Anyone who’s ever struggled to gain muscle lives with a deep-seated fear that if they make the wrong move with either training or nutrition, everything they’ve worked hard for will evaporate. In no aspect of fitness is this more obvious than the world of conditioning.
Formerly skinny guys like me tend to fear that too much conditioning will inevitably cause their powerful body to wither from that of a high-performance beast to an emaciated marathoner. As a result, they skip conditioning entirely – leading to higher body fat, compromised health markers, and a greater propensity for injury.
As bad as that sounds, most of these trainees would sooner die than walk around smaller, weaker, and less masculine.
I understand the mindset. I was a scrawny runt terrified of losing muscle and power. While these fears aren’t completely unfounded, the horrors of conditioning eroding muscle tissue are overblown.
Luckily, there are certain types of cardio that do the opposite: they build athleticism while shredding fat and preserving your precious muscle.
Conditioning workouts with “hardcore” equipment like sleds and battle ropes are currently enjoying the spotlight, but there’s one old school tool doesn’t get the attention it rightly deserves: the jump rope.
While you might not immediately assume the jump rope could be as sexy or badass as sprints or sled work, the fact is, it’s been an indispensable tool for everyone from prize-fighters to football players to fitness models.
These days, however, the jump rope seems to have fallen a bit out of favor, and has become an extremely under-utilized training implement. That ends here. It’s time to re-think the jump rope because it truly is the ultimate low impact training tool for accelerated fat loss, increased athleticism, and unreal conditioning.
Jump Rope Benefits
The reasons to pull out the old speed rope and start skipping Rocky-style are legion. Here are few of the main ones.
Jumping Rope is an Ideal Warm-Up
Firstly, let’s just establish that warming up is far more important than most believe. In addition to having all sorts of hormonal benefits, the fact is raising core temperate and increasing blood flow is great for both mind and muscle. It helps create the right mental and physiological conditions for a great workout.
There really is no better warm-up tool before intense training than a simple jump rope. Skipping rope before Plyometrics, sprints, and explosive lifts fires up the nervous system, increases core/muscular temperature, and conditions the tissues of the lower body for explosive activity.
Explosiveness isn’t in your bag of tricks? No worries. For most gym rats, skippin’ rope will improve coordination and athleticism in five minutes before your workout.
The Jump Rope Poses Minimal Risk for Injury
Jumping rope is a low-risk tool for two reasons. Firstly, jumping rope is a self-limiting exercise: to jump rope without failing, you must stay in an aligned, joint stacked position while moving – forcing your trunk to stay engaged and resilient under the load of movement.
If you miss, mess up, welt your calves or triceps, or catch a toe, the exercise ends. All of this makes it extremely unlikely to over-do it; and, even better, nearly impossible to incur injury.
Compare this to something like sprinting. Naturally, I’m a huge fan of sprints, agility drills, and movement skills, but they’re just that — learned movement skills.
Performing any coordinative skill under excess fatigue runs the risk of engraining a poor movement pattern and subsequent injury. (In other words, sprinting while exhausted is a great way to snap yo’ shit up.)
Sprints are a great exercise, of course, and not inherently “bad” or dangerous. There’s a skill component that requires mechanics and practice before piling on tons of volume – which can be a slow process, especially if you want to get lean in a hurry. With regard to its accessibility, the jump rope is just a superior choice to condition the body for higher impact movement training without a high risk of injury.
Secondly, jumping rope is a low-impact movement, despite a high number of foot strikes. Here’s why this is important for us formerly skinny guys: unlike many other repetitive impact exercises, the lower impact does not create a hyper-catabolic environment — so you can use it get shredded without worrying about dropping lean body mass.
Jumping Rope Builds an Important Movement Foundation
Jumping rope develops speed, agility, and a coordination foundation for sports. Sprinting and high velocity movements are great — they build great levels of conditioning, improve athleticism, preserve muscle, and shred fat.
Problem is, most guys haven’t sprinted in ages and those who have sprinted leave much to be desired with efficiency and technique. Keep in mind: high-speed movements like sprints (or anything that requires directional change) create massive stress on the joints, ligaments, and tendons.
You wouldn’t jump directly into near-maximal lifting would you? No; it would be irresponsible to jump into high impact sprints and/or change of direction work without first practicing and conditioning those tissues for impact.
All of which is to say that the jump rope is exceptionally effective in terms of both developing proper patterning and acute movement prep. Rather than being the guy who pops his hammy playing flag football, use the jump rope as a warm-up and conditioning tool to prepare the body for rapid movement.
The Jump Rope is Well-Suited to Power Development
When combined with weight training, jumping rope is a viable method to developing explosive and reactive power. Additionally, jumping rope requires minimal equipment or space and has a non-existent learning curve, making it a simple tool for power development.
Jumping Rope Leads to Increased Athleticism
Building on the above two points, jumping rope is an excellent way to develop the individual qualities that make up coordinative athletic movement — what we typically call, “athleticism.”
Hitting the weights hard and eating well is important, but true athleticism requires coordination, not just brute strength. Everyone loves being big, strong, and fast, but they’re useless without technique and the ability to consistently express those physical qualities on demand.
Jumping rope not only allows you to develop these qualities individually, but also trains your body to seamlessly integrate them in concert with one another. How does this help you? Simple: spending a few minutes a week with a jump rope will help you avoid being the dude who gets juked by some goon during a pick-up game.
The Jump Rope is Amazing for Interval/Conditioning Work
Despite being low-impact, jumping rope is a great conditioning tool. Rapid arm movement, maintaining a rigid core, and quick feet all combine to send your heart rate sky-high.
Better yet, it’s a great way to condition frequently without undue stress on your joints, hormones, and nervous system.
On Selecting a Rope
“Okay dude, I get it, the jump rope is pretty bad ass. Now what?”
Here’s where you can run into a major snag in most gyms — there are no decent jump ropes. Those plastic pieces of crap tied in knots and thrown in the corner are worthless. Instead, you need a quality rope. So you should probably just buy your own.
Like anything else, you get what you pay for. If you get a high quality rope and take care of it, it’ll last for a long while. If you buy a piece of crap for 10 bucks, you’ll be replacing it constantly.
Beyond quality, the most important attribute of any given rope is its length. A rope that’s too short won’t allow you proper clearance; one that’s too long will have too much slack and you won’t be able to bring it around quickly enough. In either case, your training will be compromised, and you’ll be frustrated as hell.
The rule of thumb for length is that the jump rope should measure from the bottom of the foot, just past the armpit when bent in half.
That isn’t your only option, of course: a solid leather rope with a bit of weight to it will be more than adequate for your needs, and for all of the workouts you’ll find in this article. You just won’t have the same level of adjustability.
Either way, grab yourself a quality rope, and toss it in the ol’ gym bag, so you’ve always got it hand.
Sample Jump Rope Uses
Take 5 minutes or set a number of jumps (200) as your goal before moving onto the rest of your dynamic warm-up. Jumping rope primes the nervous system, increases core and muscular temperature, and conditions the tissues of the lower body for explosive activity.
It shouldn’t be exhausting, but enough to get your heart racing, calves bumpin’, and mind ready for the workout ahead.
Simple skips are best:
Using the Jump Rope for Calf Training
If your legs are dwarfed by those of a Flamingo, you’re not alone. And jumping rope will help. High volume, high frequency, and high loading are three obvious ways to speed up muscular development of any muscle group.
As mentioned previously, calves are conditioned to a lot of volume from everyday tasks like walking; so regular hops over the rope aren’t the best use of your time. Instead, incorporate the jump rope as a warm-up tool and then add in single leg countdown skips for greater muscular tension and growth.
Wanna super charge it? Combine this with a dedicated calf specialization program and you’ll start carving an impressive pair of calves, stat.
Single Leg Countdown Skips
Start with 10 hops on your right leg, perform them all in a row and move directly to 10 hops on your left. If you miss, just pick up where you left off and continue all the way to 1. Start with two sets and add one set each week for the next six weeks.
Jump Rope Conditioning
The jump rope allows you to get creative as a conditioning tool. Because it’s low impact with low stress on the joints, it’s a fantastic addition to density training circuits as a back-end exercise.
The neural demands are light enough that it won’t overly fatigue the nervous system and hinder training results with big-bang exercises like deadlifts.
As a stand alone conditioning implement, Double Unders and the Runnin’ Man are my two go-to conditioning drills with each being performed twice per week with at least 48 hours between workouts.
Here’s how they break down:
Just like it sounds – whip the jump rope two times in a row with one singular jump. Work up to sets of 10 and use a lighter rope. Rest 30-60 seconds and continue for 10-15 minutes or until your lungs and calves explode, your choice.
Just as it sounds, run in place while skipping the rope. Not only will this improve your coordination, it’s a deceptively tough conditioning workout. Go for time and work up to 10-15 minutes of continuous “running.”
The impact is far less than your traditional steady state cardio or plodding along on the treadmill.
Jumping Rope for Active Recovery
Take 10 minutes; throw on some jams, and go to work with any of the above workouts. Even working at higher intensities won’t be enough to hinder your recovery unless you’re very deconditioned.
Stick with single skips, get in a light sweat, and finish off with some mobility work. Don’t make it complicated, just get it done.
The following is a Complete Jump Rope Workout Program written by Dan Witmer, the Jump Rope Dude, from Zen Dude Fitness.
Jump Rope Workout Program
I put together a 4-week jump rope and bodyweight challenge to get you on track to making exercise more fun and your body leaner. Each week the workouts get progressively more difficult, so make sure to start with the beginner workouts in Week 1 and move up to advanced – only if you are capable.
The workouts are progressive in nature, so whether you are a beginner or advanced, you are going to want to start on week 1. The workouts are set up in such a way that, in most cases, you’ll alternate a jump rope exercise with a bodyweight exercise.
The program asks you to perform 3 days a week of training with the jump rope and your bodyweight. This leaves you 4 days to play with as far as programming goes.
If you are a beginner, I would suggest a light recovery or rest day until your work capacity increases. If you are advanced, you could use these 3 days as your recovery/work capacity days in between your hard training/weight lifting days.
After the fourth week, take an off-week to allow the body to recover, then repeat the program again.
Week 1: Day 1
Week 1: Day 2
Week 1: Day 3
Week 2: Day 1
Week 2: Day 2
Week 2: Day 3
Week 3: Day 1
Week 3: Day 2
Week 3: Day 3
Week 4: Day 1
Week 4: Day 2
Week 4: Day 3
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