EYC Podcast #31 – Breaking Down Mistakes for Rapid Improvement
Jump rope training can be extremely frustrating. Just like in many other scenarios, having the ability to be patient, even in some of the most frustrating situations, is valuable. In jump rope, this applies because we are developing a new skill. In the previous episode of the podcast, I discussed technique and efficiency, and some things to look for when striving for both. I felt the need to write this episode because I found that what I will be discussing goes along with those concepts really well, and I feel would be a valuable addition. The topics I will address are mindset around frustration, and making errors, and secondly, ways to identify, and use mistakes. So much of my training was passive early on, and it wasn’t till about a year and a half to two years ago that I was able to make every second count. What I mean by that is not letting frustration get to me, and even if that particular session was plagued with mistakes, I would put them under the microscope and learn from them. While frustration is subjective and may not effect some like others, mistakes on the other hand are inevitable, and everyone will make them. But by being able to not get bogged down by mistakes, and instead use them, our training becomes a lot more strategic, and effective.
For the past couple years, in the context of jump rope training, I’ve been fortunate enough to slowly eliminate frustration to the point that I don’t really dwell on it anymore, I use it as an indicator. In the worst case scenario, if I am making a ton of mistakes and I am having a difficult time really doing anything effectively, I will either switch to basic skills and practice fundamentals, or put the rope down for the day and do something else. This way I am still getting something out of the training. Sometimes it just doesn’t go our way, and it’s important to take these types of experiences in stride. The reason I don’t dwell in frustration anymore is my perception around it has changed. Firstly, challenges will exist through the entire process, no matter how good you are. There are always ways we can improve, and with this comes new ways in which we can mess up. But at the core of it, frustration indicates that our current approach isn’t working, and our strategy needs to change. From this idea, when challenges in my training would arise that I couldn’t overcome easily, I’d ask myself, how can I approach this in a different way, or is there an area that I need to improve before I can do this? For example, I had a lot of trouble with improving my cross-over where my right-arm would cross over my left. The other way, left over right, I had no issues, which made it all the more frustrating. Finally, I admitted I had to come up with a new strategy. From there I began shadow jumping only the weak side, just practicing the mechanics over and over again. In the previous episode, I talk about knowing where your hands need to be, and paying attention to how they are getting there. That’s what I did. Over time I once again introduced the rope, and was miles ahead of where I was previously. Through examples like this, I was able to learn an important lesson that harkens to the saying that goes, the definition of insanity is trying the same thing over and over again expecting a different result. If you are becoming frustrated with a movement or trick, try and break it down to its fundamental parts, and build them individually. If you are having issues with the individual parts, it may be that you have not built the proper foundation for that technique yet. For example, part of my training is watching video of rope athletes that I admire, and slowing it down as much as possible to closely analyze their hand positioning and movements. This is the way I learned of arm wraps and I was pretty hype about it at the time. In attempting them however, I was having a lot of issues and realized that I needed to tighten up my side swings before I could effectively perform arm wraps. Not only that, I needed to understand this new way the rope was swinging, and how to work with it. Jump rope can be pretty unforgiving, especially if your focus is tricks. Like any skill, it takes time and patience. In the end, you have to enjoy the process, or else you won’t put the time and dedication in. If you find you are getting frustrated with a particular movement or technique, slow things down, and come up with a new strategy. Often it is one slight adjustment that will open the door to what you are looking for, so pay close attention. Frustration is telling you something, listen to it.
One technique that I use during my training is what I call a reset. This is where if I make an error like a rope catch, or tangle, I will take my time getting back into the starting position, close my eyes, take a deep breath, and begin again. I found that before I would always rush to get back into jumping, which would often only cause more mistakes because of poor setup, frustration, embarrassment, or all three. The reset allowed me to collect myself, slow down, and get at it again. One other thing to consider is the goal of your current workout. If you are looking to train endurance, you want to maximize your time jumping. Because of this, it is a good idea to keep your jumping simple, and not use too many different tricks or techniques because they will increase the probability of errors occurring. The most I usually do when training the endurance side are the fundamental techniques like the bounce step, or alternating step. These are the two most basic techniques that should be mastered in any case, so it is good to practice them while also training for endurance.
It also helps to have a focus within your training session. This way you can target it which will ensure you are making progress in the areas that you want. As the specificity principle says, if you want to get better at something specific, you are best to practice that specific thing. It also allows you to identify the areas where you tend to make errors, and then work to correct them. These corrections will then very likely benefit the rest of your training. It can also be beneficial to schedule a “freestyle” part to your training to open everything up, and have some fun. An example would be if you normally train for one hour, the last 15 minutes could be devoted to free styling. There is also a benefit to doing this that might not be apparent right away, and it is especially beneficial to those looking to create combos, or routines. By allowing yourself to freestyle, you see which techniques, movements, tricks, and movement patterns you rely on. If you are a stickler like me, it also helps identify which side you favour most which will highlight your weaker side. Knowing all of these things can be valuable in identifying whether you want to introduce more or less diversity to your training.
When it comes to weak and dominant sides, it is very likely that once you get into trying new things with the rope, you will be more competent on a certain side in techniques that involve moving one or both handles, the body, or a mixture out of neutral position. I cited the example of the cross-over already, however others include rotations, arms wraps, or single leg techniques. For me, the cross-over was the first instance this became apparent, but another is the right side swing. While my left was working very well, when swinging to the right I would keep the handles too close together, and I wasn’t staggering them. Similarly, when performing tricks that involve turning 180, or 360 degrees, I found that I was rotating slower clockwise versus counter clockwise. These are all occurrences that are specific to me, however what I want to illustrate is that you will likely experience discrepancies in your own way. It’s important to acknowledge them, and not ignore the weaker side. I am particularly picky when it comes to this and do not feel I can truly perform a trick unless I can execute it competently on both sides. Regardless, I encourage you to master techniques in both directions for the overall greater benefits and skill level it will bring. In dealing with these discrepancies, I normally put double the amount of time or reps into the weaker side. For example, currently I am working on the front-back cross-over, and find it more difficult to perform when my left hand is behind. That being the case, I will do double the amount of reps for it. I will also spend more time breaking down the movement patterns, mechanics, and shadow jumping. It’s important to do this because as your skill level increases, and the demands for solid technique and mechanics become greater, holes in your training will become more and more apparent. Furthermore, the habits you have likely developed over thousands and thousands of repetitions will be harder to undo. Overall, working with the weak side can be a bit more tedious, however it is well worth it.
The final area I want to touch on in this section is the type of rope that you are using. It’s important to understand how much rope type will affect the dynamic of your jumping, especially if you practice with one type predominantly. Because of this, you’ll have to adapt which can be a bit tedious. In episode #27 of the podcast I discussed the different types of ropes in detail so I encourage you to check that out, but the reason I bring this up is it is important that the type of rope you are using aligns with your goals. If they don’t, it can hinder your success and be frustrating to deal with. For example, if you are looking to practice tricks, especially cross-body ones and you are using a steel cable rope, it will prove harder to perform them due to the nature of the rope. Similarly, if you are used to the rotation speed of a PVC rope, and then move to a heavier leather one, it can affect your timing and cause catches. Changing ropes will require an adaptation phase, especially if you are a beginner. I encourage you to practice with a single type until the necessary foundation is developed. Once you have enough experience and understand the ideal usage of each type of rope, you can have a little fun and challenge yourself. For example, I often train double and triple unders using a long handled rope, which isn’t ideal, however I understand the challenges that are presented when using it for these purposes so I know it will take a bit more time to develop. If I wanted to be more strategic, I would go with at least a PVC rope, or even better, a steel cable rope with shorter handles that doesn’t challenge my grip as much. If you choose to change ropes often, or use ropes that aren’t ideal for the situation, understand that it may take a bit longer to adapt, and mistakes will likely occur more often.
For those new to rope, you may feel that sucking will make you look bad, especially if you train in public. WHO CARES. If you aren’t willing to put yourself out there, you won’t get anywhere. Keep practicing. How can you expect to be skilled at something if you haven’t put your time in? Remember, jump rope is a skill that needs to be developed. Try and zone others out, and focus on your goals. Don’t rush. If you make a mistake, reset, and get at it again. I have seen dozens of people pick up a rope, make mistakes, get frazzled over it, and within 3-5 minutes just abandon it all together. Put yourself out there, and with time you will have an audience.
Now, onward to using errors to improve. For a long time in my training I just kind of plowed through mistakes, and didn’t really use them to their full potential. Of course I was getting better, but I didn’t really know how or why. Why was I able to now perform the cross-over, or why was I now able to perform the side swing without the rope tangling? Really it comes down to the things that I’ve discussed in previous podcasts like improving technique, tightening mechanics, choosing the right rope, finding the right rope length, but another valuable way to look at it is understanding how you are making your mistakes, and exactly what you did to fix them. Often we’ll do this subconsciously, but if we are able to bring this to the forefront and actively study it, the rewards are tremendous. This is a view that I’ve only begun to take advantage of fairly recently. In this section, I will ask questions that create hypothetical scenarios then offer some brief pointers on what may be happening. Before I get into it though, I want to get something across. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. They are telling you something so be sure to look for the message. Every time you make an error, stop, keeping your legs and hands exactly where they were when the error occurred. Notice the rope, where is it? This will give you a good picture of why the error occurred in the first place, and the movement patterns you might need to change to correct it. This is partly why it’s so important to train in front of the mirror. I reiterate, jump rope is a skill that needs to be developed. It’s an amazing conditioning tool, and a great way to get your cardio in, but it’s important to understand that in order to truly unlock those things, you’ll need to practice. Now, some things to notice:
1. Where are your hands? Are they not getting to where they should be, with the correct technique? If the rope tangled, that generally occurs because the handles of the rope are brought close together. The handles may need to be more staggered. Did the rope catch on a specific side of the body? Look at the hands and/or feet and see where they are positioned and how they are moving relative to each other.
2. Based on where your hands are, how does the arc of the rope look? Is there enough clearance for your body? Do you need to widen the arc, or perhaps use a rope with longer handles? A good indicator of this is if you are contracting the body inward by closing off the chest, or bending at the knees during a jump to a greater degree. Shoulder mobility may come into play here if you are attempting cross-body tricks and are finding it difficult to bring the arms far enough across the body. This could also be true for only one arm that has less mobility than the other. It may be a good idea to supplement your training with stretches, and keep your grip lower on the handles.
3. Is the arc of the rope leaning more to one side than the other? Check your wrist rotation speed, or whether the hands are placed evenly on the horizontal plane.
4. How much clearance does the arc have above your head when performing rotations with proper technique? It should not be more than a foot. If it is, the rope is too long which can cause the rope to smack the ground and rebound up, causing catches. Furthermore, it will negatively affect the rotation and speed of the rope.
5. Are the handles parallel to the ground? Does the rope catch on the left or right foot consistently? Break down your movements, and look at your posture and technique. You want to make sure the hands are on an even horizontal plane in this scenario as well. Also, be sure you are rotating the rope at the wrists and not the elbows or shoulders.
6. Are you not able to return to the single bounce step from a trick with no errors? It is just as important to know the mechanics of how to come out of a trick as going in. If so, work with the mechanics through shadow jumping, without the rope if necessary. Go through the movements slowly to become more comfortable.
7. Is one leg clearing the rope but the other isn’t? How are your legs positioned while jumping, or landing? Is one leg bending to a greater degree creating more clearance than the other? Or are you turning the hips bringing one leg behind? If so, make sure the legs are evenly matched, and the hips face forward. You should be landing in the same spot each jump. If you aren’t, you need to develop greater strength, timing, and control.
8. Are you not landing on the balls of the feet? Landing flat footed is not only inefficient and more conducive to injury, but will hinder speed and technique. Develop your technique using shadow jumping without the rope, then slowly bring it back when you are more comfortable. It’s important to get a feel for jumping, especially when you are new.
9. Are you jumping more than once per rotation? If so, work on your timing using shadow jumping, particularly the steps involving jumping without the rope. You should only be bouncing once to maximize efficiency.
10. Is your rope in poor condition? Are there kinks? Are you using the right rope for your goals? Be sure to take care of your rope. Do not wrap the rope around the handles, or create any sharp bends or folds. This is especially true if you are using a steel cable rope. Ropes should be coiled loosely and kept at room temperature. It also helps to hang the rope from a hook when not in use.
11. Are your shoulders getting excessively sore? If so, be aware of how you are gripping the handles. Grip should be loose and relaxed. An exception could be if you are a using a rope specifically for upper body conditioning such as one with a heavy rope, or in which the handles are weighted.
This is a sampling of some of the common scenarios from my own experience, and in others that I’ve observed. If you pay close attention to how you are jumping and break down your mistakes, you will improve tremendously in a shorter amount of time because it brings clarity, and allows you to pinpoint what needs to be improve. It’s an active approach. This is true even if you limit it to a certain portion of your training. What I’ve discussed certainly doesn’t cover everything, but what I want to stress is becoming keenly aware of what you are doing, and how you are doing it. This includes all of the great things you are doing, not only the mistakes. Celebrate and reinforce your successes. Drill and refine your techniques, and you will be able to perform them correctly consistently. Mistakes are an asset that you can use to improve your training. Frustration is telling you that you need to refine your strategy, so try not to get bogged down by it.
I encourage you to check out the other episodes of the podcast on rope training, particularly episode #24 in which I talk about shadow jumping. I can’t overstate its importance in developing the foundations of proper jump rope technique.