Fitness For Dummies
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Jumping or skipping rope offers some very real fitness benefits. It strengthens your cardiovascular system, improves your agility, burns tons of calories, and tones your thighs, calves, abdominals, back, chest, and shoulders. You can take your rope with you anywhere, and to use it, you don’t need much space.

Jump ropes have been subjected to a bit of technology in the past few years. Forget about the frayed cloth ropes you used as a kid. Even leather is history. Many ropes are now made of tough, molded plastic; metal wire coated in acrylic; or space-age polymers. These materials make for ropes that turn faster and more smoothly. Look for features like soft foam or rubber handles, which prevent callusing, and ball-bearing-like swivel action between the cord and handles.

You can get a perfectly good jump rope at a sporting goods store or department store for as little as $3, although you may want to spend $15 to $30 for the fancy features. To size your rope correctly, stand on the center of the cord and pull the ends straight up along your sides. The handles should just reach your armpits.

Use a light rope if your aim is to work on skill and agility and to jump fast. Fat, weighted ropes (1/4 to 1/2 pound) work well for building upper-body muscular endurance, but using them for fancy footwork or special tricks is a bit like asking a Clydesdale to run the Kentucky Derby. Buy one of each, and you can mix up your workouts. With weighted ropes, the weight should be in the cord, not the handles.

Here are some tips to keep in mind when jumping rope for fitness:

  • When you jump, keep your arms relaxed and slightly bent, and keep your upper-body movements to a minimum. Your feet should barely clear the floor, and you should bend your knees just slightly.

  • Instead of turning your arms in big circles, simply let your wrists swivel slightly. (This is especially important when using a heavy rope; otherwise, you’re in for sore shoulders.)

  • Start with a few short sets — about 30 jumps for a light rope, 5 to 10 turns for a heavy rope. Rest by marching in place between sets.

  • Gradually increase the number of sets and jumps per set while decreasing the time you spend marching. Eventually, you’ll be able to jump 10 minutes or more continuously (probably less with a heavy rope). Humming the theme song from Rocky helps.

Building up to long periods of jumping rope is tough, because it’s a very intense activity. Jumping rope is best used as a cross-training workout or between body-part exercises while circuit training.

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