The Rundown on ropes
All jump ropes are not created equal. First off, there are probably more types of rope than you realize.
Leather: The old boxer’s favorite, it’s durable but relatively slow and best suited to a smooth gym surface.
Licorice and beaded: Made with heavier plastic for faster speeds.
Wire cable: Faster still but prone to kinking and often won’t allow cross-arm moves.
Cotton and nylon: Among the least expensive but turn the slowest and are the least suited to real training.
Heavy or weighted: Usually coated with rubber and/or loaded in the handles, adding weight for more of an upper-body workout.
Then there’s Buddy Lee’s "hyperperformance" line.
Lee says he invented the patented swivel-ball-bearing speed ropes for the right mix of speed and flexibility. Starting at $27.95, he offers three options, one short-handled and two long-handled.
No matter what rope you get, you’ll need to figure out how long you want it. Size definitely matters — the shorter the rope, the harder your workout will be.
To size the rope, stand up straight and place a foot in the middle of the rope, pulling the two ends up the same side of your body.
For a more intense workout, add a weighted vest or even body armor. "Just be sure to maintain good posture," Lee warns. "The weight will make you want to slouch over."
If you're like Buddy Lee, you grew up thinking jumping rope was for schoolyard play, not hard-core workouts. "Honestly, I thought it was a little-girl thing," Lee says.
But that was before he met a fifth-degree black belt who changed his life forever. The martial arts instructor showed him a few rope techniques that Lee, a former Marine, credits with providing the core strength, speed and agility to go on and become a champion wrestler and two-time Olympian.
Now a conditioning coach who works with everyone from up-and-coming Olympic athletes to octagon fighters to the CrossFit faithful, Lee has become a full-time rope-jumping evangelist.
Author of "Jump Rope Training," his guide to becoming a rope-skipping master, Lee also has invented a patented line of speed ropes, partnered with TRX to create a "Ropes+Straps" boot camp DVD, and is touring U.S. military bases teaching troops and their families how to jump into action.
"Most people barely scratch the surface of maximizing the benefits of this exercise, mostly because they don't know how to do it the right way," Lee says. "Jumping rope rates as one of the most efficient ways of developing cardiovascular fitness in as little as 10 minutes. It's low-impact, safe, portable, requires only a small space, but when you learn how to do it the right way, 10 minutes of jumping can provide the same cardiovascular benefits as 30 minutes of jogging, two sets of tennis, 30 minutes of racquetball, 18 holes of golf, 12 minutes of swimming. It can give you a lot in a very short period of time."
Lee says there's no excuse for anyone in uniform not to have a jump-rope stashed in their gym bag, at home, and in their duffel bag on deployments. But just like learning a new weapon, you need to master the fundamentals. You have to spend time learning proper technique before you can get the full benefit.
Whether you're jumping with both feet at once or with an alternating step, he says, the fundamentals remain the same:
Stance: Maintain an upright position on the balls of your feet, looking straight ahead with your arms relaxed by your side.
Grip: Hold the rope with a firm but not-too-tight grip in the middle of the handle, thumb running along the handle like you're about to cast a fishing line. When you turn the rope, make small counterclockwise circles about the size of a quarter. The rope should skim the floor.
Jump: Pushing from the balls of your feet, you want to jump ¾-inch to one inch off the ground, landing lightly on the balls of your feet. For the basic bounce jump, both feet should be just a few inches apart; the alternating footstep "is more like running in place, bringing your knees up at right angles but not too high."
"It takes time to build up," Lee says. "People jump into it and try and do too much too soon. It's a skill movement, so people can get discouraged because they worry about looking like a klutz or they get injured."
So take it easy and start slow. Lee's advice when starting out: Try to get five good jumps, then take a quick break. "Do that 20 times, and you've a got a good workout right there."
"Proficiency is defined when you can do 140 jumps of both the basic bounce and the alternating step nonstop without a miss. From there, you build to a basic capacity of 500 jumps, then to five minutes nonstop, and then to 10 minutes while incorporating other movements such as going forward, backward, side-straddle (like a jumping jack) or hopping side to side.
Once you can handle all that at a slow-but-steady pace, you're ready for Lee's high-intensity, 10-minute blaster of anaerobic awesomeness. It goes like this:
1. Do the alternating step as fast as you can, counting each step, for 30 seconds.
2. Whatever number you get, that's your base line.
3. Rest for 30 seconds.
4. With the goal of exceeding the base line, do nine more sets of 30-second sprints with 30-second rests. If that's too much, give yourself a longer rest.
"If you think you're in shape, do 10 minutes a day on this anaerobic side and watch it kick your butt," Lee says. "It will take your fitness to a whole 'nother level. You'll be worshipping this jump-rope."