The Value of Jumping Rope
Recently we have rediscovered the value in performing a simple (but not easy) exercise you probably haven’t attempted since you were in grade school. It used to be a gym class staple, and has been a part of training for combat sports forever. I have to give a nod to my colleague Jim McKee for bringing this simple method of power development back to the forefront, especially in our youth programs. The exercise I’m talking about is jumping rope. It’s not just for little girls in pigtails anymore…
The first group I implemented this with, I was met with an unexpected blank stare. The silence was so awkward, I thought they might not have heard me, so I repeated myself. “We are going to jump rope for 1 minute.” After another awkward pause, one of the kids sheepishly asked…
“Like, just jump rope? Is it a trick rope or something? What’s the catch?”
“No funny business here, I just want you to jump rope for 1 minute.”
The 60 seconds that followed consisted of about 15 seconds of actual jumping rope, and 45 seconds of restarting, shin whipping, and negative self-talk. It turns out, this simple skill is not so easy. And that trend continued throughout the day. Jumping rope is a skill that requires practice to perform effectively, and it is something we see today’s youth struggling with big time. As I mentioned before, it used to be a gym class staple. However in today’s schools, gym class is no longer a staple, so we see what used to be standard athletic skills fade away and general athletic development decline.
Poor jump rope skills even extend into the adult population. With the adults however, the tissues of their feet and lower legs are not used to the forces of repetitive landings, so we have to be really careful to avoid injury. Even people who are avid runners struggle with the impact stress of jumping rope, although you might think their bodies could handle the landings. The difference is, most runners are heel strikers, meaning their stride reaches far in front of their hips and their heel lands on the ground first. This is a much different force profile than those who land on their toes, much like a barefoot runner would.
There are numerous benefits to jumping rope
Posture, alignment– your body will learn how to center over your feet, helping to improve postural efficiency
Tempo, rhythm, timing– especially for youth athletes, developing these attributes helps in all other athletic pursuits.
Proprioception, body awareness– good for general athletic development. Get to know where your body is in space.
Foot, ankle, and shin strength– the musculature of the feet and lower leg has gotten progressively weaker as shoes add more and more padding. Our feet are rarely forced to work, so the intrinsic muscles and tissues don’t develop.
Tissue elasticity– the repeated bouncing helps the lower leg to learn to be more elastic, storing energy and releasing it more effectively. This leads to more explosive ability and movement economy.
Cardivascular development– This is a full body exercise, capable of producing near maximum heart rates because of the number of muscles it takes to produce the movement.
Jumping rope is a big “bang for your buck” activity that can improve explosiveness, coordination, and conditioning all for about $10 at your local sporting goods store. The variations are endless, so find one that works for you (not surprisingly, we are looking to get people good enough to do several patterns on one leg) and get practicing. The increased strength, elasticity, and rhythm will help your athleticism and make you more dynamic on the ice, court, or pitch.