The Only Exercise You Need To Stay Fit This Holiday Season

The good news about jumping rope is — well, almost everything. It's an incredibly effective, portable, and time-efficient workout. It's excellent cardio, strengthens your lower body and arms, amps up bone density, makes you more coordinated, and even improves cognitive function. Plus, frankly, it's really, really cheap. So, why isn't everyone doing it?

That's where the bad news comes in: Jumping rope is hard. I'm willing to bet that 90% of all jump ropes are currently gathering dust in the backs of closets all over the world. You buy the jump rope with high hopes of cheap, quick, and simple fitness; then, about eight seconds into the actual jumping, you realize what a horrible mistake this was and throw the wretched thing across the room because nothing is worth that kind of boob-bouncing, heart-pounding, too-damn-hardness.

But rest assured, friend: There is a better way. Though jumping rope is simple, it does require a bit of know-how, a little patience, and, above all, reasonable expectations. Working with Equinox trainer and jump-roping expert Gerren Liles, we developed this basic primer for anyone looking to start a jump-rope routine. Whether you're a regular gym-goer or brand new to fitness, if you want to integrate jumping rope into your workout, here's what you need to know.
Photographed by James Farrell; Styled by Bethie Girmai; Hair and Makeup by Andi Yancey Using Nars; Set Designed by Chloe Daley; Modeled by Hope Watson at Wilhelmina Models.
1. There Is No Mandatory Fitness Level
Jumping rope has a reputation for being associated with professional athletes, American Psychos, and other hardcore fitness folk like Liles (I'm pretty sure he has an 18-pack). But he affirms that "it can be modified or progressed for all levels." That said, even if you already have decent cardio stamina and leg strength, you might find yourself getting tired faster than you would on the treadmill or bike. And if you're a fitness newbie, you might feel winded right from the start. Either way, it's normal — and it won't always be this hard. Feeling so instantly challenged can make you feel like a failure, but remember that jumping rope is different from most of the physical movements we do during the day. It's a new challenge for everyone, no matter their fitness level. So, don't be discouraged by that voice in your head screaming, This sucks! Can't we just watch Netflix?

2. Find The Rope That's Right For You
With such a simple exercise, you would think there might just be one kind of tool. You would be very, very wrong. "There are regular jump ropes, which have no special purpose and are usually cheapest," says Liles. Then, there are heavy ropes designed for more upper-body work, specialized ropes for boxing training or CrossFit, and speed ropes for faster paces and advanced moves like "double unders." If you don't even know what a "double under" is, start with something basic and well-made, such as Crossrope, Fitness Master, or Valeo. Be sure to buy an adjustable one or check the length in-store. To determine size, step on the middle of the rope with one foot and raise the handles until the rope is taut. The base of the handles should hit at your armpit.

3. Be Mindful Of Impact
"There's no way to get around the impact on the balls of the feet," says Liles, who adds that "you'll become adjusted to it with continued training." Be sure to wear supportive (and not too heavy) shoes when jumping rope. "It's important, with any workout regimen, to be mindful of potential imbalances or injuries," Liles advises. With jumping rope, you should pay special attention to any tightness, tension, or pain in the feet, ankles, and knees — as well as the wrists, which do a lot of work by constantly turning the rope. If you have any old or recent injuries in those areas, take special care with warming them up, and, as ever, stop if you feel any pain. The discomfort and tiredness that come with vigorous exercise are to be expected. Pain is not.

4. Do A Real-Deal Warm-Up
Jumping rope is strenuous and involves a lot of impact, so don't skip the warm-up. "Jumping rope is an effective form of cardio conditioning that is a total-body workout," says Liles. As you can imagine, your legs do most of the work here, "especially your calves," he says. But your forearms will feel the burn, too. If you're planning to jump rope for most of your workout, Liles suggests warming up with "jumping jacks, squats, shoulder rolls, wrist rolls, and stretching." However, if you're planning another activity as your primary workout, "the jump rope itself is a good warm-up," Liles adds. If you are using the jump rope as a warm-up, keep it to around five minutes total, jumping at a moderate pace that you're able to maintain steadily.

And, quick reminder: Give yourself a good stretch when you're done, too, focusing particular attention on your calves, quads, shoulders, forearms, and hip flexors.

5. Know Your Form
You may remember jumping rope from the days of elementary school recess (when you did this for fun) but it could take a moment for the stance and rhythm to come back to you. "Your hands should be around hip level, palms turned forward," Liles instructs. "Stay light on your feet, keeping your heels up, and a tall, neutral spine."

Start with the rope behind your feet; then, swing it up over your head. When it hits the ground, hop over it. Keep your knees soft, with a slight bend, and push off the balls of your feet. Remember: This shouldn't be a big, effortful jump — you only need about ¼ inch of height to get over the rope. The key is to keep your heels up at all times, propelling off the balls of your feet and landing with soft knees. If you're a beginner, you'll want to keep the rope at a slow but steady pace, taking a "middle hop" in between skips. As you get more advanced, the rope will move faster, eliminating the middle hop.

6. Start With A One-Minute Test
"If you're just starting off and doing basic skipping," says Liles, begin by jumping for a single minute, followed by 30-45 seconds off. The pause should be "enough for you to catch your breath, but not enough to totally recover," he adds. Do a few rounds of this cycle; then, test yourself: "You can either add 30-second increments or decrease your rest period," says Liles. "If the jump rope is all you're doing [in this workout], try to do 8-10 one-minute sets." Yeah, it'll be hard, but it'll only be hard for 8-10 minutes. You can handle that.

7. Don't Make It The Whole Workout
At least not at first. "You can use the jump rope for your primary workout," says Liles. But it can also be a warm-up tool, or a form of active recovery between strength work. When you're just starting to use a jump rope, treat it like one ingredient in the whole recipe of your workout. As you build up endurance, you can make the jump rope the primary focus — that's what makes it such a great tool. But if you overdo it at the start, you'll only wind up sore, cranky, and seriously un-motivated.

8. Build In Complementary Exercises
When you do get to the point where jumping rope is your primary workout, be sure to build in other elements that support the exercise and work out the parts of your body that don't get as much benefit from it. Liles suggests adding a few sets of "squats and lunges, so you get a bit more concentration on your quads, hamstrings, and glutes." He adds, "I would also use core exercises as active recovery in between rounds of jumping. Think: planks, sit-ups, and crunches."

9. Building Stamina Is Your Goal
And remember that stamina just isn't built in a day. Jumping rope is a challenge worth tackling for all its great benefits to your body and brain — but there's no magic trick here. "The only way to get better at jumping rope is to continue to jump rope," says Liles (Ed. Note: Uh, duh.) "After you notice an improvement in your skill and conditioning, simply add more time on the clock," he adds. As Liles suggests, try tacking on 30-second increments, or even a full minute if you're feeling confident. "You can also switch to another style of footwork that may be more challenging, encourage fatigue, and then continue to practice and build from that," he adds. Once you find your footing, so to speak, there are several variations to basic jumping that can help you engage different muscle groups and continue to develop your coordination and strength. If you're ready to get fancy, check out single-foot jumps, double-unders, jumping jacks, or high-knees.

10. But don't think about that on Day One. On Day One, just take it one minute at a time.

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