Learned something extremely obvious about jumping rope

When I first taught myself how to jump rope, back in 8th grade or so, I initially assumed that you’d just swing the rope around at whatever rate you chose, and then hop over it each time it would otherwise hit you in the feet.

That’s not wrong exactly, but I found it really hard to get the timing right. In particular, I found myself going faster and faster until I couldn’t really keep up. Then I discovered a trick that made it much easier: between each jump over the rope I’d add a little token hop. All of a sudden the timing was much easier. That was how I jumped rope for years (although I mostly didn’t jump rope during those years).

A couple of times in the past few decades I’ve briefly jumped rope again, but at some point I was reading about jumping rope, and learned that this “double-hop” technique is considered poor form. (Because it makes it hard to add any of the fancy stuff you can do with a jump rope, like crisscross or double-under.)

So, I’ve been trying to break myself of this habit. It hasn’t been so hard, since I’m decades away from having formed it with little reinforcement in between.

What I’ve learned though is that I had it backwards right from the start.

The reason the double-hops seemed to help has to do with the natural resonant frequency of the foot/ankle/leg system. Basically, there’s a natural rate of hopping, where the natural “springiness” of your feet and lower leg syncs up, minimizing the amount of energy it takes to hop up into the air again. Hopping at any other frequency is harder. The double-hop method lets you stick with the natural resonate frequency, while allowing you to swing the rope only half as fast.

Understanding that, it turns out to be very easy to fix: Just hop in place a few times, and you’ll quickly find that natural frequency. Then, just swing the jump rope at that rate.

Easy to fix, of course, doesn’t mean easy. Swinging the rope at twice the rate doesn’t double the intensity of the workout, but it does increase it significantly. I’ve had to back off on the length and number of my jump-roping intervals, although I’m already building back up.

My hope is that finding this resonate frequency, and getting myself synced back up with it, will help my running. (That is, I’m pretty sure that matching my foot turnover rate to the same resonate frequency will give me the most efficient running gait.)

We’ll see.

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