By Erick Avila
Strength and conditioning coaches rightfully take pride in trying to be on the cutting edge of sports science. This results in many coaches seeking out information about the latest and greatest training methods and tools. Often, an unfortunate side effect of this is that certain effective devices get discarded in the arms race to use the latest high-tech training modality. But as is the case with most things, the cream ultimately rises to the top and old tools become new again.
We see evidence of this with the re-emergence of the vertical climber, a device developed in the ’80s by a mechanical engineer. It became the cardio machine of choice for NBA players in recent years after LeBron James proclaimed his affinity for this device on social media.
One training tool that has largely been forgotten is the humble jump rope. Many people associate rope skipping with grade school children and not as a tool used by elite athletes. They’d probably be right outside combat sports, a sporting field that sometimes too stubbornly holds on to the “old school.” However, this is one of the situations where the adage, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” works perfectly. Jumping rope has been a staple in the warm-up routines of champions dating back to the Great Depression era and up until present day.
The Common Jump Rope: Underrated and Underappreciated
Jump ropes are revered for a number of reasons: They serve as great warm-up tools, they can be excellent devices for breaking a sweat when cutting weight, and most importantly, they can help transfer over a number of athletic benefits. Jump roping is a great way to improve footwork. In gyms, people commonly say jump ropes help with “being light on the feet”—this transfer to improved footwork comes from developing the ability to move off the balls of the feet (metatarsals) rhythmically. Improved footwork’s balance and coordination lends itself to improving speed by virtue of fighters being able to move more efficiently. In addition, because rope skipping is typically sustained for an extended period of time, it helps develop the cardiovascular system.Coaches should at least consider the jump rope as part of a GPP toolkit for their athletes. Click To Tweet
Unfortunately, jump ropes haven’t been a very popular tool among exercise scientists, which has resulted in very few available studies on their effectiveness. The limited number of studies, and ropes being essentially relegated to a niche sporting demographic, has robbed many athletes of the chance to utilize an effective tool. Despite this, any serious coach should at least consider the jump rope as part of a GPP (general preparatory phase) toolkit for their athletes.
There are a few things that a coach should consider when contemplating the acquisition of a new piece of equipment. Price should be taken into account, since it’s normal for some training devices to cost thousands of dollars. Jump ropes are some of the most cost-effective training pieces you can purchase, as it’s not difficult to find a quality rope for under $20.
Coaches should also consider the logistics of a training device; namely, how the item will fit in the facility space and the coordination of training sessions using this equipment. In this instance, ropes are advantageous because they’re extremely portable and require little space to use. The type of floor could be important, as a wooden surface is preferred over concrete, for example.
Of course, coaches are going to also want to know if the item works and see or read evidence of its efficacy. Jump ropes help develop some of the basic tenets of athleticism, namely conditioning, coordination, and the stretch-shortening cycle (SSC). This makes them an excellent tool to help develop all-around athleticism.
Jump Rope Training and Conditioning
“Conditioning” is a term that covers a broad spectrum, as there’s aerobic and anaerobic conditioning, general and sport-specific, and a lot of gray areas in between. The most popular cardio tools over time have been devices that allow coaches to address as many of these types of conditions as possible. Anyone that has tried doing sprints in the wintertime on the type of treadmill found at most commercial gyms can tell you about the logistical headache that workout becomes. With rope skipping, athletes can transition seamlessly between aerobic and anaerobic work. And, while some of the fancier footwork drills on ropes are more for putting on a show, many of the basic moves transfer over well to general sports footwork conditioning.
A study on middle school male students undergoing a seven-week jump rope training program saw significant improvements in cardiovascular endurance and agility compared to the control group, while sprint performance had a very small improvement. 1
Another research investigation on 40 men’s basketball players who underwent a training program that consisted of three days of rope jumping weekly had various performance measures taken pre/post-test. Rope training was shown to be effective on heart rate and anaerobic characteristics, whereas visual and auditory reaction times were unaffected.2
Improving Coordination with Rope Work
Coordination is an attribute implicitly linked with athleticism. It’s difficult to think of an athlete that excelled in their respective sport and didn’t demonstrate a high level of coordination and grace. Some coaches addressing coordination in the past used training tools like stability balls, agility ladders, and other polarizing devices.
The jump rope is simplistic in the way it helps develop coordination—the moment an athlete loses sync with their rhythm, the rope comes to a stop. In this sense, it’s a self-correcting tool for developing coordination, as the rope will give immediate feedback when the athlete’s jumping isn’t in sync. As a bonus, while many training devices tend to favor either the upper or lower body, jump ropes require total body coordination.In a sense, the jump rope is a self-correcting tool for developing coordination. Click To Tweet
In track and field sports like hurdling, rhythm and coordination are crucial components as hurdlers maintain their pace by alternating between high speed running and leaping. In field sports like basketball and soccer, many of the greatest scorers have been elite ball handlers and this is due in part to amazing coordination skills.
A study conducted on preadolescent soccer players involved eight weeks of jump rope exercise training and measurement of performance analysis. The findings indicated that jump rope practice within regular soccer training enhanced general motor coordination and balance.3 Different research showed that a weighted rope training group got greater gains in coordination and eccentric endurance parameters for lower extremities in a kinetic chain.4
Developing Elastic Qualities and Neurological Power
The stretch-shortening cycle is a process that involves an eccentric contraction immediately followed by a concentric contraction. In the SSC, the concentric phase is more powerful than just a concentric-only motion. An example of this is seen when comparing a countermovement jump, which involves an eccentric component, to a squat jump.
The concept behind the SSC is that the stretch phase of the eccentric contraction maximally activates the muscle, for a more forceful concentric contraction. Think of it like a slingshot being pulled back. It’s also believed that the muscles and tendons store elastic energy, resulting in greater forces during an SSC. Many aspects of athleticism in sport rely on the SSC for a more powerful contraction. This manifests itself in greater sprinting speeds, more explosive power during throws and strikes, and bigger jumps.
The popularity of plyometrics in sports training programs is due to their ability to train the SSC. But an issue with plyometrics is that they can greatly tax athletes and, in certain instances, some athletes may not even be prepared to utilize them in their training programs. Using a jump rope can be an effective method to train the SSC, especially during the early phase of a program with younger athletes or those coming back from an injury. Rope skipping can be used to train the SSC prior to advancing to more stressful plyometrics. A bonus is that rope skipping is less stressful on the body and can be done for a greater period of time than traditional plyometrics, allowing for a greater training volume to be dedicated to SSC development.
In a study conducted on 76 young men, most of whom were involved in sport training two to three times weekly, with the RJ-index of rebound jump as criteria, the double under jump used about 70% of the SSC ability. It may also be an effective reinforcement of SSC ability.5
According to another investigation, collegiate students who used weighted ropes saw significant improvements in testing measures for the Sargent jump, bench press, and leg press.6
One study that looked at the effect jump rope warmups would have on national-level track and field athletes had results that suggested rope jumps were effective for traditional jumps. This was indicated by significant improvements in jumping distance compared to the traditional protocol, and significant increases in peak power and jump height for the CMJ and DJ and jump distance for five alternate leg bounds.7
Jump Rope Programming
As mentioned throughout this article, jump ropes are highly versatile tools that coaches and athletes can use in a variety of ways. Here are a few guidelines and ideas for their use to improve your general preparation training.
For anaerobic work, some possibilities include different timed sprint intervals with the rope. I do track work with athletes, measuring their times running various distances like the 100, 200, and 400, and one method for sprints that I utilize is having them skip for time at the same intensity that they’d use for running these same distances. For coaches who might lack access to a good track during certain times of the year because of weather, this can be an easier method to implement sprint-style training than attempting sprints on a treadmill.
Aerobic work can follow the typical parameters of slow steady-state work done at a moderate intensity. Fartlek type work is another effective way to get a mix of both conditioning systems in a workout. Often, an easy way to switch up the intensity is simply trying to perform certain trick-style jumps.
I work with combat sports athletes, and the conditioning requirements for these sports cover the spectrum of anaerobic and aerobic work with a lot of time spent in the middle portion of the two. This can be messy. One conditioning method I utilize combines anaerobic-based movements like intense combos on a heavy bag or pads, and steady-state jumping rope in between sets to replicate the conditioning needs the athlete would need for a round of fighting.
This type of training is broken down into a set working number for the round—typically three or five minutes, with one minute of rest in between rounds. I encourage the athletes to choose their individual work rate for the anaerobic portion of the three- to five-minute rounds, and use the rest of the time during the rounds to return their heartbeats to baseline levels when they’re skipping rope.
In the early stages of jump rope training, aerobic conditioning will take precedence because there is a large learning curve for sustaining a high pace of anaerobic work. One of the simplest strategies is to initially start out doing EMOM (every minute on the minute) jumps and try to sustain a rhythm until an athlete can jump for a longer period continuously.
Coordination Training Concepts
Coordination will innately develop with any form of rope training, as the workouts require athletes to be in sync while jumping or else the rope comes to a stop. There are also footwork progressions that can be done to further develop coordination, including jumping off one foot, alternating feet, double unders, and other more complex patterns. A progression from these footwork patterns can involve a coach (or the athletes themselves) calling out different patterns during a rope skipping training session and having the athlete alternate between patterns while maintaining a rhythm.
I’ve found practicing various rope footwork patterns to be more effective for improving coordination than agility ladder drills because the jump ropes require each step to be crisp or the rope will come whizzing to a stop. Another method for improving coordination with jump rope is to have athletes practice pacing the rope to the rhythm of music. Different songs have different BPM ranges and rhythms; by trying to keep up with varying rhythms, an athlete can improve their coordination at different paces.
Again, this is beneficial in the combat sports world because fighters all tend to have a fixed rhythm that they train/fight at. By adding some variance to it, the athlete’s overall coordination improves as they become accustomed to moving at different paces.
Training for a Better Bounce
The SSC relies on an eccentric contraction followed by an immediate concentric contraction; once again, this makes virtually any form of jump roping effective for developing this attribute. The forms with the highest transfer would be traditional two-footed hops, and double and triple unders. The latter two jump forms are more advanced, but achievable with consistent practice.Virtually any form of jump roping is effective for developing the stretch-shortening cycle. Click To Tweet
For SSC development, rope skipping can be effectively used as a warmup or stand-alone exercise. As a warm-up tool, I have athletes do basic two-footed jumps for a set amount of time or, if the plyometric exercises are going to be unilateral, they spend their time warming up with one-footed or alternating footed hops. As a standalone SSC exercise, rope skipping can be done by practicing double unders—which can be difficult for beginners—or simply by manipulating ankle stiffness on each hop (stiffer ankles for more of an SSC effect).
Incorporating Jump Ropes into Your Program
You can implement jump ropes as a standalone GPP tool, a warm-up tool, or even as a transitionary tool during the SPP portion of the program, as a way of implementing low-level/impact plyometric training to prime the SSC for more intensive stressors. I personally use them in warmups and frequently as part of conditioning workouts as the main cardio device. Because rope skipping will be a fairly novel exercise form for many athletes, there will be a learning phase that needs to take place. Initially, ropes should just be used during a warm-up or cool-down period rather than as a standalone workout if your athletes are unfamiliar with how to skip rope.
The reason is that if they can’t properly skip rope, aside from being unable to do any workouts to develop athletic skills, they won’t even be able to do any sustained type of workout. It’s difficult to jump rope with improper technique for any decent amount of time. Ropes are self-corrective, so typically, improper form or rhythm results in the rope coming to a stop. This is an area where ropes can be light years ahead of many other types of cardio because athletes can do things like running, for instance, with faulty mechanics for a long time. This results in overcompensation in areas of the body and, ultimately, injuries.
Additionally, ropes can be periodized, as there’s some variance between different ropes depending on goals. Lighter speed ropes, as the name implies, are excellent for developing footwork and using for interval-style training. When working on footwork drills for coordination or anaerobic training, these are my preferred ropes. Heavier ropes can be used to improve power and upper body endurance/strength. They can be excellent for power endurance type work, which is a very specific area that needs to be developed for combat athletes, as they’re expected to perform explosive movements for a sustained period of time.
Last Words of Advice
I’m not asking coaches or exercise scientists to abandon their preferred training tools, but there are enough promising attributes about jumping rope that it would be foolish not to consider it as a tool for athletic development. Athletes can achieve many of the basic attributes GPP training seeks to develop with a jump rope. Conditioning, coordination, and the ability to repeatedly produce rapid force development are all hallmark skillsets required to excel in virtually every sport.Jumping rope has enough promising attributes to make it worth considering for athletic development. Click To Tweet
Furthermore, from an investment standpoint, ropes are relatively inexpensive and versatile, and you can seamlessly plug them into multiple areas of a training program. This makes them a low-risk and potentially high-yield investment. While scientific studies citing their efficacy are sparse, there’s ample anecdotal evidence of their importance given their status as a staple in the training programs of combat athletes throughout the world.
- Partavi, S. (2013). “Effects of 7 Weeks of Rope-Jump Training on Cardiovascular Endurance, Speed, and Agility in Middle School Student Boys.” Sports Science, 6(2), 40-43.
- Orhan, S. (2013). “The Effects of Rope Training on Heart Rate, Anaerobic Power and Reaction Time of the Basketball Players.” Life Science Journal, 10(4), 266-271.
- Trecroci, A., Cavaggioni, L., Caccia, R., & Alberti, G. (2015). “Jump Rope Training: Balance and Motor Coordination in Preadolescent Soccer Players.” Journal of Sports Science and Medicine,14(4), 792-798.
- Ozer, D., Duzgun, I., Baltaci, G., Karacan, S., & Colakoglu, F. (2011). “The effects of rope or weighted rope jump training on strength, coordination and proprioception in adolescent female volleyball players.” Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, 51(2), 211-219.
- Miyaguchi, K., Sugiura, H., & Demura, S. (2014). “Possibility of Stretch-Shortening Cycle Movement Training Using a Jump Rope.” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 28(3), 700-705. doi:10.1519/jsc.0b013e3182a0c9a5
- Masterson, G. L., & Brown, S. P. (1993). “Effects of Weighted Rope Jump Training on Power Performance Tests in Collegians.” The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 7(2), 108. doi:10.1519/1533-4287(1993)007<0108:eowrjt>2.3.co;2
- Makaruk, H. (2013). “Acute Effects of Rope Jumping Warm-Up on Power and Jumping Ability in Track and Field Athletes.” Polish Journal of Sport and Tourism, 20(3). doi:10.2478/pjst-2013-0018