One, two, three, four, five — that's not just the start of Lou Bega's 1999 hit "Mambo Number 5," but it's also the sound of many a frustrated beginning jump roper counting how many times they can hop over the rope.
Jump Rope for Beginners
Depending on where you start, even that first "One!" hop over the rope might be a success. As you build skill and fitness, you can work up to loftier goals (count to 10; count to 50; count to 100), choose fun objectives (jump as many times as your age in years), or start measuring your rope jumping in terms of time instead of the number of times you've jumped over the rope.
Why to Count Repetitions
You don't typically count cardio workouts like rope jumping with repetitions, unless maybe you're doing a calisthenics-oriented circuit. For example, in a sequence of jumping jacks, mountain climbers and burpees, you might do 10 of each before moving on to the next exercise.
However, in terms of jump rope for beginners, you have to make it through an initial learning curve and built a certain amount of hand-eye coordination to really get the rope going. That makes counting the number of times you manage to hop over the rope into a very reasonable first goal.
Just like any other goal-setting exercise, you should first choose a number of jump rope repetitions you can reasonably accomplish, then gradually increase the difficulty level from there.
Maybe, as a beginner, you'd start with making five successful hops before you get tangled up in the rope. But soon you'll be able to do 10 hops in a row, then 15 and so on. This is a way of setting yourself up for repeated successes, which in turn is a great way to stay motivated. Once you succeed consistently at a given goal, it's time to challenge yourself with something just a little harder.
Why Not to Count Repetitions
Counting repetitions can be helpful if you're just starting on your jump rope for beginners journey. But unless you're doing "pre-programmed" workouts that require you to meet a certain number of jump rope repetitions — for example, doing 60 double-unders (an advanced type of jumping rope) as part of a CrossFit workout — you'll need to start tracking your rope jumping by time spent, not repetitions done.
There are two reasons for that: First, once you get up to high numbers of repetitions, it's hard to keep track of how many times you've jumped — especially if you're going fast. More important, although clinical studies on weightlifting use sets and repetitions to track the amount of work done, the clinical studies on cardio workouts like jump rope use time spent, or the duration of your workout, as their gauge for work done.
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which issues a set of physical activity guidelines to achieve — and maintain — a healthy body, also tracks your cardio workouts by time instead of repetitions. They recommend doing at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity cardio exercise per week. If you're jumping rope for weight loss, you may need to double that amount to get consistent results.
Jump rope can qualify for either intensity level, as long as you're working hard enough. As exercise physiologists with the University of New Mexico point out, the talk test is an easy way to gauge your workout intensity: If you're jumping rope fast enough that you can't sing but can hold a two-sided conversation, you're at a moderate intensity. If you're working so hard that you can only get a word out here and there, you're at a vigorous intensity.
How Long to Jump Rope
But who wants to do 150 minutes — that's two and a half hours — of nonstop jump rope in a single sitting? Not many people. Happily, the HHS points out that even short bouts of cardiovascular exercise count toward those recommended goals.
That means you're free to break up the 150 minutes throughout the week however you'd like, and you can even break it up into shorter bouts per day. For example, if every weekday you did 10 minutes of jumping rope in the morning before work, then another 10 during your lunch break and 10 more after work, you'd meet that 150-minute goal.
That all assumes you're jumping rope at a moderate intensity. If you're coordinated enough to jump rope at a more vigorous intensity, you can cut those workout times in half.
Tips for Jumping Rope
Of course, you can also do longer jump rope workouts. But if you're planning to jump rope for more than a few minutes at a time, it's worth introducing a few variations to keep things interesting:
Include calisthenics. One of the easiest ways to add variety to your jump rope workouts — or, at least, less demanding in terms of coordination — is by alternating bouts of jump rope with calisthenics exercises, such as push-ups, jumping jacks, burpees, squat jumps, mountain climbers and so on. Try doing a time-based workout, with one minute of jump rope followed by 30 seconds of another exercise.
Move your feet. Another way to ramp up your jump rope workout is to switch up your foot position. That can mean doing a few jump rope repetitions on your left foot, then switching to your right; jumping your feet in and out like the lower half of a jumping jack as you jump rope; picking your knees up in front of you as you jump rope (high knees); or bringing your heels up behind you, as if you're kicking yourself in the backside.
Include tricks. You can also add difficulty by including tricks in your jump rope routine. Try doing crossovers — crossing your hands in front of you as you jump rope, then uncrossing them. It takes some practice, but it's a fun and challenging way to break up your jump rope workouts.
Side swings are another fun trick: Move both hands to one side of your body and swing the rope alongside your body, as detailed by ExRx.net, without losing the rhythm of your jumping. Keep swinging the rope beside you and, when you're ready, move one hand back across your body to continue jumping the rope normally.
You can also do double-unders, jumping a little higher than usual and spinning the rope faster, so it passes underneath you twice before you touch down again.
- Health.gov: "Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2015-2020: Appendix 1. Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans"
- University of New Mexico: "The 'Talk Test'"
- Health.gov: "Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd Edition: Chapter 4. Active Adults"
- ExRx.net: "Jump Rope: Alternating Hop Side Swing"