What if there was one exercise you could do for seven minutes a day that would burn calories, improve your cardiovascular health, your balance and coordination, and even sharpen your brain? A simple activity we associate more with children’s rhymes and playtime, jumping rope is highly valued by boxers, athletes and others seeking maximum health benefits in a minimum amount of time.
“Most people think of using the elliptical machine, the treadmill or bike for cardio exercise,” explains Angela Young, an exercise specialist and personal trainer with Superior Athletic Club in Medford. “They don’t think about a jump rope as a simple and versatile piece of equipment they can take with them and use anywhere.”
Burn for the buck
Young recently held a jump rope workshop. “I wanted to teach people how to jump rope efficiently, how to do different types of jumps, how to work up to 1,000 jumps a day, and how to get past some of the plateaus.” It may take some practice, but she insists, “You can do a thousand jumps with a rope in just seven minutes, so that’s a lot of benefit for spending such a short period of time.”
Compared with other exercises, such as jogging, swimming or tennis, jumping rope burns a lot more calories per minute. “They estimate a 20-minute jump rope session is equivalent to running an eight-minute mile,” Young says. “Depending on your size, diet and metabolism, someone of average weight will burn about 125 calories during a 10-minute session.”
Other benefits may not be so obvious. For instance, according to the Jump Rope Institute, jumping rope improves bone density which helps prevent osteoporosis. But even more surprising is that it also helps to develop both sides of the brain, which enhances spatial awareness, reading skills, memory and mental alertness.
“People think jumping rope is easy, but it’s not,” says Troy Wohosky, one of the country’s top boxers, currently ranked No. 3 in the nation. He credits boxing with saving him from undesirable influences in his early life, which has inspired him to do the same for other local children by opening Spartan Boxing in Medford. “Jumping rope is an important part of training because it’s all about rhythm and timing for boxers. We do side to side movements, one leg at a time, crossovers, double time, all drills that improve the boxer’s timing, balance and reflexes because they require mental as well as physical agility to switch back and forth with different moves and rhythms. Because you’re working your brain and your body at the same time, boxers who use jumping rope as part of their training stay more focused and calm overall,” says Wohosky. The Jump Rope Institute attributes this to “the body’s biochemical reaction to composite movements that combine a circular motion with angular momentum.”
Further, jumping on the balls of your feet requires your body and mind to make neural muscular adjustments to imbalances which, experts say, improves dynamic balance and coordination, reflexes, bone density and muscular endurance. “It definitely improves the muscle tone, especially the calf and leg muscles,” Wohosky agrees, “and having strong legs is critical to boxers. It makes the heart stronger and increases the blood flow in the arteries and veins. It teaches my boxers to relax, how to breathe correctly, and how to hold a steady pace.”
Return to childhood
Give yourself a four-by-six-foot area, allowing about 10 inches of space above your head. While carpeting can soften impact, it can also grab rubber soles and send you sprawling, so the best surfaces are wood or smooth rubber matting. Young notes, “It helps to have the right rope. The nice ones are thin plastic. Buddy Lee brand makes a great jump rope with a swivel bearing head that is easier on the wrists as it comes around, which helps you get your speed up.”
To determine the correct length, step on the rope midway with one foot, then hold it up in front of you, Young says. “You want the tips of the handle to be right at your armpits at the shoulder. Longer can make you trip, shorter and you will have to jump too high to clear it. Hold your arms out to the side, kind of wide. Use the wrists, not the elbows, to do the circles while keeping the upper body completely still. The abs are tucked in, the shoulder blades are down and the back is straight. It has a positive impact on the posture because you’re constantly holding that position.”
If you haven’t jumped rope since third grade, it can be a humbling experience because it does demand some coordination. Wohosky admits it may take time to become proficient. “To start out, you just want to go at a steady pace until you get the rhythm down and get comfortable with it. You have to build up to doing some of the more complicated steps and rhythms. I teach my students the simplest techniques first and then work up from there into double jumps and crossovers. It may take them a month or so, but I’ve seen the worst jumper in the class pick it up and become good at it, so you have to be patient and give yourself time to practice.”
For a beginner, Young advises starting with every other day to give your body a chance to adjust and for your movements to get more fluid. “Work up to 100 jumps nonstop. Don’t increase it until you can do that, then work on increasing your speed. A terrific goal to aim for is 1,000, then you can always work on decreasing the time.”
More bounce, more benefits
“Jumping rope increases ankle mobility, which is something we tend to lose over time,” Young continues. “It also helps strengthen the internal organs and beautifies the skin because the jumping is a boost to the lymphatic system. And if you happen to be one of those women who experiences bladder weakness following childbirth, jumping rope can actually help to increase the strength and elasticity in the pelvic floor, making it as strong as it was before childbirth.”
It’s a benefit for any age, Wohosky says. “We get our youngest students started with it and we also have a 60-year-old who jumps rope and boxes, and she feels it relaxes her. You just have to be patient and practice at it, but the benefits are well worth the time it takes to learn.”