Three Ways Jumping Rope Builds Athleticism, Shreds Fat, and Preserves Muscle
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 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 a 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 too. 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 battling 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 indispensible tool for everyone from prize-fighters to football players to fitness models for generations.
These days, however, the jump 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.
The reasons to pull out the old speed rope and start skipping Rocky-style are legion. Here are a few of the main ones.
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.
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 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 develops speed, agility, and a coordination foundation for sports. Sprinting and high-velocity movements are great—they build cardiovascular endurance, 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 pattering 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 movements.
When combined with weight training, jumping rope is a viable method to developing explosive and reactive power1.
Additionally, jump rope requires minimal equipment or space and has a non-existent learning curl, making it a simple tool for power development.
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 will help avoid being the dude who gets juked by some goon during a pick-up game.
(Note: another great cardio option for athletes specifically is called dynamic conditioning.)
It’s no secret that minuscule calf development is a problem for most guys. Hell, even the Austrian Oak himself struggled with calf development. So what gives? How can we grow these bad-boys?
Due to their involvement in every plantar flexion movement (when you go to the balls of your feet) you make, calves are accustomed to extraordinarily high volume. That means walking, hopping, skipping, and standing already provide a high frequency, high volume workload for the calves.
The missing ingredient is load, and despite its simple appearance, single leg hops provide a significant load when jumping rope.
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, jumping rope is a low-impact exercise, meaning it’s a great way to condition frequently without undue stress on your joints, hormones, and nervous system.
“Okay dude, I get it, the jump rope is pretty badass. Now what?”
Here’s we 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. Bent in half, the rope should hand to the ground from shoulder height.
Now, as for which rope to get: personally, I really like the stuff at Men In Cities, and have been using them almost exclusively for a while.
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.
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:
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 supercharge 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.
The jump rope allows you to get creative as a conditioning tool to improve your cardiovascular fitness. Aerobic exercise obviously has tons of benefits from fat loss to heart health, but many traditional cardio methods, like running, are high-impact and require perfect technique. Because jumping rope is 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:
With both of these modalities, you can play around with the work to rest ratio to make it more like a HIIT workout, or like a standard aerobic cardio protocol depending on your fat loss goals.
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.
Well, that’s all she wrote. There are tons of benefits of jumping rope. If you follow the routines outlined you’ll increase calf size, jumpstart athleticism, and improve your conditioning without losing your precious hypertrophy. Give the jump rope a go and let me know how you do.