Both a good run and a jump-rope workout will leave you sweating and puffing for air. But which is better for burning fat? Because both types of exercise are effective calorie burners, the jump rope vs. running debate usually comes down to which one you find more convenient or enjoyable.
Depending on how fast you jump rope, you can burn roughly the same calories as running at 5 to 7 mph. But ultimately, which type of exercise burns more calories (and fat) over the long term depends on which one you're most likely to stick with and prefer.
Why Joy and Convenience Matter
Although scientists are still sorting out some of the finer details of the body's weight loss mechanism, they know that for most people it boils down to establishing — and then maintaining — a calorie deficit over the long term. The "long term" part of that equation is important, because as tempting as it might be to get quick results from a crash diet, the pounds you lose so quickly almost always come back — and sometimes they bring a few buddies along too.
But if you commit to losing the weight gradually, you can create a healthy lifestyle that not only gives you joy but also ensures that once the pounds drop off, they're gone for good. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends a weight loss rate of 1 to 2 pounds per week as the ideal healthy, sustainable rate of weight loss.
Because losing a pound of body fat requires a calorie deficit of about 3,500 calories, that sort of weight loss works out to a 500 to 1,000-calorie deficit per day. You can create that deficit by using diet, exercise — or a combination of both. Research from the National Weight Control Registry conclusively shows that using the two approaches together is how most people manage to lose weight and keep it off.
That long-term approach is why it's so important to choose a type of workout that works for your lifestyle and feels good enough that exercising becomes its own reward. If you can burn more calories per hour with running but you enjoy jumping rope more, you'll probably burn more calories over the long term with a jump rope — because you're more likely to keep doing it. The reverse also applies, of course.
Read more: 9 Ways to Make Running on a Treadmill WAY More Fun
Jump Rope vs. Running: Calories
You might have noticed a bit of fuzzy language about whether jump rope vs. running burns more calories. That's because how hard you work out has a big effect on how many calories you burn — so there's some real wiggle room depending on which exercise you're better at or enjoy more. If you're coordinated enough to jump rope fast and continuously, you'll burn more calories with that. On the other hand, if you're a good runner who gets hopelessly tangled in a jump rope, then lace up your running shoes — they're a sure way to burn more calories.
Here are a few numbers to illustrate where the tipping point is between the calorie figures for jump rope vs. running. According to the American Council on Exercise physical activity calorie counter, if you weigh 155 pounds and jump rope fast, you can burn an impressive 421 calories in a half-hour workout. You'll have to run for 30 minutes at 7 mph, equivalent to running 8.5-minute miles, to get close to the same number of calories.
If you're a slow rope jumper, you'll burn approximately 255 calories instead. You can beat that if you run at at 5 mph (equivalent to a 12-minute mile) for the same period of time.
What about if you weigh 185 pounds? Higher body weight correlates to more calories burned at the same activity, but the "tipping point" remains the same. If you jump rope fast, you can burn about 503 calories in 30 minutes. To get about the same burn by running, you'd have to maintain just faster than a 7 mph pace.
And if you weigh 185 pounds and aren't so speedy on the jump rope, you're looking at 335 calories in half an hour of slow rope jumping. To meet that figure at a run, you'd have to maintain a 5 mph run for 30 minutes.
Running statistics show the sport is also linked with a longer lifespan. Running 5 to 10 minutes each day is associated with a reduced risk of death from all causes and cardiovascular disease, according to an August 2014 Journal of the American College of Cardiology study.
Other Factors at Play
Both jumping rope and running involve some impact on your joints — so if you find that one exercise is comfortable while the other is not, your body will thank you for going with the more comfortable exercise.
Both types of exercise are relatively inexpensive once you've made the initial investment — a good jump rope and shoes with decent cushioning for one, and an appropriately supportive pair of running shoes for the other. However, if you don't have a decent, safe space to run through in your neighborhood, you'll have to either drive or take mass transit to a running destination, invest in a home treadmill or pay for a gym membership.
What about your living situation? A jump rope workout is easy to do at home, because all you need is a jump rope and a few square feet of space to work out in — so that means you never need to worry about a rainy day or a traffic jam on the way to the gym keeping you from your workout. But if you live in an upstairs apartment or condo, your downstairs neighbors will probably appreciate your heading out for a run instead of jumping around on their ceiling.
Finally, which is more entertaining or interesting to you? Again, an exercise that you truly enjoy is more likely to lead to success in the long term. So if you enjoy the hand-eye coordination challenge of a jump-rope workout, and enjoy adding in tricks like double unders or side swings, that may be the best workout for you to choose.
But if you prefer the fresh air of running outside or the challenge of dipping deep to make it over hills, or really appreciate the virtual reality feature on many modern treadmills that lets the machine automatically adjust to mimic famous race courses or specified terrain types, you might find that more stimulating.
A Third Option
Do you really have to choose between running or doing a jump-rope workout? If you're highly driven and only care about which burns calories faster, there's no reason not to go with the one that'll give you a higher number. But unless you're training specifically for a jump-rope competition or a running event, there's no reason you can't switch between the two exercises as the mood strikes you.
In fact, switching up your workout routine every so often can benefit your body, because it helps decrease your risk of overuse injuries. This is especially true for impact workouts like running and jumping rope, so don't be shy about mixing other types of exercise into your workout routine. Examples of low-impact workouts you can incorporate to give your body a break include swimming, cycling, inline skating, kayaking or canoeing, and using a rowing machine.
Any of these workouts count toward the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommendations for physical activity: To maintain good health, they want adults to get a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio per week, or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity cardio. If you do more than those minimum amounts, you'll enjoy more health benefits.
The HHS also recommends strength-training all your major muscle groups twice a week. And guess what? No matter which exercise you've chosen in the jump rope vs. running debate, appropriate strength training will help you feel faster and stronger doing that exercise of your choice.