmed that bone density increases as a result of repeated jumping, which can stave off training-related injuries like stress fractures. Ditto for the musculature of the lower leg, ankles, and feet, which are often overlooked despite their high susceptibility of injury. That’s why so many boxers and football players include jumping rope in their workouts–it is widely regarded as a critical tool for building up the tissues of the feet and ankles for balance and stability. For triathletes, this translates to better running, especially when speeding up and running downhill.

With a jump rope, all of these major benefits come in the simplest package–no gym is required, nor expensive equipment. The workout can be done at home, in a hotel room, or in a parking lot before starting a trail run. Even the equipment is fuss-free: Haft recommends triathletes buy a basic “speed rope” and get to skipping. Here’s how:

Don’t Jump Right In

Before you get started, Haft said it’s important to figure out where it fits into the training mix: “Think about your short-term fitness and triathlon goals, and ask yourself why you’re considering adding a rope jumping. What–if anything–will you be replacing?” This can help guide when and where the practice fits into your routine, be it a warm-up for a run or as part of your strength-training routine.

Get the Gear

Though there are many fancy (and expensive!) options on the market today, Haft said a simple plastic speed rope, which usually retails for around $10, is all that’s needed. Be sure to adjust the length of the rope to correspond with your height–a good rule of thumb for ascertaining jump rope length is to take your height and add three feet.

Master the Fundamentals

“Once you have the necessary equipment, and assuming you’re a beginner, start with the basics including posture, grip, jumping and landing mechanics, wrist rotation, and timing,” said Haft, who recommended YouTube as a great place to see tutorials that can help explain the basics. Start slowly, and progress gradually so you give your body time to adapt to the different stresses that this new exercise will place upon it. 

Level Up Your Game

As you become more proficient with your jump rope, you can add more challenging moves, like speeding up your cadence, jumping on one foot, alternating feet, criss-crossing the rope, and doing double-unders (a higher jump, allowing the rope to cross under the feet twice). In addition to the physical benefits of rope jumping, these moves require increased focus and coordination, making for a great mental workout as well.

Beginner Jump Rope Workout

Just like a structured workout is superior to pedaling aimlessly on the bike, a formal plan for your jump rope workout can help you hit your overall training objectives. Interspersing this workout with other forms of strength and cardio work can give you more bang for your cross-training buck. Try this workout developed by Haft for Triathlete readers:

Punk Rope Workout for Beginners

Total time including warm-up and cooldown: 23.5 minutes

To view examples of movements, visit the Punk Rope YouTube channel

Warm-up: 5 minutes
Jump rope, basic bounce: 90 seconds
Recover with side swing: 30 seconds
Plank: 60 seconds
Jump rope, alternating foot step: 90 seconds
Recover with side swing: 30 seconds
Bird Dog: 60 seconds
Side swing & jump (side swing one direction then the other and then open the rope; keep repeating): 90 seconds
Recover with side swing: 30 seconds
Mountain Climbers: 60 seconds
Recover: 30 seconds
Jump rope speed test (4 bouts of 15 seconds with 30 seconds of rest between each bout)
Recover: 30 seconds
Criss Cross (from Pilates): 60 seconds
Cool-down: 5 minutes