It's not just for schoolgirls anymore -- jumping rope can help you run your best, whether you're a casual jogger or a marathon competitor. On top of the athletic benefit, the exercise is downright fun. Be forewarned, however, that jumping is tough; your muscles may fatigue in a matter of seconds at first. Endurance comes only with practice, so hang in there. If you have any knee or ankle concerns, check with a physician before embarking on your jump rope regimen.
It all begins with the rope itself -- choose one with light handles that aren't smooth enough to fly from your hands. To pick the correct length, place one foot on top of the center and raise your hands. The rope should come about as high as your chest. Keep your knees slightly bent as you jump, and avoid holding the handles with a death grip as you use your wrists to swing the rope. Start out with 30 to 60 seconds of running in place, take a break and repeat for a total of six sets. That will probably be harder than you think.
Progress with your jump training by adding small increments of time until you can comfortably jump for three minutes straight. Then add additional sets if desired. As you become proficient, play around with your rope -- after all, it was made for fun and games. Try scissoring your legs, skipping or even swinging the rope backward. To get further into the jumping groove, throw on some bumpin' tunes.
How Jumping Helps
The jump rope offers plyometric training, a fancy term for exercise that incorporates a jumping motion. Honed by Olympic trainers in Eastern Europe, plyometrics builds muscle power by forcing you to stretch muscles and then rapidly contract them. In addition to adding power to your run, jumping leads to "lighter" feet, helping you reach greater speed. It also builds endurance -- a definite plus for long hauls.
Jumping can be a blast, but the risk of injury always exists. This activity places stress on your joints and can also lead to muscle strain if you overdo it. Use common sense, and call it quits for a while if you experience discomfort. Warm up before jumping with a quick walk or jog, and wear clothing that won't catch on the rope and cause a tangle-up. As a runner, you probably already know how crucial cushioned footwear is -- this is just as vital with the rope on the track.
Nina K. is a Los Angeles-based journalist who has been published by USAToday.com, Fitday.com, Healthy Living Magazine, Organic Authority and numerous other print and web publications. She has a philosophy degree from the University of Colorado and a journalism certificate from UCLA.