Rope Jumping for Runners

Many of us haven’t touched a jump rope since elementary school days. You may have memories of hours of fun while singing silly songs, embarrassment of your lack of coordination or fear of getting near the girls that could jump the shoes off of you.

 

Rope jumping can be an extremely effective supplement to your running program. With a little bit of effort you will run better, faster and with greater enjoyment. Rope jumping improves:

  • Running speed
  • Foot strength
  • Muscular balance
  • Coordination
  • Aerobic and anaerobic fitness

As a physical therapist I have evaluated hundreds of runners. Each runner receives a comprehensive assessment of their gait, flexibility, muscular strength, balance and hopping ability. Over the years of testing runners I have discovered that many runners are more dominant with one leg and don’t realize it.

 

One runner that I evaluated was an accomplished Master’s runner struggling with various nagging injuries. He had been working hard on his training, emphasizing stretching and core strengthening. When I tested his ability to hop on one leg we discovered a dramatic difference between his right and left legs. On the right he could confidently jump over 50 times. When I tested his left leg he couldn’t hop more than 13 times and had difficulty staying balanced. Hopping didn’t hurt – he just didn’t feel coordinated or strong.

 

This was an athlete that was running 80 to 100 miles per week. Each mile he would take about 1,000 steps. Think of that, an accomplished Master’s runner, covering 100,000 steps per week with a flat tire. No wonder he was injured. His running machine was out of balance. The rest of his examination was really quite good so we had him reduce his running and start rope jumping.

 

The plan was that he could only hop on his right leg as many times as he hopped on his left. Initially, he performed 3-5 sets of 13 jumps on his left then performed the same number of hops on his right leg. Quickly, his coordination, strength and jumping ability improved. Within a few weeks he was jumping a total of 250 hops on each leg every workout session. We turned him loose to run and he set a new PR at the first race he ran. It has now been two years and he is still enjoying his new freedom to run fast and without pain.

 

Hopefully, you don’t have as dramatic of an imbalance as this runner had. Chances are, however, that there is enough of a difference between your legs to make rope jumping very beneficial. Even if you feel symmetrical you will be impressed with how jump training strengthens your feet and literally puts a “spring in your step”.

 

Rope Jumping Tips

If you are one of the many people who feel uncoordinated when rope jumping try “air jumping” or jumping without a rope. Simply jump as if you were spinning a rope until you become more confident, then add the rope in for a more vigorous work out and enhanced coordination.

 

Ropes costs between $3 and $60. I prefer the simple ropes with 1 inch plastic beads because it adds a little weight to the rope and they are cheap and durable. Ropes that are nylon cords tend to maintain the crease from packaging which makes them difficult to use. Leather ropes with pivot bearings in the handle are the supreme jump rope but on the expensive side. Cheap versions of the leather rope also maintain their crease from packaging making them difficult to use.

 

Rope jumping is best performed on a firm surface. A wood floor, like a basketball court, is optimal but any firm surface will work.

 

Wear your running shoes when you jump to cushion and protect your feet. If you are “air jumping” you can train in the grass but it doesn’t work well for rope jumping.

Initially, start by jumping with both feet 20 times, then left foot 20 times, and then right foot 20 times. Gradually increase your number of hops rotating between double and single leg hops (see “Training Program”).

 

When you jump think of springing with your feet – your knees should be only slightly bent. Your heels should not touch or only touch very softly.

 

Listen to yourself jump. Jumps should be soft and rhythmic. If your jumps are strained and loud perform fewer hops but more sets (10 sets of 5 instead of 50 consecutive jumps) focusing on fewer but high quality jumps.

 

Use the circular motion of your wrists to spin the rope as opposed to using your arms.

Limit your rope jumping to twice per week. Once you have reached Step 3, one workout per week will maintain your gains.

 

Always jump the same number of jumps on each foot. If you can do 40 jumps on your right foot and 30 on your left then limit the hops to 30. You have been over training your dominant leg for years. This is the time to balance and restore symmetry.

 

Train pain free! If you can’t hop on one foot because of pain you will need to use a lower impact form of cross training (swimming, cycling, elliptical, rollerblading, etc.) until you can jump without pain. If you can jump without pain but at the end of your workout your heel / Achilles is tender for less than 10 minutes you may continue jump training.

 

If counting drives you crazy try singing one of those silly songs.

 

As you feel more comfortable try some variations: deeper knee bend, torso twist, side hops, double rope spin, weighted rope, etc.

 

Be patient and have fun with your rope jumping!

 

The Training Program

This is an example program, modify it to meet your needs.

 

Both Feet

Right Foot

Left Foot

Level 1

(210 total jumps)

20 jumps

30 jumps

20 jumps

20 jumps

30 jumps

20 jumps

20 jumps

30 jumps

20 jumps

Level 2*

(420 total jumps)

20 jumps

30 jumps

40 jumps

30 jumps

20 jumps

20 jumps

30 jumps

40 jumps

30 jumps

20 jumps

20 jumps

30 jumps

40 jumps

30 jumps

20 jumps

Level 3*

(690 total jumps)

20 jumps

30 jumps

40 jumps

50 jumps

40 jumps

30 jumps

20 jumps

20 jumps

30 jumps

40 jumps

50 jumps

40 jumps

30 jumps

20 jumps

20 jumps

30 jumps

40 jumps

50 jumps

40 jumps

30 jumps

20 jumps

*Only progress to the next level when you have no soreness the morning after your workout.

 

Bryan Whitesides MPT, OCS

Physical Therapist

www.betterrunner.com

This article may be reproduced with appropriate reference.