EYC Podcast #30 – Jumping Rope Efficiently
While a lot of the jumping that I have done has been on my own, a fair amount has also been in public, at places like the park, or gyms. I have made plenty of mistakes on my own that I always pay very close attention to, and learn from, but seeing others with a rope has also given me plenty of insight. It allows me to notice common mistakes that I can take back to my own training, or share with others so they can improve their own game. Efficiency plays a huge role in our success when training with a jump rope, especially if endurance is your goal, but even if it isn’t, one of the reasons that we become better is because we become more efficient in our movements, sometimes without even realizing it. Improving our efficiency allows us to perform the movements with proper technique, while expending less energy. This promotes a synergy in the different muscle groups being recruited, and greater balance overall. This allows us to jump longer, engage muscle groups evenly, perform cleaner movements, and make fewer errors. There are many factors to consider when looking at efficiency, so I’ll be breaking this episode down into two sections. Number one is technique, and two is mechanics.
Technique and mechanics are closely related, because the mechanics, or the way in which something is done, the moving parts, come together to produce the proper technique of a movement. In this section on technique, I want to approach it in more philosophical terms to understand why technique is important in the first place. I’ve discussed technique in practical terms in previous podcasts, specifically in episodes 14, 22, and 24, so please refer to those if you want to learn more about what proper technique is. The second section on mechanics will focus on optimizing some of the moving parts, and how they come together to build proper technique. If you haven’t noticed already, technique is something that I put great importance in, and love discussing, and jump rope is no exception. Very often, the jump rope is approached without, or with little consideration of how we are performing it. I’ve seen it in many people that pick up a rope in the gym. The movements are much more pronounced than they need to be, timing is off leading to catches, or they are managing to jump over the rope, but it is much higher than necessary, or the rope is being turned at the elbows or shoulders, or a combination of all of these things. While degrees of success can be achieved despite these things, bad habits will develop, and there will be a point where the movements are not optimal enough to make significant progress. This most often requires taking a few steps back, understanding where the inefficiencies are, breaking bad patterns, and rebuilding from there. This can take a considerable amount of time and discipline, so it’s certainly in our best interests to understand proper technique from the beginning. There are many different areas to consider, the mechanics of jumping, speed, timing, posture, proprioception, hand and foot placement, the length and type of rope, to name a few. While it may seem overwhelming, with sufficient practice and an understanding of technique all of these areas come together. A good analogy is driving. When first getting into a car, it may seem overwhelming having to manage the gas, brake, steering, the signals, the gear shift, parallel parking, paying attention to the road etc. However, over time it becomes second nature. So, why is proper technique important? It gives us something to strive for. It allows us to achieve the ideal form of a movement that we can reproduce consistently. From this, we can build a foundation for progression to more difficult techniques, and reap the most benefit. The key is knowing what it is you are striving for. Am I just looking to be able to jump over the rope? Am I looking to perform double unders, side swings, or crossovers? Each has its ideal form, so be sure you are always working toward it. It’s very likely it won’t be achieved right away, however when we have guidelines we can align our training accordingly. This is why it is so important to keep practicing the fundamentals. It may seem trivial when a sufficient amount of skill is developed, however simply jumping involves technique that ideally is precise, and repeated throughout. Without it, training will be significantly hampered regardless if speed, endurance, or tricks are the focus of your training. Now that we understand why technique is important, we can drill down deeper and look at the moving parts that create it.
One may be successful in jumping over the rope, however it’s important to understand that there are always areas that can be optimized, and this is where mechanics comes into play. One muscle group may be optimal, however another might be suboptimal, creating imbalances. My goal here is not to go over every single area, and how it can be optimized, but to go over some of the most common ones that I have experienced myself, and have seen in others. Despite this, I feel that once you have the understanding that there is always room for improvement, you’ll be able to identify these areas easier, and come to the realization that the journey never really ends. There is always something that we can be doing better. Just a few things before I get into brass tacks, I can’t stress enough the importance of jumping in front of a mirror, or if you don’t have access to a mirror, video recording yourself. I prefer a mirror because you are able to keep an eye on your technique in real time, and can make adjustments on the fly. Either way, find some method of keeping an eye on yourself when jumping because it will prove invaluable to your progress. For myself, I was able to identify a few problem areas early on in my training, so it wasn’t too difficult to adjust, but even to this day, I train extensively in front of a mirror because I am always developing new skills so I want to make sure that I am keeping the fundamentals in check. One other important thing before I begin, repetition is the mother of skill, and that is just as true for jump rope, however due to the nature of it, we will likely get hundreds, or even thousands of repetitions in during one session. This being the case, it isn’t too difficult to develop and nurture bad habits. This is why I stress the importance of making adjustments to your technique on the fly. Finally, ensure that you’ve chosen the right rope for your purposes, and adjusted it to the correct length. This will allow for easier execution of proper technique, and creates the most favourable conditions for jumping. We want to ensure that we aren’t working against our progress from the start, and correct rope length is a very important part of that. To learn more about the different ropes that are available, check out episode #27 of the podcast, and to learn more about rope length, be sure to watch episode #2 of the EYC Vlog where I go into specifics and also demonstrate a method of measuring proper rope length for your height.
Now, getting right into it, the inefficiencies that I’m going to focus on today are wrist rotation, grip, jump height, and posture. By far the most common inefficiency that I see in others, and one that I experienced myself is not turning the rope with small wrist movements. This is often because rotation is occurring at the elbow, or the shoulders. This will cause excessive strain on the forearms, elbows, and shoulders, and will slow down your overall rotation of the rope. This is especially true if rotation is occurring at the shoulders. Speed and endurance will be greatly diminished and it is likely that soreness will develop in the shoulders, preventing further jumping. In my own training I used shadow jumping extensively to slow down my rotations, and keep the circular motion at the wrists. As with any training of new movements, I recommend performing it without jumping in order to get accustomed to the mechanics. Using small circular rotations at the wrist will prevent wasted energy rotating the rope, allow for a relaxed posture with the hands at waste height, and will develop the necessary motor skills for more precise movements, and greater speeds. Be sure to keep an eye on the rotation speed of each hand. If you are noticing that the arc of the rope is leaning toward a certain side in your regular jumps, it is likely your wrists are rotating at different speeds, granted that your hands are on an equal horizontal plane. If that is the case, slow down your rotations and put greater focus into syncing up the wrists. Grip is closely related to wrist rotation because if your grip of the handles is too tight, it will be more difficult to rotate in smooth, small circles. It will also put greater strain on the hands, and forearms, and is conducive to a more rigid, tense posture overall. It may not be immediately apparent, however jump rope is a great way to improve grip strength in and of itself, so we don’t want to put excessive strain on grip on top of that. Ideally, we want to strive for a relaxed grip on the handle. The thumb and forefinger will do the bulk of the work, however depending on the length of the handle, and the routine one is attempting, other fingers can be recruited as needed. Lastly, keep the handles parallel to the ground. Not only will this help create a small, smooth rotation in your wrists, but it also creates a more favourable spin for the rope, and easier execution of tricks, especially cross-body ones. For example, while training in the gym one day, a fellow gym-goer approached me and asked for advice on his cross-over. The first thing that I did was ask him to show me how he was performing the trick so I could take a look at his technique. The first thing that I noticed were his hands during the cross-over. While he was keeping the handles somewhat parallel to the ground during normal jumps, during the cross-overs the handles went perpendicular to the ground, and his grip on the handles was much too firm which not only affected the rotation of the rope, but also created excess movement, and narrowed the space in which he could clear it. The lesson here is, always understand where you want your hands to go, and what they are doing throughout. Based on that, I told him to practice the movement without jumping so he can narrow his focus, and practice the mechanics beginning at the hands. The most important here being keeping the handles parallel to the ground.
Moving on to jump height. As a baseline, you shouldn’t allow for more than 1/2” to 3/4” clearance over the rope for maximum efficiency. The exception would be power jumping in which you are jumping several inches off of the ground in order to develop explosiveness and power. Even then, a fun challenge is trying to reduce the height of jumps typically associated with power like the double or triple under. However, power jumps require a greater degree of control at the jump, and landing phases, and therefore require more skill to execute with proper technique. They shouldn’t be attempted unless fundamental jumping skills have been developed. I won’t go any further on power jumps because that is a topic I will be getting into in another podcast. Keeping jump height to a maximum of 3/4” will not come easy, and areas such as technique, timing, strength, speed, and co-ordination need to work together to maintain consistent low jumps. As I develop new skills throughout my training, one of the markers of progress and efficiency that I use is the height of my jumps. For example, I have no problem maintaining low jumps when simply performing consecutive single jumps, however when practicing combos, it can become more challenging, and if I am able to perform them while reducing the overall jump height, than I know I am getting better. Low jumps also minimize energy expenditure, allow for quicker movements, and help maintain a clean technique. In contrast, jumping higher than is necessary can cause unintended changes in timing, less endurance, and less favourable conditions for balancing proper technique. A great example of this is if you are not able to maintain control throughout jumps and are landing in different spots. If you find that you are jumping higher than necessary, I would again recommend shadow jumping at the correct height, which will help you develop the fine mechanical movements necessary. It will give you an idea of how jumping at that height feels, and the rope can slowly be implemented into your jumps. If you feel the wheels slowly coming apart during your set, stop, reconfigure, take a breath, and begin again. Jumping with control is much harder than putting everything you have into a single jump. Whether through sports, or recreation, we are often encouraged to try and jump as high as possible, however in this case(once again with the exception of power jumping) we want to keep our jumps low, and consistent.
The final area I will be touching on in this episode is posture, and this is the one that I had most difficulty with in my training, especially early on. I’ve mentioned it already, and I won’t stop anytime soon, but this is where jumping in front of a mirror was a game changer. Posture is an incredibly important part of jumping with efficiency, and will aid in maintaining all other areas I’ve discussed. Before I get into it, just a note, advanced practitioners who for example are training with shorter ropes, and want to emphasize high speed generally have to make large shifts in technique. They are able to do this because they have a solid grasp of the fundamentals, and can make adjustments as they see fit. For the majority of us, maintaining the posture I will be discussing shortly will be all that is required. While I’m sure the daily postures that we maintain throughout our day at a desk, or in the car do not help, maintaining proper posture during jumps requires tremendous focus because so many neuro-muscular changes are going on throughout . The body should remain upright, with the head square above the shoulders. The back straight, with shoulder blades retracted, and the arms are generally bent at around a 90 degree angle with hands at waist height. These last two can vary depending on the person, however they can be used as general guidelines. Also, be sure to keep the head up, and look forward during jumps. Regarding the legs, they will have a slight bend, and the goal is to remain light on your stance and balance your weight on the balls of the feet. Posture is so important for efficiency not only because it effects the areas I’ve already covered, but not maintaining it will sap the most energy. For example, looking down while jumping is conducive bringing the shoulders forward, adding a slight lean to your posture. This can cause you to slowly move forward while jumping, causing a need for compensation. Furthermore, it will cause undue strain on the hamstrings and back over time. This also closes off the chest which can contribute to greater tension throughout the torso, and reduced mobility overall. Something that occurred personally is neck pain due to its forward position and its fight against the bouncing, and gravity. It’s important to keep in mind, any time you are dealing with imbalances, your body will work to constantly correct them thereby wasting energy. Furthermore, excess strain can be caused to the muscles or joints that are compensating. As mentioned, jumping in front of a mirror is a super effective way of assessing your posture and making sure that you are consistently correcting imbalances until they are gone for good. A couple of corrections I’ve had to make throughout my training are jumping excessively on my left leg, and carrying my right arm slightly lower than my left. They may not seem like much, however over time I developed a consistent soreness in my left calf which then caused my right calf to pick up more of the slack, further exacerbating the issue. What’s more, carrying my right arm lower than the left caused the arc of the rope to lean slightly right and the rope would catch more frequently on my left foot. Both of these I wouldn’t have discovered without using a mirror. While it isn’t an ideal indicator, soreness can ultimately tell you if a certain side of the body, or muscle group is picking up most of the slack. This is something you’d like to prevent of course, however sometimes we learn the hard way I suppose.
It may seem like a lot of information to take in, and too many areas to focus on all at once. The key is not to try and focus on them all at once. An extremely effective way to do this is by understanding what mechanics are required, then practicing them without jumping over the rope. Break the movement down, and tackle it patiently. Jump rope can be very frustrating, and I’ve put myself through a fair share of it. I believe a lot of this is because early on I didn’t approach it in this way. This is especially apparent as you get better and better. More difficult feats of endurance or trick jumping will require that technique and mechanics are at their ideal, and sustained for longer periods of time. This is why I can’t understate the importance of shadow jumping. It can and should be used no matter the level of your skill. You can learn more about shadow jumping in episode #24 of the podcast. While I certainly didn’t cover all areas, I hope I touched on some important ones for you. If I didn’t, be sure to let me know on Facebook and I’ll do my best to enlighten you.