Jumping rope may seem like child’s play.
But as any boxer can tell you, it can also be serious exercise.
People have been skipping rope as exercise for most of civilized history. Egyptian athletes had a jump-rope workout as early as 1600 B.C.
Interest in the sport is now enjoying one of its periodic spikes since being introduced in the United States in the 1800s primarily as an exercise for girls.
One factor has been the COVID-19 pandemic.
“As most people are stuck at home during the COVID-19 lockdown without their regular gym, many are looking for ways to stay fit and active with minimal equipment,” Sergio Pedemonte, the chief executive officer of Toronto-based Your House Fitness, an at-home workout and wellness company, told Healthline.
“Jump rope is easy to pick up and learn for most people and also has a high ceiling for progression of skill and trick learning, keeping the workout fun and challenging. Jump rope is engaging because it works both the mind and body through full-body coordination and timing,” he said.
“Skipping is an excellent form of exercise and something that we saw even in the ‘Rocky’ movies,” Brett Durney, co-founder of Fitness Lab in London, told Healthline.
“I grew up in a boxing gym, so I was always jumping rope,” said Tommy Duquette, a former U.S. National Boxing Team member and co-founder and trainer at FightCamp. “Back then, I didn’t know anybody else outside of the gym who also jumped rope. Now, it seems like it has become a thing, albeit a niche thing.”
It’s possible to spend $250 or more on a premium jump-rope set, but beginners can get started with a length of pretty much any kind of rope they have on hand.
“Jump rope is accessible and portable,” said Joe Vega of The Vega Method, a holistic healing program in New York. “You can bring a small jump rope anywhere and reap the benefits of one of the best exercises you can do.”
In addition to basic jump ropes, modern equipment options include weighted jump ropes, beaded jump ropes, speed jump ropes, and smart jump ropes.
Speed ropes and smart ropes are among the hottest jump-rope products on the market, according to Kiel DiGiovanni, co-founder at Set for Set Fitness.
“Speed ropes allow for maximum rotations due to the design, usually with ball bearings connecting the rope to the handles,” he told Healthline. “Smart ropes, on the other hand, can help to track number of jumps, rotations, and calories burned.”
Fitness experts rave about the efficiency of jumping rope, either as a warmup or a workout unto itself.
“The jump rope might be considered one of the best pound-for-pound pieces of workout equipment ever made,” said DiGiovanni. “There’s a reason why the best athletes in the world are still training with jump ropes. This humble piece of equipment can have you burning up to 700 to 1,000 calories in an hour session if working out at a high intensity.”
“Very few exercises burn calories like a jump rope,” said Dan Ferrato of Club Sweat, a fitness studio in British Columbia, Canada. “Even jumping at a very moderate rate burns 10 to 16 calories a minute. Ten minutes of skipping rope is about equivalent to running an 8-minute mile.”
Jumping rope also improves coordination, balance, and bone density, said Ferrato.
“However, the most important benefit jumping rope has to offer is the postural benefits,” he said. “It helps you maintain ideal postures that translate into the most powerful and stable expression of human movement.”
To get the most out of a jump-rope workout, start by doing regular jumps for 5 minutes every other day, gradually adding a minute at a time until you can jump continuously for 15 minutes, said Pedemonte.
At that point, jumpers “can add more complexity to their jumping routine: crossovers, side swings, and boxer steps are great progressions to the regular jump.”
“Jump rope can also be placed between exercise sets to maintain an elevated heart rate through a regular workout or done as a fun dynamic warmup to regular resistance training,” he said.
Some people use jumping rope as a form of dynamic stretching, said Alex Tauberg, a Pittsburgh-based chiropractor and strength and conditioning specialist.
“When you do dynamic stretches you are gently activating the muscles that are going to be used. In addition to improving blood flow, you are also working the joints through their ranges of motion. This helps to get the joints mobile so that you can perform your workout with optimal form,” he told Healthline.
For all of its benefits, jumping rope also carries some risk of injury, notably shin splints and strains of the Achilles tendon.
“To avoid these injuries, warm up the lower body through simple full-range calve raises and jump rope for only 5 to 10 minutes to start, in order to build up the strength in the lower body to handle the impact loads from jumping,” said Pedemonte.
Hamstring and quad/hip flexor stretches also can help prevent injuries, as can jumping on a padded surface and wearing high quality running shoes to reduce impact intensity, according to experts.
Choosing the right length of rope also can prevent injuries as well as maximizing the efficiency and ease of your jump-rope routine.
“The length of the jump rope should be dependent on your skill level,” said DiGiovanni. “For beginners, when standing on the rope with one foot, the rope should be level with your shoulders. For the intermediate or advanced, when standing on the rope with one foot, the rope should be level with your armpits or just below.”
Occasionally getting whacked by the rope itself is another hazard — usually more annoying than the cause of serious injuries and a part of the learning process, Pedemonte said.
“Ropes with beads hit the ground and make noise as they spin around the body, which may help in avoiding accidental rope whips,” he said.
Plus, a beaded rope “is recommended for beginners because it holds its shape and is easier to control than a lightweight cloth or vinyl rope,” said Gabriello Ianniruberto, a Canadian fitness writer and strength expert.