No motivational fitness montage is complete without a jump rope scene. And it's no surprise, considering just a few minutes of jumping in place can leave you out of breath.
But if you want to channel your inner Rocky and make the jump rope your new go-to cardio machine, you'll want to do everything you can to avoid back pain. As you take up this new form of exercise, avoid these five common mistakes.
1. Hunching Your Shoulders
If you're new to jump roping, it's normal to feel like you need more slack to clear the rope. To make it easier to jump over the rope, many people tend to hunch their shoulders, says Sam Becourtney, physical therapist at Bespoke Treatments in New York City. But this can cause soreness in the upper back and neck area.
Maintain an upright posture, keeping your shoulders back and away from the ears and engaging the shoulder blades, Becourtney says. This will help improve the alignment of the whole spine while you're jumping. It may feel difficult initially but trust that you'll clear the rope without issue. If you don't, you need a longer rope.
2. Arching Your Back
With so many moving parts at one time, you're probably not focusing too closely on your spine alignment while jumping rope. But over-arching your lumbar spine (lower back) while jumping is a recipe for back pain, Becourtney says.
Ideally, your body should be in a pretty straight line from your head to your toes without any part of your body sticking too far forward or back. Your pelvis should stay in "neutral alignment," Becourtney says, without rolling too far forward or back.
Engage your core as you jump and think about pulling your belly button toward your spine. This will help keep your body in line. "Eventually, this will become second nature and one less thing to focus on," Becourtney says.
3. Slapping Your Feet on the Ground
In theory, jump roping is a simple activity. You jump over the rope — that's all there is to it. But there's a safe way to land (spoiler: hitting the ground with a slap isn't it). But don't be discouraged — many people don't know how to land properly while jumping.
Weak calves may be to blame, Becourtney says. As you jump rope, you should be on your toes the whole time, heels off the ground. But if you don't have enough strength in your calf muscles, you're likely to fatigue quickly, causing your heels to slap the ground. Over time, this can cause lower back pain or stiffness.
"Pain in the lower back would be more likely caused by inadequate shock absorption due to hitting the ground repeatedly with hard landing," Becourtney says. "Each time you hit the ground, the spine and body 'compress' in a sense and this shock travels up the feet into the spine, oftentimes leading to a feeling of 'pressure' or discomfort in the lower back."
Focus on a soft landing without touching your heels to the ground. Your goal is to absorb the force of your body through the balls of your feet. Then, use the balls of your feet to drive into the ground for your next jump, Becourtney says. Also, maintain stiffness through the legs as you jump with just a slight bend in your knees.
4. Extending Your Arms Too Far
To avoid hitting yourself with the rope, you may feel inclined to extend your arms straight away from your body. This mistake may not only be causing back ache but technically, doesn't make sense.
Think about it: The further you extend your elbows and hands from your body, the less slack you have in the rope. As a result, you'll have less room to clear the rope while you're jumping, Becourtney says. To compensate, your body will begin to hunch forward, committing the first mistake on this list.
Keep your elbows close to your sides while you're jump roping. This will allow for more slack in the rope, giving your body more vertical jumping space.
5. Looking at the Ground
As you grow fatigued, you may feel inclined to look down at the ground while you jump. Focusing on the rope as you grow tired can help you time your jump appropriately, but it can also cause strain or discomfort in your neck and upper back if you hold this position for too long, Becourtney says.
While you're jumping, keep your head and neck in line with the rest of your spine. Trust your timing and judgment without looking down — if you're new to this activity, it will take some time. You can also tuck your chin slightly to help protect your neck from strain.