10 Benefits of Jumping Rope That Go Way Beyond Burning Calories
Jumping rope might have been your go-to activity during fourth-grade gym class, but this simple piece of equipment is actually one of the best-kept secrets of the fitness world. And it’s not just for boxers and CrossFit fanatics. With a little knowledge, anyone can benefit from this underrated workout. “Jumping rope is one of my all-time go to cardiovascular exercises,” Tone It Up trainer Chyna Bardarson, NASM-CPT explains. “I especially love it as a warm-up. All of the different variations help improve coordination and maximize calorie burn. It’s probably my favorite piece of equipment.”
Still not sold? Here are ten benefits of jumping rope, plus some helpful tips and tricks that’ll have you doing double unders in no time.
1. Burns Major Calories
While it’s no surprise, this is one of the main benefits of jumping rope. In a study conducted by Science Daily, jumping rope “can achieve a ‘burn rate’ of up to 1300 calories per hour of vigorous activity, with about 0.1 calories consumed per jump. Ten minutes of jumping rope can roughly be considered the equivalent of running an eight-minute mile.” And you don’t even have to leave your front yard. “The amount of calories you’ll burn jumping rope really depends on intensity,” Jeff Halvey, former Today Show correspondent and founder of Apex Human Performance explains. And the beautiful thing about a jump rope is that you have full control of the intensity level. HIIT (high-intensity interval training) workouts are known for burning fat more quickly than low-intensity cardio, so a tool that allows you to quickly switch between a steady jump and a maximum effort sprint is key to maintaining those intervals.
2. Triggers the “Afterburn Effect”
Or, as it’s more scientifically known, EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption). The afterburn effect refers to your body’s physiological response to exercise. “It’s an increase in metabolic activity that occurs post exercise,” Halevy tells us. After engaging in physical activity, your body’s metabolism is elevated and this elevation is linked to an increase in oxygen consumption to help your body return to a pre-workout state. There are tons of factors that contribute to EPOC, including elevated heart rate and a higher core temperature, but as your body works to restore your muscles post-workout, it’s actually burning more calories. Yes, even as you shower or relax on the couch.
While most exercises will result in some form of EPOC, the intensity you’ll achieve through jumping rope can rev it up even more. “If you’re doing double unders, you’ll burn a lot more calories and you’ll probably get more of that afterburn effect,” Halevy says. Nevertheless, he warns against relying on metabolism alone. “The effect is not so significant that you can go out and eat a whole pizza. Modulating your energy balance (calories in and calories out), especially if your goal is to lose weight, should also come from modifying your diet.”
3. Strengthens Balance and Coordination
Studies, like this 2015 one published in the Journal of Sports Science & Medicine, have proven that jump rope training can help improve overall balance and motor coordination, but how exactly does a little rope do all that? “[Jumping rope] has some particular benefits that could fall into the category of extensive plyometrics,” Craig Weller, master coach and exercise systems program director of Precision Nutrition explains. “These are short, low-intensity hops or bounds done for a relatively large number of repetitions that help to reinforce athletic motor patterns and develop fatigue-resistance in fast-twitch muscle fibers.” Basically, all that jumping around results in stronger, more powerful muscles, which are able to contract (and therefore react) more quickly. Take that, top step we always trip over.
4. Improves Lower Leg Joint Health and Muscle Density
If you’re already an active person, jumping rope can help strengthen the lower leg muscles that surround your joints and ligaments (this means fewer foot and ankle injuries). Again, the benefits go back to the plyometric nature of jumping rope. By increasing your muscle density and improving your foot coordination, you decrease your chance of potential injury in those areas. According to the Jump Rope Institute (yep, it’s a thing), jumping rope trains your body by maintaining activity on the balls of your feet, rather than falling back onto your heels. This repetitive motion provides you with the strength and muscle memory necessary to go through life injury-free. It won’t save you from every accident, but it might help you heal faster the next time you roll your ankle.
This being said, jumping rope can also have the opposite effect if you don't do it correctly. If you’ve never picked up a rope before or are just beginning your fitness journey, start slow and check in with a pro if you need help. “No matter what form of exercise you do, you must make sure that your joints are able to get into a position where they can absorb and adapt to stress,” Halevy cautions. “That’s the baseline for all exercise."
5. Revs Up Your Strength Training Circuit Workout
Strength training is great for building muscle mass and burning fat, but many circuit-based workouts skip out on including some form of cardio (we get it, who wants to run around the block between medicine ball slams and squat jumps?). But mixing in a jump rope station is a simple way to take your 20-minute circuit routine to a new level. By adding in this burst of cardio, you’re combining weight training with aerobic activity that’s challenging both your muscular and cardiovascular systems. According to a 2019 study published in the journal Obesity, people who combine strength training with cardio are less likely to become obese. And this 2019 study published by the Research Journal of Pharmacy and Technology determined that jumping rope has “better improvement on cardiovascular fitness.” Not too shabby.
6. Improves Cardiovascular Efficiency
Speaking of cardiovascular fitness, any activity that raises your heart rate in a controlled setting is great for your physical health. In a 2013 study published by the American Association for Health, Physical Education and Recreation, researchers found that jumping rope is one of the most effective cardio exercises you can do—even more than running, swimming or rowing. After six weeks of doing daily 10-minute jump rope exercises, participants displayed the same levels of cardiovascular efficiency as those who did 30 minutes of jogging.
7. Improves Bone Density
Strong bones are vital to our health (drink your milk, kids), but as we age we begin to lose calcium and minerals. This decrease in bone density, which is even greater for women due to menopause, puts us at risk for breaks and fractures. But there are things you can do to help improve your overall bone mineral density (BMD), including jumping rope. This 2006 study conducted by the Journal of Applied Physiology tested the effects of jump training on BMD in young women and found that “low-repetition high-impact jumps are suggested to be one of the ideal training methods for enhancing and maintaining peak bone mass in young adult women.” Another 2009 study published by Osteoporosis International found similar jumping-induced bone mass gains when tested on female rats. Before you grab your rope, consult a physician if you have experience with bone fractures or a family history of osteoporosis.
8. Improves Breathing Efficiency
Huffing and puffing on your way up the stairs? One way to measure your physical fitness is by looking at how well your body takes in oxygen and metabolizes it. When analyzed, it’s known as your VO2 max or the maximum rate of oxygen consumption measured during exercise. The more oxygen you consume, the more energy your cells create. For athletes, it’s how they establish their aerobic endurance while training. For the average Joe at home, it’s not quite as important, but understanding the physiology behind your breathing efficiency—as well as what exercises improve it—can help you achieve your health and wellness goals.
This 2018 study published by the Universal Journal of Educational Research analyzed the effects of jumping rope in children and found that it had positive effects on VO2 max (as well as weight, fat ratio, speed and leg strength) by “accelerating and increasing the development of these parameters.” Want to breathe easy? Start jumping.
9. Improves Cognitive Function
Can jumping rope really improve brain health? It sure can. “All exercise has been proven to increase executive function and the decision-making process of the brain,” Halevy tells us. “When you exercise, your brain secretes ‘miracle grow.’ ‘Miracle grow’ in the brain is called BDNF, or brain-derived neurotrophic factor. It helps to create new brain cells while also preventing old ones from dying.” This 2018 American College of Sports Medicine study conducted by Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise also found that the BDNF levels in humans are dependent upon workout intensity and exercise type.
10. Inexpensive, Portable and Fun
You could easily nerd out on jump ropes and buy a $215 set with weight varying ropes and hand-stitched handles, but this highly rated $14 DEGOL version from Amazon will also do the trick. A jump rope is one of the most versatile (and inexpensive) pieces of cardio equipment you can utilize at home and on the road. Just throw one in your backpack, gym bag or suitcase and you can have a full cardio sweat sesh without stepping foot in the hotel fitness center.
Jumping rope might remind you of your middle school P.E. days, but think back to why you enjoyed it so much as a kid: It’s just really fun. So head out solo or grab your kids, roommates or siblings to have an epic jump rope competition that will leave you sweaty and smiling.
Tips and Tricks for Jumping Rope
If you’re just getting started, follow these expert tips for an efficient (and injury-free) jump rope journey.
How do I get started?
“Jumping rope is a completely different movement pattern than other cardio exercises, so you need to titrate up,” Halevy explains. Start off slow and approach jumping rope like you would jogging with a run/walk mentality. "I would suggest starting out with 20 seconds on, 40 seconds off for a few rounds and slowly build up over the course of two weeks." This lets your body adjust to the new movement and gives your muscles a chance to rest and recover. Going zero to 100 on the jump rope won't do you any good, and a lack of adequate training could result in shin splints, plantar fasciitis and sprained ankles (yikes).
What exactly do I do with my body?
IMHO, Amanda Kloots is the queen of jumping rope. In a recent Instagram story, she shared some of her favorite tips for beginners. Start by holding your arms near your waist at a 90-degree angle and squeeze your elbows in to activate your upper body, she says. Keep your feet together and your shoulders right over your hips while maintaining a neutral spine. If you notice your back beginning to arch mid-jump, stop and reassess your alignment. When jumping, your feet should barely leave the ground and you only need to jump as high as the rope is thick, Kloots explains. Practice the rhythm without the rope in your hand until it feels comfortable, then grab your jump rope and don't change a thing.
3. How can I keep the movement low impact?
“Think about actively landing softly,” Bardarson explains. “For less impact, pick a softer surface to jump on rather than concrete.” She also recommends wearing cross-trainers, which can add additional support and comfort between your soles and the ground. Shop some of our favorites here.
What Are Some Potential Drawbacks of Jumping Rope?
As with most forms of exercise, there are always potential risks if not done correctly. Weller notes that the repetitive nature of jumping rope can also amplify these risks: “If you tend to extend your lower back and lock tension into your lumbar muscles to gain stability when you jump and land, you'll end up reinforcing that excessive tension over time." Similarly, "if you have a problematic landing pattern such as popping your knees inward or collapsing the arches of your feet, you could also end up exacerbating that.” Jumping with lingering injuries and bad form will easily do more harm than good, so check in with your body and consult a doctor if needed.
Who Shouldn’t Jump Rope?
“People who have any preexisting heart conditions or don't have medical clearance from a doctor should avoid jumping rope, as well as anyone with knee, back or other joint issues that could be aggravated by repeated jumping,” Weller explains. So if your ankle isn't feeling too hot or your back is acting up again, steer clear of the rope. Halevy also wants people to consider their current physical fitness before diving in. “For someone who is overweight, I wouldn’t suggest starting with the jump rope because it puts a lot of extra strain on the joints." If jumping rope isn't in the cards for you right now, consult a professional trainer to see what type of exercise is best.
What Should I Look for When Buying a Jump Rope?
There are a number of different kinds of jump ropes out there, and browsing your local sporting goods store to find one can often feel intimidating (if not totally fruitless): Do I really need a leatherbound speed rope? If you're just starting out, the answer is no, but understanding how your experience level plays into your fitness goals will help you narrow it down. “When shopping for a jump rope, it really depends on your overall goal,” Bardarson tells us. “A few of my own goals are coordination, speed work and agility, so I love lightweight, plastic jump ropes like this one from Tone It Up." Once you've mastered your form, try mixing in a weighted rope (ranging from one to six pounds) for an additional challenge that helps build lean muscles and burn even more fat.